Sunday, July 20, 2014

PBI 2014: Impress me, An Artist’s Approach to Emboss­ing Leather for Books

At Paper and Book Intensive this year, one of the classes I took was taught by Bonnie Stahlecker who showed us creative ways to emboss leather for bookbinding. Bonnie is an amazing artist who incorporates book elements into her work and you can see some of her work and learn more about her on her website at

Books that I made in Bonnie's class.

In this class, we embossed leather using an etching press. A design on a printing plate is impressed into dampened leather when they are passed through the press. We started by trying various methods of creating plates and doing test prints to see how the different techniques would look. Here are some of the test prints that I did:

A crocheted square.

A snake lino cut.

Modelling paste.

And drawing with puff-paint (unpuffed).

Other people in the class tried different techniques as well, using a variety of found objects, cardboard cutouts, string, leaves and ferns, etc. Once we had a chance to play with the various techniques, we created a printing plate for our first book. I did this lino cut, shown here, followed by the embossed leather.

Bonnie also had us try some different ways of embellishing the leather after it was printed using paints and polishes. Here is the same embossed leather after applying some dark blue shoe polish.

And the finished book.

I also made a puff-paint printing plate for another book. I'm not entirely sure what puff-paint is supposed to be used for, but we just used it to draw on fabric. Once the paint was entirely dry, it could be put through the press. It was more durable than expected, and could withstand multiple printings. This photo shows the fabric plate along with the brown printed leather, which was printed with too much pressure and damaged the leather. I printed it again with less pressure onto the red leather, with more success.

The binding technique that we used in this class, is one that Bonnie has developed and it combines different techniques. The covers are semi-stiff, there is no bookboard, just a paper lining in the covers. The primary binding of the textblock is a French link stitch. The textblock is attached to the cover with a secondary sewing using tackets. The result is a nice lightweight leather book. She also showed us a lovely little headband that is quick but also very effective. We used leather to make a false endbands and stuck them on with pva. Then with just a simple oversewing, it creates a really nice endband.

Thanks, Bonnie, for sharing all these great ideas and techniques with us!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

PBI 2014: Guest Blogger Charlie Wisseman and Printing in Relief

Charlie Wisseman is a retired pathologist who now does mixed media art with a current emphasis on book arts and papermaking. Charlie creates some rather amazing works of art, and I encourage you to visit his website and looks at some of the pictures: Charlie took a printmaking class at Paper and Book Intensive this year and agreed to share some of his thoughts about it here on my blog.

Ryan O'Malley, assistant professor at Texas A&M in Corpus Christi,Texas, taught a class in reduction relief printmaking at Paper and Book Intensive in May 2014 at Ox-Bow. As a first-time printmaker with no graphic training or drawing skill, I was a little worried going into this class, especially after seeing the amazing work that Ryan brought to show. His aesthetic is darker and more graphic-novel-like than my usual taste, but the work is dense and graphically powerful enough to pull any viewer in. I chose a graphic from a book to use as my image, and did fine.

Charlie's reduction print made in this class

Ryan taught us the basics of reduction printmaking using carved MDF panels with red and black colors on white base paper. This process is simple and cheap enough for me to play with at home, using an old etching press that a friend passed on to me. I do not aspire to have the astonishing speed and control of carving that Ryan demonstrates, but this is definitely a beginner-friendly process. Ryan was available until late every evening to help, and always willing to assist with corrective carving. By the end I was becoming almost too aggressive with the carving tools. Easy to remove material, but difficult to correct mistakes!

A few of Ryan's printing blocks.

A display of the prints made by the students in this class.

Ryan showed us a simple registration system using Ternes Burton registration pins taped to a jig, affectionately known as "Frenchy". Experience with students has taught Ryan to add some protections to prevent accidentally running Frenchy through the press. As a bonus, Ryan showed me how to print my brain image onto a tee shirt. The print I brought home looks great. My only regret is that the reduction process of carving the block between colors means that there is no going back to do any more complete prints. Only the portion of the image for the final color remains, but the block itself is worth framing.

- Charles Wisseman

Sunday, July 06, 2014

PBI 2014: Three Case Styles for Three Book­bind­ings

Over the past few years, I have been in the habit of posting here on my blog about the various classes offered at Paper and Book Intensive. Each participant at PBI takes three classes (out of 10). So I can report first-hand on the three classes that I took. I have asked a few other participants to be guest bloggers for me, so that they can share details about some of the classes that I didn't take. Since we are already into July, I really should get started with these reports. So, dear readers, you have all of this to look forward to over the summer!

One of the classes that I took was "Three Case Styles for Three Book­bind­ings" taught by Priscilla Spitler.

