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


Виктория Рудман said...

Ваш блог замечательный! Обожаю ваши блокноты! Они такие шикарные, великолепные! Жаль только, что у вас нет функции перевода на другие языки, я бы с удовольствием еще и почитала, а не только рассматривала)
А еще у вас не отключена функция проверки графическим кодом комментариев - это не очень удобно(((

MyHandboundBooks said...

Thank you! I translated your comment using google, something like this:

"Your blog is great! I love your notebooks! They're so gorgeous, gorgeous! It is a pity that you do not have the functions of translation into other languages​​, I'd love to still revered, not just considered)
And yet you have not disabled checking graphical code comments - this is not very convenient"

Thank you for your feedback. Maybe I will be able to add translation option in the future. Translated by google: "Спасибо за ваши отзывы. Может быть, я буду иметь возможность добавлять варианта перевода в будущем." -Rhonda

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