Castle in the Air Tunnel Book Class

I love tunnel books. I pin my favorite images of tunnel books onto my Pin board. So when the opportunity came for me to learn how to make one at my favorite store, Castle in the Air, I jumped at the chance.

Like my love for shadow boxes, my love for tunnel books stems from the storyteller in me. Each tunnel book tells a story, inviting the viewer inside to be a part of the story. It’s one of those things that you can temporarily get lost in – or at least, I do.

I had made a facsimile of a tunnel book about two years ago to try to see if I could recreate the technique for constructing one. It worked out fine, but I really wanted to learn how to construct one properly to make sure I hadn’t overlooked anything in my first attempt.

The class was taught by Alice Armstrong, long-time book arts instructor at Castle and in her own studio in Berkeley.

I went to the class with an idea for an Alice in Wonderland tunnel book of Alice falling into the rabbit hole, inspired by a pop-up book I had purchased a few years ago. But I soon abandoned that idea when I saw a stamp that one of the other students, Miriam, had brought with her.

Hero Arts bare trees stamp

It was a large stamp of bare tree trunks, and immediately brought to mind a forest setting. Alice, the instructor, had a bunch of Alice in Wonderland stamps, and I looked through them and picked out a few that looked promising.

Alice in Wonderland stamp

Alice in Wonderland wearing crown stamp

Alice in Wonderland with deer stamp

I decided my tunnel book was going to be composed of different panels of trees, stamped in a staggered manner to create depth and the illusion of many different trees.

One important thing Alice taught us – something that I had not been aware of when I had made my practice tunnel book – is that paper has a grain, and you need to align all your paper with the grain running in the same direction so that your finished book does not dis-bind itself over time as it expands and contracts due to fluctuations in humidity. You check for the direction of the grain by bending the paper first in one direction (horizontally or vertically) and then in the other direction. The side that’s easier to bend is where the grain is running vertically along the bend. We marked and positioned our four precut panels with the grain running vertically.

To be honest I have never been much of a stamper; I’ve always had trouble aligning rubber stamps correctly and getting the ink to transfer onto the rubber and then onto the paper without losing part of the image. So stamping a large image – of vertical objects, no less – over and over again for this project was going to be a daunting challenge, but with some helpful tips and techniques from Alice, I was soon on my way to stamping three of my panels with continuous lines of trees. The trickiest part was stamping the trees a little differently for each panel, so that when placed over one another, they looked staggered.

Stamped panels for Alice tunnel book

Not too bad if I do say so myself! I think what helped, in addition to Alice’s instruction, was that I relaxed and just went for it without thinking too much about getting everything lined up right. Sometimes the best results occur when you’re not trying too hard :0)

The next step was to cut out the blank spaces between the trees for the middle two panels, my favorite part of the whole process, as I love to cut paper. I can sit and cut paper for hours on end. I find it so relaxing and meditative. Weird, I know, especially given my tendency to get shaky hands whenever I have to be precise, but somehow my hands are always relaxed whenever I need to cut paper.

I ended up cutting off parts of one of the panels that I should have left intact, but all was not lost, as Alice showed me how to patch them up. The last panel in the back remained uncut.

Next, I stippled some ink color onto the bottom of each of the stamped panels to create the ground. As you can see in the photo, I totally forgot to stipple the back panel until I went to glue the panels together later.

cut out panels for Alice tunnel book

For the front panel, we cut out a large square with about a one-inch border all around to serve as the frame for the tunnel book. I forgot to take a photo of the front panel.

I then stamped out the images of Alice in Wonderland and colored them in with some copic markers and a bit of stippling. I stayed with the lighter colors of copic markers to allow the details of the stamps to come through. Then I cut them out.

stamped colored and cut out Alice in Wonderland images

The trickiest part was when I went to layer the panels and tried to position the stamped images of Alice in the forest so that they would be visible when viewed straight on in. It took a couple of tries, but I eventually ended up with a result I was happy with. I then glued the images onto the panels.

second panel for Alice tunnel book

third panel for Alice tunnel book

Next we had to accordion fold the precut side panels. There were three folded panels per side, for a total of six accordion-folded panels.

one accordion folded side panel for tunnel book

Now this is where I learned another new thing. When I had originally made my tunnel book facsimile, I had made a continuous strip of accordion-folded paper for each of the two sides. What Alice had us do was to make the accordion-folded sides in separate sections and then glue them to the panels with the stamped images, so there were more separate, but smaller parts to the tunnel book.

Because of the way we were constructing our tunnel books, some of our images in the panels would be covered over, due to the gluing on of the sides, so Alice suggested I stamp an extra tree onto each end of the accordion-folded panels, allowing the trees at the ends to still be visible after everything was glued together.

stamped accordion folded sides for tunnel book

But I discovered that in the middle of gluing all the panels together, I had forgotten to stipple the bottom of the last panel for the ground of my forest. So, I had to squeeze in the stipple brush between the glued layers to try to get some ink onto the panel. Very difficult to do, especially given the size of the brush! But I managed to get some color in there. I guess I’ll never make that mistake again!

When everything was all glued together and finished, I was really happy with the way my Alice in the Forest tunnel book came out, especially with the light shining through it, giving it a warm glow :0)

tunnel book_Alice in Wonderland forest

The effect of the trees was really cool. You really don’t get the full effect of a tunnel book until everything’s all glued together and constructed. It’s like a surprise – what’s it going to look like – until everything’s in place and revealed.

My tunnel book measures 7” x 7” x 4”. Here’s a top view of the inner construction.

Alice in Wonderland tunnel book top view

A side view from the top.

tunnel book side view close up

Here are some other tunnel books made in class:

Elisa's tunnel book

Elisa’s tunnel book

Alice Armstrong's Map of the Interior tunnel book

Alice Armstrong’s Map of the Interior tunnel book

Have you ever made a tunnel book? I would love to see yours! Please leave me a comment with a link.

About Serena Y Lee

Serena worked in the biotech industry for 18 years before leaving to pursue her life purpose – to live in freedom with creativity and simplicity. Her love for baking, creativity, and story-telling compelled her to start blogging to share her ideas with a wider audience.

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6 Responses to Castle in the Air Tunnel Book Class

  1. Van August 8, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    Beautiful! Just shows how much I need to get crafty again. I miss it!

    • Serena August 8, 2013 at 9:23 pm #


      You’re my very first commenter – woo hoo! :0)

  2. Alice Armstrong August 9, 2013 at 5:46 am #

    looks lovely! really good, clear description of steps, as well as great photos.
    the awesome “Alice in Wonderland” rubber stamps were made by awesome rubber stamp maker Leavenworth Jackson.

    • Serena August 9, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      Well that’s because I had a great teacher 😉


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