Interview with Kate Holland – Techniton Politeia

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Summer is almost here and the Covid-19 crisis has pretty much left Greece, hopefully soon the rest of the world as well.

We return after a long pause at Techniton Politeia to talk with Kate Holland.

Before we get to the interview I would like to thank Kate who managed to find time while juggling a number of things amidst the chaos.
She approached the interview openly, with a “playful” attitude and as a chance to explore her own thoughts and introspect, thus making it feel less “formal” and more like I was there at the bindery, having an interesting conversation with a fellow binder. It was a pleasure.

When asked for her artist or artisan statement -I tend to use both terms because people sometimes prefer one over the other- her reply was:
Artist or artisan, that is the question. But what about artistan? I think we can be both.

I’d always loved the visual arts and I studied Mandarin Chinese at university with the vision of becoming a contemporary Chinese art dealer but a stint of unemployment (or fortuitous circumstance) led me to take on the role of manager of a prestigious London antiquarian bookshop. I had grown up near the book town of Hay-on-Wye and had always loved books so this was a wonderful job, handling some of the world’s most important and valuable books. It never ceased to amaze me that all our civilisation, so far, was contained between these covers. I started a morning class in bookbinding at City Lit (an adult education establishment) with Flora Ginn as a way of learning to refurbish and repair the books and I was immediately hooked. From there, an HND in bookbinding at London College of Printing (now Communication) and stints with Jen Lindsey back at City Lit and Mark Cockram at Studio Five before setting up on my own. All while raising three kids.

My work is fairly evenly split between artist bindings, either on commission or for exhibition; the whole book, either my own artist’s books or one-offs and limited editions for clients, supervising typesetting and layout, printing and binding; and teaching, currently at West Dean College, Shepherds or in my own studio. I was elected as a Fellow of Designer Bookbinders in 2015 and am a regular binder to The Booker Prize. I have books in The Walker Library of the Human Imagination, British and Bodleian Libraries, National Art Library at the V&A, as well as numerous other public and private collections.

In 2018 you had the honor of being chosen to bind one of the six shortlisted books, Mars room by Rachel Kushner, which was then presented to the author. BBC’s The One Show featured your work in a lovely 5 minute video giving us a bit of insight into the creative process behind that binding and bookbinding in general.

I was wondering: what is the Man Booker prize and how does a binder get chosen to bind on of the shortlisted books for the award? Can you tell us a bit about your experience with this binding and maybe share the author’s reaction upon seeing it?

The Booker Prize is the foremost literary prize awarded annually to a work of fiction in the English language. Past winners have included such luminaries as Margaret Atwood, Ian McEwan, Iris Murdoch, J M Coetzee. A longlist of about 20 titles is announced in July and then a shortlist of 6 in September Each of the shortlisted titles is bound as a design binding for presentation to the author at the awards ceremony. Only Fellows of Designer Bookbinders are eligible to apply to bind these and we are chosen on a rotating basis. We do not know which title we will get until the shortlist is announced. On that day a mystery package of unbound sheets arrives. We have between 4-6 weeks to read the book, come up with a design and bind it. These are expected to be full design bindings with all that entails – sewn headbands, leather joints, doublures etc. so it is incredibly intense with lots of late nights but it often throws up some really interesting and exciting responses.

I was really pleased to get “The Mars Room” as my book. It touched on one of my favourite themes – that all humans are born equal, or at least in theory. I am fascinated by how circumstance – where, when and to whom you were born – can affect the path you take and the choices you make. How does a girl, like Romy, from a ‘nice’ middle class background become a sex worker, imprisoned for murder? Throw in an abusive mother, an absent father, early sexual abuse, rape at a formative age, a drug habit to numb all those feelings and a predatory stalker and maybe we begin to understand. In my bindings I seek to explore the yawning divide between the haves and the have-nots. I have covered topics such as illegal immigration, homelessness, drug addiction, rape, asylum seekers. I chose to write on the endpapers of The Mars Room some of the grim statistics about the abuse that sex workers suffer on a daily basis, about the mass incarceration with which the US chooses to manage its population and the number of women who are stalked. 

In the video mentioned previously you also talk about the continuity of our craft and how our tools and equipment have remained practically unchanged through the centuries – along many of the techniques we use, if I may add. You also bring up the bonefolder saying it’s “man’s earliest tool”, which is fascinating if one stops to think about it…

What are your thoughts in regards to this continuity: why is it important and how does it affect your mindset towards your work?

I love the fact that a bookbinder from 500 years ago would recognise the tools, the techniques, the equipment that I use today. Though I would hope my aesthetic and sentiment have evolved. Tools of polished bone, used to scrape hides and make leather, have been found in Neanderthal sites from over 50,000 years ago. That the bone folder I use every day, is one of man’s earliest tools, is an exciting connection to one of the most integral parts of what makes us human – our ability to use tools. And we humans have gone way beyond ”just” using tools and can aspire to stupendous levels of craftsmanship.

I came to bookbinding via antiquarian bookselling handling some of the greatest books ever printed. The codex form has been used to transmit the wonders of civilisation for centuries, whether science, literature, travel, art. It works well. The pages open and you can read the words, the covers protect the pages. Why fix it when it ain’t broken? But this all sounds like I am wedded to the past. Far from it. It is imperative to respect tradition and all that has gone before in order to be able to push the boundaries and move forward. My son is currently studying design engineering and together we are exploring ways of integrating the most cutting-edge technology into one of our oldest technologies, the book. 

Your bindings often feature alum tawed skins and various dyeing techniques – to great effect I must add. Your Paradise Lost and Regain’d bindings come to mind.

What is it that makes this creative option so appealing to you and what would your advice be to fellow binders who would like to try their hand at leather dyeing? Any suggestions when it comes to the materials and techniques used?

I suppose my love affair with leather dyeing came from my need to have a wider palette to work with. I didn’t want to be restricted to just the colours available in ‘off the shelf’ leathers or my bindings to be identified by the number on the colour chart of the tannery catalogue. If you can dye your own leather then you have an infinite range of colours, textures, subtlety and intensity to hand. I tend to use fair or alum tawed calf or goatskin, generally sourced from Hewit’s – the fair gives a more nuanced, warmer colour and the alum tawed a starker, brighter colour being a whiter base. I use either Hewit’s Aniline dyes in powder form or Selladerm dyes available from Leather Conservation Centre. I buy only red, yellow, blue and black and mix accordingly.

I am currently particularly fond of graduated colour schemes such as in “Paradise Lost and Regain’d”. I think most people assume that this is airbrushed but, in fact, the colour is built up in thin washes incredibly gradually over several days to give a much more subtle and sophisticated finish. Always remember to fix the dye as well before covering! I use Dyefix or Tinofix which are the respective fixatives for Hewits and Selladerm.

Silly question but I’m really curious: what’s with the dot fascination?!
Many of your bindings feature dots as a recurring decorative element. Is there something to it?

Early in my career I made two books for the annual Designer Bookbinders’ competition – Elizabeth David’s “Book of Mediterranean Food” and H E Bates’s “Through the Woods”. Both of them wholly featured dots as the design motif. And they won respectively Second Prize Set Book and First Prize Open Choice and Mansfield Medal for Best Book. Around the same time, some well-meaning person had advised me that, in order to become a successful bookbinder, you had to have a recognisable, signature style. I had had no artistic training, only being allowed to study needlework at school not art, and I struggled massively with my self-confidence and my ability to design. Dots seemed quite easy so, I guess, I thought I was onto something.

That was until a well-known dealer commissioned a design binding from me saying, “Just do your dots thing.” I did, but, it was a huge struggle as dots were so wrong for that book. I vowed that I would only produce designs that truly reflected the book’s contents, not just another iteration of a previously successful, but now hackneyed, motif. One of my greatest compliments recently, was that my bindings looked like I had actually read the book!

While reading about your binding on Doors of Perception I thought about Huxley’s use of psychedelics and how many artists have used them as a means of searching for inspiration or expanding their creative expression. Bookbinders, at least to my knowledge, can’t benefit from that: bit hard to use a paring knife while tripping… That said if a design binding is to live up to its name it does require of the binder to be immersed in the book’s story to some extent. I believe your words “When I’m working on the books they become my whole life, I live and breathe them…” represent this in a very poetic manner.

So, how do you experience that immersion? (In what ways do you live and breathe in/through the book you are working on each time?) Are there any steps or guidelines you follow to facilitate it? Is it a purely positive state or does it also come at a cost?

