Although Book Arts are a constantly growing world, receiving more and more interest – especially in recent years, they remain for the most part unknown to the general public. One of the blog’s goals since its beginning has been to bring people closer to the art and craft of bookbinding and other associated crafts. To make them understood and appreciated.
Some time ago I had the pleasure of doing an interview with Emma Taylor From Within a book. Since then I have been entertaining the idea of more interviews with bookbinders and people from the book arts world in general.
Following the philosophy described above, Dimitri’s Bookbinding Corner will present you with a series of such interviews, which will be less technical in nature and more of an invitation to step into the binderies and workspaces of various artisans and illustrate different kinds of craftsmanship.
Today we have a special guest who was kind enough to talk with me about her experiences and perspective on certain matters as a bookbinder: Jana Pullman.
Jana began working with books in 1983 while pursuing her BFA and MFA degrees in art. She is the owner of Western Slope Bindery at Minneapolis, specializing in custom bindings and repair of books. She focuses her artistic energies on fine binding and participates in book exhibitions. During many years of working in book arts she has been a printer, papermaker, bookbinder, illustrator, conservator and instructor.
She teaches at the famous Minessota Center for Book Arts and various other venues and travels often to give seminars.
Her inventiveness and long experience in the craft are evident in her work which she showcases at her blog About the binding through numerous pictures and well detailed presentations of the creative process.
In her own words:
My primary artistic work in the Book Arts is in the area of design bindings. I create unique bindings for specific books using materials such as leather, wood, handmade paper and gold tooling. I work with the books to find a design that complements the style of the text and illustrations as well as the intent of the authors.
There is a high expectation of craftsmanship in design binding and this pushes me to improve my techniques and explore new approaches. I am always intrigued by the opportunity to use new materials as well as utilizing historical elements and techniques. Throughout the book’s long history individuals have found many answers on how to work with books and I enjoy exploring that history.
I believe that does it for an introduction – now on to our interview!
– Hello Jana and thank you very much for this bookbinding talk.
You teach bookbinding at the distinguished Minessota Center for Book Arts (MCBA). You are also very active in giving seminars and courses at various locations in the US. Last but not least you own a bookbinding blog the posts of which are full of step by step pictures, thorough descriptions of the process involved and lots of bench tips&tricks.
Sharing the craft is obviously a big part of your life as an artisan. What are the reasons behind such a stance?
When I started to learn about bookbinding I had several wonderful instructors. Soon I thought I too should pass on these methods and understanding of the craft to others. After teaching my first class I found that I enjoyed interacting with my students and telling them about the techniques of bookbinding and my love of books. Over the many years that I have taught book arts classes I have also gotten good relationships with a lot of students.
– Teaching bookbinding, as with any handcraft, is challenging on many levels – can you give us an insight from the instructor’s perspective?
Preparing for classes is challenging but it also gives me reasons to explore new techniques and find ways to present different methods to a class. Over the many years I have taught, I have learned more and have strengthened my own ability to do the work.
– Your work is really diverse, from traditional (historical style) fine bindings tooled in gold to a variety of unique design bindings. What was the most challenging binding project you ever tackled and why would you describe it as such?
A few years ago I was asked to rebind a book of William Shakespeare’s plays in the style of a binding done during Shakespeare’s lifetime. I had to learn more about techniques and styles in the late 1500s. I enjoyed gold tooling prior to that, but this project made me find new ways to improve my work. When I wanted to try a new method of tooling I began by creating another book for myself to see if I had come up with the right technique. So I took a lot more time to practice and then finish the Shakespeare book than I need to do with most of my other bindings, but I was very happy with the work when it was done. This is described in one of my blog posts.
– You are proficient in the use of various techniques, either regarding the structural properties of a binding or its decoration. Which technique would you say is the most enjoyable to you? Can you describe it and mention what makes it special?
For a structural challenge I really like the Bradel bookbinding. This style of binding can be traced back to the 18th century in Germany. The origin of the binding is uncertain, but the name comes from a French binder working in Germany, Alexis Pierre Bradel. It gives the book a strong connection between the pages and the cover. For a design element, the spine can be wrapped in one material and the covers wrapped in another.
Another way to finish the cover is the method known as the “milimeter binding”. What distinguishes the technique is that cloth, leather of vellum trim is added at the head, tail, fore-edges and corners of the case for greater durability while making the book look more elegant. The rest can be covered in a decorative paper.
I have three posts about Bradel bookbinding.
– You have been in the craft for a long time. What stands out more for you during your journey as an artisan?
I can always learn more about books and improve my ability to make them. I also encourage anyone to look at the history of books because you can find ideas and techniques that can give you inspiration for your own projects. When I see a picture of an old book, I make a drawing of it and then make a few more drawings with variations to give me more ideas for new bindings.
– On a different note…
Despite those who are convinced the book as an object will become obsolete in the near future, it appears there is a slow but steady shift of mentality back to traditional crafts. In an age of run-of-the-mill products people are starting to appreciate once more the quality and uniqueness of a handcrafted item. Bookbinding is also part of this. What’s your view on the matter?
A handmade item has a unique appearance and you can see the artist’s work, which gives it more details and design elements that are not found in industrialized items. When I show my books to people they are always fascinated that it was handmade. I also think they wonder if it is something they could do as well.
– Last question:
Although this re-appreciation of bookbinding has helped in the strengthening of bookbinding communities and public awareness regarding our craft this seems to more evident in well-faring countries. Bookbinding is in decline in Greece (where I live) and from what I hear in many other countries of similar conditions as well. Here almost none is taking up the craft…
With these two different sides of the bookbinding world in mind what would your advice be to an aspiring binder today?
Because bookbinding has a rich heritage around the world you should always look to see what is being done both locally and internationally. The work of other artists can give you new ideas and challenges to move you forward with your work. You can learn a lot from other binders and then pass it on to more people which helps build a bookbinding community that you are part of.
Hope you enjoyed our talk with Jana Pullman! If you haven’t already do spend some time to visit her blog About the Binding and website Western Slope Bindery and get acquainted with her wonderful work!
You can read more interviews at Techniton Politeia.