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  1. Conservation Conversations // Adhesive Pre-Coated Repair Materials

    April 22, 2015 by Athena Moore

    Mending tears is a treatment that book and paper conservators utilize nearly every day.  For this reason, wheat starch paste is one of our best friends at the bench – a dependable go-to, especially when paired with an appropriate eastern paper. Unfortunately, this reliable standard is is not always an option – the media may be soluble, the paper difficult, the work space less than ideal.

    Luckily, there are other routes to take! A possible solution to one or all of these issues may be adhesive pre-coated repair materials. Recently, I had the pleasure of taking a two-day workshop at Dartmouth College taught by Sarah Reidell, Associate Conservator for Rare Books and Paper at the New York Public Library on exactly this topic.

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    Pre-coated repair materials can be prepared with a huge number of adhesives – starches (wheat starch paste), cellulose ethers (methyl cellulose, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, hydroxy propyl cellulose), proteins (gelatin, isinglass), synthetics (Aquazol, Lascaux 303HV and 498HV, Rhoplex, Avanse, Plextol, Texicryl) and in some cases, a combination of more than one. These adhesives can be applied to any number of repair papers with a variety of application methods. This makes the possibilities fairly endless, which is almost equally helpful and daunting.

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    Sarah walked us through the overall benefits of having these repair materials on-hand – portability, speed, control – and the specific advantages of each adhesive. One of the greatest benefits is understanding the method of reactivation for each adhesive (this is also potentially one of the more challenging elements to remember, but luckily we walked away with an extremely handy chart). If media solubility is an issue, reactivating with water is likely not an option – in this case, one would opt to use a repair material that can be reactivated with either heat or a solvent. If the scope of a project is large but solubility is not an issue, it may be helpful to have a stash of water-activated repair material and a water brush on hand. If the object to be treated is parchment, gelatin- or isinglass-coated paper is likely a good option and for plastics or clear supports, synthetics may be the best bet.

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    Pre-coated repair materials can be prepared with nearly any adhesive and paper that one has in their lab and can be done with several different approaches, depending on skill and comfort level. Many can be done with a quick hand and a piece of Mylar, while others utilize tools not always seen in a conservation lab – a bbq/oven mat, dough scraper, and/or a silkscreen.

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    As with all conservation treatments, this is one that takes some time and experimentation to gain comfort with. That said, the risk and cost are very low. These materials can be toned to match an object and stored indefinitely. As they are controllable and customizable, they also offer a great advantage over commercially available products, whose formulations can often be unknown and can change without notice.

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    Sarah has taught this workshop several times now, both solo and partnered with Priscilla Anderson, Senior Preservation Library for Harvard Library, and it shows – she’s as organized as she is enthusiastic, which is saying something. Along with being extremely knowledgeable, she has a ton of great tips and sources for additional information, clever tools and other treatment ideas.

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    There’s a helpful bibliography of pre-coated repair information on Sarah’s website to get you started. Henry Hébert made brief mention of Sarah’s presentation of this technique in an earlier Flash of the Hand post and Mindell Dubansky, Preservation Librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a nice write-up on the workshop here. If you have the opportunity to take this workshop in the future, I highly recommend it – take-away soundbites like “gel and swell” and “first pancake syndrome” should be enough to entice you.


  2. Trip to the 2015 New York Antiquarian Book Fair

    April 21, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

    On April 10th, I took the train down to New York City for the annual Antiquarian Book Fair and shadow show put on by the Fine Press Book Association. I spent the weekend ogling over a delightful selection of fine bindings, artist books and finely pressed editions amongst a sea of rare objects and books. I wanted to highlight a few of the gems that I saw, which there were many.

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    My first stop was at the shadow show, where I am afraid I was less of spectator (I only captured two images from this event). My first stop was at the Two Ponds Press table where I had a wonderful conversation with co-found Liv Rockefeller and browsed through some Gehanna Press editions and Gray Parrot bindings.

    Next, I stopped at the table of book artist Sue Higgins Leopard of Leopard Studio Editions, whose work is pictured above. We discussed the concepts behind a few of her pieces on display. After browsing through the selection of large-scale artist books on the Booklyn table, I made a point to chat with David Esslemont on his current projects. My next notable stops were with two highly accomplished and exquisite printers: Russell Maret and Gaylord Schanilec of Midnight Paper Sales. Gaylord was quite gracious with his time and walked me through this latest and most elaborate printed accomplishment, Lac Das Pleurs. It was such a pleasure to examine each print through his eyes as he pointed out subtle details, such as how each scale of one particular fish were drawn individually to capture the unique qualities of nature.