I can testify that I have not yet found a stimulant which helps in the actual process of bookbinding! Hand-eye co-ordination when handling sharp tools or delicate leather requires absolute concentration. I immerse myself utterly into the world of the book I am working on, reading it, taking notes, re-reading if necessary, researching the times in which it was written, artistic fashions, societal upheavals, political tensions, historic events. All these affect the writer and the writing and I aspire to be able to reflect them equally in the binding, but hopefully with a contemporary twist.

I usually have about five or six books on the go at any one time, in different stages of research and development, experimentation and materials gathering, then actual execution. Any more than that and my head would explode. My process, if you can call it that, is to consume as much as I can find intellectually and then let it percolate for a bit – I find walking and swimming incredibly helpful for emptying the mind and working through these creative conundrums. I also use my insomnia as an excellent time for reflection and problem solving. Though my husband might not agree!

Bookbinders gradually diverged from classic decorations that were purely ornamental in nature and started viewing their bindings in a different light: a complex, multilayered, functional object offering limitless potential as a medium for artistic expression. Design bindings came to be known as the modern face of bookbinding.

“[…]Though there is absolutely no inference that this is to disguise a hedonistic lifestyle like Dorian Gray’s but purely a comment on the contemporary pursuit of the preservation of youth and beauty. ” Kate Holland

I consider your binding on Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, with its stricking covers and unexpected endpapers, a perfect example of what a Design Binding can be: not just a creative representation of the book’s content but also a commentary that expands beyond it and becomes a reflection on society, posing questions that challenge us and our views on the story they came from.

Isn’t that what art is in its essence – making connections between a thought or realization, a creation based on that thought and our world, redefining our perception of all 3? And the amazing thing is that this fermentation, taking place in the mind of someone witnessing a piece of art, can potentially have infinite outcomes.

What were your thoughts while making this binding? How did you end up with this design and endpapers? And how do you view design bindings in general?

I had always held Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray” in mind as a potential title to bind having seen photographs of a collection of Dior dresses with a fabulous peacock feather design of highly embellished beading. However, it wasn’t until I read an article about the world of extreme plastic surgery that these two, seemingly disparate worlds, collided in my head and, along with a long-held love for the artwork of Aubrey Beardsley, I came up with this design. It just goes to show that you never know where inspiration will strike from and you have to soak up anything and everything around you to get to it.

Bookbinding has traditionally been one of the applied arts, a merely decorative and protective covering to the bookblock, albeit a highly technical and exacting one. It rarely referred to the contents within, save the title. Generally, any tooling would be to a prescribed formula, whether a house style or to reflect the owner’s taste and wealth. With modern design binding came a move towards a more fluid style and a decorative response to the text within. I would argue, though, that there is still room to push bookbinding one step further into the “art” world, by drawing analogies between classic texts and contemporary issues, whether to make a political statement or as a simple emotional or intellectual stimulus. I’m increasingly drawn to the term ‘artist binding’ over ‘design binding’.

My lack of art education means that I’ve always struggled with calling myself an artist. I felt there was something rather egotistical about going to art school and being an artist. I always referred to my space as a workshop not a studio. I always called myself a craftsperson not an artist. But very recently an artist friend of mine described me as an artist bookbinder and I thought I’ll take that. In a way, though, I feel liberated by my lack of art education – I have no rules to follow, I just have to try and achieve what I envisage in my head and see what happens – so more of a happy accident than anything.  Now that I feel relatively (and I use that in the loosest sense) at ease with the technical side of making a book, I am free to explore the intellectual exercise of confining my ideas to the book form. I worked out that there are 13 planes on which to express yourself creatively, not including the box, which gives such wonderful scope, how they work singly and interactively. 

What’s interesting about design binding, though, is that, unlike most other artforms eg painting, sculpture, you’re not starting from a position of zero. You’re always reacting to someone else’s artistic output ie the author, the illustrator, the typesetter, the printer etc. I have recently been questioning binding the work of others and wanting to be in control of the whole book so I am currently looking at printmaking and letterpress printing though I feel I must keep this under control and concentrate on the binding alone. It’s an ongoing internal argument.

An excerpt from a 1918 manual (see image) describes bookbinding as an excellent therapeutic aid for various disorders.

It is a testament to the many and diverse benefits our craft has to offer. I would kindly ask you to share your personal experience on the matter, given that you recently had the privilege of seeing all that in effect.

One of my particular passions is teaching and converting new people to the joys of bookbinding. I have seen the immensely therapeutic benefits of it when working for the charity ‘Bound by Veterans’ which teaches bookbinding to wounded, sick and injured ex-servicemen and women. Also to children with learning difficulties and on the autistic spectrum. There’s something so wonderful when you are “in the flow”, your head and hands working together, you forget all your cares and the sense of achievement and growth in self-esteem is palpable. I’m thinking of one particular girl who had just been diagnosed with Asperger’s and told that she wouldn’t be able to work in the “real world” and that she would require lifelong care. On day 1 she felt unable to attend the bookbinding course, due to her social anxiety but by day 5 she was fully immersed and loving it. She now has a skill which means she can work from home and hopefully make a modest income.

My local medical practice in Frome is at the forefront of the social prescribing movement, where patients with multiple health issues, who are struggling with their mental health and well-being, are being prescribed access to a wide range of resources, whether it’s park runs or talking cafes. The decrease in GP appointments and hospital admissions there has been dramatic. Together with a GP friend of mine, we are looking at getting some qualitative measures of the therapeutic benefits of bookbinding and other crafts, so that we can eventually look at applying for NHS funding to provide these.

As it happens this interview is taking place amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

The outbreak has brought the entire world to a halt, changing or taking away many of the things we took for granted and imposing a new reality. It made us sceptic of the future that awaits us in the aftermath and has put a questionmark on various aspects of our lives.

I’ve been talking with a few fellow binders and here in Athens – we’ve been in lockdown for a while now. Some felt creatively numbed and took a step away from our craft to reevaluate it’s importance in a situations like this, others told me the exact opposite – that it provided a way for them to remain active and creative during self isolation and took the opportunity to explore ideas previously left in the backburner.

How has the Covid-19 outbreak affected your relationship with bookbinding? What was its impact on you firstly as a professional binder and secondly as a creative maker. Please share with us your experience and thoughts so far.

(Click on the photo and zoom-in for a detailed look in HQ!)

Wow, what interesting times we are in right now. I confess I am really enjoying them, though I feel terribly guilty saying that. My eldest children are back from university, my youngest home instead of school and my husband off the daily commute hamster wheel. We are incredibly privileged to live in the countryside and have a garden. We have both been able to keep working so we have some income at least. My heart goes out to those trapped in flats with no outside space or forced to go to work at great risk to themselves and their families.

I have spent much of my time helping to set up and maintain Mask Force, a community of volunteers making fabric facemasks for key workers and the most vulnerable. As I write, we have donated around 2500 facemasks and now have 8 satellite groups around the country. I have also been working with the #Masks4All movement, a group of activists who have been instrumental in changing public and political thinking worldwide about the importance of wearing facemasks to stop the spread of the coronavirus, though the UK government is still proving a hard nut to crack.

I have been bookbinding, though, interestingly and unwittingly, I have chosen to concentrate on the jobs which don’t require too much creative input. I have a huge typesetting and layout project to work through which involves lots of mind-numbing screen time and several commissions for relatively straightforward bindings, for which, I luckily manged to get all the materials gathered before lockdown.

I frankly haven’t had time to explore ideas left on the backburner. I wish I had. There are so many.

” It cannot be overstated how important it is for all of us to work with our hands on some level. It should be made compulsory in schools. “
The above quote from you resonates with me a lot. I remember back when I was at school wondering why everything is geared towards “doctor – lawyer – IT”. Why did noone ever mention I could be a woodworker, a machinist, a jeweller, a bookbinder…?

For 99.9% of your existence as a species we had to work with our hands and,  although it still remains essential to our civilization, it almost seems that somehow handcrafting has faded into obscurity in our lifetime.

What has our negligence towards learning to work with our hands caused? Why do you think it should be a part of our school curiculum? And last but not least, do you have any thoughts on how it could be implemented?

Humans are the only great ape who have evolved not only opposable thumbs but tiny bones within the thumb which allow us to manipulate tools to create really fine and delicate work. The further we move away from making for ourselves, and into the world of consumerism and globalisation, the sadder we are. I teach undergraduates who cannot thread a needle or tie a knot. This is shocking.

