A Portrait of an Aesthetic Surgeon, as seen through the eyes and hands of a Bookbinder

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Mighty Queen Nefertiti went to see the court sculptor for a new bust.

The sculptor Thutmosis was old and wise and the Queen found him examining a block of black basalt.

“Can you make me immortal?” asked she, to which the sculptor replied, “No, I cannot, my Queen, for only the Gods are immortal”.

“Can you make me perfect?” asked she, to which the sculptor replied, “No, I cannot, my Queen, for these hands belong to an imperfect man and thus cannot create perfection”.

“Of what use are you to me then?” wondered she, to which the sculptor replied, “I can give you beauty, my Queen, and that surpasses both immortality and perfection, for even immortals covet beauty and it defines perfection”.

Seeking Beauty

What is beauty?
Defining its nature is one of the oldest and most persistently pursued endeavors of the human mind. We’ve yet to reach a conclusive definition and most likely never will, which is strange for something that governs our life in all its facets, one way or another.

I was commissioned to bind the memoirs of an aesthetic surgeon and in them he writes poignantly on the matter:

Countless mathematicians and philosophers attempt to quantitate true beauty and define perfect proportion. While they have succeeded to some degree, pointing to repetition of forms and ratios in the natural world as proof of their theories, there exists something unquantifiable about beauty. For me, it always comes back to the moment in the museum in Paris when I knew I stood before something beautiful. If beauty could be completely and entirely described, then an understanding of beauty would be something that anyone could obtain through study. We all know that’s not the case.”

What follows is a long journey into the creation of this binding and the worlds/thoughts of the surgeon and bookbinder behind it. If that, dear reader, sounds like something you’d enjoy carry on, and maybe pour a glass or two as we’ll be here for a while…

A Surgeon and a Bookbinder

We discussed a lot with Miss V., the person behind this project, and while I had a few ideas from the get go, which managed to find their ways into the finished bindings, they were mostly concepts without yet a solid canvas to bind them into a cohesive whole.

The commission involved two identical bindings and since one was intended as a gift to the very author of the book I decided to get to know him better. As I read his memoirs, I was surprised to find parallels between our professions, more than I’d expect, ranging from the superficial to the essential. This intrigued me: I felt I was looking at a strange mirror, seeing a distorted reflection of myself…

On a first level, the bookbinder and the surgeon use some similar tools (scalpel and various other cutting instruments) and work with the same basic material, leather, although obviously in different forms. Their work has to not only look good but function properly too: a stiff book joint that doesn’t open, or a stiff face, do not make for a happy client (although it may be argued the latter is more frustrating than the former). They both have to be very precise in their work, fusing over details less than half a mm in size, and must pay great attention to detail. Both fields require a balance between a skilled and steady hand and a good perception of aesthetics. The result is either lifeless or inspired but poorly made, if one of the two is lacking. The ideal surgeon and bookbinder are both an artisan and an artist.

On a deeper level, both seek to produce something beautiful. Some will probably argue that the most important pursuit of bookbinding is to protect and preserve the text, and they’d be 100% right, but I doubt it would have become such a vast and complex craft/art if it was only restrained to its technical purpose.

On this note, I couldn’t help but share this quote where the author draws an analogy between books and his field of work – although he probably didn’t expect it would apply to his memoirs one day:
“ We are all drawn to beautiful book covers: there’s a part of us all that looks to cover art to tell us something about what is inside.”

What intrigued me the most though were the similarities between the author and me. Although there are parallels it’s also true that his profession, work and world in general, differ a great deal from mine. Yet there were certain parts which resonated deeply with me.

A good example is his words on perfectionism:
“ But the great ones (surgeons) are awakened by challenge and driven by a chronic dissatisfaction with anything that could be better. ”
 I highly doubt I’ll ever be considered one of the great ones and I’m not implying that here – it is, after all, a title that’s always bestowed by others upon one’s person, as the author does here. That said, perfectionism has been an incredible driving force but also an occasional plague for me – I’ve talked about it and the effect it has had on me as an artisan in quite a few of my posts.

Here’s another one:
“ Aesthetic surgery is the perfect place for me. There is an intersection of art, science, and medicine that can’t be found in any other field.
Upon reading this I said to myself “Yes, exactly!”.

Bookbinding is an incredible amalgam of crafts and arts, unmatched (feel free to argue with me on this one) in the number and variety of craft fields it encompasses. No other craft comes close to it and it is this vastness and depth that I have fell in love with, as it makes every part of me come alive: it is about encasing the human intellect and psyche in a three-dimensional artifact and making sure it is functional, long lasting and beautiful.
Sounds like something a wizard would say describing his art, doesn’t it…?

But the part which resonated with me the most was his recollections of Paris, and more specifically coming face to face with masterpieces of art:

Paris was an incredible setting for expanding my horizons. I spent my time immersed in a culture that gave rise to some of the most beautiful art in the world and spent hours in the most celebrated museums. I was charged. Anyone who appreciates art knows the moment in a gallery or museum when perception of the sound of the floorboards or the knocking sound of your shoes on concrete gives way to the tidal wave of visual stimulation bestowed by a painting or sculpture. It shakes you. It isn’t just your eyes, but a feeling. You just know, with something beyond your eyes and brain, that what you are looking at is beautiful and meaningful and true. That feeling has the same force as the one that brings people to tears at symphonies and causes riots after Avant guard plays. As a young man in Paris, I experienced that over, and over, and over again. Standing feet away from perfect human forms released from marble, the abstract and yet completely controlled paintings of Seraut, and the luminous pastel forms of Degas, it clicked. The nebulous appreciation for art that had permeated my childhood coalesced and became a central part of who I am.

The feeling he describes is something very familiar to me and I’ve had the pleasure to experience it in many cases. None of it however prepared me for my recent trip to Rome…

Rome was sublime. I never imagined such an immense scale of art and beauty -magnificent art that ranges from fragments of the ancient past to enormous masterpieces of the renaissance and beyond- could exist in one place in the world. It was simply too much to absorb and I’m still trying to process it.

