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  1. North Bennet Street School // Student & Alumni Exhibit 2018 – The Set Book

    May 8, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    It’s that time of year again, when the next group of future bookbinders and book conservators will leave their cosy benches at North Bennet Street School and enter the next stage of their journey. And I’m happy to be back with another round of interviews with the graduating class on their set books, which will be on display during the Student & Alumni Exhibit along with work from students and alum of the other seven programs at NBSS. This year the Student & Alumni Exhibit will be on display at two locations: from May 7 – 23 at Two International Place and from June 4 – 30 at North Bennet Street School (both located in Boston). Check out the website here for more details and opening hours.

    This first post will focus on the Set Book bound be each of the seven graduating students. My next post will highlight some of my favorite alumni pieces from the show. Each student was given a copy of the same book (referred to as the set book) and asked to create a full leather design binding. The set book for this year is Randall Davies and his Books of Nonsense published by Incline Press in 2014. This edition compiles both Davies’ original Lyttel Book of Nonsense published in 1912 and Cayme Press’ production of A Little More Nonsense into one volume. Each page contains a woodcut illustration along with a charmingly inaccurate limerick written by Davies.

    The text block is printed on Wookey Hole mould-made paper which has a beautiful pale grey hue. The introduction was machine set in Garamond and the limericks were hand set in Italic. The 15th – 16th century woodcut illustrations are reproduced from Davie’s books and printed from line blocks. According to the introduction by historian Dr. Paul W. Nash, the original woodblocks were collected by Davies from London-based printers and bookbinders. During the interviews, I spoke with each binder about the inspiration behind their designs and how their chose to execute their concept.

    I was blown away by the range of styles brought forth by the students and the level of craft. Many of the designs were quite tricky to execute and certainly caused some challenges along the way, but their efforts certainly paid off.

    Rachel Jackson

    The word nonsense is the most vital part of the title and had the most influence over many of the student’s designs. In Rachel Jackson’s design, she flips the idea of nonsense to find structure. In reducing the word down to its consonants, she could focus on the orderly process of printmaking. Each letter is composed of a different material to represent each step in the printing process. The woodblock used to carve the illustrations is represented by an inset piece of bleached oak veneer. Next in line is a paper onlay followed by a hand marbled letter s, which is marbled with suminigashi ink on the suede side to represent the ink of the printing press.

    The final n is a piece of indigo Cave Paper coated with graphite inset into the board to represent lead type. The printed result is depicted in the final s. Instead of an onlay, Rachel cut out a window in the shape of an s to expose a printed page below and to invite the viewer into the book. What you see is a piece of tissue printed on both sides showing a specimen of the typeface used in the text block. The entire design sits upon a base of navy blue goatskin.

    The French double-core endbands were hand sewn in alternating bands of navy, dark grey and light grey. The head edge is gauffered in the most unique way, Rachel used this portion of the binding to place the majority of the title using Edinburgh handle letters agains the bare pages.

    In simplifying her design, Rachel creates curiosity which is only heightened by the cut-out window. Chaos and structure commingle beautifully within the five thoughtfully placed letterforms. Each hinting to something specific, but when read to together complete both the title of the book and the technique of crafting the content within the book.

    Upon graduation, Rachel will be focusing on her building her own business. You can check out more of Rachel’s binding work in addition to her calligraphy here.

    Sarah Kim

    Sarah Kim used her love of typography to help grapple with the chaos and to bring a sort of order to this senseless content. Her binding is covered in a medium blue goatskin with onlays in light blue and fair goatskin. By layering the fair goat over the light blue, Sarah creates a dimensional effect to the text. Each layer also receives its own special treatment. The gold tooled fair goat onlays contain a blind tooled line running through the center of the letter. The light blue onlays are blind tooled and are textured with blind tooled lines running at an angle. These subtle additions really added more depth and balance to the design.

    Sarah created the “of” through gouges and line palettes and sandwiched the word between two ornate tools. To anchor the design of the front cover, Sarah incorporates a commonly used design motif: the ribbon banner. A light blue tooled onlay, the banner contains the name of the author and is also complimented by two ornate tools.

    The French double-core endbands are hand sewn with strands of light blue and grey. The endbands sit over a gilt and gauffered edge. I think it was really smart for Sarah to add little touches of decoration with hand tools. In addition to the gauffered edge, the spine is also minimally tooled to help balance the overall design of the binding. When Sarah opened her binding to show me the inside, I was pleasantly surprised by the boldly patterned chiyogami paper. At once you leave the stillness of the cover to only be put on alarm before entering the text of the book.

    Sarah sought to convey her concept through the use of typography; to have the viewer read beyond the words and understand that it was communicating much more than the title of the book. When paired with the decorative paper on the inside, her concept really delivers. Her design was skillfully executed and beautifully laid out. You can follow Sarah on instagram and stay apprised of her work.

    Allie Rosenthal

    Many of the students reflected that Randall Davies’ limericks were loosely inspired by the woodcut illustrations they were meant to reflect. But every once in a while, Davies’ would incorporate a flaw from the illustration into the composition. For example, interpreting a crack as a bullet whizzing through the drawing. Allie Rosenthal found her inspiration in this and chose to incorporate the flaws and rough edges of the terra-cotta goatskin into her design. This abstract, landscape-esque design is formed by presenting the flaws in a leather skin. Putting a spotlight on the irregular coloration, tears, toggle marks from stretching the skins and flattening folds in the skin. The individual pieces were attached as back-pared onlays and laid down over hefty boards.