Too many children are spending their learning lives in front of screens and not exploring some of the most basic skills and there is far too much emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) here in the UK curriculum with the Arts subjects being sidelined. Bookbinding used to be taught in primary school here. It covers so many basic skills – measuring and estimating, calculating and cutting, folding and manipulating, fine motor skills such as threading and sewing. It can be taught as a supplement to any of the academic subjects – English, Modern Languages, History, Geography, Design Technology, Art. Children who struggle to engage with the written word in manufactured books, relish the idea of putting their own words into their own books. I have had the chance to speak about this to the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group) on ‘Art in Education’ on the importance of bookbinding and making in general. And I am cooking a plan to fund a “Bookbinding Bus” which will go to schools, festivals, city centres, inner city estates, anywhere to spread the joy of bookbinding and hopefully impart some of those basic skills.

The importance of using the creative ‘right’ side of our brain as well as the logical ‘left’ side cannot be overestimated. Creativity is problem solving and invention as well as expression and feeling – where would we be without those? And making with our hands is so much a part of that creativity. Hopefully some of the backlash to the onward march of technology will be an increased resurgence in making by hand and a respect for the handmade. We must appreciate the handmade, the artisan, the crafted for its integral value to mankind and not just as a marketing tool.

Be sure to check Kate Holland’s site and also IG account!

Closing I would like to thank you for visiting the blog and reading our talk with Kate Holland. If you enjoyed it consider having a look at the blog section for Techniton Politeia, where you can find more interviews.

Till next time!

 

5 sources of book arts content to read during the quarantine

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The outbreak of Covid-19 has by now forced most of us to stay home. I won’t really try to comment on the situation as it’s a rather complicated, strange and sad topic. I understand one might feel confused and uninspired amidst all this – I certainly do!

That said this forced and unexpected time-off can be for us bookbinders an opportunity to rest and explore new things and that’s why I’m sharing with you this list of online sources I’ve found useful and interesting over the years. The list is short but with a huge amount of content, to keep you creative and entertained during these times of self-isolation!

Hope you’re all well. Stay safe and wish you a good reading!

The Bonefolder
https://www.philobiblon.com/bonefolder/

The bonefolder was a free online book arts journal that run from 2004 to 2012 spanning 14 issues (excluding extras) in total. Each has 50 or so pages on average (last one is 118!) and is filled to the brim with interesting articles, interviews, reviews and tutorials.

Reading Bonefolder has helped me learn a lot, from bookbinders and bookartists, the work of whom has expanded my view on our craft, to experimenting and trying new techniques guided by detailed articles and tutorials.
A good example are my Cicero bindings, the surface gilding on which was achieved by reading James Reid Cunningham’s how-to in Vol 6 No 1.

Although I focused on Bonefolder in particular do take some time to explore Book Arts Web (curated by Peter D. Verheyen) in general, as there is a wealth of bookbinding content to be found there. To quote from the site:
…the Book Arts Web which features links to a large selection of book arts related sites on the web, including educational opportunities, professional organizations, tutorials, reference materials, and galleries withimages.

Skin Deep
https://www.hewit.com/skin_deep/

Skin Deep is a binannual newsletter by J. Hewit & Sons with some 48 issues available online. Apart from product and company news they include study oppotunities, recent work from various binders, interesting articles on the treatment of books, history and research, and tutorials.

Here’s a good example: the medieval girdle book by Renate Mesmer.

The Pressbengel Project
https://pressbengel.blogspot.com/

The Pressbengel Project is a blog exploring German bookbinding traditions curated by Peter D. Verheyen.
Among other things you can find tutorials, bookbinding stories and a fish skin challenge!

Guild of Book Workers Journal
https://guildofbookworkers.org/journal

I’ve only recently managed to start reading these and after a couple I’m definitely eager for more!

To quote:
The Guild of Book Workers Journal is published annually by the Guild of Book Workers and contains articles that address our members’ interests in the arts and crafts of the book, including traditional bookbinding, paper making and decorating, conservation and restoration, calligraphy, the making of artists’ books, and printing. Published continuously since 1962, the GBWJ welcomes submissions from members and nonmembers. All articles are reviewed and meet either peer review or editorial review standards.

ibookbinding
https://www.ibookbinding.com/

Curated by Stepan Chizov ibookbinding offers a varied bookarts content: news, interviews, study and job opportunities, links and literature on books and bookbinding. It also includes personal bookbinding projects and a shop for the tools Stepan makes.

I would like to focus on the large collection of (digitized) books (almost all of them on bookbinding) they’ve made available for free since 2017. With 105 books to choose from I bet you’ll find a few to keep you some digital company!

Strange Tales and El Tarot

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After 10 years or so I’ve been working as a bookbinder I realized at some point my work is almost exclusively comprised of design bindings. Equal parts chance and choice have led to this: I just happened to have more clients asking for simple design bindings initially, I focused more on them since I liked it and in turn they attracted more work of the same kind.

So, what’s wrong with that? Nothing really, I love doing design work! However constantly trying to come up with creative ideas and ways to implement those can be draining…
Classic decorations require a fraction of the inspiration and there’s endless reference material at hand to rely on concerning the design. As such they involve a lot less stress and it’s easier to be satisfied by the end-result, at least from the creator’s point of view.

It’s actually funny because most of my colleagues here in Greece are burdened with non-design work and often yearn for more artistic commissions! Nonetheless it seems there can be too much of a good thing and I found myself on the opposite side, longing for the day a client with a taste for more classic work would appear.

Enter V.G., a bibliophile with a wide range of interests, who got in touch and delivered salvation to my bookbinding soul! V.G. wants a series of books bound in classic manner and these two are the first I’ve completed.

Strange Tales features one of my old time favorite marbled papers, by Arzanart in Venice. What really sets it apart though is its decoration, which was achieved with two stamping inks of different color. I first saw a similar technique used by Hannah Brown (have you read her interviews?), who was most helpful in sharing some information and advice, though she uses carbon leaf instead.

Here’s what I did:
1) Cold press the handtool for the first impression.
2) Blind tool (hot).
3) Then cover the tool’s face with ink from the inkpad and stamp the tooled impressions (cold). I did this 2-3 times (with the first color) depending on how well the ink was transferred and the tone I wanted to achieve.
4) Blind tool again – this helps the ink set.
5) Repeat step 3 with a different ink.
6) Blind tool a final time.

As you can see this requires a great deal more time compared to foil. The result is interesting though as the decoration has a gradient look, shifting from blue to purple.

If you want to try this make sure to do tests first, as some ink colors end up looking quite dark depending on the leather you’re using, or don’t mix well together.

El Tarot is a peculiar book, filled with strange artwork.
Its oddness is reflected by its unusual shape which is – you guessed it – that of a Tarot card. I’ve never bound a book as tall and narrow and I assumed it would bug me but I actually found it very enjoyable to work with! There’s something oddly satisfying handling a door-shaped book, can’t put my finger on it.

Given that I went for a simple decoration I thought to add some spark and luxury through genuine gold leaf. I’m very happy with how it turned out, it reminds me of some old volumes I’ve seen in libraries and I believe it’s my first binding to achieve this look-feel so well.

Since the binding is so classic but the book is quite quirky I wanted to include a quirky element in the binding as well. The endbands were the perfect candidate, being too narrow for a traditional handsewn style. I played around a bit and the result is this curiosity, both covered in leather and handsewn with silk thread. Fitting!

To make those bindings I used:
1) My brass band nippers
2) My stylus set

3) My dot set
4) Tools from Kevin Noakes

Σεμινάριο Δερματόδετης Βιβλιοδεσίας ~ Χειμώνας-Άνοιξη 2020

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Σας προσκαλώ στο σεμινάριο δερματόδετης βιβλιοδεσίας το οποίο θα ξεκινήσει στα μέσα Φεβρουαρίου!