Perhaps the most characteristic single instance was in Palazzo Massimo, which I highly recommend spending the time to explore.

Here I must note that I had the huge privilege to be almost entirely alone there during my visit, as it was during “off-season” (as much as it can be in Rome) and while the pandemic was still in almost full effect. This allowed me and my partner to have entire floors, sometimes entire museums, to ourselves, making the experience deeply personal. It was as if all of this art and beauty was created and collected there just for us…

Anyway, back to Palazzo Massimo. While it contains some extraordinary pieces of art, like the breathtaking sculpture of the Wrestler, it was something entirely different that stood out for me. At the 3rd floor of the museum are on display, excellently preserved, the interior walls and paintings of a Roman villa. Among them was a room portraying a garden.
  Viewing it in the serenity of absolute silence and solitude, I was moved. There was something in that artificial garden, it’s hard to put in words, as if this unknown painter was so in control of his skills, so confident and at the same time so humble and close to what he was depicting, making it seem completely effortless and full of life, as if he could do anything with his art. He could bring forth the mysteries of existence but instead created this garden, which felt in some ways more real than the real thing. I was almost in tears.

It also brought to mind what Picasso (supposedly) said after seeing the Altamira cave paintings “We’ve invented nothing”…

Capturing Beauty

It was this trip to Rome that gave me the inspiration I needed for the design, which is somewhat of an irony since I was asked by a couple of people if I believed it could find its way into my work and, having a hard time digesting the excess of excellence I came in touch with, I remember thinking to myself the unlikeliness of such a possibility.

In his memoirs the author writes:
“ Standing feet away from perfect human forms released from marble […]”
and
“In many ways I consider myself a sculptor, and my medium human cartilage, bone, and tissue.

I knew there was something I could -no, not could, should!- work with there. But I couldn’t come up with something. After returning from Rome, and while I was trying to convince my ideas to work in unison, I kept thinking about the trip. I remembered my visit to the Vatican museums. The first stop was their great collection of Egyptian antiquities, among which were artifacts and statues made of black basalt. Suddenly, something clicked. A concept began to emerge, my up-until-now random ideas gravitating towards it.

An important part of the design I came up with was to surface-gilt the back cover with a foil that would make it look like dark granite or basalt. This was a technique I was familiar with and I also did various tests, which looked great in person. However, when I went on to apply it on the bindings themselves disaster struck: for some reason beyond the result was “clotted” and didn’t look at all like the test boards, although the materials and the process was exactly the same.

Hmm, this felt familiar
Fortunately, I am not the binder I was 10 years ago. This disaster forced me to rethink the design and the final piece of the puzzle was revealed: I decided to use a material I bought a while back and had been itching to use, a paper with a stone texture.
Why didn’t you think of it in the first place, I hear you ask? I’ve no idea, tunnel vision I guess. The point is abandoning the surface-gilding technique and introducing this paper freed me and eventually led to a much more nuanced design.

One of the reasons I immensely enjoyed working on this project was how well it lended itself to my beloved play on symbolism. As you might have seen in my South Sea Scheme or Hamlet binding, I like to create layers of meaning, some of which point inwards and some outwards, by playing with the three elements interacting with each other: the book’s content, the thoughts it creates and lastly the binding, the physical object, itself.

However in this case the concept of layers took on a much more literal meaning as well, a nod to the topic at hand. Books have layers, just like human bodies. And just as is the case with people those layers take on a metaphorical sense as you peel deeper: Books and People are more than the sum of their parts.

I tried to incorporate the aspect of layers in different ways. First by actually taking off a piece of leather/skin from the face on the front cover, “unveiling” that way what lies beneath. The cover itself is a layer and when you open it you are once more left facing the tissue underneath, but bigger/closer now. The endpapers are followed by a section of two papers that differ in hue and texture, to add tactility but mostly to simulate a transition from one layer to another into the human body. And finally, we reach a paper in the color and texture of bone upon which the thoughts of the author are laid.

The layer concept, as described above, also doubles as a play to the authors quote on being a sculptor with human cartilage, bone, and tissue being his medium.

The cases could be considered as adding a final extra layer over the bindings.

Moving on to the covers themselves, which I named Pre-operation side and Goddess side respectively in my mind.

The Pre-op side features, with some artistic license, surgical markings inspired by Langer lines, which normally depict skin tension.

The detail that stands out the most on this side, in fact one of the core elements of the design in general, is the incredible marbled paper that Daniela from Papiers Prina managed to create, custom made for this project, which was also used for the endpapers.
I had the idea of such a paper in my mind long before the design began taking shape and so a lot of it was created around this paper. I needed something that would bring the image of human muscle, tissue and blood veins in mind, while being artistic and interesting to look at – beautiful but also slightly disturbing. It was, as requests go, very specific and at the same time quite vague.

Daniela’s paper surpassed my wildest expectations. It was extremely difficult to make, as it was triple-marbled and required a great amount of experimentation and precision to achieve the intended result and have all the layers show through each other in the right way. In the end though her skills, meticulousness and artistic perception allowed her, through the strange mix of chaos and order that is marbling, to create the most unique marbled paper I’ve ever owned and used.

I wanted the Goddess side to have a transcending quality to it. To be a beautiful face but also one that isn’t exactly real. Gone are the anatomical lines and the jawline indicating a face contour, the skin and tissue underneath: a black stone with intense texture, abstract lines and gold accents has taken their place. Its shape, the shape of the face now, is not anymore bound by the restraints of human anatomy. The straight colorless hair has turned to golden ornaments. A vibrant electric blue emanates from the eye, capturing the light in every move of the cover.

This is the desired image of ourselves, beauty itself. The disparity between the two faces is huge, yet they exist on opposing sides of the same book and if one would flip the covers open in a 180 degree angle (ideally don’t though!) they could gaze onto each other…

The eye, lips and nose of the Goddess side were traced over an astonishing face, that of Queen Nefertiti, as seen through the famous bust.