    The title is hand-tooled in moon gold and playfully wraps along the edge of an onlay. Allie chose the modern typeface Gill Sans for the title. Other elements of Allie’s binding include French double-core endbands hand sewn in stripes of maroon, grey and brown. The head edge is rough edge sprinkled with lemon and moon gold over a ground of Armenian boule. Prior to decorating the edge, Allie mixed up the signatures. So the final result was even more chaotic in appearance than a traditional sprinkled edge.

    The interior is covered in matching edge-to-edge doublures with gold tooling that perfectly mimics the erratic lines and tears created by the onlays on the cover. The style of tooling emulates the technique employed by Tracey Rowledge and Ivor Robinson where the impressions are laid with a stepped effect. The paste papers were created by fellow classmate, Liz McHugh. The texture of the paper compliments the terra-cotta beautifully.

    Following graduation, Allie will be starting her Von Clemm Fellowship at the Boston Athenaeum followed by the Driscoll Family Fellowship. Her fellowship will span over 15 months.

    Ned Schultz

    As mentioned in the introduction, Davies collected woodcuts dating back to the 15th and 16th century. To pay homage to this period in history, Ned Schultz created a spectacular reflection of a 16th century English-style binding. Working with a historical color palette, Ned chose a medium brown goatskin for his binding. The outer frame and knot work are achieved with several black gold tooled onlays. I imagine getting the size of the gouges just right, particularly in those small, tight turns was tricky, but Ned achieved the look flawlessly. The center is adorned with a red tooled onlay and features the title on the front cover. The spine is tooled to mark the placement of bands with black tooled onlays in the spaces between.

    Additional floral hand tools and a large fleur-di-lis were used as accents to the knot work. On the outer black frame, Ned used a decorative roll to nearly cover the entire space in gold. This perfectly symmetrical design glimmering in gold is so attractive to the eye and recreating work from this time period is quite impressive for someone so new to finishing.

    Opening to the interior of the book, the viewer can only be delighted by the patterned paper of gold diamonds against a bright red background. Ned coated the paper with vermillion before painstakingly applying each diamond (twice) through the application of heat. The endpapers work so beautifully with Ned’s cover design and harken to the Dutch Gilt papers of the 16th century.

    I am so impressed with Ned’s binding and can not express it enough. I look forward to seeing the next historical binding reproduction that comes out of his studio. Ned plans to pursue a career in conservation, but also hopes to further hone his skills in finishing.

    Jon Simeon

    Jon Simeon took the theme of chaos to heart with this binding; taking his inspiration from how Davies disregarded the illustration when writing each limerick. Jon took elements from the illustration on the title page and cropped and layered his concept into a surreal design. The base layer is dark green oasis with back-pared olive green goatskin onlays and tooled onlays in black and pink goatskin.

    Trying to decipher his actions, I asked Jon to break down his process step by step. After adhering all of the onlays, blind tooling came next. Using an ascona tool, Jon wanted to highlight the carved lines from the woodcut illustrations and did so first with the blind tooled lines and then with the gold tooled waves and swirls. The pink and black onlays are outlined and giving dimension with blind tooled lines. I love how Jon seemingly reversed a traditional image, burying the major elements behind the background.

    The title is tooled along the spine amidst a blank canvas. This break in the design was thoughtfully placed to relieve the eye. This same idea continues onto the inside of the binding. Black goatskin doublures are paired with a hand marbled paper in a moire pattern. I love how this paper evokes the movement from the front cover. Other elements of Jon’s binding include hand sewn French double-core endbands in alternating bands of green, pink and olive green. The head edge is gilt with moon gold over a graphite ground and sprinkled with palladium.

    This binding experience has really driven Jon to further focus on finishing after graduation. I can’t wait to see what Jon creates next. You can follow Jon on instagram so you don’t miss any of the amazing work he is bound to make in the future (pun intended).

    Rebecca Fisher Staley

    Rebecca Fisher Staley found the connection between the limericks and woodcut illustrations to be awkward and chaotic. To find some sense in this book of nonsense, Rebecca created an elaborately structured design for her binding. Taking inspiration from the anapestic meter, which dictates the syllabic makeup and stress pattern of a limerick, Rebecca constructed two unique grids. Each designed to represent the two opposing centuries found within the book: woodcut illustrations from the 15th-16th century and limericks from the 20th century.

    Rebecca chose a fair goatskin for the base of her design, which developed a slight pink hue over the course of the binding process. This change in the skin blends so beautifully with the rest of her chosen color palette. The grid on the front cover is sleek and modern and holds a series of small square tooled onlays in pepper red, crimson and teal. The strategic placement of color depicts the stress pattern of a limerick in addition to containing each letter of the title.

    The grid on the back board is more representative of an old English 15th century pattern. To set up this grid, Rebecca was guided by the syllable count of a limerick. The tooled crimson onlay in the center is sprinkled with moon gold to represent the chaos Rebecca found in the book and by being placed in the center of the board, the onlay physically pushes the lines of the grid closer together to create spaces of varying size. The small red dots placed just outside the inner frame are hand painted in tooled impressions. Both grids are connected across the spine in an asymmetric layout harkening back to the loose connection between woodcuts and limericks.

    The interior is covered in matching edge-to-edge doublures with a sunken panel of cherry veneer which is framed by crimson leather onlays. The hand sewn endbands are traditional French double-core wrapped with stripes of white, off-white and red.  The head edge is sprinkled directly on the gray paper in moon gold. The sheer amount of planning and reworking that was put into this design is astounding. Rebecca’s design is so striking, her color choices are spot on and I can’t wait to see what she makes next.