 Το σεμινάριο αυτό εμβαθύνει στην χειροποίητη ραφτή βιβλιοδεσία τύπου case-binding, με βασικό πλέον υλικό το δέρμα.
 Η δερματόδετη βιβλιοδεσία, όπως θα διδαχθεί, παράγει ένα καλαίσθητο βιβλίο με αντοχή στο χρόνο ενώ ταυτόχρονα ανοίγει τις πόρτες για ένα μεγάλο εύρος από μορφές και τεχνικές βιβλιοδεσίας.
Με το πέρας του σεμιναρίου θα μπορείτε να χρησιμοποιήσετε τα όσα μάθατε για να φτιάχνετε δερματόδετα:
– Βιβλία
– Σημειωματάρια
– Άλμπουμ
– Καθώς και διάφορα άλλα αντικείμενα (κουτιά, θήκες, κλπ).

dimitri's bookbinding corner - leathers
Για όσους έχουν ήδη παρακολουθήσει το σεμινάριο πανόδετης ή έχουν βασικές γνώσεις βιβλιοδεσίας ακολουθούν μερικά από τα σημαντικά καινούρια στάδια και τεχνικές με τις οποίες θα έρθετε σε επαφή:
– Σφύρισμα του βιβλίου
– Χειροποίητα κεφαλάρια (ραφτά στο χέρι)
– Ρεφελάρισμα δέρματος
– Κατασκευή νεύρων στην ψευδοράχη
– Διακόσμηση έγκαυτη/foil με εργαλεία χρυσώματος


—Επιπλέον Πληροφορίες—

Σε ποιούς απευθύνεται το σεμινάριο
Το σεμινάριο είναι ανοιχτό σε όλους. Λάβετε ωστόσο υπόψιν πως αφορά την διδασκαλία μιας πολύπλοκης μορφής βιβλιοδεσίας με αρκετά στάδια.
  Για την ομαλή παρακολούθηση του είναι επιθυμητές κάποιες βασικές γνώσεις βιβλιοδεσίας (από συμμετοχή σε άλλα σεμιναρία ή προσωπική εξάσκηση).
Εναλλακτικά, σε περίπτωση που το παραπάνω δεν ισχύει, οι συμμετέχοντες πρέπει να είναι εξοικειωμένοι με την χρήση απλών εργαλείων (χάρακας, κοπίδι, ψαλίδι) για μέτρηση και κοπή υλικών ή να υπάρχει κάποια εμπειρία με χειροτεχνία και κατασκευές γενικότερα.

Αν ενδιαφέρεστε για το σεμινάριο αλλά δεν είστε σίγουροι αν απευθύνεται σε σας μη διστάσετε να επικοινωνήσετε μαζί μου!

Δήλωση συμμετοχής
Μπορείτε να δηλώσετε συμμετοχή:
α) Με ένα μήνυμα στο koutsipetsidis@gmail.com
β) Καλώντας με στο 6936474123 (απογευματινές ώρες)

Έναρξη Σεμιναρίου
Το σεμινάριο θα ξεκινήσει Σάββατο 8 Φεβρουαρίου.
Εγγραφές έως 3 Φεβρουαρίου.

Τοποθεσία
Το εργαστήριο βρίσκεται στο Νέο Ψυχικό, 10 λεπτά με τα πόδια από το σταθμό του μετρό Εθνική Άμυνα και έχει εύκολη πρόσβαση οδικώς από Μεσογείων και Κηφισίας.

Μέρες & ώρες Μαθημάτων
Τα μαθήματα θα γίνονται Σάββατα και θα είναι “πρωινά” (12:00-16:00) και απογευματινά (16:00-20:00). Η διάρκεια τους θα είναι 3-4 ώρες, αναλόγως το μάθημα και τον αριθμό των συμμετεχόντων.

Σημείωση: Παρακαλούνται θερμά οι ενδιαφερόμενοι να δηλώσουν συμμετοχή μονάχα αν γνωρίζουν με βεβαιότητα πως θα μπορούν να είναι συνεπείς στις μέρες και ώρες του σεμιναρίου. Θα υπάρξει πολύ περιορισμένη δυνατότητα αναπλήρωσης.

Αριθμός μαθημάτων
To σεμινάριο θα ολοκληρωθεί σε 10 μαθήματα.

Κόστος συμμετοχής
 Το κόστος συμμετοχής είναι 300 ευρώ. Σε αυτό συμπεριλαμβάνονται όλα τα απαραίτητα υλικά και εργαλεία, τα οποία και θα παρέχονται από το εργαστήριο.
 Θέση κατοχυρώνεται με μια προκαταβολή των 100 ευρώ. Τα υπόλοιπα θα καταβληθούν σε δόσεις των 50 ευρώ, ανά 2 μαθήματα. Στο 1ο μάθημα δίνεται η πρώτη.
Σημείωση: η προκαταβολή δεν επιστρέφεται σε περίπτωση ακύρωσης 2 εβδομάδες πριν την έναρξη του σεμιναρίου.

Τμήματα
Τα μαθήματα θα γίνονται σε 2 ολιγομελή τμήματα (έως 4 άτομα).

Θα χαρώ να τα πούμε στο σεμινάριο!

Watership Down

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Dear readers, welcome to the last post of 2019!

Binding a book is often like a journey. One must traverse hills and valleys, cross bridges and reach unexpected turns, experience joys and struggles. So imagine binding a book that is about such a journey –literally- and happens to be one of your favorites… Isn’t that a treat for an artisan!

Watership Down is the story of a group of wild rabbits, Hazel and his companions, searching for a new home. It’s a journey with “small” heroes going through big adventures and overcoming obstacles relying on their camaraderie, wisdom, cleverness and courage, learning and maturing on the way.

There’s really no simple way to describe how lovely it is.

It was born from a story Adams used to tell to his daughters. When he first tried to publish it the manuscript was rejected multiple times (!), the reason being “older children wouldn’t like it because it is about rabbits, which they consider babyish; and younger children wouldn’t like it because it is written in an adult style”. Boy, were they wrong…!

It is now considered a classic and has been loved by people of all ages for generations.

One of those people is C.B. who contacted me with a desire to have her favorite story bound in a beautiful volume, a heirloom to be someday given to another lover of Adams’ story. This quickly became a personal challenge too: I love Watership Down and have a soft spot for lapines.

Finding a proper copy (one printed in folios) took a while and we ended up using the wonderful edition by Oneworld Modern Classics, with illustrations by Aldo Galli.
I own this edition and I fully recommend it for its excellent design, print quality and lovely numerous illustrations.

I talked a lot with C.B. regarding the design and we agreed on a concept. The idea was to produce a dreamy landscape that would represent the story’s downs when it comes to shapes but at also the heroes’ struggles and hopes when it comes to colors. The golden yew tree symbolizes their destination, a perfect home. It appears to be far away and yet within reach.

My sister Marianna, passionate about bunnies and talented comic artist, was called in to help since I can’t draw if my life depended on it. What you see before you is her version of the concept I and C.B. came up with.
She also assisted greatly in the layout of colors because I happen to suck big time at that too!

C.B. had two main requirements: to include a yew tree (from Fiver and his vision) and use a gradient effect on the sky region of the cover to simulate the coming of dawn. The rest of the colors would be based on that.

I’ve made three bindings in the past using this effect in a random manner. This time however I had to be much more precise as the effect had to have a direction and go through specific hues in certain intervals, which should also blend effectively.

I used an airbrush and aniline dye as I wanted the color to penetrate the leather instead of just sitting on the surface (as would be the case with acrylics). This caused some problems since the aniline dampens/darkens the leather surface when applied and it takes several hours before you can see the actual color, which meant I had to do the airbrushing in sessions, taking several days for each test batch.

After the tests I prepared the piece for the covers and filled with confidence I…  botched it! After another botched attempt I was able to achieve something very similar to the image I’ve been provided as reference. However when preparing it for pasting on the covers I noticed the color smudged a bit when handled. This baffled me as I had sealed the colors properly with a dye fix and also applied a light finish to further protect them from the handling required to cover the binding. I’ve done all these in the past plus the tests specifically for Watership Down and never faced this problem.

It was barely noticeable; with very careful handling I could’ve have probably gone through with the covering and end up with very few/small imperfections. My main concern was what would happen after that, with the book being read time and again as the years go by. I didn’t feel ok with such a prospect, so the gradient was abandoned.

This meant the entire color layout had to be rearranged. To give C.B. a sense of the design in color and help her choose I scanned leather scraps and then Marianna photoshoped them in place, coming up with several different versions. The binding ended up being a mix between those.
Another important aspect of the design was it being comprised of many different colors, to enhance the sense of distance – plus the different grains and finishes make the binding more interesting on a visual and tactile level.
To do this the pieces must overlap by cutting the edges at an angle. It’s easier said than done though: too steep of a bevel and there won’t be sufficient overlap and thus a good bond between the leathers, too gradual and the leather on the underside will show.
It was my first time doing this and I had to do many (Many) tests to get it right.
When designing the starry sky I had two choices: random vs specific. I’m not good at improvisation when it comes to designs, plus you only have one go with a French leather binding, so I decided to use an actual star chart.