The title, running down on the bindings spine between the two covers, underlines how the surgeon is the intermediator between us and our desired image of ourselves.
The letters of the title are each tooled in two colors: gold and a silvery black, inspired by the gold-black stripes on King Tut’s sarcophagus.

For the headbands I went with a red leather core held in place by golden silk threads, the idea being to resemble exposed veins.

It’s a happy coincidence that this is the first binding I’ve put some sort of personal insignia on – something that’s been long overdue. The symbol you see represents a monogram of K and D, my initials.

Make sure to check the bindings in motion at the full video presentations I’ve uploaded at the corresponding Instagram post. While I’m happy with the photos a binding is always a 3-dimensional object and the way it feels and interacts with the light is often lost in still pictures.

The mighty Queen and the wise Sculptor

The story of Nefertiti and Thutmosis (“calligraphy” on papyrus by Marianna Koutsipetsidis) originally came to me as a nice extra touch.  However, in the end it became what really brought everything together: the idea behind the design, the source of its inspiration, the style of the bookcase, the book’s content and my thoughts during the whole binding process.

I’m a storyteller at heart and, to me at least, this short story is the most important part of this project and why it’s possibly my most “artistic” work yet. Binding the book and making a case for it, no matter how special, is simply a transformation process through my skills, it’s still taking X and using it to make Y. The short story represents the transition from transformation to emergence, creating something entirely new, that also grants meaning to my design. It’s the core, the life-giving heart of it all.

I always considered myself a craftsman and not really an artist when it comes to bookbinding – the artistic side of me usually being just a sprinkle on the cake. That’s why this project, for the reason mentioned above, felt like a birth of sorts, as if entering a new realm where strange and exciting things happen.

Who knows, if I manage to stay here long enough I might even find Thutmosis somewhere, patiently revealing a face hidden in stone…

Epilogue

Before signing off I’d like to express my gratitude for G.V., the person who commissioned this project. By giving me freedom, patience, helpful pointers, trust and last but not least a decent budget, she made it stress-free and allowed me to immerse myself in it, to explore, experiment and finally produce something that speaks of the creative in me as much as, I believe, speaks of the book’s content.

Last but not least, for those interested I used my Stylus set, Dot set and Versatile Typeholder to make this binding.

Σεμινάρια Βιβλιοδεσίας Φθινόπωρο 2021 – Bookbinding Courses Autumn 2021

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Τα σεμινάρια που θα διεξαχθούν το φθινόπωρο είναι:
– Ραφτή Πανόδετη Βιβλιοδεσία ~ Cloth Case binding, Bradel Binding
– Κοπτική Bιβλιοδεσία ~ Coptic Binding
– Ιαπωνική Bιβλιοδεσία ~ Japanese bookbinding

Θα ακολουθήσει σεμινάριο δερματόδετης βιβλιοδεσίας την άνοιξη.

Τοποθεσία: Το εργαστήριο βρίσκεται πλησίον Εθνικής Άμυνας και έχει εύκολη πρόσβαση με τα μέσα ή με αυτοκίνητο.

Εάν θέλετε να συμμετέχετε:
α) αποστείλετε ένα mail στο koutsipetsidis@gmail.com
β) καλέστε με στο 6936474123 (απογευματινές ώρες).
Δήλωση συμμετοχών έως 13 Σεπτεμβρίου.

Θα χαρώ να σας δω στα σεμινάρια!

Σχετικά με τον Covid
Προκειμένου να μπορέσουμε να απολαύσουμε όλοι όσο γίνεται πιο ξέγνοιαστα τα σεμινάρια θα ισχύουν τα εξής:
– Η δήλωση ενδιαφέροντος/συμμετοχής πρέπει να συνοδεύεται από χαρτί εμβολιασμού.
– Θα φοράμε μάσκα καθόλη την διάρκεια των μαθημάτων.

 


Χειροποίητη Ραφτή Πανόδετη Βιβλιοδεσία – Cloth Case binding, Bradel Binding

Το σεμινάριο αυτό αποτελεί μια εισαγωγή στην παραδοσιακή βιβλιοδεσία μέσα από την τεχνική του “καλύμματος” (cloth case binding / bradel binding – ραφτή πανόδετη βιβλιοδεσία). Με την ολοκλήρωση των μαθημάτων θα έχετε στα χέρια σας ένα δεμένο βιβλίο και τις γνώσεις για να δένετε βιβλία με απλά υλικά και εργαλεία βιβλιοδεσίας.

Κόστος σεμιναρίου: 200 ευρώ (συμπεριλαμβανομένης της προκαταβολής για κατοχύρωση θέσης, παρέχονται όλα τα υλικά και εργαλεία), τα οποία θα καταβληθούν σε δόσεις.
Έναρξη μαθημάτων: Σάββατο 25 Σεπτεμβρίου.
Αριθμός μαθημάτων: 7
Διάρκεια μαθήματος: 3-4 ώρες (ώρα αναλόγως τον αριθμό συμμετεχόντων και το περιεχόμενο έκαστου μαθήματος).
Μέρες και ώρες: Σάββατο (πρωί με μεσημέρι ή απόγευμα με βραδάκι). Ακριβής ώρα θα καθοριστεί κατόπιν συνεννόησης με τους ενδιαφερόμενους.
Η κατοχύρωση θέσης γίνεται με μια προκαταβολή των 50 ευρώ (το οποίο αφαιρείται από το συνολικό κόστος του σεμιναρίου).

Σημείωση: Το ποσό αυτό δεν επιστρέφεται σε περίπτωση ακύρωσης 1 εβδομάδα πριν την έναρξη του σεμιναρίου ή λιγότερο.

Συνοπτικά τα στάδια που θα δουμε:
1) Ξύλωμα του βιβλίου και ενίσχυση των τυπογραφικών
2) Πριόνισμα των τυπογραφικών για το ράψιμο
3) Ράψιμο του βιβλίου σε τεζάκι
4) Ψαροκόλλημα ράχης
5) Στρογγύλεμα ράχης
6) Πέρασμα εσωφύλλων
7) Κατασκευή κεφαλαριού από ύφασμα
8) Ενίσχυση ράχης
9) Κατασκευή καλύμματος
10) Ντύσιμο καλύμματος με ύφασμα και διακοσμητικό χαρτί
11) Πέρασμα καλύμματος και ολοκλήρωση της βιβλιοδεσίας
12) Μοστράρουμε το βιβλίο μας σε κάθε συγγενή, φίλο και γνωστό! 