Three Bookbindings is a text, written by Gary Frost. It was originally written twenty years ago and at that time it was handbound in an edition at PBI, also in a class taught by Priscilla. So, twenty years later, the text was revised and a new edition was produced. In four days, we learned Priscilla's tips, tricks, and techniques for edition binding. We all made three books for ourselves, using three different case binding techniques: full cloth, quarter cloth, and half cloth with a rounded and backed spine. We also worked together to produce the edition of Gary's book, and honestly I have no idea how many books were made in total. Besides the books kepy by the students, I think there were 25 copies in each of the three binding styles - which would be 75. Added to that would be the personal copies made by each student (3 each and about 25 students), so that's another 75. So maybe there were 150 books produced in the end. I do know that we didn't finish them during class time and Priscilla finished them in her room in the evenings! Thank you Priscilla for all that work and for sharing so much knowledge with us.

Everyone in the class made their own three copies, but as time permitted we worked on the edition. Here's a small stack of sewn textblocks that I was working on. Sewn with the French link (and we did discuss how that isn't a very good name for this sewing as it doesn't seem to have any French connection really) and with endpapers attached.

Here's another stack that I was working on. Endbands attached and spines lined. We made our own false endbands, using coordinating bookcloth. A nice finishing touch on the textblocks before casing in. As Priscilla would say, you charge extra for that.

The official edition copies were all made with the same papers and cloths. These beautiful paste papers were made by Priscilla herself. Some of the students' personal copies were made with different papers, so you can see here a variety of decorative papers on some of the finished books.

So, here are the three books that I made for myself during this class. Starting on the left, my copy of the text in a quarter cloth binding, then the half cloth with a rounded spine, and the full cloth binding in dark blue.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit and teach at The Morgan Conservatory in Cleveland, Ohio. The Morgan was established approximately 7 years ago and, as its website states, it is "a non-profit art center dedicated to the production and preservation of hand papermaking and the art of the book."

The website doesn't seem to mention a date for when The Morgan was established, so my 7-year approximation is based on my memory of a presentation about The Morgan when it was still in its earliest development. There was a slideshow that consisted mostly of photos of an empty warehouse and Tom Balbo explaining how each corner of the building and the lot would be used in the future. That presentation was in 2008. Tom Balbo, a paper and ceramic artist, was the man behind that presentation and is now the executive director of the centre.

When I first arrived, I was given a tour of the facility and trust me, the magnitude of this place cannot be overstated. It's a big building, but they have also figured out how to make it seem bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. There is some office space, but much of the centre is dedicated to paper making. They do both Western and Eastern styles of papermaking so there is equipment for both, several beaters and tanks in many sizes and styles, large and small hanji tanks, and more molds and deckles than I've ever seen in one place before.

One of the small beaters.

Part of the mold and deckle collection.

A small hanji tank.

There is also an outdoor area where they are growing raw materials for some of their paper. They have created a kozo garden so they have been able to harvest their own kozo for making paper.

A bit of the Kozo garden.

There is also a gallery space, a bindery, and an extensive letterpress studio with several presses and tons of type. When I was visiting, the gallery space was being used for a letterpress exhibit.

Part of the gallery space.

Of course, I spent most of my time in the bindery area where I conducted two one-day workshops. The first day, I taught Anne Goy's Criss Cross binding (formerly known as the Secret Belgian Binding).

Books made in the workshop.

The second day was a Japanese bookbinding workshop where we did two different bindings: a multi section binding (seen here with the colourful Chyiogami cover papers) and a traditional account book structure.

Japanese books made in the workshop.

The workshops were great and I really enjoyed my time there. Thanks to The Morgan for this opportunity (and thanks to Fran for hosting and housing me). Anyone who is interested in papermaking and book arts should add this place to their "to do" list and visit if you find yourself in Cleveland. They have an impressive list of workshops continuing throughout the summer too (more info on their website).

If you'd like to see a few more pictures that I took or a whole bunch of photos that were taken by the staff at The Morgan during my workshops, you can visit my page on Facebook or The Morgan's facebook page.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Chaekkori at The Cleveland Museum of Art

Last month, I went to the Cleveland Museum of Art and toured the various collections rather single-mindedly. We were looking for books. Or book-related things.

There were a few actual books on display. Of course, they were on display for the purpose of showing the illuminated pages inside so the books were enclosed in glass cabinets. No consideration at all for the bookbinders who might be visiting! So we examined them as much as possible looking at things like clasps and headbands and discussing which ones appeared to be repaired, rebound, or with original binding features.

Books are also a very common prop in paintings through the ages, apparently. So we played a little game of "name that binding" as we found various styles represented in paintings...

... and sculptures throughout the museum.

