Monday, July 29, 2013

Guest Blogger Debra Eck, Lessons from PBI and Islamic Bookbinding

Debra Eck is an internationally exhibited book and installation artist who works primarily with paper, text and thread and much of her work explores the space in which women work, and how work intersects with the domestic and the ideas of home. She attended PBI for the first time this year, to which she was drawn after reading about it here on my blog in previous years! It was a great pleasure to work with Deb, and I have to say, I didn't realize she was such a groupie until I read this guest post! Deb's work is exceptional and it was inspiring to see her work her own magic on the books she made at PBI this year. You can read more about her and see some of her work at

Ever since I found out I was attending PBI this year my mood vacillated between excitement and fear. It took about 8 hours to drive from my home in Western NY to Oxbow for PBI, as I got closer anxiety began to win out. Some really INCREDIBLE people attend PBI, people whose work I follow, whose blogs I read. I was experiencing a really common fear for me – "waiting for the other shoe to drop." I was afraid when I started to work alongside these amazing book artists, conservators and binders they would realize I totally didn't belong! After an 8 hour solitary drive my monkey mind had whipped me up into quite a state. Additionally – like many creative people, I don't always have the best social skills, I didn't know anyone and I was feeling anxious about that too.

One of the things I was really anxious about was the vast sea of things I don't know. I don't have a lot of tools in my studio – I didn't have some of the things we were supposed to bring (for example a Japanese drill – I didn't want to invest in something I wouldn't use again), I have only taken one book class in my whole life – the rest I have been making up and figuring out on my own for the last ten years. I know the point of going was to learn, but what if I said something dumb – or couldn't do the work, or didn't have the right things. Yeah – I was quite a mess!! Fortunately – none of these things happened. Like most creative communities, everyone was willing to share what they knew and no-one laughed at me (to my face anyways!!). One of the highlights for me was getting to meet Rhonda. I have been reading her blog for some time, and she really inspires me, she has an amazing work ethic and makes such great books. It was through her blog that I first found out about PBI. It took a few days for me to finally figure out that the Rhonda in Adam Larsson's class with me was the Rhonda whose blog I read! So I just want to say how cool it is that my first ever guest post on a blog is here on Rhonda's blog! So, I am going to share my experience taking Yasmeen Kahn's Islamic Binding class.

By the second week I was beginning to feel less anxious, but I knew Yasmeen's class would involve working with leather (something I had never done) and that a lot of really great binders were taking the class with me. Yasmeen is a Sr. Rare Book Conservator at Library of Congress, a true professional and one of those I was anxious about working with, but it turned out that we shared a frame in Bernie's papermaking class and she is super nice! She also shared that there were lots of possibilities for decoration in the upcoming class – so I was pretty excited by the time the first morning rolled around.

The night before class started a group of us met up in the studio to fold and cut the paper for the text blocks for the first binding, many hands made quick work and I was able to learn a great trick for measuring multiple sheets my marking the dimensions on the table, and I have used that many times since I got back. The text blocks were pressed in a nipping press to make them very smooth and flat, as we would learn later, smooth paper is an important part of the Islamic tradition. For me the most interesting thing was the idea that the binding in the Islamic tradition is really secondary to the paper and its contents, that and the fact that Islamic books don't stand up in a bookcase – so the spines are less important than in the Western tradition (Instead they lay down on the shelf – much more sensible really). Unlike my other binding class, this text block required almost no sewing, and this was the first time I had ever made a block where the sewn spine would be covered. Once the blocks were sewn we added a layer of muslin pasted over the block, and sewed in the primary headbands.

Deb's Islamic endband.

We clamped the block to do this – another first for me, I don't use any frames or clamps when I sew my books; I just lay them on the bench or hold them. I found it really tricky to do it the right way! But the trickiness had only begun. Then we learned to sew a headband, first on a practice card (which I found easy) and then on the actual book block – which I found frustratingly difficult. I LOVE to sew, I had been confident I would be able to do it – trust me when I say – I need MUCH more practice!

