Tag Archives: design bookbinding

What’s wrong with this book, part secundus.

Two versions

Two versions

“It’s alright like that; it’ll look handmade.”

How many times have I heard these words uttered by students, and even occasionally by myself?

The point that many people don’t make is that to make it handmade means that one wants to make it better than a machine.

I used to spin wool. I left irregular lumps in it because I couldn’t control the tension. My excuse was same as above: it would look earthy, handmade, natural. As I watched the old women around me spin fine wool, and as my control became better I realised where the challenge lay.

From a distance those two books in the picture above don’t look too bad. However  they are disappointing. I’m onto a third version now. All three are hand painted. I recently sent the last version to a competition so I can’t show it to you. It wasn’t too bad; still looked handpainted. I’ll post photos when it comes back.

I suppose it’s all about the expectations in my own head; my skills are a lot better in my own mind than in reality. I’m always flicking through fine bookbinding books; I want to do something like that one day, sooner rather than later. I am still in the practising phase, even though I learned bookbinding many years ago. However I probably haven’t even reached a thousand hours of (design) binding; I muck about in the evenings and on week ends.

I recently covered a paperback in leather. Why would I bother you may well ask; because I wanted the practise. Until recently I only used cloth and paper. So in order to practise I bought some cheap leather. I figured I would hone my skills on cheaper material before using the good stuff.

Wrong! It is not enjoyable to try to pare crap leather. I have persevered; I am putting a split board onto the paperback, but it is still not sufficiently pared at the turn ins, and looks ugly. And yet still I will continue to the completion for two reasons: firstly for the exercise. I’ll try leather mosaic. Secondly because I want to finish it. The effort I am now putting into making templates and planning the design will hopefully translate itself into better skills for the next book.

It is one of my favourite children’s books, and I’ll give it away to the Little Free Library once it is built. It isn’t as ugly as all that hopefully no other binder will see it. It’ll look handmade. Haha.

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High tea at Claridges with Hannah Brown, Design Bookbinder

Going to a course is all very well, but I wanted something more out of this trip than simply networking with people with whom I may or may not share interests. From the outset I was determined to meet other bookbinders. Many of the bookbinders I have met in Australia are of the older persuasion; there’s nothing wrong with that, and I know there are younger bookbinders in Australia. I just wanted to meet some young book artists, designers who worked in private practise.

I heard of Hannah Brown through an online article. She had won the 2008 Designer Bookbinders Competition.

I contacted Hannah via email and invited her to High Tea. She had told me that her studio would be in a state of flux by the time of my arrival; I’d never been to High Tea, and neither had she. So upon the advice of some expat friends I booked into Claridges Hotel for a treat and a talk.

I didn’t know what to wear; I wanted to look nice but not too formal; I wanted to be comfy.

I arrived early and was seated towards the back of the room. The service was friendly, but the decor left me a little….underwhelmed. I had expected chic elegance;  it was rather  gaudy for my taste, plush but lacking in finesse. Anyway…

Hannah and I at Claridges High Tea

Hannah arrived and after a few tentative minutes we got on like a house on fire. We talked about ourselves and from where we had come, creatively speaking.  Hannah had a degree in Three Dimensional Crafts, and had come to bookbinding through evening classes. I used to make small wooden boxes, and wanted to leave the saw dust behind and find a more malleable medium. I too went to a vocational course. While Hannah continued to more formal education at The Institute in London, I learned most of my skills on the job.

She had brought samples of her work: a current commission, a small box with inlay and a sampler box, as well as a project journal.

The sampler box was filled with maquettes of her big projects; smaller versions where she tried out her designs. Because I don’t do any binding of my own, it hadn’t occurred to me to do small samplers. In my box making days, any prototypes might have been made out of cardboard. Here Hannah had the whole design mapped out on a smaller card version. When she brought out her project journal I felt very privileged to get a glimpse into a working artist’s mind. As a woodworker I had a diary or journal into which I jotted down ideas to be played with later. Maybe dimensions, ideas for wood, eventualities. In my hand at high tea in Claridges I had the birth of a book’s design right to its completion. Talking with Hannah made me realise how much there still was for me to see, to experience, to do.

For over two hours we chatted over champagne, exquisite sandwiches, scones and cream and cakes, while the tea went cold.

It was simply a lovely experience; to meet with another binder and find out about them as artist and human being. I hope to meet Hannah again should I go back to the UK or should she visit Australia one of these days.


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