Of course, the history of the book began long before the codex format. We found carved stone (1200 BC) and papyrus scrolls (1000 BC) from Egypt... well as Chinese handscrolls on silk, porcelain plaques from Korea, and paper documents from India.

Finally this is Chaekkori, Korean for books and things. A ten panel folding screen from Korea (late 1800s) featuring bookcases filled with books and other scholarly items meant to represent a Confucian study.

Apparently the Cleveland Museum of Art also has a lot of non-book-related items too! Next time I'll try to see some of them. It is a VERY large place, though, and I didn't even come close to seeing all the collections. Next time!

Monday, June 02, 2014

The month of May

It is surprising that I did not post anything on my blog during the month of May since May was actually a very busy time for me in the world of bookbinding and related activities! So I will try to catch up now with a quick review.

First, I went to Paper and Book Intensive at the OxBow School of Art and Artist's Residency, in Saugatuck, Michigan. This is a ten-day session of intensive book arts workshops and this was my fifth time attending the annual event. During PBI, I took three classes. Gold Finishing taught by Sam Fein­stein. Three Case Bindings for Editions, taught by Priscilla Spitler. And Embossed leather bindings, taught by Bon­nie Stahlecker. I will post detailed reviews of these classes soon, once I have a chance to collect my notes and photos.

While I was away, I was able to cross off a small thing on my personal bucket list. I found myself driving through Ann Arbor, Michigan and so I was able to go to Hollander's retail store. I have shopped online with Hollander's periodically in the past, but had never actually been to the store. So now I've been there, and it was FABULOUS. If you are anywhere near Ann Arbour, then you should really check it out. Here's a photo I took, showing one aisle of paper. This is a small sample of what they have. And they have more than just paper. But certainly lots of paper!

After PBI, I spent a few days in Cleveland, Ohio and taught two workshops at The Morgan Conservatory. While in Cleveland, I also visited the Cleveland Art Museum. The Morgan Conservatory, the workshops I was teaching, and the visit to the CAM will all be featured in upcoming blog posts as soon as I get my thoughts in order. Lots to share with you over the next few weeks!

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An afternoon of Japanese Marbling

Yesterday I decided to do a new batch of Suminagashi papers. Suminagashi marbling is a much gentler and more subtle style of marbling compared with the Turkish Ebru marbling that I do. Both styles have their own beauty - both in technique and results. There's a good website here,, with a brief history and introduction to the art of Suminagashi. It began in Japan by the 12th Century and is the first known marbling technique. The Turkish method, using paint, emerged a few hundred years later.

Bamboo brushes and ink on water.

Some of the finished papers.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Hafliax Crafters Spring Market April 5 & 6

Preparing a few new things for the local Spring Market this weekend. Although, since it is snowing today, it doesn't feel much like Spring yet. I'm confident that this is the end of the winter weather!

Come visit me this weekend if you have a chance. The Halifax Crafters Spring Market is at the Olympic Community Centre, 2304 Hunter St, Halifax, Nova Scotia. Saturday and Sunday, 10-5. Check out the full list of vendors. Here is a sneak peak at my wares for the weekend.

Cityscape Notebooks, hand-carved and hand-printed

Itty bitty books in itty bitty bottles.

Portfolios featuring my own hand-marbled paper, designed to hold a standard lined paper pad.

Classy Leather Journals.

Japanese Yotsume toji notebooks.

Fun little library card notebooks.

Colourful chopstick notebooks

See you at the market!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Unfinished Project #4 (Marbled Fore-edges)

There are always a few unfinished projects on the shelf. Usually, these unfinished projects are personal projects which get shelved when custom orders and other paid projects come along. I do, though, try to go back to the shelf of unfinished projects periodically, and finish things.

This particular project was started in May 2011. At that time, I was taking a class at PBI and for the work we were doing in that class, we had a bookbinding plough at our disposal. I don't have a plough at home, so I decided to take advantage of this temporary access. A plough is used to trim the edges of a text block, to create very smooth even edges. It is necessary for certain bindings and it is necessary for fore-edge decoration. I decided to create a couple of textblocks and plough the edges so that I could bring them home and marble them.

These two ploughed textblocks sat on the shelf of unfinished projects for almost two years, until February 2013. At that time, I blew off the dust, and finally marbled the edges of those two text blocks. I had never done fore-edge marbling before, but it worked pretty well. Once I had a marble pattern that I liked, I dipped the textblock and made a matching sheet of paper to be used later on the covers.

I quickly moved the dipped textblock into a press.

I did that with both textblocks and left them in the press until they were dry. Then the textblocks went back onto the shelf. Fast-forward to February 2014, and I finally found the time to turn the text blocks into books, with their matching marbled paper covers.

Now, another month later, I finally photographed the finished books and shared the whole story here. A very satisfying finished project, for sure, even if it did take me three years.