However that is not all: these are the stars and constellations the story’s heroes would see, and the way they’d see them, when travelling from Sandleford Warren to Watership Down! They are depicted realistically (at least as much as possible) regarding their relative position and brightness, the only difference being I added and removed a few to avoid empty or overcrowded spaces.

I took the liberty to  use late June as the date, which was the time I made the design. That way I could discreetly blend something from my (crafting) journey with that of Hazel and his companions!
The stars were originally tooled in (genuine) silver leaf. However it’s been many years since I used silver and I had forgotten how quickly it can tarnish, resulting in a dimmer shine that affected the entire design. To rectify this I ordered some palladium leafs and retooled each and every star.

I felt that the title would look a bit out of place but didn’t want to leave the spine without an indication of the book’s identity/story. So I came up with an imaginary constellation, that of Elahrairah, to act as the book’s title in the absence of one and to guide the heroes to their destination!
I used genuine 22k gold leaf to tool these specific stars.

The upper endband’s main color is a light green, interchanged sporadically with yellow and bordeaux, representing a grass field with blooming patches; an ideal place for Silflay! The lower endband features the same colors but reversed in frequency.
The endbands were made with the original concept/colors for the covers in mind. However by the time the design had to change the spine was lined and it wasn’t possible to change them without starting the binding anew and so I kept them.

The leather clamshell box features an element from a rejected design, which was an underground view of the burrows and the rabbits.

Since the binding itself has a lot of decorative details I decided to go really simple with the bookcase. That way binding and box compliment each other, plus the transition from simple to intricate feels more natural.

To spice it up a bit I made recesses and modeled the leather on/in them to give some depth to the burrow.
I trust you Watership Down fans will easily recognize the scene it represents…!
[No spoilers! Be respectful to the rest of the (potential) W.D. readers!]

Last but not least I used the amazing Aubergine design by Jemma Lewis for endpapers!

I used my versatile typeholder, stylus set and dot set to tool this design, all of which you can acquire by sending me an email (koutsipetsidis.at.gmail.com) or through my Etsy shop.

Watership Down with its new owner 1!Before closing this post here’s a lovely photo of the binding with its new owner!

I feel grateful and privileged to work with people who are kind, passionate about their books, full of ideas, collaborative and patient, and C.B. has certainly been one of them. Thank you!

Hope you enjoyed reading about the making of Watership Down.
See you next year & Best wishes for 2020!

ARA event – Educational Screening

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I had the pleasure of hosting an ARA event at my bindery!

We had a great time: we got together, ate unhealthy snacks, talked bookbinding stuff and -thanks to master Wilcox- we realized we’ll never be able to do a proper gold tooling!
Are you into bookbinding and live in Greece? Consider becoming a member of our ARA: then you won’t be missing out on awesome events like this and will be able to share your passion about bookbinding with likeminded people!

Σεμινάριο Χειροποίητης Ραφτής Βιβλιοδεσίας – Φθινόπωρο 19

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Σεμινάριο Χειροποίητης Ραφτής Βιβλιοδεσίας – Φθινόπωρο 19

Ελάτε να γνωριστείτε με την τέχνη της βιβλιοδεσίας δένοντας ένα βιβλίο στο χέρι!

Το σεμινάριο αυτό αποτελεί μια εισαγωγή στην παραδοσιακή βιβλιοδεσία με την τεχνική του “καλύμματος” (case 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.


Πληροφορίες
Κόστος σεμιναρίου: 200 ευρώ (συμπεριλαμβανομένης της προκαταβολής για κατοχύρωση θέσης, παρέχονται όλα τα υλικά και εργαλεία), τα οποία θα καταβληθούν σε δόσεις.
Έναρξη μαθημάτων: 12 Οκτωβρίου
Αριθμός μαθημάτων: 7
Διάρκεια μαθήματος: ~3 ώρες (+/- μισή ώρα αναλόγως τον αριθμό συμμετεχόντων και το περιεχόμενο έκαστου μαθήματος).
Μέρες και ώρες: Σάββατο (πρωί με μεσημέρι ή απόγευμα με βραδάκι). Ακριβής ώρα και μέρα θα καθοριστεί κατόπιν συνεννόησης με τους ενδιαφερόμενους.
Αριθμός θέσεων: 4
Τοποθεσία: Το εργαστήριο βρίσκεται πλησιόν Εθνικής Άμυνας και έχει εύκολη πρόσβαση από τα μέσα ή με αυτοκίνητο.

Κατοχύρωση θέσης
Εάν θέλετε να συμμετάσχετε:

α) αφήστε ένα σχόλιο εδώ
β) αποστείλετε ένα mail στο koutsipetsidis@gmail.com
γ) καλέστε με στο 6936474123 (απογευματινές ώρες).

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!

Interview with Hannah Brown Part II – Techniton Politeia

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Welcome back for the second part of this interview with Hannah Brown.

If you missed the first part you can read it here.

What is the first thing you observe when you examine a binding made by someone else and why?

Definitely the overall visual aesthetic of the design and how it works across the covers, as well as how the design concept is carried through to the doublures and endpapers, plus the edges and the box. As I have never had any formal bookbinding tuition (I have learnt through observing, doing and partaking in short courses) my forte has always been the design of a book cover – it is just now that I feel my forwarding skills are catching up! The designs of my book covers are often quite literal, so I really admire binders that work well conceptually or in an abstract manner as that is very different to how my mind works.

On a similar note, which is according to you the most important aspect of a good forwarding and which of a good finishing?

Having learnt through doing, I have made mistakes along the way with some of my fine bindings and have endeavored to rectify these in each proceeding binding. For example, not quite adding enough paper layers and infills on the inside of the boards before the doublures get stuck down and seeing bumps underneath is a past nightmare of mine! Or not-quite-square squares!

I think attention to detail is absolutely key in both good forwarding and finishing. I have always been told that you have to perfect every step of the way with your forwarding as every mistake made will be magnified as you continue through the process. I have learnt from having my work critiqued on a number of occasions how small adjustments can make what would otherwise be a mediocre binding a fantastic one. When it comes to finishing it is also important to know when to stop too – a trap I often find myself falling in to!

I would like to focus on two aspects of your bindings: endpapers and bookcases.
You favor a particular style of wooden box with lid. Could you explain why is this your choice over the more “bookbind-y” ones, say a leather/cloth slipcase with chemise or a clamshell box?

During my time working at the Victoria and Albert Museum I spent all my time in the workshop making mounts for a huge variety of objects. These were made from a variety of materials including steel, brass, perspex and wood. I was surrounded by some very talented colleagues (everyone in my department seemed to have a crafty sideline of some description!). One particular colleague of mine was a brilliant woodworker and held a keen interest in my work so we often used to talk about options for boxes. He taught me how to work wood with the equipment we had in the workshop to make impressive boxes for my bindings and the habit stuck.

I love the way that the wooden boxes can become an extension of the binding and I think the look and feel of wood is wonderful so that would always be my preferred option to offer clients. I have the ability to make more “bookbind-y” ones though, just little need to do so! I always order pre-made cardboard conservation boxes to house the wooden boxes in for extra protection too on bookshelves.

Your endpapers really stand out by always being imaginative and an integral part of the design, while the cases appear as a discreet extension of it. There’s also often a playful attitude when it comes to both, as if they veer a bit off the strict planning required by your elaborate designs, lending themselves to various experimentations (f.e. feather painting in “British Birds”) or quirky little details (f.e. the bird figures in “Fables of Aesop”). Do you view them in this scope as well? Tell us a bit about them.

Yes I do! What I love about the whole bookbinding process is the amount of design scope a book allows you to have. Not only are you decorating the covers but you have the endpapers, doublures, text block edges and container to play around with too – it is a truly three dimensional object. To date all of the bindings I have made have had paper doublures, I have never chanced leather ones but that is on my list of things to try! I would love to learn some more print-making techniques to adorn my endpapers with, there are endless possibilities.

I find that I usually have to think about the endpapers design first as this has to be finalised before the book can be forwarded. The endpapers have to be made up and sewn to the text block before it can be rounded and backed etc. so they need to be completed early on in the process. I think the most complicated endpaper design I have attempted to far was the ones I did for “The Fables Of Aesop”. The reason for this is that I wanted to print a net that ran across from the front to the back endpaper, across the front edge of the text block, so this had to be meticulously planned so that it would all line up which was rather a headache!