Θα χαρώ να σας υποδεχτώ!

Κοπτική και Ιαπωνική βιβλιοδεσία

Η Κοπτική και Ιαπωνική αποτελούν ιδανικό ξεκίνημα για όσους θέλουν να γνωρίσουν τον κόσμο της βιβλιοδεσίας -και της χειροτεχνίας γενικότερα- καθώς είναι εύκολες και απαιτούν λίγα και πολύ απλά υλικά και εργαλεία, παράλληλα όμως προσφέρουν αναρίθμητες δυνατότητες για δημιουργικότητα.

Στα ολιγόωρα αυτά σεμινάρια θα μάθουμε τις βασικές τεχνικές ραψίματος για το κάθε είδος, πώς να ντύνουμε ένα σκληρόδετο κάλυμμα και θα χρησιμοποιήσουμε όμορφα χαρτιά για να διακοσμήσουμε τα σημειωματάρια μας!

Κοπτική βιβλιοδεσία – Coptic Binding

Κόστος σεμιναρίου: 30 ευρώ + 5 ευρώ κόστος υλικών, παρέχονται τα εργαλεία.
Μέρα – ώρες: Κυριακή 3 Οκτωβρίου.
Ακριβής ώρα θα καθοριστεί κατόπιν συνεννόησης με τους ενδιαφερόμενους.

Διάρκεια μαθήματος: ~ 5 ώρες
Κατοχύρωση θέσης: γίνεται με την πληρωμή του κόστους συμμετοχής.

 

Ιαπωνική βιβλιοδεσία – Japanese stab binding

Κόστος σεμιναρίου: 30 ευρώ + 5 ευρώ κόστος υλικών, παρέχονται τα εργαλεία.
Μέρα – ώρες: Κυριακή 10 Οκτωβρίου. Ακριβής ώρα θα καθοριστεί κατόπιν συνεννόησης με τους ενδιαφερόμενους.
Διάρκεια μαθήματος: ~ 5-6 ώρες
Κατοχύρωση θέσης: γίνεται με την πληρωμή του κόστους συμμετοχής.

Θα παρέχονται χαρτιά Chiyogami για την διακόσμηση του σημειωματαρίου σας!

Book recommendations and reviews

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As a sign off for the rest of summer I’ve thought to share with you all a few of my favorite books. Hopefully you’ll find your next favorite read among them too…

FOLIO SOCIETY’S SCIENCE FICTION ANTHOLOGY

What’s it about?
An excellently selected and presented anthology of sci-fi stories, ranging from Philip K. Dick to … Voltaire, from black humor to social commentary to existential angst and horror!

Why should I read it?.
Before answering that let’s address why you should own it, even if you never read it!

Folio Society and its associates have done an amazing job on the book’s design and presentation, both externally and internally. It’s an absolute gem to have on your shelf.

Ok, ok… But why should I read it?
Brian W. Aldiss did an excellent selection of stories, taking care to present us with a great variety in content and writing styles. I’d say, accepting the possibility of committing hubris here, the Folio anthology is the equivalent of sci-fi in a bottle; If someone asked me “what is sci-fi?” I’d hand them this book.

If you like sci-fi, you’ll love it. And if you think sci-fi isn’t for you then this book will mount a very convincing argument to the contrary.


Sci-fi is surprising. It spins what is familiar to us into something new and exciting. It often challenges us in figuring out answers in questions we didn’t even know existed. It invites us to explore what is beyond our reach or understanding.

And although sci-fi often revolves around the impossible, the unfathomable, the transcending, in the end it uses those things as a prism to allow us to peer deeper in ourselves.

WAR OF THE BUTTONS by LOUIS PERGAUD

What’s it about?
This is the story of a savage war raging between the school boys from two villages in the early 1900s.
Bold, funny, heroic and full of innocence, War of the Buttons is a romantic portrait of the bliss and rebellious spirit of childhood.

Why should I read it?
If the writer’s own words (read below) didn’t convince you then I don’t know what will!
Although for most of us (if not all) our early years do not bear any semblance with those of Pergaud’s heroes, I believe he has managed to capture something of the very essence of childhood, which transcends the era and country in which the story takes place. We can all find a nostalgic part of ourselves in his book – hopefully the part prone to mischief…!

Note: to really enjoy this book it’s important to find a properly translated edition (unless you’re french or can read french, in which case you should definitely read it in its original language!).
By “proper” I mean one that is not afraid to accurately portray the audacity and innocent savagery of a band of pre-teen boys bent on the war path.

In the words of the author Louis Pergaud:

[…]
I did not shy away from rude expressions, provided they are in good taste, or the rude gesture, provided it is epic.
I wanted to recapture a moment of my childhood, which we lived as wildlings full of excitement and vigor, in all its sincerity and heroism and free of the hypocrisies of family and school.
[…]


For my Greek readers:
Συστήνω την μετάφραση του Φώντα Κονδύλη (-και μόνο!) από τις εκδόσεις Πατάκη. Η άψογη απόδοση του Κονδύλη αιχμαλωτίζει πλήρως το θρασύ και σπινθηροβόλο πνεύμα της ιστορίας!

WHAT SHAPE IS A SNOWFLAKE, MAGICAL NUMBERS IN NATURE by IAN STEWART

What’s it about?
I’ve decided to quote the book’s summary in this case:


” The stripes of a zebra…the complexities of a spider’s web…the waves of the ocean…and the shape of a snowflake. These and other natural patterns have been recognized by scientists for centuries. What do they have in common?
[…]
Beautifully illustrated, What Shape is a Snowflake? is an illuminating and engaging vision of how the apparently cold laws of mathematics find organic expression in the beauty of nature.”

Why should I read it?
You’ve probably heard of or read many books on pop science, so “why is this one any different?” I hear you wonder.