    Rebecca will be working to complete two commissioned artist book editions over the summer before moving back to the Los Angeles area where she plans to open a design studio with two colleagues.

    Frances Wentworth

    With Frances Wentworth’s design, she playfully arranges the title in such a way that cuts the word nonsense into two words. When the book is closed the title reads as Books of Sense. The viewer is only revealed of the true title after peering to the backside. This whimsical layout takes direct cues from the layout of the book, where the woodcut illustration sits above the italicized limerick. To create the look of a woodcut block, Frances first crafted the letterforms in 20pt. museum board pieces on a 10pt. museum board base then covered it in a medium brown goatskin. The letterforms on the front cover are rigid and angular while the typography on the back cover is more wild and playful. These are direct responses to the sharpness of the illustrations and whimsy of the limericks.

    The “blocks” are inset into the boards and framed with separate pieces of 10pt. museum board covered in the same medium brown goatskin. I love that Frances chose to emulate the woodcut block instead of the illustration. Viewing part of the text in reverse just adds to the humor and quirkiness of the design.

    The remaining portion of the title is done in back-pared onlays in various colors of goatskin. All of the design is backed by a medium grey goatskin. Frances added a French double-core endband in stripes of blue and red silk against a graphite edge on the head. Frances chose a 19th/20th century reproduction printed endpaper with blue grey Bugra endpapers.

    Although design binding isn’t what Frances sought out to do at NBSS, her concept really worked with the book. It is compelling, thoughtfully executed and sparks a bit of humor. Frances plans to pursue a career in conservation after graduation.

    That brings us to the end of the interview. I have to say again how impressed I am with the finished bindings. Everyone’s personalities and interests really shine through in their designs. Best of luck to everyone in the Class of 2018!

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  2. Catching up with Coleen Curry // No. 5

    January 28, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    In my final post with Coleen Curry, I want to feature her binding of Trading Eights, The Faces of Jazz. Celebrating the culture of Jazz, this Nawakum Press publication includes wood engraved portraits of eight iconic jazz figures. These engravings by James G. Todd Jr. are paired with an essay by Jazz historian Ted Gioia and a poem by Dana Gioia.

    In 2017, Coleen crafted this book as a traditional French laced-in binding covered in black goatskin. The design includes inlays of black straight grain goat, embossed and top-pared navy blue calf and perforated dark blue sheepskin plus onlays of white box calf and the same silver-grey translucent paper used for the interleaving in the book.

    The interior side of the board is covered in edge-to-edge doublures in the same black goatskin used on the covers. The endpapers were designed by Lisa Van Pelt and originally used on the publishers’ binding edition. Coleen’s binding was included in the 2017 Designer Bookbinders International Exhibition traveling throughout the UK and landing in Boston.

    Recently you’ve been binding for the Santa Rosa-based Nawakum Press, who recently suffered a great loss of their inventory and facility during the 2017 October fires in Sonoma County. How did your relationship begin with Nawakum Press and how things have changed since the devastating fires?
    In 2014, I had the good fortune to attend the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair in New York.  Whilst browsing the tables laden with beautiful books, I spotted Richard Wagener of Mixolydian Editions presenting LOOM at Nawakum’s table and was blown away by his prints.  I introduced myself to Richard, and he in turn, introduced me to David Pascoe of Nawakum Press.  David mentioned his admiration of my binding on Toni Morrison’s A Mercy that he had seen in an exhibition and we got to talking about making books in the North Bay (area north of SF).  As we were all North Bay residents, I invited both Richard and David to visit my bindery when we returned home.  They visited in August and shortly afterward, David asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a new project he was working on for CODEX 2015.  I crafted a design binding on Nawakum’s featured release Encheiresin Naturae – an incredibly large text with abstract prints by Barry Moser and an ‘heroic crown of sonnets’ by Paul Muldoon.  This was the beginning of our collaboration.

    The Santa Rosa fires were devastating for David and his family– they lost everything including Nawakum’s entire inventory and archive. They escaped in the middle of the night with minutes to spare.  David has since relocated to the Tacoma area for a year and is already working on 2 books, one of which is about the fires. We still collaborate and I am in constant awe of the artists he brings together to make incredible fine press limited editions.

    The mood of Trading Eights is so different from your other bindings. The black on black offers a subtle contrast with spontaneous blips of subdued blue and unusual texture. The framing of these inlays with a repeating title across a wave-like path really contains the design in a way that is different from your other work. So are we seeing a new style emerge from you or is it just that the subject matter of Trading Eights demanded a more sleek design.
    Trading Eights was a delight to work on and listening to the Autumn Jazz station on Pandora got me into the groove of Chet Baker, The Monk and Charlie Parker amongst others.  I wanted to create an intimate feeling in a smoky jazz club and chose a narrow color palette of blues, greys and then black and white.

    I don’t think that you are seeing a different style emerge, rather the subject matter and the book design steered the style for this binding.  The book is clean, with hues of grey and blue.  The black and white underscores the importance of the smoky jazz club.  Jazz performance is personal, intimate: “You can follow the changes in the riffs on their faces … Look into their faces. Peer into their eyes, their souls.” Jim Todd clearly feels the same way about the faces of the great live jazz performers.  The particularly lovely translucent interleaves, with beautifully evocative smoke images, introduces the reader to each large engraving as though peering through the smokey haze in a jazz club.

    I wanted a subtle lyrical feeling in an intimate atmosphere similar to what it would be like sitting in a club listening to musicians trade eights.  The title is repeated across the bottom with 8 notes (each word being a note) and then repeated (traded) across the top, which encloses the design on the boards to create the intimacy.  Jazz is organized yet allows the musician to riff into their own exploration and the design is my attempt to do that.  The shapes on the front and back boards are clean, woven and tight, yet I wanted to explore boundaries with depth and color and texture.


