photo of a wooden key about to enter a keyhole in an otherwise bluish wall
photo of outside of my box, a wooden box with Zanzibar written on the top
My Box #8; The "Zanzibar" graphic is hand painted — medium | large
Inside of my box, showing the bug and seed collection
Inside showing the seeds, bug collection, and eye-buttoning kit — medium | large
metal label on box that says: HOMEMADE IN OHIO, BOX 8
Box placard in stamped aluminium with brass screws — medium | large
Removing false bottom uncovers a second level with a book and a key
Removing the false bottom to expose the second layer — medium | large
inner papered-over door opening after inserting wooden key in the keyhole
Door opening after using the key— medium | large

Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. Among his many imaginative works was a novella called Coraline, starring a self-determined if not slightly bored girl of the same name. Coraline is a wonderful childrens tale that is also intelligent enough for adults; some would even hesitate to label it as a kids book at all. Carrying themes reminescent of Lewis Carroll's Alice and her adventures into slightly skewed other-worlds, Coraline is a treat for the adventurer and the dreamer.

(a button)The Laika boxes

In 2009 a 3D stop-animation film adaptation (unsurprisingly called Coraline) was produced by the entertainment division of Laika, Inc. Not only did they faithfully bring the story to the visual medium, they pushed the boundaries of handicraft. The film was painstakenly fabricated by hand, frame by frame, over the span of many years. The result was stunningly beautiful and artistically inspired. It is clear that the hundreds of artists involved were driven with creative love and attentiveness to the tiniest details, both to the objects they made and the story they told.

Laika was a small relatively unknown production company with an overdeveloped sense of good craftsmanship and inventiveness. What they lacked in endless Holywood marketing dollars and copycat ideas, they made up for in genius. A particular favorite was their pre-release gift box campaign. The artists who made the film also fashioned 50 unique boxes, each laden with charm and filled with movie artifacts. These boxes were sent as surprises to various bloggers and independent Internet personalities, most of whom are in their own right involved in the handcrafted arts, or literary work, or otherwise had inspired the artists at Laika. Most of this, along with just about anything else Coraline-related, is documented with beautiful pictures on the Evil Buttons blog.

(a button)The Coraline Mystery Box Swap

There is, as expected, a wider community of artists than those who were fortunate (and skilled) enough to have worked at Laika or been one of the chosen few to receive boxes. These people were inspired to produce their own set of gift boxes. Thus arose the Coraline Mystery Box Swap (CMBS) event, organized by My Little Mochi in February 2009.

There were eventually 44 participants, and each had about a month to dream up and construct their own Coraline-inspired box. The completed boxes would be sent to another of the group, assigned randomly and secretly. Nobody knew who they would recieve a box from until it arrived.

A public Flikr photo album was created to share all these boxes as they were being made and ultimately received in their completed form. Additionally the boxes have been indexed by Melissa Burford.

(a button)The box I made

I was assigned to produce Box #8 of 44. After about three weeks of work, in late March, my mystery recipient Bailey "Bigfoot" from Michigan got my gift. You can see the photos on her Flikr photo stream, along with everybody's comments.

I'm still anxiously awaiting the arrival of the box that somebody out there has made for me.

The contents of my box was listed on an inked note that was included, and read:

Handwritten note listing contents of box
Handwritten note listing contents of box — medium | large
        Box Eight

Its contents as procured from
Mother's managerie are

One bananna slug
One strawberry beetle
Three jumping jellybeans
Four Lady Godiva chocolate bugs
One blueberry worm
An other-world door -- locked
Magic garden seeds, varieties of:
   bleeding hearts, pumpkins,
   snap dragons, forget-me-nots,
   trumpet flowers, beets
One silly book by an obscure
   beekeeper wearing black
An eye-buttoning kit w/
   a sharp needle,
   two black button eyes
      -- medium
One wooden buttoneyed key
A mock XXturtleXX dragonfly

    The Beldam

P.S. You know I love your.  You may
visit any time, and, if you like
can stay with us.   forever

(a button)From Zanzibar, the exterior

My box started as a plain cheap wooden box found in a craft store. It had hinges and hardware but was otherwise unfinshed plain white wood, and very boring and generic. The first step was applying a nice dark walnut stain and several coats of polyacrylic varnish.