Allow me to answer by sharing the impact this book had on me.
Reading this back in my high school days changed my perception of science, and in many ways the world in general, by accomplishing what all my years in school and endless joyless hours of physics, chemistry, algebra and geometry failed to do: to show me how all these seemingly arbitrary numbers and equations, strange terms, complex theories and concepts are connected with the real world, in ways that are empirical, observable and tangible. How they define everything we see -and even what we don’t see- around us, from the tiniest quantums of existence up to the incomprehensible vastness of the universe.

It reads like a great documentary, in that it starts off from basic ideas and step by step, through interesting images and Ian’s captivating writing, builds upon them to eventually reach complex concepts.
It does get a bit technical here and there but the writer does a great job of keeping things simple and keeping the reader engaged.

THE HOBBIT by J.R.R. TOLKIEN

What’s it about?
It’s the story of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit happily leading a completely ordinary and uneventful life until a wizard shows up at his door to invite him to a perilous quest that involves dwarves, an ancient treasure and a terrifying dragon.

Why should I read it?
Treading lightly on its hairy toes Tolkien’s Hobbit is a fantasy novel like no other. It’s no wonder it has sparked the imagination of countless people, many of which went on to create their own works of art inspired by it. Light hearted, immersive, exciting and surprising it will be worth every second of your time – as long as you are willing to let yourself wander in the strange and wonderful Middle Earth.

Though usually considered literature for ealry adolescence, and indeed that’s the ideal age of introducing someone to Tolkien, the Hobbit is a book that can be enjoyed from ages of 11 to 111, as its fans around the world will tell you.

A few notes:
When I was 11-12 years old an uncle and aunt came to visit. Not knowing what to bring as a gift they went to a bookshop and asked the bookseller to recommend something for a child of said age. “You know… I have just the thing, he’ll love it!” said he – and gave them the Hobbit…
Twenty years later I still feel grateful to that person.

Upon reading the Hobbit something “clicked” in me. What was a vague fondness for a number of things began to acquire form, to move in a certain direction. It acted as a spark for my imagination and creativity.
I honestly don’t know if I’d be the same person had I not read Tolkien’s books, or if I did so many years later. That’s how great of an impact his work had on me.

Also:
If you’re one of the people who have seen the Hobbit films but haven’t read the book I feel sorry for you.
If you’re one of those who have neither seen the films nor read the book then I envy you, since that means you can experience the pure joy that is reading it for the first time.

Last but not least:
Yes, I know the cover features (badly printed) art that’s actually from LoTR, however that’s how this specific greek edition was printed at the time and I love it.

BLACKSAD by JUANJO GUARNIDO

What’s it about?
A series of graphic novels about John Blacksad, a private investigator living in 50s-60s USA, inhabited by animals instead of humans.

Blacksad is smart and charming but also flawed and often vulnerable… We follow in his -rather stealthy, he’s a cat afterall! – footsteps as he unravels the threads of mysterious cases, orbited by an equally interesting cast of characters – whether those are helpful companions or ruthless villains.

Why should I read it?
I mean, it’s noir crime stories with amazing hand-painted art and anthropomorphic animals as protagonists… How can you not read it?!

The books were photographed by the talented Maria Siorba. You can see/follow her work by visiting her site or instagram page.

William Blake’s Prophetic Books

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Here’s two of my recent bindings, Blake’s Prophetic Books in two rather large volumes.

Though it’s not apparent, the tooling is in (dark) purple.
I used ink tooling (here are a couple of examples: one and two), a technique I’ve invented based on carbon tooling, the idea being for purple to contrast the vibrant green.

However in retrospect I believe I could have done it differently (regular blind tooling perhaps): the color is barely noticeable and also doesn’t take advantage of the lovely gradient effect that you can achieve by using two different colors.
Overall though I’m pleased with the end result.

The lovely marbled paper I used is from Papiers Prina.
Recently bought a few marbled papers from her and I must say I’m in love with them: vibrant colors in balanced combinations and the patterns are delicate and beautiful.

Daniela is also very helpful and a pleasure to work with. For what is more she was able to accommodate a custom request I had (needed one of her designs in different colors) in a fairly short time!
Make sure to add her to your marbled paper supplier list (site/online shop and Instagram account) – can’t recommend her enough!

Last but not least I’ve used my Brass Band Nippers, Versatile Typeholder and Dot set to make these bindings. If you’d like to add them to your tool collection you can contact me directly (mail at the top right column) or head over to my Etsy shop.

Workspace Improvements and Retrospection

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Dear reader: this is a post where I discuss in (some) detail why and how I made a paper cabinet and a new bench for my bindery. If you’re more interested in how these rather ordinary workspace improvements are linked to my journey as an artisan you can skip to the last part which is the musings I’ve become, for better or worse, notorious for.

Even though I have what many consider a roomy bindery it somehow became clogged over the last years and I’ve had to always move things from one bench to another. This wasn’t simply a matter of “tidying up”; Storage is a multifaceted topic that strongly determines whether a workspace is functional or not. After 5 years I decided to finally tackle the issue with a few additions and realizations that had much more of an impact than I anticipated.

One of my main griefs with the workspace was the paper cabinet/bench I made back in 2016 when I first moved in. I had the option of making a paper cabinet with drawers, but that would had taken a lot of time and effort and would cost almost twice as much so I chose to go with this bare-bones approach.

This proved – shockingly! – the wrong choice. As a bookbinder I work with paper every day, often having to take or return sheets to their place dozens of times within a few hours. The initial paper “cabinet” had all sort of problems:

– The drawers rested on wooden laths, which meant it was a hussle pulling them out or pushing them back in. For the same reason they could only be pulled a certain amount, which was not comfortable enough in examining or handling the papers.

– The drawers protruded outwards from the face of the furniture and there wasn’t some kind of door. That meant dust -and my bindery is quite dusty due to the absence of large windows and also because of toolmaking- constantly accumulated over the top sheets of every drawer. I hung a paper sheet to cover most of the drawers but, for practical reasons, the corners of the drawers remained exposed, which still allowed a lot of dust to settle in. Cleaning it was pointless, so I simply placed some disposable sheets on the top of each stack in order to protect the rest of the papers.