    Before leaving, I stopped by Abby Schoolman’s booth and met bookbinder Christine Giard, whose work was on display. It was such a treat to speak with her not only about her binding training, but discuss the techniques employed in her work. My goal is to get her interviewed on the blog sometime this year (Christine gladly accepted!).

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    From the Lux Mentis booth: left: Russell Maret’s Interstices & Intersections | right: a book from Nancy Loeber

    I spent one and a half days exploring the Antiquarian Book Fair, which was held at the Park Avenue Armory. As a former storage space for weaponry and tanks, the room was massive and has been transformed for several types of events and art installations. My first stop was at the Lux Mentis booth run by Ian Kahn. He always has delightfully strange and unique items on display, such as the work of Diane Jacobs and some fellow colleagues of mine Colin Urbina and Gabby Cooksey.

    As I wondered through the aisles, I stumbled upon one embroidered binding after another. If you are regular to the blog, you know my fascination with historical embroidered bindings and creating my own. So it was pure enjoyment to see such a pristine collection of historical embroidered bindings from England and France.

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    The three embroidered bindings shown above range from 17th to 18th century and were found at the  Librairie Camille Sourget booth, a dealer from France. Click on the image to see the detail of the embroidery work.

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    Over at the Musinsky Rare Books booth were three really beautiful examples of embroidered French pocket Almanacs. I choose to include my two favorites. The example on the left has a great example of couched ribbon creating a bold border. The example on the right is bound in a luscious pink silk with painted appliqué pieces that build up the central design and dots. These pieces were in such wonderful condition, I don’t think they were carried around too often.

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    At the very end of the fair, my eye caught this shelf of embroidered bindings. Unfortunately, in my haste I neglected to note anything about the bindings or the dealer who was exhibiting them.

    In addition to embroidered bindings, I like to search out design bindings and binders whose name or work I recognize. One binder that popped up again and again was Brother Edgard Claes. The two books in the image below seem like they were made on two different planets, yet the bindings are actually very similar. The book on the left was spotted at the Sophie Schneideman Rare Books booth and is an example of one of Claes’ Dorfner bindings. The covers are wood veneer with delicate marquetry and hand painted elements.

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    The book on the right was found in the Bromer Booksellers booth. It was one of three bindings by Claes they had on display. This binding of erotica is an example of Claes’ polycarbonate bindings. The color palette is inspired by the original cover which has been included in the text block.

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    One binder commonly found at Antiquarian Fairs is Pierre Legrain. The binding above was found at the booth of Dr. A. Flühmann of Switzerland. I took a photograph of this particular binding because it reads so differently from his other highly geometrical designs. The emphasis on typography really grabbed me.

    I truly had a wonderful experience at the book fairs in New York City. I ran into familiar faces and met many wonderful artist, publishers and dealers. I’ll finish off this post with a charming engraved tunnel book discovered at one of the booths.

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  3. Book Artist of the Month: Natalie Stopka

    April 20, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    Up until this post, Natalie Stopka has shared her techniques for natural dyeing, as well as her methods for marbling and suminagashi. In the last two posts for the month, we’ll look at two artist book projects starting with her 2011 book Specimens.

    Can you talk about the concept behind this work and your inspiration for the book’s structure?
    I’m very interested in the notion of fabricated histories, including artifacts of dubious or bogus provenance such as the Voynich Manuscript or Cottingley fairy photographs. In creating Specimens I bound together the textile fragment collection of the (fictional) Dorcas Little, seemingly a phony collection that she had created and catalogued in the mid-1900s. Each textile fragment was hand sewn from vintage materials to look as if the fibers were is some aspect growing or reproducing. Mounted in a petri-shaped window, each piece is visible from both sides.

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    I have a love/hate attitude towards album structures, which are very useful for a book such as this, but generally inelegant and tedious to bind. I elected to use a double guarded album binding, which has the institutional appearance I was hoping for, but a somewhat more graceful movement. As if, in order to augment the appearance of authenticity, the collection’s owner had commissioned the housing.

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  4. Book Artist of the Month: Natalie Stopka

    April 13, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    LEFT: Ablate | RIGHT: Vesiculate

    Then & Now: Ten Years of Residencies at the Center for Book Arts is an upcoming exhibition celebrating two of the Center’s core programs. Among the 50 exhibiting artists who participated in these programs over the last ten years is Natalie Stopka.

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    Floe (detail on left)

    Some of her recent suminagashi work, like those shown in the images above will be included in the exhibit. If you find yourself in the New York area, check out Natalie’s work in person. The exhibit will run from April 17th until June 27th.