Let’s get a bit dramatic: a major apocalyptic event or socio-historical period looms heavy upon humanity and threatens to -god forbid!- erase all your work. If you could only save 3 of your bindings, which would those be and why?

That is a very tricky question! If I had to choose I think I would go for the following:

The Fables of Aesops
I absolutely loved working on this binding. It was to a tight deadline as it was for the Designer Bookbinders 2017 International Competition on the themes of “Myths, Heroes and Legends”. I was doomed from the start having typed the wrong postcode down on the website I ordered it from so the text block went missing for a while – argh! I remember taking the partly embroidered leather and all my threads on a family holiday with me to France and sitting under the sun umbrella sewing away trying to get it done in time for the deadline soon after our return.

(Click on the photo and zoom-in for a detailed look in HQ!)

What I loved about this binding was the scope for the design. Given the number of fables to choose from I couldn’t just focus on one which is when I came up with the idea of choosing six, one for each of the following: front cover, back cover, front doublure, back doublure, the endpapers/front edge and the box. I had at the time been coveting someone’s work on Instagram (@paperandwood_ ), and this inspired me to make some little three dimensional birds to accompany the book. They were carved out of tulip wood before being painted then I added paper and gold feathers and little brass eyes.

I decided I needed to make these birds removable (I mean, it wouldn’t have been practical to actually read a book with little birds permanently sat on the top book board edges!) so I devised a way to add rods into the lamination of the book boards so that a pin on the bottom of each of the birds could be slid in to stand them up for display. I also had a lot of fun making the container for this one adding a removable row of “perches” for the three birds to sit on!

All in all this was a total delight to work on, from the heavily embroidered wings on the cover to the edge decoration that I had to match up with the endpapers (as mentioned in a previous answer) this binding had many challenges to overcome.

(Upper binding made in 2016 and lower in 2012)

Flowers From Shakespeare’s Garden
It is a bit of a cheat to choose this one as I get two for the price of one having made two versions of this binding! It is rare for me to repeat a design (and I only did so with the permission of the owner of the first of the two bindings) and did so using a different variety of coloured leathers. In fact this was another binding that I did for a competition, in this case is was for the Designer Bookbinders 2013 International Competition on the themes of “Shakespeare”. I love flowers and purely for that reason alone I would like to save these two!

The Somme: An Eyewitness History
I think I would have to save my first ever design binding! In fact, this is the only binding I still have in my possession. There is so much wrong with it but I had no inhibitions in those early days of learning how to bind a book and just did what I thought I should do! I love looking at this binding to remind myself how far I have come since 2007. It was this binding that I was working on whilst I did a gold tooling course at City Lit in London with Tracey Rowledge. It was she who suggested I made sample boards to practice on so this binding will forever be the first sample board in my series!

Concerning Kelmscott Chaucer.

Before getting to the question I would like to take a moment and thank you for painstakingly documenting and chronicling the creative process behind this binding. To read how it came to be is almost as enjoyable as seeing the finished book, perhaps even more so; instead of just introducing us to your binding “child” you take us through its entire childhood step by step, sharing the techniques you used and the challenges you faced, the meticulousness and care you devoted to every detail.
  It’s ironic how bookbinding is one of the most ancient crafts, and with such an important goal, and yet there are so few documentaries or articles about the  process and its artisans in the public sphere. I certainly hope that you’ll keep sharing your work in this way and perhaps encourage more binders to do so.

So, to put it in your words: “The commission of a lifetime!“. Your 8-part post (links: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8) is a fascinating read I’d recommend to anyone, bookbinding-savy or not!

How is Chaucer different from the rest of your bindings?

When I was asked to take on this commission I was rather dumbstruck, how could I possibly do justice to the inner wonders of William Morris? I admit I was a bit worried, knowing that this text block had quite a value to it before I took it apart elevated it to a level of book I had not worked on before. The provenance of this actual copy had been traced back to 1934 – never before have I known such history of book I have worked on. This was all documented in the “The Kelmscott Chaucer: A Census” by William and Sylvia Petersen.
Also, they are rare and there are not many available for rebinding so it was an honour to be chosen for this commission.

I always try and do as much research as possible ahead of working on commissions, in this case I read up about the Kelmscott Press, visited the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow and arranged to view some Morris objects at the V&A Museum. The prestige of this binding however made it different to the rest. I was really lucky to see two of the pigskin bindings, bound by the Doves bindery during a trip to the Wormsley Library. This was very timely as I hadn’t yet received my copy so was able to get a sense of the scale and grandeur of the book beforehand.

It was also rather humbling to think that William Morris had likely thumbed his way through the pages of this and all of the other copies that were printed – I hope he would have approved of the binding I did on it!

In which ways has it helped you to evolve as an artisan?

I was genuinely proud of the binding I did for this book. My initial reservations about the size of the binding and how I would forward the text block were overcome and I am very pleased to have added this binding to my sample board collection! Looking back at all my previous bindings this has probably been the one with the most “rigid” design but that is what I felt would work best to try and do this book justice.

And, now that a year has passed and the dust has settled, tells us which things have stayed with you from its making?

The grandeur of the book lent itself to a grand design. If I were to bind this book over again would I change anything – probably not! The design evolved along the way and I was really pleased with how the different floral and butterfly elements all came together. During the making process, after hours and hours of sewing, I definitely thought to myself, “why did I decide to do it like this again?!” and my fingers were very sore but this was a small price to pay to create such an elaborate work.

To wrap things up: what is that you’re most proud of after 15 years of bookbinding?

The thing I am most proud of is the way I have developed my bookbinding work to the point I am now a self-employed bookbinder. What started off as a hobby has become a career, albeit I do it alongside many other things. The fact that I have recognition within the world of bookbinding and have managed to form a “house style” to the point that my bindings can be singled out as a “Hannah Brown” binding is very satisfying.

Having never formally trained as a bookbinder I am also proud that I have overcome my lack of forwarding knowledge and have developed a way of working that suits me. I still have so much to learn but I am getting by with what I already know.

And if you could enter a time machine, meet yourself back in 2004 and manage to avoid the time-paradox, what advice would you offer Hannah based on your experience so far?

Just to be confident in what you are doing and learn from your mistakes. I would encourage myself to share my work as I have had such a positive response from doing so. I would also probably say don’t underestimate how long it takes to bind a book and don’t set yourself unrealistic deadlines!

I would like to thank Hannah for taking the time to share her story, bookbinding insight and of course her work with us through this interview.

Be sure to check Hannah’s site:
http://www.han-made.net/fine-bindings/2019-2/la-prose-du-transsberien/
and most importantly her blog:
https://han-made-bookbinding.tumblr.com/archive
where she chronicles in depth the creative process behind each binding.

If you enjoyed reading this I’d invite you to have a look at the blog section for Techniton Politeia, where you can find more interviews.
Till next time!

Interview with Hannah Brown Part I – Techniton Politeia

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Welcome to another Techniton Politeia interview. This time we have an interesting talk with bookbinder Hannah Brown.

This is an extensive interview and will be divided in two parts. This is part I.

Hannah graduated with a BA (Hons) in Three Dimensional Crafts from Brighton University in 2004 and began studying Bookbinding during evening classes at Brighton University the same year. She won first prize in the 2008 Designer Bookbinders Competition and was also awarded the Mansfield Medal for best book in the same competition. She has since won the same competition twice in both 2011 and 2013 and has also won two Distinguished winner awards in the Designer Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition in both 2013 and 2017.

She specialises in fine bookbinding and other bespoke commissioned works with a particular focus on embroidery on leather. She works with a variety of materials and objects, creating unique and hand-crafted pieces from scratch from her home studio in Somerset.

Undeniably, Hannah’s work is instantly recognizable. One could assume it’s because of her lavish designs, executed with painstaking attention to detail – and that would certainly be true to a great extent. However, a closer look reveals another reason that makes her bindings truly stand out: the immensely imaginative use of a thing as small and simple as a colored thread…

Lets unravel it slowly together with Hannah to see how it all comes together…

Whenever I happen to see a binding with embroidery, even if it’s used to a much lesser extent compared to your work, the first thing that comes to mind is Hannah Brown. This might certainly be unfair to those fellow binders but it goes to show how much of a statement your bindings make through this distinctive element; One could perhaps even go as far as to call it your trademark.

So, why embroidery?