  3. Catching up with Coleen Curry // No. 3

    January 14, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    Cetology is a finely printed text from The Red Angel Press that includes excerpts from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The book was designed and illustrated by Ronald Keller.

    Coleen Curry bound this copy in 2016. The text is sewn ‘Montage sur onglets’ and bound in dark grey buffalo skin. The decorative inlay is a collage of top and back-pared leather mounted on an alligator belly split. The collage has been tooled with the binder’s brass roulette through silver foil. The interior is covered with buffalo edge-to-edge doublures and flyleaves made from hand-dyed Okawara paper.

    With the decorative onlay piece on Cetology, you’ve really managed to unite the textures from the prints with the skin of an actual whale. To create such a textural piece, you worked with alligator skin (not a typical leather found on bookbindings), how did you manipulate it and what challenges did you encounter working with this leather?
    For Cetology, my design inspiration was threefold: 1) Melville’s text and Keller’s art regarding the remarkable size range of cetaceans from a 1.5 meter porpoise to the majestic 30 meter blue whale, 2) my own fascination with how some whales carry up to 1000 pounds of whale barnacles on their bodies and, serendipitously, 3) my bindery overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Northern California where my design process was inspired by a dozen sightings of a mother Humpback and her calf, breaching off the coast during in the late fall of 2015 while I was in the midst of creating this binding.

    I strove to create textured barnacles, the salty fresh scent of a turbulent ocean, and the awesome graceful motion of cetaceans swimming in light shimmering waves.

    The decorative piece is actually an inlay, flush with the cover leather that I made off the book. The inlay consists of a collage made from a variety of leathers and then mounted onto an alligator leather split that was pre-tooled in silver foil. Once that piece was created, I then chose the shape of the inlay and cut into the binding to place it. The collage was my attempt to create that motion and texture by suggesting an abstracted pod of cetaceans varying in size and class.

    I have been experimenting with collaging various leathers and enjoy this technique immensely. I am able to create texture, dimension, and curiosity, while the look is elegant without being clunky. It is similar to Lacunose in that both techniques require building up of layers of leather; however in lacunose, the surface is removed by sanding; for my collages, I make the surface prior to adhering it to the panel. To construct these pieces, it takes time to choose leathers that work together, taking care to pare them very thin and experimenting with adhesives. I press the pieces multiple times and often back pare between layers. I tool and emboss during the process and often add acrylic paint as well to achieve the effect I desire.

    For Cetology, I encountered a few difficulties with the inlay panel as the gray water buffalo leather binding has laced on boards and a flat back. I had to pare the leathers thin as the piece had to be flat enough to extend across both boards and both joints. While the boards were prepared with extra layers of material to allow me to recess the panel deeper within them, the joints are merely the thickness of the leather at the joint. Therefore, my panel was thinner at the joints to allow for easy opening, without breaking the visual across the panel at the joints. All that required forethought. To inset the inlay, I cut into the covering leather – cutting across the joint is a precarious procedure as you I don’t want to cut through the leather hinge! I also experimented with adhesives on the materials used because there are multiple pressing of the collage, leakage of PVA onto suede for example can alter how it looks. I want to know before-hand what to use to achieve the result I strive to create.

    The title, CETOLOGY, is tooled in silver gilt on front board to the right of the inlay panel, the letters in all caps in a barely perceptible arabesque (think gentle wave swell). Its placement took time for me to figure out as the panel across the cover looked like a panel across a cover. I noticed the buffalo leather grain was distinctly flowing towards the lower right board, exactly where one’s hands would open the book. It was a perfect location to title and invite the reader into the book.


    Also bound in 2016, is Coleen’s binding of Outside. A Nawakum Press edition that includes six short stories by Barry Lopez accompanied by “mediation” engravings from Barry Moser. The stories are taken from Lopez’s Notes trilogy, written over a span of almost twenty years. The engravings reflect Lopez’s insight into relationships between humans and animals, creativity and beauty, life and death as he describes both exterior and interior landscapes.

    This same tension is found in Coleen’s binding covered in hand-dyed and embossed kangaroo leather with inlays of copper and inlays and onlays of snake and calfskin. The title is blind tooled at the lower right hand corner of the front cover and almost blends into the background. The interior is lined with stone veneer edge-to-edge doublures and matching fly leaves.

    This binding was included in the American Academy of Bookbinding’s 2017 Open/Set International Competition and was received ‘Highly Commendable for Onlays and Inlays’.

    I had a chance to handle this binding while setting up for the Open/Set Exhibit and it was a real treat. Once again the cover leather is elevated through hand-dying. The irregular patterning of the dye compliments the texture of the crinkled copper and snakeskin inlays so well. Did you alter the snakeskin or is that its natural coloring?
    Lopez’s prose is rich in metaphors and vivid imagery offering a total physical, spiritual, and visual experience which served as inspiration for my design and material choices. His writing captivated me.

    Featuring the natural world, the short stories flow together as a series, reminiscent of native American story-telling connected to spirituality. This led me to create six shapes woven together, each a story by itself, yet connected through a common spirit. Lopez’s prose has ethereal dimensions of reality providing me the opportunity to abstractly incorporate them into the design with specific materials.