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    Last week’s post focused on Natatlie’s technique and process for natural dyes. This week’s post will focus on her work with marbling and suminagashi.

    Can you discuss your techniques for marbling; what type of size and pigment do you prefer to work with?
    I prefer to work with caragheenan and acrylic pigments when marbling. We undertook a side-by-side comparison of caragheenan and methyl cellulose in a marbling workshop I taught, and for me the clear champion is caragheenan.

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    Of course, I have written repeatedly about my preference for natural and historically founded materials, but in marbling I use modern synthetic pigments and surfactants. What can I say? They work like a charm – but one day I would like to expand my practice to include earth pigments. It would be very satisfying to create images of stone formations from pulverized stone.

    I am often asked if natural dyes can be used for marbling, but by definition dyes are water soluble, so working around that would be too complex a process to be practicable. However, it is quite handy to marble on naturally dyed paper or fabric, as both the marbling substrate and most dyes (adjective dyes) require mordanting as a preparatory step. And whether you work with natural or synthetic pigments, the natural dyes give a beautiful base tone.

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    Suminagashi is my escape from the detail-oriented aspects of bookbinding which demand focused hand work. Because suminagashi developed within the compass of Buddhism, the entire approach is at odds with western bookbinding and marbling. Rather than formulate a plan for what each print will be, I can work intuitively. I find that allowing the work to guide me rather than the reverse is very freeing and expressive. To do this I stick to traditional Japanese washi, sumi ink and brushes, a few experimental ingredients, and Don Guyot’s sumifactant.

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    You’ve marbled a variety of materials including paper, silk and linen. What unique properties do each of these materials offer and what challenges, if any, do you find?
    The only challenge in using a variety of materials is getting to know each one, and finding some dependable papers and fabrics with the right quality of absorption. The biggest variable in the range of fabrics I use is the crispness of the print each produces. A tight, even weave like silk haboti picks up a very crisp image while a slubby, loosely woven linen makes the image appear more ‘pixelated’.


  5. I’ll be Teaching at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center This Summer

    April 9, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    Join me in a 2½-day workshop at the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center. As a Visiting Artist, I’ll be teaching a variation on the Millimeter binding structure known as a Rubow Millimeter.

    Description: Each student will learn the steps to complete a Millimeter binding, which is a quick, yet refined structure traditionally covered with a minimal amount of leather and handmade paste paper. Students will go through the motions of sewing on flattened cords, rounding and backing, binding construction and simple leather paring techniques. We will briefly discuss the history of millimeter bindings and alternative versions of the structure. This workshop is suitable for students with some bookbinding experience and minimal exposure to leather.

    Date & Time: June 5 (Fri): 6-9pm & June 6-7 (Sat-Sun): 10am-5:30pm

    For more details and to register, click here.


  6. Book Artist of the Month: Natalie Stopka

    April 6, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    As a continuation from last week’s post, I extended the conversation on natural dyes with book artist, Natalie Stopka. During her time at the Center for Book Arts as a Van Lier/Stein Scholar, Natalie also completed a collection of case bindings, where each component beautifully represents the subtleties of natural dyes.

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    The variation between the different materials is subtle and beautiful. I wonder what your inspiration was for this project?
    Besides my enjoyment of the process of foraging and dyeing with plants, I love the sympathy between natural dyes and fibers, as well as the resonance of using historical methods with historical materials. Prior to the discovery of synthetic dye in 1856, all books were decorated with naturally derived dyes, inks, and pigments. That is a lot of artistic heritage that has been largely supplanted in the past 150 years. I wanted to create some books that were all of a piece referencing that period just prior to the advent of synthetics, using a hollow-back structure with linen book cloth, hand sewn headbands, uncut pages folded down from full sheets, and, of course, natural dyes. I ended up binding a dozen books in different colors, partly as an exercise in honing my binding skills, as well as a continuation of my dye experiments.

    Can you walk through your dying process from the creation of the pigments to the dying of the materials? Where did you learn these techniques?
    Beginning with the techniques I learned at the Textile Arts Center, I extended my natural dye experiments into bookbinding. There was some trial and error at first as I selected and mordanted paper samples. Papermakers generally color the pulp with pigment prior to forming sheets, so there is not a lot of information on how to dye paper, or how the dyes and mordants affect it over time. But paper is just cellulose fiber like many fabrics I had experience dyeing, so I jumped in. I decided to use Zerkall Ingres, which is quite absorbent due to its composition, but also has good wet strength. And when folded down it makes a lovely signature size.