From the very first fine binding I worked on (my entry for the 2007 Designer Bookbinders Competition, ‘The Somme: An Eyewitness History’) I introduced embroidery. For this first binding it was just a simple red line that I embroidered through the covering leather with my sewing machine. In fact, this wasn’t a decision made because I wanted the “look” of an embroidered line, simply because I didn’t at that point know how else to apply colour to the surface! What began as a single red line on that first binding has indeed developed into a an identifier for my work, I can’t think of one binding I have done without any on it.

(Click on the photo and zoom-in for a detailed look in HQ!)

Where lies the origin of your passion about it?

I studied at Brighton University and did a BA (Hons) Three Dimensional Crafts, this was nicknamed “WMCP” standing for “Wood, Metal, Ceramics and Plastics”. Over the three years of the course we were taught techniques for how to work in all of these materials. I specialised in Ceramics and Metals in my final year and went on to make jewellery for my degree show. Throughout my degree I remember always wanting to find new ways of adding alternative textural qualities to what I was making. For example, planning ahead through the making process I would pierce holes through the wet clay before firing with a view to weaving threads through these when finalising the piece. I could then add extra colour and patterns in addition to the glazes.

How did you decide to combine it with bookbinding?

I guess I have subconsciously always liked adding threads to what I make and to me, with bookbinding, it was a natural choice to sew through the leather to create a design and add details before covering the text block.

On the same topic, I admittedly haven’t seen many binders use embroidery on their work, even more so on a regular basis.
Why do you think it’s so?

It is hard to say, to me it came naturally however it is very time consuming so perhaps that puts people off. The majority of my time is spent working on the leather before it gets stuck to the text block so there is a lot riding on the covering process, it can be nerve wrecking!

Perhaps embroidery is seen to be quite vulnerable on book covers. In all my time doing it I have developed ways to try and make it more durable.

Also, throughout all the bookbinding teaching I have done to date it generally seems to be females interested in the embroidery side of things!

Which would you say are the difficulties involved in adorning one’s work this way and what would you suggest to fellow binders interested in trying it?

There are definitely some difficulties with this technique, as follows:

TIME
Depending on the extent of the embroidery work it is a very time consuming process. There are ways of speeding up the process, for example if I am working on a design with lots of linear detail I do all of this using my sewing machine and then hand-whip over these lines by hand.

DURABILITY
You need to consider how the book it going to be handled. You don’t want the threads to be loose and able to catch easily on anything. I take care to loop down any long threads and take extra care when I have embroidery across the board joints (I tend to try and avoid this but it is not always possible with some designs). You also have to be careful not to pull too hard on threads whilst sewing as it is always possible to pull through the leather if your holes are very close to one another.

SEWING MACHINE
If using a sewing machine you have to be careful not to make the holes too big and perforate the leather. For example, I always get asked whether I use a leather needle in my sewing machine (one that has a triangular point at the end) but I don’t. I have never found this necessary, perhaps because leather that is prepared for bookbinding purposes is soft enough not to need a needle such as this to get through it. I feel that these needles pierce too large a hole in the leather and can look unsightly. If using a sewing machine it is advisable to do some test runs on scrap leather first, the feet on some machines can leave marks on the surface of the leather which you probably don’t want!

FINGER STAMINA!
It is tough on the fingers! I usually pre-prick holes in the leather through a template – partly so I know where I need to sew the threads and also so that the leather is already pierced before trying to push the needle through the leather with my fingers. I have never worked with a thimble before (another question I regularly get asked) but would probably recommend this to anyone starting out as it is also very easy to prick the end of your fingers.

” Throughout the whole process of working on the onlays I had to be pretty organised and keep them all separate so used zip-lock bags to hold the images of each flower along with the leathers used for each, plus the chosen embroidery threads. “
” I developed different ways of holding the leather to make it possible to get to the areas I wanted to sew through. “
The above quotes are just a few of many illustrating how experimentation and problem-solving are a big part of your work.
Do you simply go for what you have in mind and challenges come out of the blue as you work or do you intentionally choose to try things that will present you with a challenge?

I would say I go for what I have in mind and challenges come out of the blue as I work. I have an idea in my head of how I hope the end result will look and I overcome the challenges that appear during the process. The good thing about the way I work is if, for example, the piece of leather that I find has a natural mark somewhere on it that I don’t want to be visible I can generally work the design so that it is covered in some way with onlays or embroidery. As I make a sample board for each of my fine bindings, this is a great opportunity to test out design elements and techniques in advance ahead of doing them directly on the binding so that helps a lot. On a couple of occasions I have made up small maquettes of books too to test out structures in advance, all this pre-planning can help to make the whole binding process happen more smoothly.

Is it always a thrill, or can it turn into a thriller too?

Ha! I haven’t really thought of it like that before. The only thriller moments are really time constraints. I often find I am pushed for time at the end of the making process, working to a deadline for a competition entry or exhibition submission can be stressful. So in that respect it is not always a thrill!

And lastly, given that everything we see from you is amazing, would you mind sharing a “failure”? An idea, big or small, that you really wanted to do at some point, tried a lot, but couldn’t make it work.

To be honest I haven’t yet had the time to be experimental enough to have anything I would class as a failure! Time is very tight as I am doing my binding work alongside having two young children, keeping on top of housework, correspondence, plus I do two roles for Designer Bookbinders. I have many many projects in my head that I would love to try out, these may become failures when I get a chance to work on them. Top of my list is trying out a binding with wooden boards, I think this will be a difficult task to work out to maintain the aesthetics of the embroidery I do on leather bindings, this may therefore lead me in a very different direction with my work which could be very exciting.

I would like to turn the spotlight to blogging for a moment.

 To speak for my part, blogging has been really important: it has kept me active and focused, it allowed me to showcase my work to people from all around the world and has contributed a great deal in my livelihood.
Blogging has also other, less personal but perhaps equally substantial, benefits as well: it raises public awareness for our craft, it helps bookbinding enthusiasts in many ways and brings new people in the community. Furthermore, by being able to see each other’s work we discover new techniques and ideas as well as solutions to shared difficulties.
All that said, upon stumbling on an informative and helpful post it’s often easy to overlook the fact that blogging requires work – a lot of it!

 Your posts always include an impressive amount of high-res photos and details about the binding process. To be honest I can’t think of many blogs out there on par with your thoroughness when it comes to bookbinding! 
Could you share a few words on why/how you began blogging and some “behind the scenes” of a post?

I am always very pleased to hear that people actual read my blog posts(!). In fact, I didn’t set out to write a post about each of my bindings, it just naturally morphed into that. The reason I initially started writing a blog is that my husband and I moved to the South of France for 18 months in 2014. We did a house swap with a couple and spent one and a half years living in their converted farmhouse in Provence. I mainly started the blog to document our time there so our friends and family could read about what we were doing, it was so idyllic and I have fond memories of our time there.

What started off with posts about nighttime frog choruses, vintage tractor fairs and sunflower fields has now become a step-by-step guide of my making process. I have no idea whether I would have thought to write up about my bindings if I hadn’t started a platform writing about our life swap – perhaps this was a happy accident! The feedback I have had about my posts has been brilliant so that also spurs me to carry on with it, I don’t believe in keeping any of my techniques a secret and I am pleased to hear that reading about my making process has inspired some binders to try out new things.

Obviously the most key thing when it comes to blog writing is to take as many photos as possible. It is so very easy these days as my phone usually sits on my work desk however I do often forget to take photos at key moments, plus more often than not I need two hands to do certain steps with no third hand to take a photo so some steps go undocumented.

I must admit, my computer is in disarray and really needs to be sorted out. I have two young girls so half of the photos on my desktop are of them, the other half work! The photos I take on my phone automatically sync onto my computer and I periodically sort the relevant images for my blog posts into a labelled folder on my computer. I then work through them and discard images that I don’t feel are relevant or are bad quality. Next I edit each of the making photos in Photoshop (cropping, brightening, resizing etc) and give them file names and numbers so I know what each photo is and to get them into the right order.

Once the binding is complete I take photographs of the finished book and add these to the folder once they have been edited. I am then ready to upload the photos onto my blog site and draft the text in line with the images. It is often the case that when writing out the process I need to backtrack and take a photo of something I have forgotten (for example an image of the design drawing or the sample board) so that gets added later.

Hannah’s sample boards: she makes one for each of her fine bindings to test the design ideas.
Click on the photo and zoom-in for a detailed look in HQ!

