Saturday, June 25, 2011

Guest Blogger Sandra Anible, Conservation Enclosures

Sandra Anible is a book artist living in Madison, Wisconsin. At PBI in May 2011, she was one of the lucky scholarship students on hand to help keep PBI running smoothly and taking classes along with the rest of us. She has very kindly agreed to tell us a little bit about one of her classes, where they made a whole array of boxes for conservation.

During the first session of the 2011 Paper Book Intensive, Denise Carbone taught a class on how to create conservation enclosures. Denise is a conservator for the American Philosophical Society who also teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

A selection of boxes made during this class:

Denise provided instructions for several conservation enclosure structures. Each enclosure was designed to nest perfectly into the previous enclosure. We were all asked to bring one small object to class. The enclosure at the heart of our set of nested enclosures was customized to accommodate whatever object we brought.

A few more boxes made in this class:

The strategy of making all the structures fit inside each other, proved both economical with regard to space and convenient with regard to each student leaving the class with a handheld, multi-faceted teaching tool. Pre-printed, transparent, circular labels for each enclosure were also provided to each student to further enhance the ease with which they could demonstrate the form and function of each piece.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Secret Belgian Binding - not a secret anymore

A few years ago, I posted on my blog a list of historical bindings that I wanted to revisit. One of the bindings on that list was the Secret Belgian Binding. The history of this binding was obscure and, other than it being somehow Belgian in origin, nobody seemed too sure about it. As it turns out, it's not even an historic binding!

Hedi Kyle and Emily Martin were both at PBI last month, and they have been the unofficial experts on this binding. So, as I'm sitting across the lunch table from these two, I made some mention of the Secret Belgian Binding. I don't remember my question, and it doesn't matter, because the two of them became excited about telling me the important news: they found the person who invented this binding! Anne Goy invented the Secret Belgian Binding - and she does indeed, live in Belgium.

In the 1980s, Anne Goy developed this binding because she really liked the look of the Japanese stab bindings, but wanted a structure that would open fully. She showed the binding structure to a few people, they showed a few people, and they showed a few people, etc. Eventually the origin of the structure was obscured but its popularity had spread across the globe.

Thank you, Anne Goy!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Guest Blogger Amy Greenan, In Search of Content

Amy Greenan is a fine artist, graphic designer, teacher, and also a bookbinder and she was a fellow participant at PBI this year. Amy agreed to tell me more about one of the PBI classes that I didn't take (since one person can only take 3 out of 10 classes). This is her account of the class, "In Search of Content" with Susan Skarsgard.

You can see some of Amy's work on her website ( and learn more about her activities on her blog (

Two of the classes I had the pleasure of taking were with Rhonda – Book Doctor 101 and Fragments of Bookbinding Structure (otherwise known as Extreme Bookbinding!), which she’s already written about. So, Rhonda has asked me to tell you about my experience in a class that she didn’t take, which largely dealt with creating content for the artist’s book and the creative process in general. Of the three workshops I signed up for, this one was the most “arty” for sure.

In the over ten years I’ve been making books, my focus has mainly been on playing with structure and design, and so producing mostly blank books for other people to fill in. As an artist whose main medium has been paint on canvas, making books for me has been something to relax in and not feel pressure to make something particularly meaningful. I must admit, though, that was getting stale – I’ve been spinning my wheels for way too long, and for someone who also ended up becoming the bookbinding person about town over the years and teaching it quite a lot, I really wanted to up the ante and get more serious about it. I wanted the work I was making in that form to be as interesting and meaningful as I hope my paintings are.

The Paper and Book Intensive was truly transformative in that way – I found what I was looking for in the sense that I did have a lot of focus on more serious things like book conservation and historical bindings, but I also found myself really inspired during and outside the workshops. The people – don’t even get me started on how great every person attending PBI is. Being amongst a large group of “your own” is truly life-affirming – I am not exaggerating on this point. The one workshop that really opened my eyes and my imagination up to the possibilities of communicating big (and more personal) ideas visually and via the written word (hm, going back to my zine days!) was with Susan Skarsgard, an amazing woman of many talents, least of which is designing logos for cars (Saturn was hers!), but also beautiful and illustrative calligraphy, and an challenging but effective teaching style – a little drill sergeant mixed in the first couple days to draw us out of our respective modus operandi for sure.

In the first two mornings we had together, we created content, almost unknowingly. Using the old exquisite corpse trick, we as a group of 12 wrote 12 different poems, each with its own surprising tone and message. A similar method was used to create visuals, “merely” mark-making exercises where Susan’s real boot camp tone came out at its best. Moving around the tables almost constantly and working with varied media and colors, with less than 30 seconds to connect with the paper in front of us at a time, we truly got a workout, creatively and physically. We were urged to make different marks every time, usually with a prompt, for example “Make a dotted line across the page!” “Draw four squares!”, “Draw a slow line using your tool in an unexpected way,” etc. We also worked on creating the essence of letterforms one mark, one person at a time, and then tried working with India ink only (and then washed away our efforts with a hose outside the studio!). A couple hours of concentrated effort resulted in a series of large pages for each of us to claim and further work with for our individual projects.