– The “drawers” were flat pieces of wood. I naively thought they were thick enough to not mind holding 3-4 dozen of papers each and so I was not too happy to find some of them rather bent after 5 years of use.

– Last but not least, I felt my beloved marbled papers’ disapproving gaze every time I pulled their drawer. After a while it became too much to bear.

It can be draining when your workspace gets in your way instead of making your life easier. For what is more I will be working on some interesting and challenging commissions in late 2021 and 2022, plus a couple of important personal projects, and so it felt like it was time for some much-needed improvements in the workspace.

The paper cabinet was the main project, followed by a new bench and some shelves in the tooling section of the bindery.
It took me 5 days to measure, design and put together the entire thing. I’ve watched enough woodworking and furniture making videos to know a proper cabinet maker would do 99% of it differently. Even so, given the complexity and difficulty such a project posed, my respect for the trade climbed to even greater heights.

I’d also like to -sacrilegiously- add that I love plywood and even consider it good looking, (those yummy stripes!) apart from being an affordable and easy to work with material.

I’ve added a small twist to the cabinet: the front wall of the drawers is hinged and can fall down. I believe this may be useful when placing in new papers, especially when they must go in the middle or lower part of a stack, which is most often the case. Remains to be seen though!

The new bench that sits next to the board shear is basically shelves with a working surface on top of them. I was tempted to make it fit the geometry of the wooden panel behind it and blend in better with the surrounding space but then I thought I might have to someday move to a new space, so it would be ill-advised to let the current one dictate the bench’s dimensions.

Last but definitely not least come the shelves next to and above the polishing machine.

I’ve come to realize that many of a bindery’s problems come from the lack of shelves: does your workspace feel cluttered and uninspiring? You probably need more shelves. Are you having trouble meeting deadlines? You need more shelves. Does the bindery cat avoid your company? It is most likely frustrated by the lack of shelves.

They might not look like much but given how toolmaking is becoming more and more an important part of the bindery’s day to day work their addition will make a big difference.
You can never have enough shelves folks!

To compliment these improvements I bought a number of storing boxes (I recommend this from Plaisio if you’re a greek reader – no ties with them, I simply like these boxes very much: convenient size, sturdy enough, they have handles and are very affordable) and also had some custom ones made to suit specific needs. As I said, storing stuff is a multifaceted topic that ranges from small things to how you arrange your workspace in general. For example, effectively storing your collection of colored threads or sandpapers might sound trivial but even spending a few seconds more in finding or getting them can accumulate in working days, weeks, or even months over the course of years – especially if you consider all the little things this might apply to.

Reflection part ensuing from here on.

If I’m to be completely honest with myself these improvements were much needed but cost a lot more than I felt comfortable with at the moment and also took precious time away from commissions, with which I’m trying to catch up after a very disruptive 7 month long lockdown (dear reader from the 2040s, this was the year of the Covid pandemic).
So why did I invest resources and time into something like this? Were a paper cabinet, a bench and some shelves all that important? I believe they were; apart from their practical benefits they embody the fact my workspace finally feels like home.

The bindery is my home. If you count out sleeping, that pesky biological need, I spend more hours there than I do at my actual home. I would guess this holds true for many of my fellow artisans out there, bookbinders or otherwise. Since that is the case it’s important I also feel at home when I’m at the bindery.

Up until now however it always felt like a suit cut 1-2 sizes short, if you know what I mean. Instead of being an extension of me, at times it almost felt like a unwilling entity that I had to convince or trick into collaboration in order to get things done.

It’s hard to explain this, as it seems I was unhappy when in fact I loved my first workspace, although it was severely lacking in all aspects (this was because of many reasons that had to do with the resources I had available and the timing in which I started exploring bookbinding – the 2008 financial crisis which sent Greece into bankruptcy).

Same goes for when I moved to my current space; the space itself and the way I set my bindery there was a vast improvement but still lagging behind my needs and desires. You can love someone or something deeply and still feel they can’t give you everything you need. And that’s alright; you (can choose to) accept that, try to improve what can be improved and make do.

Even though I made improvements over the years and things got better and better, storage has always been an issue and even though I moved to a new and roomier location it kept plaguing me. That’s why making these was liberating; for most of my bookbinding career I used to see photos from other binderies and -admittedly- drool over them. However now, after 13 years and with this issue solved, the bindery in my mind finally matches the bindery in front of my eyes.

If you’ve read so far I’ll have you know that there’s an interesting project coming in the future, where the bindery itself will play a pivotal role in.

Till next time!~

I, Claudius – Return to Ancient Rome

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After 5 years I get to return to my beloved ancient Rome through these bindings of Robert Graves’ books I, Claudius and Claudius the God.

The idea behind these bindings was to go for something simple and classic. Although in theory this should have been easy I struggled a lot coming up with a decoration. Perhaps the lockdowns (dear future reader: this was the year of the Covid pandemic) finally took their toll on my inspiration!

The decoration on the covers was designed by Marianna Koutsipetsidi, who has aided me time and again with her valuable skills, using historical artwork from that era (frescoes and mosaics) as reference. It depicts an eagle holding a wolf pup, an omen within the story of things to come.

The leather I used for the bindings has a deep grain which is very beautiful but made tracing the design very difficult. I commissioned a stamping plate to assist me in that regard: I carefully damped the covers and pressed it until it left a clear impression. I then proceeded to blind tool the whole design by hand.

I’m particularly happy with the printed marbled paper I used for the clamshell boxes which looks very similar to actual marble, for that extra ancient Rome touch.

The titles were tooled in genuine 24 carat gold leaf and the endbands were handsewn with silk thread.

When it comes to the book spines I drew inspiration from early 16th century bindings, which were most often blind tooled rather than gold tooled and many of them had rather simple decorations on them, most often linear in nature. There’s also a “roughness” to their decoration.
I tried to capture a bit of that aesthetic to allow the bindings to look “dated/old” while being new.

