The Paper Piper

There are very few of us that can live off of our passion or our craft. Most of us work to pay the bills or we stay at home to keep the kids and then by the light of a candle or in minutes stolen from an early morning we do what we are passionate about. Maybe it is because it is in stolen-time that we dream, craft, and create that keeps the passion aflame. My stolen time on the elliptical at the gym; no husband, no cooking, no housework, just me and my music and words.

In fact, I am writing this on the elliptical now.

In her most recent book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about having a day job while practicing her writing. “The whole time I was practicing to be a writer, I always had a day job….I didn’t quit my day job until I had already written three books… I never want to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life…I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills. I’ve seen artists drive themselves broke and crazy because of this insistence that they are not legitimate creators unless they can exclusively live off their creativity.”

Luisa Ellis, my friend of 27 years, is a candle light creator. She calls herself the paper piper.

She is a real person like the rest of us, new husband, bills to pay, day job, but a stolen-time creator of custom journals that she fashions from discarded vintage books that were surely sitting in some granny’s dusty attic for years until Luisa found them at an estate sale or a thrift store. Surely these hardback novels thought they had seen their last days with torn and missing pages, their tales forgotten by a modern and more restless generation. Instead these hardbacks were going to a new home with a new purpose.

Before Luisa binds a single page, she listens to the story of the person that this journal is for; their history, their dreams, locations that have shaped them, colors that bring them to life. Then she sets to work looking for the right book, the maps, and pictures to tell that story.

Photo by  Elisa Bricker  

Photo by Elisa Bricker 

The journals are bound by hand, needle and thread, the original text is removed and replaced with empty pages to be filled with a new text, a new narrative. Each journal that Luisa frames in these old covers has secrets that are quietly discovered as you dialogue with your life, putting pen to paper; hidden maps and pockets, excerpts from classic novels all tucked in the folds of the binding.

Luisa's mother is German and her father is American. Luisa's childhood home diverged from most American households. At the time, I didn't realize it was the European style of decorating; white walls, rich colors, splash of modern coupled with vintage, a collection of relics from the world, different cultures molded into one and somehow her mother brought it all together like it was meant to be. There was nothing bought at decorating stores, nothing fake, nothing hollow.  Her mother used what she had, the old, the handed-down, the sculpture that didn’t fit, the tablecloth from her sister to repurpose and refurbish into something that did fit, that was home for them.

Luisa carries her mother’s roots with her as she spends her Saturdays at estate sales looking for old treasured books, looking past their dust and crumbling pages, to reclaim and repurpose into her craft. Collecting old maps, discarded wall paper and vintage cards to bury into the pages her journals and tell a new story. She searches through torn books to find lines that should live on in the new book.

Luisa has made two hand-bound books for me. One was a journal for my husband back when we were first engaged. The book, even before we wrote a single word of our own, told our story. My husband and I both live in and are in love with Africa, the green book cover that matched my eyes was originally from Out of Africa with gold leaf lettering. Interlaced into the blank pages are maps of places that are significant to us. Nashville; our first date. Utah; my husband’s home state. North Carolina: mine. Paris; a place we were dreaming of flying for the day to eat crepes under the Eiffel tower. The second was a guestbook for our wedding. The book cover used to be Animals of East Africa, I guess it still is, but the book is now filled with our pictures and well-wishing notes from our friends, the blank pages were sewn in with Luisa’s hands in stolen-time by candle light.

Luisa is a candle-light creator. Luisa’s craft may not pay all the bills yet, but it serves a much larger purpose in giving her life and an outlet to create, and dream and become.

Contact Luisa Ellis and the Paper Piper to learn more about her custom journals and guest-books at