The leather covers were created using beautiful, thin, supple leather which was easy for a beginner like me to work with. The first book we created had a traditional turn-in to protect the block which folded under the front cover.

The first book made in this class, in full leather
with embossed almond-shaped design and gold leaf details.

We created a template for the whole book as a single piece and glued in the covers before adding the text block. Then we added the doublures – decorative end papers glued to the cover and the first page of the text block. The final step was to add gold leaf to the cover – another first for me. I was pleased with my book – as my family said when I got home – it looks like a "real" book – the kind you might buy in a store.

Inside the first book, paste paper endsheets.

For the second book we were able to pick and choose amongst a variety of different traditional techniques. As I was a painting major during my undergrad years I opted to make a lacquered cover. I didn't make a traditional Islamic design, but instead drew on my own Celtic roots. The first layer of paint was a solid wash of colour – in my case red; add a layer of shellac, and then gold leaf or gold paint sprayed across this solid color, followed by more shellac. After that I began to develop my design, adding layers of shellac and paint, ending with shellac. The cover has only tiny strips of leather covering the edges of the board, and spine, but the finished result is really opulent. Others choose to make book cloth (another new skill for me) and insert that in place of the shellacked paper.

Front cover of Deb's second book.

Back cover of Deb's second book.

I am a lover of the decorative – I never met an ornament or flourish I didn't covet and love. This class really opened my eyes to even more possibilities for decoration in my binding – oh and did I mention – I got to work at the same table as Rhonda!!

-Debra Eck

Friday, July 26, 2013

Wolfville Art Festival tomorrow!

This post if for all my local readers! I hope you can include tomorrow's art festival in your weekend plans. The Wolfville Art Festival is being held on the grounds at Luckett Vineyard, 1293 Grand Pré Rd in Wolfville. There is a spectacular lineup of artists, as well as live music and specialty food vendors. I'm sure it will be a great day! Visit the event website at for all the details, directions, and a full list of participating artists.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Guest Blogger Bonnie Loukus, and Pressure Printing at PBI

Bonnie Loukus works as Assistant Director at the Copper Country Community Arts Center, a non-profit organization, in Hancock, Michigan. She is currently working towards establishing a letterpress and book arts studio within the center. At PBI in May, Bonnie had the great fortune of taking letterpress class with Sarah Bryant. Thank you, Bonnie, for telling us about the class.

As I have become more involved with letterpress and bookbinding the past couple of years, I saw this class as a perfect opportunity to combine my old love (painting) and my new love (book arts). This was my first time at PBI and I wasn't sure what to expect. Knowing absolutely no one, being pretty new to the whole book arts scene, and prone to bouts of stifling shyness, I wasn't sure what was going to happen. I'm happy to say, it was incredible. Topnotch instructors and intense studio time in a gorgeous environment with kind and interesting people. I learned so much and made book arts buddies from all over the place. Who wants to go back home? Ever?

Yet we did have to go home and luckily a nice thing about technology is that it helps keep these new connections with people going through e-mail conversations, collaborations, and knowledge sharing. Like this blog! So, the instructor for Pressure Printing: A Painterly Approach to the Press was Sarah Bryant of Big Jump Press ( Sarah is a combination of letterpress ninja, energetic motivational presenter, comic relief...and of course, an amazing printer/artist/lady. If you have ever been fortunate enough to attend PBI you know the first week is broken into two sessions with about twelve students in the morning, twelve in the afternoon. With that said, there was exactly one Vandercook to use for 24 students. Sarah was able to keep us all on task and bestowed her magic-juju-catchphrase "Cross your fingers, turn around three times, and spit!" to help our prints turn out their best. It must have worked because everyone's pieces were so varied and beautiful.

Sarah (far right) and students showing their work

Pressure printing is a form of relief printing and differs from traditional printing in the way that image/text you print is behind your paper on the feed board of the Vandercook, instead of on the bed itself. You create a "plate" that is placed behind your paper. The plate can be paper or mylar with your created image(s) cut and pasted on with spray adhesive or glue stick.