    This is one of my favorite bindings– it feels so soft and familiar like a precious leather journal. I chose kangaroo leather to bind the book, and hand-dyed it several times. The smoothness of the kangaroo leather offers a sensual feeling while holding the binding. I applied many types of manipulation and dying techniques such as craquele, embossing and tooling, to create a map documenting a surreal journey through both the physical and spiritual worlds. Visually it is worn, textured, rich, with unidentifiable tracks and lots of movement. The kangaroo is such a gorgeous material. It lacks grain, similar to calf, and therefore is a blank canvas for me to create the texture and colors that I want.

    The shapes are all inlaid individually and consist of a coral and green snake skin, bronze salmon skin, distressed copper, and painted calf splits. I purchased the snake skin in France from an Atelier that supplies exotic leather to luxury fashion houses such as Prada, Gucci, and Hermes. It is a python skin that was hand painted by in-house artists. I did add touch ups of coral and green acrylics in the pockets underneath the scales on the skin, as these pop open across the spine as the book opens and closes. On some bindings, I glue these bits down to keep the look tight and flat, but for this binding I wanted the movement to remain. The snake skin represents “a storm pattern rug woven out of the mind of a Navajo Woman”.

    I chose copper to represent mother earth. It is associated with the goddess Venus in alchemy, owing to its lustrous beauty, its ancient use in producing mirrors, and its association with Cyprus, which was sacred to the goddess. The patina was applied after I crinkled the copper to give it depth. The treated suede ruffles secured under the copper edges softens the metal and offers a somewhat feminine feel.

    The edge-to-edge doublures and fly leaves are thin slate stone veneer, an amazing material from Italy used in architectural applications. It is actual stone that has been laser cut to .3 mm and backed with a polyester and fiberglass backing, then vaporized with a sealant on the surface. I’ve used it for many bindings and it is similar to working with cloth yet it has an immense amount of texture and natural variation.

    One can’t tell from the photographs, but the binding has many minute sparkles that reflect the light. I used micaceous iron oxide many ways to emulate “Dust feels like graphite”; lightly washed over the blind tooled title area to emphasize the spiritual world; painted over the stone doublures “Black rocks glistening in the moonlight” in contrast to the bare stone flyleaves “Dreams of boulders”.

    There are many instances where you are placing an inlay or onlay across the spine of the book. What sort of technical challenges have you experienced from this placement and what solutions have you found? I imagine certain materials would inhibit the movement of the board, how does this limitation effect you during the design stage?
    I usually design and then try to figure out how to make it work, often experimenting with materials and methods. If I am to make an inlay on the spine, I will make a tight-back binding so as to not take the risk of cutting through the hollow. There are technical challenges taking a design over the joints across the spine. The joints are delicate and vulnerable with much thinner leather than on the boards to allow for easy opening of the book. Any material that is placed across the spine, inlay or onlay, also needs to be thin at the joint crease thus limiting the kind of materials that can be used. Many exotic leathers have too much texture variation to allow for easy opening; metals and stone will fail in the crease over time; Thick leather won’t work as the joint needs to be very thin. I have also found that inlays across the spine work best when flush with the covering leather. I have brought designs across the spine by building up the boards or spine prior to covering and sanding the pieces to zero at the crease. This is a different look. Alternatively, onlays can cross the spine, and I have seen two ways, one is to cut the onlay at the joint, similar to tooling where the line breaks at the joint. I have also made bindings where the piece lifts off at the spine, attached into the boards. Don Glaister uses this technique in on many of his bindings.

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  4. Catching up with Coleen Curry // No. 2

    January 7, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    LOOM was published by Nawakum Press in collaboration with printmaker Richard Wagener and poet Alan Loney. After Richard began to explore the structure of a loom and the process of weaving, he approached Alan with three finished engravings. Alan was asked to respond in the form of a poem that would equally explore the beauty between connection and disconnection found in both woven work and life.

    Coleen Curry bound this copy of LOOM in 2015 in a black goatskin with inlaid pieces of manipulated leather. The interior is covered in distressed edge-to-edge leather doublures that include two additional inlaid panels of the same manipulated leather.

    The main decorative element on this binding captures the essence of Richard Wagener’s prints beautifully. Can you discuss your technique for creating these amazing distressed leather onlays?
    It was love at first sight when I laid my eyes on LOOM at the 2014 Fine Press Fair in NYC. Richard’s pristine end block maple prints are stunning and Alan Loney’s poem gently flows. I purchased a set in sheets and sat on the project for some time awaiting that design inspiration.

    Later that year, while experimenting with suede splits, I rather unsuccessfully attempted to emboss mull into the split – it stuck and I couldn’t remove it. My ahha moment, it was beautiful! This was perfect for LOOM!

    I made the colorful panels on one large piece of red by layering vivid colored papers, pressing and sanding. I then took sections of mull and carefully removed strands both vertically and horizontally until I had the shapes I desired. These were then pressed into the suede and additional layers of paper added. More sanding and pressing until I had the desired effect.

    To create the design, I cut and arranged the pieces to flow across the book, taking care to ensure the mull pieces flowed harmoniously. I embossed large sections of distorted mull into dampened black leather for a few background onlays and inlays to add texture and continuity. All the panel pieces with the exception of one, are inlaid at various levels: recessed, even, and raised. I inlaid two even panels on the edge to edge leather doublures as well. The pink leather incisions were added to weave the components together.

    The layouts of your designs have a rather organic flow to them, yet LOOM feels more hard-lined and controlled. Was your decision swayed by the nature of the materials or the subject matter of the book?
    I hadn’t thought about the book content being so controlled. The poem is very much about weaving, earth, spirituality, and movement. The typesetting although controlled and consistent, has breaks mid line for a pause and those breaks add to a weave or flow. Richard’s prints begin with a very simple weave and build into ever more complex weaves. Nawakum Press made a 15 minute video on the making of the edition that I find inspiring.