Of all the Laika boxes, my favorites were repurposed commerical produce boxes still bearing the original graphics and logos. I wanted some kind of logo on mine. Inspiration stuck when the Other Mother mentions to Coraline that she had to get her special chocolates all the way from Zanzibar. I began to wonder how such products might be shipped from such an exotic far-away place and thought of the old East India Trading Company. Thus was born my fantasy "Zanzibar Exotik Goods & Trading Co." and the handpainted logo across the box top.

As an interesting twist, as with many of my box's contents, I used a photoluminescence finish treatment which looks magnificent in the dark or with black lights.

Top of the box, hand painted Zanzibar Exotiks
Top of the box, hand painted Zanzibar Exotiks — medium | large
Top of the box glowing under blacklights
Top of the box glowing under blacklights — medium | large

(a button)The seed packets

On one rainy boring day in the movie, Coraline, who was not permitted to go play in the rain and mud, was staring out her foggy kitchen window. On the sill were several packets of seeds patiently waiting to be planted. I created my own seed packets visually similar to those, with hand drawn graphics depicting various plants that were featured in the movie or that had unusual suggestive names. For the seeds I just had to substitute appropriately-colored buttons. There are: bleeding hearts, pumpkins, trumpet flowers, forget-me-nots, beets, and snap dragons.

Seeds 1
Seeds 1 — medium | large
Seeds 2
Seeds 2 — medium | large
Seeds 3
Seeds 3 — medium | large

(a button)The bug managerie

As the Other Mother's powers begin to fade her true insectivorous self comes out. I was particularly facinated with the edible bug chocolates. This inspired me to create my own collection of plausibly edible bugs. They are made of clay, baked, and hand painted—some with tiny button eyes. I placed them inside little glass vials of different sizes so they could be displayed like a specimen collection. There are: a bananna slug, a strawberry beetle, jumping jellybeans, Lady Godiva chocolate bugs, and a blueberry worm.

Bugs — medium | large
Bugs in bottles
Bugs in bottles — medium | large

(a button)The locking door

By far, the most complex and satisfying part of my box is the working locking door. The box lid was just deep enough to hide a small compartment, so with a place to put it I wanted to create a door that looked as much like the one in the movie as I could. I think I came quite close.

To start I made a false "wall" out of some thin wood and carefully cut out a door with curved corners. Adding some small hinges, re-enforcements, and some antiqued craft paper the basics were there. In the hidden compartment I made a little wooden peg to hold a CDROM disc.

The locking mechanism took a lot of time as the pieces had to be precisely shaped and articulated. I made a wooden button-head key that fits into and turns the lock. You may also notice tiny metal strips which provide stops and smooth surfaces to make the key turning solid yet easy. When unlocked the key is captive and will not fall out. A tiny rubber band provides the force to retract the locking pins when closed.

Door locking mechanism, latched
Door locking mechanism, latched — medium | large
Door locking mechanism, unlatched
Door locking mechanism, unlatched — medium | large
Wooden key
Wooden key — medium | large
Completed door opened to show CD surprise
Completed door opened to show CD surprise — medium | large

(a button)The mock dragonfly

Hanging between the old bedposts in Coraline's sparsely-decorated bedroom were a string of primitive cardboard dragonflys. I tried to replicate one of those in thin wood, but with button eyes, wire legs, and glow-in-the-dark paint. I'm calling this one a "Mock Dragonfly", as nod to Lewis Caroll's Mock Turtle.

Wooden mock dragonfly
Wooden mock dragonfly — medium | large
The dragonfly glowing in the dark
The dragonfly glowing in the dark — medium | large

(a button)Other assorted photos

A witchy girl poem
A witchy girl poem — medium | large
A wax-sealed envelope
A wax-sealed envelope — medium | large
Inside, top layer
Inside, top layer — medium | large
Inside, bottom layer
Inside, bottom layer — medium | large
Inside closeup
Inside closeup — medium | large