    The first step in dyeing is to source or collect plant material. In this case I used plants I foraged in upstate New York including oak leaves, cherry bark, Queen Anne’s lace, apple bark, and yarrow, the only exception being indigo. I chopped and soaked or simmered the plant material to extract the dye, then strained the dye liquor into a big stainless steel vat containing the mordanted paper and other book materials. After about 12 hours in the vat, everything was ready to carefully remove and dry.

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    As with my embroidered botanical illustrations, these books demonstrate the different shades of color (sometimes slight) that result when a single dye is applied to various substrates. The linen cover, silk headbanding thread, Zerkall Ingres pages, and linen binding thread were all dyed in the same vat. The endpapers were made from the uppermost sheet of paper in the bath, which became patterned by the evaporation of the dye. My favorite book was dyed with black cherry bark – I left the dye vat outside overnight, and a light frost left crystal patterns on the endpapers! Initially I expected the papers to take the dye evenly in a uniform shade, but most dyes were absorbed with a good deal of variation, making a richly toned surface.

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  7. April // Book Artist of the Month: Natalie Stopka

    April 1, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    Natalie Stopka has conducted extensive research and experimentation with natural dyes, which is partly what drew me to interview her on the blog. I’ve long been interested in incorporating natural dyes into my own work. So it’s fair to say that I’m quite inspired by Natalie’s work.

    At the end of your year at the Center for the Book, you presented on a series of natural dye experiments in a pretty brilliant way. What drew you to focus on natural dyes and how did you to come to present your findings through embroidery?
    I became interested in natural dyeing as an antidote to city life. I was initially drawn to the process of foraging and dyeing itself, but the more I studied the history behind the process, the more it became apparent that our culture has devalued and forgotten the vast majority of the dye artistry we once possessed. This artistry is akin to alchemy, because we still do not scientifically understand what functions many colorant compounds perform for the plants that create them, or how many dye processes occur on a chemical level. I was surprised to learn that each part of a plant – its petals, leaves, bark, and roots – create different colors. These colors can be manipulated into a greater range of tones by using a variety of mordants and fibers. I decided to explore the full range of colors accessible in a single plant using these methods.

    I chose three trees I had access to in upstate New York; birch, crab apple, and black cherry. From these I responsibly foraged leaves and bark, and used them to dye alum-mordanted silk, cotton, wool, linen/wool, and silk/wool thread. I then treated the dyed thread with the color modifiers copper sulfate, ferrous sulfate, an acid, and a base. I was left with about 40 samples in a range of colors and textures representing each tree’s dye potential. Some samples had very little color at all, but some were vivid and strongly varied.

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    I had known these experiments would become a series of embroidery pieces from the beginning, and I wanted to illustrate the clear distinctions in the dye colorants accessible in different parts of the plant. I adopted the form of the traditional botanical illustration, utilizing the thread dyed with the analogous plant part to illustrate it. That is to say, the leaves are depicted with leaf-dyed threads, and the bark with bark-dyed threads. For the birch tree embroidery, I also differentiated between the inner and outer barks.

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    LEFT: birch MIDDLE: black cherry RIGHT: crab apple

    The final element of these pieces is a question pertinent to any bookbinder: time. Not only are natural dyes sensitive to ultraviolet light, but the modifiers I used degrade fibers over time. The ephemeral nature of natural dyes is a sad reality for an artist, but I think it can also be beautiful. These three pieces each have a lifespan, and to measure it I enclosed a sample of each thread used in the embroidery behind the frame. There it will be protected from light, and can be used as a point of comparison over time.

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    I became aware of Natalie Stopka’s work while visiting the Center for the Book in New York, which in happenstance was exhibiting the piece above. Since then I’ve continued to keep an eye on her portfolio, especially the work she does with natural dyes and marbling. Natalie’s work encompasses not only the prior mediums mentioned, but she also dabbles in book arts as well.

    Check out the interview after the jump, then come back each Monday during the month of April for additional posts on Natalie’s work. Need a reminder? Subscribe to the blog.

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  8. Extra Bonus // Bookbinder of the Month: Tracey Rowledge

    March 31, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    To finish off the interview series with Tracey Rowledge, I wanted to present one final binding (or two really). Just last year Tracey bound two copies of A Little Treachery by Libby Houston, one in full leather and one in paper.

    It can seem challenging to push the envelope with a single signature text block. Yet, I think, when one begins to experiment, the creativity flows and the possibilities seem endless. What were your goals for the binding of A Little Treachery and how did you come to settle on this 2-part pamphlet structure?
    I was commissioned to bind this book, having already bound it once as a full leather fine binding. The client liked the first binding but wanted his binding to be paper-covered. This commission gave me the luxury to revisit and develop the image I’d created for the first binding. As always, and as with the first binding I made, I wanted the book to open flat, so I devised this structure.