    My binding of LOOM is one of my favorite bindings and it was a hard one to let go. That said, I have another 2 sets in sheets, one of which I am working on these days.


  5. Catching up with Coleen Curry // No. 1

    January 1, 2018 by Erin Fletcher

    The first time I interviewed Coleen Curry was back in 2013. I am continuously inspired by Coleen’s work. She skillfully brings layers of color and texture to her work in new and interesting ways. So let’s start off the year feeling inspired to challenge and improve upon our own work with this updated interview with Coleen. We are starting off with Coleen’s binding of Of Woodland Pools, Spring-holes & Ditches.

    Of Woodland Pools, Spring-holes & Ditches was design and printed by Michael Russem of Kat Ran Press and includes 28 engravings by Abigail Rorer of Lone Oak Press. The prints are accompanied by selected entries from Henry David Thoreau’s journals from the months of March, April and May. These passages elegantly describe the early springtime landscape in New England. The woodland pools, spring-holes and ditches were all terms Thoreau used to describe the breeding grounds of wildlife as the fauna awoke from the winter season.

    Coleen’s binding is covered in a hand-dyed goatskin with edge-to-edge leather doublures. The design includes inlays of cat-tails and green calfskin with additional onlays of bronzy calfskin. The author and printer’s last name were hand-tooled in golf leaf. The leather doublures are distressed and paired with a leather split flyleaf. Coleen bound this copy for the Designer Bookbinders InsideOUT Exhibition in 2014.

    When I saw this binding for the first time, I felt that you had created a style that was uniquely yours. The most striking element of this binding is the hand-dyed leather. The dark veins flow across the book like water making the pieces of inlaid cat-tails and leather almost appear to float on the surface. Can you talk about the dying process for the leather and why you choose to have the accented pieces both sunken on the board and jutting outward?
    I would walk my dogs in a coastal woodland area by my home that has ponds and pools as described by Thoreau. With my tall wellingtons protecting me from the water, I would spend a few hours at various times of the day and peer down into the pools observing the multiple layers of life and plants teeming within. This murky layering was the inspiration for my design. I am deeply attracted to texture and color, and during my design process, I spend a lot of time choosing materials and found objects, mixing and matching, in an attempt to try to visually create the emotions I experience while reading a text and enjoying the art. I find stuff, constantly experiment, and keep everything. I want my designs to introduce the text by appealing to all 5 senses. This binding captured that essence and perhaps that is why you feel it is my own style.

    Working with undyed ‘fair’ goatskin, I applied several paste resists using liquid acrylics, a technique called ‘Craquele’. Thick layers of wheat paste are applied directly to the leather, allowed to dry, and then ‘cracked’ intentionally. The acrylic is then applied and is absorbed in the paste cracks; the paste is then removed. Several resists in various colors were applied to achieve depth and layers I desired. Hewits’ aniline dyes were applied to create the ruddy brown color, along with various embossing and debossing with inks.

    The leather became my water, and now I needed to create movement. First, I gold tooled dotted lines to create the glints of light that appear when sunlight hits water at certain angles. I used a special roulette, that I designed and Pascal Alivon crafted, of uneven dots that roll out crooked. Next, I added a few bright green inlays and onlays for the color of new plant life in the spring. I collected cat-tails from the ponds and dried them. After many experimentations with finishes to seal and protect the cat-tail, I settled on layers of black bison wax – a fine wood finishing wax that has an aroma of wood. To create the feeling of floating layers of intertwined cat-tail leaves, I created two inlay pieces off the book and these needed to be a variety of thicknesses to accommodate effective layering. At this point I had what Suzanne Moore and Don Glaister call ‘the eleventh hour blues’, this is when I experience the ‘my design sucks, it needs something else, it is ruined…”. And yes, this happens with almost every binding I create. At this point, I sift through all my materials and usually find that ‘one thing’ to add. For Pools it was some bronzy calf. I placed thin strips over the cat-tail leaves and inlaid only the tips so the mid portion has air.

    I’m also curious about the treatment of Thoreau and Rorer, their names appear in a sort of V-shape on the spine. It’s quite an unusual layout, does this reference the text in some way?
    The title is quite long ‘Of Woodland Pools, Spring-holes and Ditches’ – I toyed with a variety of shortened versions and settled on ‘Woodland Pools Spring-holes Ditches’ tooled in gold each on its own line meandering line on the front upper right in tiny type.

    I decided to highlight both the prominent author and artist on the spine. I enjoy incorporating letters as part of the design to add interest and intrigue. The ‘O’ in each name lines up with the cat-tails on both front and back covers and the gold letters add that glint on water and adds some continuity between the front and back covers.


  6. Catching Up With Lori Sauer // No. 2

    August 6, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    Lori Sauer bound this Arion Press edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Silverado Squatters in 2014. The book is bound in vellum with decorative elements in Japanese paper.

    I really love your use of materials on this binding. It offers a peaceful and calming interpretation of the Napa Valley landscape portrayed in this classic travel memoir. Can you speak about how you covered the book in vellum? Is the division created by using two separate pieces of vellum or through a decorative application?
    R.L. Stevenson is in the top five of my favourite authors and I’ve bound quite a few of his works. This one from Arion Press has sepia toned photographs from central California as illustrations. Bindings for books with images present a particular set of challenges. I never attempt to reproduce an illustrator’s work in a design but will do my best to capture the tone or mood. With this piece I used both the serene quality of the photos along with Stevenson’s literary style to guide me. Stevenson’s prose reads with such ease and grace, something that is incredibly hard to do. I’m pleased that you’ve picked up on this!