It is a labor of love. From the very beginning of my bookbinding career I got into the habit of making my sample boards for each binding and now I am also into the habit of writing up about each project, to the point I feel I can’t miss a binding any more! I do however think I will be eternally grateful to myself to keep it up, this is an invaluable tool to me to remember tips and tricks for future work. At present my blog posts are held on a separate Tumblr site, my website is in desperate need of an upgrade as I have completely outgrown it. As and when this happens I will have a dedicated blog section on my new site.

Both of your sites showcase wonderful design bindings and the creative process behind them. Does this amount to a 100% of your work, or is your bench also occupied by more humble binding tasks?

I am lucky that my practical time is largely filled with fine binding tasks. I would say 70% of the time spent in my workspace is spent doing fine bindings. The other 30% is administrative work, blog writing, prepping for teaching etc. But this fluctuates week on week depending on the projects I have on at the time.

In case of the former, was this your goal from the beginning or something that came along the way and how?

When I began bookbinding it was only ever as a hobby, I was doing it alongside full-time employment at the Victoria and Albert Museum as a Mount-making Technician. Initially was just doing speculative pieces for myself or bindings for competitions. I didn’t at the time imagine I would ever become a self-employed bookbinder, or for that matter that the majority of my time would be dedicated to making fine bindings.

When I won the Mansfield Medal for Best Binding in the 2008 Designer Bookbinders Annual Competition was a turning point, the binding sold as a result of being exhibited in the competition exhibition and I took on my first commission as a result of it. Through becoming a Licenciate of Designer Bookbinders and exhibiting with them raised my profile and led to more work.

In case of the latter would you share a few examples of simpler projects?

As mentioned above, as the majority of my time is spent working on fine bindings there is little time for simpler projects. I have however recently branched out and taken on some alternative work that is slightly out of my comfort zone. This includes making some cloth-covered bindings for a fashion company however I have been commissioned to do these as they wish to have embroidered elements on the front of them – there is no escaping it!

At this point we reach the end of part I.
You can read part II here.

Be sure to check back next week for part II where Hannah and I talk about her favorite bindings, her views on what makes a good forwarding & finishing, her magnum opus Chaucer’s Works and more!

In the meantime you can have a look at Hannah’s site and -most importantly- her blog where she chronicles in depth the creative process behind each binding.

 

Board Shear (Finally!) – And tips on restoring one

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After 10 years of working as a bookbinder I finally got me a board shear! Ain’t she a beauty?
(correct answer: Yes, yes she is.)

It’s been a long time needed. Sure, after so much practice with an olfa cutter I can practically split atoms in a straight line or a perfect 90 degree angle, but it can get a bit tiring spending many hours per week hand-cutting boards and what have you when it could take seconds, be effortless, accurate and instantly repeatable.

I really got that “I need a board shear in my life” feeling particularly whenever I had to make laminated boards;  which is often, and they feature 3 layers… For what is more cutting things straight by hand is a struggle, especially if it involves many small pieces that must fit together accurately. The clamshell boxes I’ve made in the past 2 years constantly pointed to this essential piece of equipment missing from the bindery.

Fortunately I became the owner of this lovely shear (thank you A. for prompting me to go ahead with the purchase despite the change in circumstances) a very hot summer day couple of weeks ago.

Bringing it to the bindery, and since it was already in pieces (my bindery is a basement so we had to disassemble it to get it in), it was thought best to give it a good cleaning: after all  I’d only have to do this once and it would accentuate the fact the shear has a new home.
Upon removing some of the old paint though, which turned to be 50% paint – 50% solidified grime, I discovered to my dismay there was rust underneath several places. I couldn’t just clean it a bit, paint it and call it a day – didn’t feel right for something that may accompany me for a lifetime.

So I went all the way: I removed each and every piece to the smallest bolt and flange; I removed the old paint almost entirely until I was left with the bare cast iron; I removed all the rust I could and converted with chemicals what was left in hard to reach places; And finally I repainted everything, double coating exposed pieces or large surfaces.

I must say, in all modesty, that the process bestowed great wisdom -and several muscle strains- upon me, so I’d like to provide a few tips, equal parts of advice and warning, for those brave, optimistic, or unlucky enough to restore a shear on their own.
To own one in need of restoration I assume you live some place without a supplier properly set up to offer or arrange this (my case), or you bought one cheaply enough to not be deterred from its state.

Here’s my tips on the restoration of a board shear.

Don’t do it!
Seriously don’t. Pay someone else to do it for you instead – that is of course if you can afford it. Professionals will do a much better and thorough job by sand blasting, repairing (if needed) and then electrostatic-coating your shear and save you from a lot of trouble as well.
Is that doubt I sense forming in your mind? Keep reading then…

There will be Dust.
There’s dust and then there’s Dust. Like when you sand some board corner to smooth it out and cough a little compared to everything being black because of paint and rust particles having ingrained themselves so deeply in your skin pores that you feel them clogging your soul.

Here are a few pictures to understand what I’m talking about. And this is nothing compared to the whole picture: there was dust stuck on the ceiling, and pretty much everywhere, and it took me 2 full days of scrubbing and cleaning to get the bindery back to a decent state.

If you somehow still want/have to go ahead and remove the old paint and rust then absolutely do this OUTSIDE. If that’s not an option then use some small room/space where you can separate the board shear from the rest of the bindery. If such a space is available but not in your bindery it’s still worth it to clean the shear there and go through the trouble of moving it two times.

If that’s not an option either then carefully isolate the board shear using plastic sheets. Be-VERY-thorough, I cannot stress this enough: make Dexter look sloppy with his covering.

A few additional tips regarding the plastic sheets:
– Use thick ones for the floor, you’ll thank me later. I did, but unfortunately not for the entire “restoration area”.
– Make sure there are no gaps where the plastic sheets hang from the ceiling or touch the floor.
The sheets should overlap at some points: that way they part easily when you have to move in/out and prevent dust from escaping by naturally adhering one to another by static charge.
– Don’t neglect to cover the ceiling with plastic sheets too. I did: some 6-8 hours of ceiling scrubbing can really make you ponder on your life choices…

Even doing all the above will not ensure the absence of dust outside the secluded space. Moving about will also unavoidably carry a lot of it on the floor.

It still costs
Even though it will be much cheaper compared to a full professional restoration, doing it yourself is not exactly cheap: I had to spend about 150 euros (approx 165$) for lots of sandpaper rolls in a few different grits, several wire and scotch brushes for the sanders, paint, disposable latex gloves and several pairs of nitrile gloves, rust converter fluid, brushes, plastic sheets, scraping chisels, mineral spirits, WD-40 cans, sponges and scotch cloth, surgeons masks, plastic masks and a few other things I don’t currently recall.

Keep in mind that I already own two different types of sanders, a very handy drill and a workhorse of a jewelry polishing machine capable of some hard work, all of which proved useful.

It’s hard work
I’m not talking about the ability to do something tiring for hours on end – which you will. I’m referring to doing something very tiring with the added bonuses of breathing and being covered in dust, holding a sander in place that violently shakes your arms every other second when it meets a ridge or a corner (and there are many), having to hear its racket constantly, carrying around heavy cast iron parts and working in uncomfortable positions.

If you have respiratory, skin, muscle or nerve issues, back or neck pains, then it would probably be best to avoid the whole thing. If you can’t however, be prepared to wear a dust mask, safety glasses, plastic face shield and noise-cancelling headphones non-stop for many days.

It’ll take a while – ask for help
It took me 5 days to remove paint and rust, sanding and painting and 2 days to clean up.
The week mentioned above was not without assistance: I knew this was going to be a lot and had significant help for 2 days.
If you have someone willing to lend a hand don’t hesitate to kindly ask, it will make a huge difference. Consider hiring some help if no friend or relative is available.  

Here’s a photo of my charming assistant who, unlike me, was not willing to get intimately acquainted with the dust – hence the full cover. Guess who doesn’t have dust in their skin pores several days later…

Hope this was helpful, or intimidating enough to prove helpful!
My heart goes out to all the people toiling without a board shear for too long: may your crafting life be graced with a mechanical companion soon!
Now you know, use that knowledge wisely when the times comes…

Before closing  I would like to thank Kostas Boudouris, a fellow binder, for lending a hand in moving and assembling the shear.

A huge thanks goes to George Balojohn, also a fellow binder, who helped a great deal: he evaluated the working condition of the shear and was willing to labor with me for many hours in disassembling, moving and assembling the shear back together after it was restored.

Both are friendly and knowledgeable chaps, don’t hesitate to get in touch with them for your binding needs or if you’re an amateur with lots of questions!