These historical bindings also lack titles in most cases, I suppose because metal type was still in its first decades and not as readily available. For what is more I couldn’t find a way to properly fit the title to the spines of the bindings in a way that would look nice.
So, in the end I decided to tool the titles on the spines of the book cases.

Last but not least, I used my Bookbinding Stylus Set to tool the covers decoration and the pillar on the case spines, as well as my Versatile Typeholder to tool the titles.

The South Sea Scheme

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Greetings everyone, hope you managed to enjoy the holidays and brace for whatever 2021 has in store for us!
Without further ado lets… dive in this special project.

Mister C. owns an admirable collection of marbled papers from around the world. Word on the bookbinding street is that he keeps them in a secret room in his study, revealed only if you press 43 books -out of 6000- in a specific order, while others claim the way to reveal the entrance is to loudly name the 3 greatest economists in reverse speech while standing on one foot.
In any case, Mister C. often initiates a project by choosing a marbled paper for a book, either on his own or consulting with the bookbinder, and building the overall design from there.

Such was the case with a pamphlet on the South Sea Bubble, a famous financial scheme that involved slave trading. More specifically the pamphlet is focused on the absurd case the defendants made in court, since the scheme resulted in a financial disaster on a national level. Coincidentally 2021 marks 300 years from the South Sea Bubble, as the fraud was revealed in 1721.

Mister C. had a few requests when it came to the design. I was to use one of the marvelous marbled papers made by Antonio Velez Celemin, which had swirls that would resemble a turbulent sea. I tried my best to capture the beauty of this paper on camera but one really has to see it in person to appreciate its extremely fine details, such as the numerous hair-thin gold lines that populate it and add to its splendor.
The design was to also include a ship, chains, the pound sign and the words “human rights” among its elements. The overall layout and the way all these would be incorporated was left to my crafting judgement though.
The intention was to create a binding that would narrate the story of the South Sea Bubble in a symbolic way, while at the same touching upon its repercussions and ethical questions it raises.

The first thing I did was trying to find out which part of the marbled papers to cut and how. I had to decide which areas best suited the design, take into account the paper grain and the exact outline of the cut. As the entire design would be based on the resulting pieces and I only had one sheet it took me 3 hours to complete this process.

I felt like a lapidarist, who has to study a rough diamond and come up with the ideal final shape, in order to remove the impurities but also preserve as much of the precious material as possible, thus revealing its hidden beauty and ensuring the resulting gem will have be of the highest value.

Once the pieces of paper were cut I knew the space I had available and its exact geometry, allowing me to create the rest of the design in detail.

The ship sailing on the turbulent sea under a storm and its wreck sinking to the bottom to meet the remnants of other ships were made using small pieces of leather pared down to a 0.3mm thickness, called onlays.

The chain on the front cover carries a double meaning: representing the shackles of the people that suffered under the slave trade conducted by the South Sea Company as well as the cuffs that were put on many of the ones responsible for the scheme, falling upon the ship and their business in the shape of a lighting – hinting at allegorical interpretations of “divine punishment”.

This design was also an excellent chance to utilize my (copyright pending!) Round Circle Title form, which I haven’t used for a very long time.
(Here’s two examples: A and B)

Ι blended “human rights” with the title and tooled it in a blood-red foil to add even more symbolic notes to the overall theme and make a stark contrast with the dark leather and gold title.
Fun fact: I haven’t been able to find this foil locally and so I’ve been religiously keeping/saving a small scrap for nearly a decade. It paid off, as I think it adds a great touch and becomes in some ways the central focus of the design. Take that Marie Kondo!

The pamphlet itself sits comfortably within a recess on the velvet and marbled-paper covered interior. When removed it reveals what is in many cases the cause of human suffering: money.
As with the paper on the covers I tried to use a piece that would make the most of the marbled paper chaotic and fine details.

The pamphlet was a binding at some point in the past, though the only remnants from that state were a damaged endband sliver and some dried up goo along the spine. I decided to intervene as little as possible and simply guarded the folios with Japanese tissue, later binding them on a strip of thick paper using the longstitch method.
This way there was almost zero harm to the pamphlet, as most of the holes used for the longstitch were already present and the strips of Japanese paper can easily be removed if necessary, while at the same time remaining readable.

For those interested, I used my Bookbinding Stylus tool set and Versatile Typeholder to make the decoration of this binding.

Brunelleschi’s Cupola & The Role of Mathematics (in the rise of Science)

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Some years ago I watched a documentary on the construction of the Florence Cathedral, highlighting of course its magnificent dome and the life of its maker, Fillipo Brunelleshi. I encourage anyone with an interest in history, architecture and engineering, or good documentaries in general, to watch it!

The story behind the massive dome and its brilliant maker were most interesting and stayed with me for years so it was not without some excitement when V.G. tasked me to make a binding for a book on the architecture and physics of the dome.

One of the notable features of the dome is its octagonal shape, upon which I based the decoration.

I wanted the design to hint at red chalk, which was often used historically to draw/plan all sorts of things. In order to achieve that I used ink tooling, a technique I came up with inspired by Hannah Brown’s carbon tooling. The resulting effect is quite interesting: a dual-color impression, randomly shifting from one color to another.

Last but not least I tried to match the leather with the color of the roof tiles.

The second binding is more straightforward with a mix of blind and foil tooling on a lovely teal leather.

Both bindings feature hand-sewn silk endbands.

I used my Brass Stylus set, Dot set, Versatile typeholder and tools from Bookbindesigns (Kevin Noakes) for the decoration of these bindings.

This is my last post for 2020, which has been a very strange and difficult year. May 2021 be kinder to us all!
Best wishes for the holiday season and see you folks next year!

A Story of Hope – Or how to do a proper wedding book!

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Stowing the tins in her tent, pitched inside the Olympic stadium, Laila climbs to the roof and watches the sun fall past the horizon. Hundreds of feet below, the city’s constellations of streetlights start blinking into existence.

There are no humans left in London, but the city hums with activity, a hollow approximation of organic civilization.