    Each piece of vellum (two on each board) is lined with a slightly different shade of backing paper in order to give a very subtle shift in colouration. The pieces are turned in on their meeting edges so that the line between them is clean and soft.

    The vertical lines are Japanese paper, onlaid in to pressed grooves.

    What technique did you use for the decoration on the doublures?
    I did an iPad ‘painting’ to create the doublures and inkjet printed them on to hand-made paper. (I like this technique very much and need to remember to do it more often). I then applied small pieces of Japanese paper and these were back sanded before I stuck down the doublure. Very subtle marks are made by the onlays on the suede flyleaves.


  7. Catching Up With Lori Sauer // No. 1

    August 1, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    I first interviewed Lori Sauer for the blog back in March 2013. I thought it might be time to check in and see what new bindings Lori has created over the past four years. Over the month of August, I’ll be featuring five of Lori’s more recent bindings. Let’s begin with a book Lori bound in 2013, a copy of A Line illustrated by Suyeon Kim.

    A Line was published by Incline Press in 2009 and is an illustrative narrative of linocut prints by Suyeon Kim depicting the companionship between a blind fisherman and his dog. Lori bound her copy in the dos rapporté structure with dyed vellum. Lori adds decorative elements with twine and ink.

    I love the playfulness of the cover compared with Suyeon Kim’s linocut prints. How did you manipulate the vellum to achieve a hazy water-like quality?
    I love this book, no text, just a narrative in images. The images veer off in to fantasy, a bit like a Chagall painting, and are full of warmth and charm.

    You asked about the vellum – I dyed it. I buy very clear and clean white skins for this and interesting markings appear with the dye (I use watered down FW acrylic inks). I start with dying the flesh side as it soaks up moisture better. If I need to I’ll wipe some of the ink on the hair side too. The first pieces I coloured for this weren’t exactly right so I did a second set. I ended up using the first set as doublures. I can go through a lot of vellum this way in order to get the right shade but the rejects always get used up eventually.

    Are the red and yellow lines actual threads running across the binding? If so, how are they adhered to the vellum covers?
    The red and yellow lines are also acrylic ink, applied with a nib. The white line is inlaid string.

    I’ll also say that the book is printed as a concertina and folds out to seventeen feet, I think. It was pretty badly folded so I had to fiddle quite a bit to get the edges to line up. I decided that it would be rare or never that someone would open it all the way so I attached guards on the reverse to keep it like a conventional book. I then used a stub for the spine so that the pages would fan open. The physical result ties in well with the playfulness and watery theme of the images.


  8. Catching Up With Hannah Brown // No. 5

    April 30, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    For the final installment, I asked Hannah Brown about her binding of Love is Enough by William Morris. Just like The Tempest, shown in the previous post, Hannah used fair calf and an array of colored leather onlays. The design includes four beautifully embroidered birds and five beetles. At the points of intersection on the trellis, Hannah has attached twenty-eight gold plated brass pieces. Smaller details in the design have been blind and gold tooled.

    The cover design is complimented with a patterned endpaper. The book lives in a teak box with a frosted prespex lid, which allows you to view the book.

    I had the chance to see this binding in person, while visiting last year’s Antiquarian Book Fair in NYC. First I want to say that it is absolutely gorgeous and I may have stared at it for an awkward length of time. The embroidery on the birds, is some of the most detailed embroidery I’ve seen on your work. As your work evolves the embroidery is becoming more painterly and reads more traditional in style. For the final question of the month, I’d love for you to talk about how your think you’re previous work has informed the way you build a design today, particularly how you’ve grown from simple machine embroidery to complex and layered hand embroidery.
    Thank you for your comments! It was an absolutely wonderful text block to be commissioned to bind. I am starting to see my embroidery work more like “painting” with thread. Through various social media channels I am now aware of more embroidery artists who are inspiring me to develop my embroidery skills further. I love the way that colour can by built up so subtly with the threads whilst adding a pleasing texture to the surface of the leather on a binding.

    One thing that I am very careful with though is durability, books are made to be used so I have to be very mindful of this when placing my stitches. The difference between utilising embroidery techniques on bindings in comparison to general embroidery on things like wall art is that is has to be designed to be handled. I make sure I tether down my stitches as well as possible to avoid the design catching or being abraded prematurely over time and take extra care when placing stitches over the board joints.

    During my time working at the V&A Museum I had the pleasure of looking at a variety of embroidered bindings from the National Art Library’s collection (the library housed within the museum). It was wonderful to see how the stitching had held out over time, on some better than others due to the amount of handling!

    Machine embroidery has its purposes and is good for producing lines quickly but to me now looks too rigid due to the way it punches the holes in the leather and the regularity of the stitches created. I love the layers than can be built up using hand embroidery as it has far more depth and accuracy to it and following years of practice my fingers are now toughened to it. I have a feeling that binding by binding my work will continue to evolve in this way, especially as my collection of threads grows and grows in size! I have started to teach some classes in embroidery techniques for fine bindings and hope to grow on this and therefore spread my knowledge further in this field.


  9. Catching Up With Hannah Brown // No. 4

    April 23, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    Last year, Hannah Brown created this impeccable binding of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Bound in full leather, Hannah first dyed the fair calf in a mottled effect, which provides the perfect stormy backdrop. The rest of the design is comprised of a variety of colored onlays, silk embroidery and blind, carbon and gold tooling.