Then came the challenge of putting all these disparate parts together into a book structure. Susan showed us one she devised that was Frankensteined out of the “Instant Book” that involves only some simple folding and cutting and creating a section out of just one sheet of paper. This I was familiar with, but then she proceeded to put a few together using some sewing similar to a Two Sewn as One binding, except there was an extra sheet in there somehow. Very clever! She then demonstrated a wrapped soft cover using some Bristol board and Canson Mi-Tientes (one of my favorite papers!). In the end, these simple and familiar techniques yielded a beautiful, sturdy structure that presented many possibilities. We now had imagery to respond to, add words to, develop further visually. Sometimes pages, by fate alone, appeared to be perfect compositions without any additional workings. Others suggested the need for something, anything. Everyone had a slightly different approach, of course. Hedi Kyle, the luminary of our bunch, reveled in cutting out windows in some of her pages and using pochoir (stenciling) to create deceptively simple and stunning abstract imagery. I should have taken note of her approach – taking care to work into every page a bit at a time so that she was able to have what appeared to be a complete work in a very short time. But hey, it’s Hedi Kyle! Would you expect any less?

My particular book ended up being one of those that wasn’t so felicitous. I decided to work into all the spreads, but only got so far as the third one before class was over. That was fine, it gave me something to take home with me. I found myself inspired by the natural surroundings we lavished in at Ox-Bow, and I used a pine cone and an acorn top as visual talismans. My poem (though not really just mine, but everyone’s) worked perfectly with the images I was producing, so I let myself be inspired by Susan’s lovely calligraphy and explored not only the words and how they danced with the images, but also the letterforms themselves as individual images. This naturally appealed to the graphic designer in me.

All in all, this class was immensely satisfying. Susan was a delightful study in contrasts – one moment extolling the virtue of slowly folding the paper, and really feeling its pliability, taking time to really know it; the next barking out orders like the most efficient line cook. I tell you, sometimes, it’s really nice to have someone tell you what to do and how to do it. When you can give yourself over to that and let the process take over, it can result in the most amazing things.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

CBBAG Book Arts Show and Sale - June 11

Everyone in and near Ottawa needs to check out the "2011 National Handmade Book Arts Show and Sale" this weekend at Library and Archives Canada. I wish I could be there - if anyone goes and wants to report back and tell me all about it, please do!

Saturday, 11 June 2011, from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.,
Library and Archives Canada,
395 Wellington St., Ottawa, Ontario.

Open to the public and admission is free.

Exhibition: The Nature of Words - all day

Speakers include: George Walker "The Future of the Book" at 4 p.m.

Future of the Book is the theme for this year’s CBBAG Book Arts Show. An impressive array of book artists and artisans are coming together to look at this intriguing question.

Hosted by the Ottawa Valley Chapter of CBBAG

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Extreme Bookbinding

The third, and most intensive, class that I took at PBI was with John Townsend who is a bookbinder and conservator extrodinaire and operates Anonymous Bookbinder in upstate New York. In this class we made three books. Extreme bookbinding, because there was a lot to accomplish in a short time. We were folding and tearing, setting up the sewing frame with cords for one and tapes for another, we were paring leather and molding vellum, we were plouging textblocks, and we hammered and rounded, and on and on... We focused on structure, and I love structure.

My finished books...

First, the publisher's board binding. John had several examples of this kind of binding from its heyday - beginning in the mid 1700s - when the structure became widely used in English binderies. Key features of the binding: it is sewn on recessed cords, and two are laced into the boards and the others are cut; the textblock is left untrimmed; the boards were almost always covered with blue or grey paper; paper spine pasted directly to the spine of the textblock; endpapers are pasted down with the book lying open.

A couple of the publisher's board binding models made by our class...

Second, a type of German case binding, or Bradel binding, also from the mid 1700s. This structure uses a molded spine wrapper attached to cover boards to create a case. We made a variant of this traditional German case binding with vellum for the spine. Other features: textblock is trimmed on all 3 sides and often speckled; sewn onto tapes using a French link then the tapes are removed; sewn endpapers; paste paper or marbled paper typically used on the covers.

A couple of the German case binding models made by others in my class...

Third, we made a single section book a la T. Harrison's 1947 article in Paper and Print. This structure was really interesting because even with only a few pages, the result was a rounded and backed textblock - not easy to achieve with a single section. This structure was presented as a solution for library binderies when a few sheets need to be bound for the stacks, this binding will allow the slim volume a bit more substance so it doesn't get lost on the shelf. The model that I made has a textblock of only four folios (I barely finished this book, so thank you, Jean for helping me with the leather spine on this one after the class was finished!)

My single-section book...