Folks, there’s romance and there’s romance, and then there’s story-set-in-post-apocalyptic-world-for-our-wedding-book kind of romance – which honestly makes making everything else weak and vanilla by comparison.

Mister W. wanted a special binding for a story he wrote and will be displayed at his wedding. I happen to be a sucker for post-apocalypse themed stories and Mister W’s story was a small gem of a novel, so I went a bit beyond the original plan to do this project justice.

(Check my bindery’s Instagram account for a video presentation of this binding!)

My design was based on the excerpt at the beginning of the post. I wanted to capture a glimpse of Laila’s view of the city: alive and yet non-living, beautiful but at the same time cold and distant.

I used a map diagram to blind tool the outline of a central London area. Then I used metallic foils to inhabit it with the hundreds of machines, like driverless cars, drones, billboards, etc lighting up and moving about.

Since machines are optimized for efficiency I imagined they always arrange themselves in certain ways, move or settle in formations, and thus I created a number of “secret” rules I followed regarding the size, placement, number and color of dots. The result is a chaotic order, incomprehensible to us and seemingly random, but perfectly ordinary for the machines.

I also made a custom slipcase featuring an important element of the story.

I’ve had lots of fun making this one. Let it be put on record it’s among my top favorite bindings I’ve made and I’ll be really sad to part with it.

Last but not least, A6 size is amazing for design bindings. Everything feels/ looks neat and interesting! Dear clients, more A6s please.

I used my Bookbinding Stylus Set, Versatile Typeholder and Dot set to decorate this binding.

THE AETHRA CODEX – A FANTASY PUZZLE BINDING

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The Dwarves of the Dark Mountains never cared much for gold or precious stones, although they had plenty of both. Instead, they had a mind for wandering. Their gaze was always turned towards the horizon, and what lies beyond, and so they roamed the land and sailed the great sea and discovered wonders the likes of which have inspired bards for centuries.

However they were always distrustful and secretive and so to this day no one knows where their eight kingdoms lie.

To be able to travel from one to another they created eight magnificent books, one for each of their kings: the Aethra Codices. Their covers were richly adorned and upon them the Dark Mountain Dwarves inscribed runes that would allow those who possess the correct gemstones to find their way to one of their kingdoms.

This is one of those books, an Aethra Codex. I leave it, and its mysteries, upon your hands…

Proudly presenting the Aethra Codex: a Fantasy Puzzle Binding.

I’m a passionate fan of tabletop role playing games and the basic idea behind this journal was people could use it as an in-game artifact. It could inspire a story and/or be part of it. Players would no longer have to imagine such a volume; it would be real, something taken out of a fantasy world, the mysteries of which they could now discover and hold in their hands.

I’ve wanted to do such a project for a very long time as it combines many of the things I love and enjoy: RPGs, bookbinding, coming up with puzzles and riddles, mechanical challenges and problem solving in crafting, metalworking and, most of all, stories…

I truly hope I’ll be making more like this in the future. This was only proof of concept, the ideas are there…

The Puzzle

The Aethra Codex (“Aethra” meaning bright star, splendor, or clear sky in Latin) has 3 different challenges/puzzles and each has to be solved in order to progress to the next one.

The players have to find a way to translate the runes, which are Futhark with a few minor changes I made to accommodate tooling of the design.

However after the runes are translated to English the resulting text is gibberish. The players have to decrypt it using a Caesar Cipher, a form of substitution encryption based on a specific number.

Once the text is decrypted they are left with two poems. The first one (back cover) says:

You who seek wisdom of old
Follow the light of many a star
To reach the realms and lands afar
Where hidden perils lie untold
.

The second one (spine) says:

White is the coldness of the North
Green the East with forests vast
Blue the West where ships sail forth
Red the rays by the South sun cast
And black the night between them all
.

When those are interpreted through a more symbolic lens the first one reveals where the gemstones are hidden: within the corner pieces.

The second one gives the proper placement of the gemstones on the 8 sockets of the front cover’s star in the same manner. Watch the gif above to see a gemstone revealed and placed on the star!

This set-up is not meant to be binding for the DMs. Instead of being placed in the corner pieces the gemstones may be found at different in-game locations, in which case the poems have mostly literal meaning.

The challenge can also be extended in various ways f.e. the runes can be an ancient or forgotten Dwarven alphabet, in which case the players can’t translate them from the get go. The phrase “Follow the light of many a star” might refer to a constellation or something beyond the codex. A new challenge, conceived by the storyteller, may be revealed when the gemstones are placed on the star. The possibilities are endless.

In conclusion the puzzles/challenges I incorporated in the binding are mostly meant as an inspiration for the DMs. The texts do not mention specific names and are written in an abstract/generic enough manner that encourages creativity and can easily be adapted and utilized in any story!

The crafting

Making the Aethra Codex has been an undertaking of epic proportions. Everything about it had to be conceived, designed and made by myself. I had to do a lot of tests and experiments, create new tools and tackle various structural challenges.

The biggest of those was making the corner pieces which had to be sturdy, small, securely attached to the binding and with the necessary space inside them to hide the gemstones. Ticking all those boxes was far from easy.

Each corner piece is made of 4 different parts and solidly riveted on the binding. They were, as was the star, hand carved out of wax and then bronze cast.

The design was mostly inspired by Astrolabes, those most mystical-looking and yet historical instruments, that sailors used to navigate the seas!

It’s also easy to overlook how beneath all the runes, brass details and gemstones, the Aethra Codex is a high quality binding. It has been given all the attention I devote to any of my fine bindings and has many of their characteristics such as sewn-in boards, handsewn silk headbands,  leather joints and composite boards to name a few.

As a bonus touch I polished the entire surface with a polishing iron to make it look used and worn, resulting in a wonderful sheen that’s not visible in the photos.

Last but but not least, for my fellow bookbinders: I’ve mostly used these tools to make the Codex, which you can see/buy at my tool page:
Brass Band nippers
Bookbinding Stylus set
– Dot set

Hope you enjoyed reading about the Aethra Codex!