    The endpapers have a similar mottled effect as the leather cover. Yet Hannah achieved this decoration by placing the paper over  textured surface before rolling on gold letterpress ink. The book is housed in an oak box and frosted acrylic lid.
    This might be one of the most ambitious designs you’ve created thus far. First, I’d love to know how you kept track of all those little onlays as you were working.
    I worked word by word and made sure there was no draft to blow the pieces away once they had been cut out! The key to ease of cutting was to regularly change my scalpel blade. As the words got smaller and smaller they became too tricky to pierce from leather so I embroidered them instead which gave me more control.

    Many of your bindings are done in goatskin, but The Tempest is bound in a hand-dyed calfskin. Did you find the calf to be more susceptible to scuffs during the embroidery process?
    Yes, this was my first time working with calf. I bought this skin as fair calf and it was dyed in a stippled pattern which I thought might help mask any possible scuffs that would occur during the embroidery process. I always make sample boards ahead of working on a binding so I was able to test whether this was going to be an issue ahead of working on the actual covering leather. Fortunately I had no issues with scuffing of the leather and since then have gone on to bind another binding in fair calf with even less margin for error!

    I will definitely use more calf in the future as I felt the smooth nature of the surface lent itself well to being embroidered. It was tough to back-pare and work ahead of applying the embroidery but I was very pleased with the end result.


  10. Catching Up With Hannah Brown // No. 3

    April 16, 2017 by Erin Fletcher

    Hannah Brown covered this binding of David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas in dark blue goatskin. An embroidered outline of a world map expands across the entire binding. To create contrast between land formations and water, Hannah blinded in a short line tool in a dense sporadic pattern.

    The longitude and latitude lines are gold-tooled and cross at six points across the map. These points are marked with brass tubing, which are inset into the boards, giving the viewer a peek of the endpapers. As you open the cover, the same longitude and latitude lines appear in gold. The background is decorated with watercolor altered by salt crystals, then painted with acrylic. The book is housed in a Rosewood box with a frosted acrylic lid patterned in the same fashion as the book.

    Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many ways a book can be exhibited. If displayed fully open, the viewer has an opportunity to collect more information on the binder’s concept. However, when parts of the book are hidden from view, how does that change the viewer’s perception of the binder’s work? When I look through your portfolio it is common to see a detailed cover paired with a custom interior that plays off your design. While working on the design are you conscious of how the different planes of the binding work as individual sides and as a whole?
    Absolutely, I love the fact that there are so many dimensions to a book, with new aspects of the design revealing themselves as you open it up – it gives a lot of scope for illustrating the content. There are so many skills required to make a successful binding, it is a three dimensional object and therefore needs to be planned and executed as such. However with that I feel you need to be a master of so many trades, especially using the variety of materials that I do on one binding paired with it’s box; a designer, a printmaker, a draughtsman, a carpenter, a juggler…the list goes on!

    I always try and make my endpapers marry in some way with the book design, whether they are just a similar colour palette or perhaps directly inspired by an illustration within the cover design, I feel it is important there is some connection between them. On a number of my previous bindings I have incorporated holes cut through the boards in the cover design so part of the endpapers can be seen. This is the case with Cloud Atlas to some degree with different diameter brass rods inset into the boards through which you can see the painted cloud endpapers. Another example of this on a larger scale was on a binding I did of, William Blake’s Watercolour Designs for the Poems of Thomas Gray where a cat was illustrated on the endpapers and also, Randall Davies and His Books of Nonsense with hexagonal viewing holes.

    In terms of the actual displaying of bindings, without mirrors or walk around cabinets it is very difficult to show all aspects of the book as a whole. When I worked as mount-maker at the V&A Museum I used to make a lot of book cradles for displaying open bindings in exhibitions. I always found it incredible that the cradles had to be made not just specific to the book, but to the actual page of the book that was to be open. They were rarely able to be reused again due to the fact that the profile of the book would change if opened on a different page.

    For Cloud Atlas in particular, how does the interior design speak to the cover?
    The design of this binding I found to be very challenging as there are so many stories and themes running through the book. The novel consists of six interconnected stories, however the main characters do not directly interact with one another but their lives are infinitely connected and affected by the actions of the others. The first five stories are broken into two parts – each being interrupted or halted at a pivotal moment. After the sixth story, which is completed in one central section, the other five stories are closed, in reverse chronological order, and each ends with the main character reading or observing the chronologically previous work in the chain. The main characters are also linked in spirit through the reoccurring image of a comet-shaped birthmark which are also depicted at crossing points on the cover.

    The cover design is based on a map of the world, the points marked by the crossing of the longitude and latitude lines are placed where each of the six stories within the book are set. Each longitude line on the cover design has an additional design element running along it to tie in with the theme of the stories as follows (from top to bottom); a train track (the character travels by train between London and Hull), stylised musical notes (the character is a composer who writes “Cloud Atlas Sextet”), typewriter letters (the character is a 1970’s journalist), troughs and peaks (the character travels across seas and over mountains), quote marks in a futuristic font (the story is based in the far future) and finally the embroidered words of the very last quote of the entire book to tie it all together, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?”.

    As well as being able to “spy” the clouds on the endpapers through the brass rods inset into the cover, I chose to also run the longitude and latitude lines through onto the endpapers and doublures and also show quotes from each of the stories on them. The atlas of clouds in the sky ties all the stories together therefore was a key part of my design choice.


  • Visit My Bindery
    My name is Erin Fletcher and I live in Boston working as a Bookbinder.  This blog is an extension of Herringbone Bindery where I can share my inspirations with you.
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