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    A Little Treachery by Libby Houston with dry point by Julia Farrer (Circle Press Publications 1990) // Bound in purple/blue goatskin, sewn on a stub, with leather-jointed hand-coloured endpapers, rounded and backed and gold tooled in Palladium.

    Creating a structure bespoke for this book is no different to my creating a structure for an antiquarian book, or for a fine binding that may have alterations in the structure unbeknownst to the viewer. Really I approach all that I do in the same way: I always put the needs of the book first, employing all that I know in order to do the best thing for the book.

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    My creative input is always there, it’s what gives the object its look, shape and feel. It’s just that in some bindings I may give deference to the age of the text-block and therefore leave room for the book as an artefact to take centre stage, rather than allowing myself to butt in with anything I might feel a pressing need to convey at that moment. Perhaps it’s all about trying to have good manners, about knowing when is the right moment to speak and when is the right moment to listen.


  9. Swell Things No. 21

    March 31, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    1. Check out the sculptural paintings from Boy Kong. They include brightly colored imagery of overly fantastical creatures.
    2. For years, artist Liz Nielsen has been perfecting a unique photographic process which includes overlapping shapes and tampering with the exposure to create subtle shades of color. These pieces are extraordinary feats of photography.
    3. Let’s Talk About Margins is an excellent article by Craig Mod poetically discussing the importance of margins, especially when it comes to page layout. When done correctly, the layout becomes overlooked by most, but the process of creating such perfection occurs only after several diligent drafts, suffering through to the find the right solution.
    4. These portraits from Han Xiao depict the human face in garbled swirls of thick paint and pops of color. Like the brushstrokes themselves, the expressions are tangled. Han finds inspiration in Frances Bacon; her work expresses themes of life, conflict and confrontation.
    5. If you’ve worked with a bone folder tool before you may have wondered where they come from and how they were made. Brien Beidler offers a brief post on his blog complete with images documenting the process of cleaning deer legs into smooth bone folders.

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    6. Liz Payne is an artist combing hand-painted fabric with embroidery and beading techniques. I especially love her embroidered typography and tone on tone stitching.
    7. Need some vegan leather? Why not grow your own. Suzanne Lee, Creative Director for Modern Meadow, has developed a “bovine-friendly form of leather by “coaxing” animal tissues cell into tough cowskin-like material”. This is all kind of interesting and kind of strange.
    8. Ali Eslami created a 3-dimensional world reimagining the paintings of René Magritte.
    9. The Crystallized Book series from artist Alexis Arnold transforms discarded books into non-functional objects of beauty; almost reminiscent of excavated geological specimens displaying layers of history. The work is absolutely stunning and a wonderful way of giving live back to a book on the brink of death.
    10. The science of why stepping on Legos makes you want to die. Enough said.


  10. Bookbinder of the Month: Tracey Rowledge

    March 29, 2015 by Erin Fletcher

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    So far in this interview with Tracey Rowledge we’ve looked at her binding work and her works on paper, more specifically the work inspired by markings either found or interpreted. The leather panels presented in this post are a wonderful representation of art created using traditional binding and finishing techniques. The panel above is called 3 Milk and was created in 2000; the panel is covered in black goatskin with gold tooled design. The detail of this panel will awe you and make you think about tooling combinations differently.

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    Many of your leather wall panels are tooled representations from found paper scraps with markings. The gold tooled marks that decorate your fine bindings appear spontaneous. Are you creating these free-form designs in response to the work being bound or do they come from found paper scraps?
    It’s a mixture. Sometimes I found I had the exact response to a book in my ‘found archive’, other times I set about creating images for a book myself, as time went on the latter was more and more the case. Sometimes though a found image was so strong a driving force that I felt I needed to make a piece of work with it that wasn’t a book. In these instances, the materials and decorative techniques I used and the proportions of the wall piece would all be guided by the original scrap of paper I’d found. Really, what I’m describing is that I created a framework for these pieces of work, whereby the decisions were half made by the found material itself.

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    LEFT: Where, covered in mid-blue calfskin, gold-tooled, 2003   RIGHT: Diptych, covered in baby pink goatskin with grey goatskin recessed inlays, 2000

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    LEFT: Buff, covered in turquoise goatskin with leather inlays, 2004   RIGHT: Fidget, stretched native red goatskin, tooled in carbon, 2004

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    Cash, gilded gesso panel on wood, 2005