One of Bonnie's pressure printing plates
created from newsprint and the result

The impression is adjusted by placing packing (sheets of paper) behind your plate before you print, in order to get the desired amount of ink for your image. Too little packing, and your image will not show up, too much and it could be obliterated when the paper and plate meets your inked surface. An exact science it is not....and of course the majority of letterpress printing is pretty exact. This way of printing lends itself to all kinds of experimentation. I chose to keep it simple, but many students planned and printed multiple images and textures within one piece.

Bonnie, printing

The type high block on the press bed acts as your inked surface. It can be inked by the press rollers or with a brayer. You can also get fancy and carve into the block or cut images to place on top of this block. Others more well versed in printing, like my Vandercook buddy Suzanne Sawyer, experimented with creating both a plate and an inked surface with a relief image. Suzanne is a very talented artist who incorporates images of plant cells within her work and she chose to do so in this class as well. I think she really achieved a beautiful aesthetic while showing what one can do with pressure printing.

Suzanne Sawyer's prints

I loved the subtle wash of color from pressure printing, not having to use any kind of measuring device, and the ability to just cut paper to create images. If there had been more time, I certainly would have enjoyed experimenting with the interaction of colors and the inks, carving a block, and monkeying around with the amount of packing. I think the best approach for me with PBI classes was to try and really treat them as a learning experience; to focus on the process and learn from it, rather than trying to make an amazing work of art at the first go. This was a hard thing to do at times with all the book arts rockstars about, but it kept me from stressing too much about the end product. Like when teaching children, I had to remind myself it's not about being done first, but to check myself to see if I understand what I'm doing, not be timid about asking questions, and assess if I am putting forth my best effort. This was truly an inspirational and timely class as I continue my adventure into the world of book arts.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Guest blogger Ann Poe, on paring leather with Jeff Altepeter

Ann Poe is a retired editor who happily continues to explore book and paper arts. This was her fourth time attending PBI and she very kindly offered to do a review of one of her classes for my blog. She had the great fortune of taking a leather class with Jeff Altepeter (I really wanted to be in this class; however, they won't let me take them all!). Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Ann!

This was primarily a technique class about working with leather. We learned the differences among animal skins, how the skins are affected by finishing processes and dyes, why one skin can have different properties, and more. Jeff provided a wide variety of leathers for students to use for practice. Some skins were thin, moist, smooth, and easy to use; others were dense, dry, stretchy, wrinkly, and considerably more challenging to use.

We pared leather with the Schärf-Fix – a must-have tool for every bookbinder. Jeff demonstrated many tips and tricks as we learned to pare a large piece entirely, edge pare German style, back pare, pare onlays, determine thickness with a micrometer, and more.

Jeff and the Schärf-Fix

And then we moved on to paring with knives. He showed us the most useful blade shapes, how to use each one to pare and bevel, and again we were able to practice on a variety of leathers. For those who were interested, Jeff gave an invaluable demo on sharpening knives.

Some of the plaquettes made in this class

We made leather-covered plaquettes. These were excellent models for practicing new techniques with glue and paste, including how to apply paste, how to adhere leather to bookboard, and of course, how to cover corners. We also practiced onlays, including how to make a raised, tooled edge onlay, and how to get a colored, tooled, curved line onto leather.

So that students could concentrate on leather covering techniques, Jeff provided a textblock for each student. (Thirty textblocks later, surely he deserves a medal!)

One of the 30 textblocks,
with covers and leather spine

We added covers, using leather to cover the spine and form a proper headcap over the headband.

I really enjoyed this class. It's always exciting to discover a new lode of information – and this class was a gold mine!

- Ann Poe

Monday, July 01, 2013

Happy Canada Day!

Happy Canada Day! I'll be spending the day in Dartmouth, NS at the Alderney Landing Boardwalk Artist Festival and I'll be selling my books there. Come for a visit if you're in the area; there is always lots of fun things happening there on Canada Day.

Red and White notebooks featuring a little
Maple Leaf stamp that I made recently.