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Bookbinder of the Month: Eduardo Giménez Burgos // Interview

January 1, 2019 by Erin Fletcher

Eduardo Giménez participated in the 2009 Designer Bookbinders International Competition, where binders were asked to bind a copy of A Selection of Poems on the Theme of Water. Eduardo’s binding is covered in black buffalo skin with painted acrylic silicone drops inset into the boards. Using blue leather onlays to create the title, which runs down the spine from head to tail with small red leather onlay dots separating the letters. The doublures are also black buffalo skin paired with red suede fly leaves.

Eduardo’s binding was among other works selected as prizewinners.

I remember being in my second year at North Bennet Street School and seeing the catalog for this exhibit. Your binding stood out as a favorite and even influenced my design for Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions. I would love to have you walk through the construction of the cover. How did you incorporate the painted silicone drops into the cover?
Water was one of my first International Competitions. I worked on this book with great dedication, and the result was very positive. Feeling satisfied is not very common when I finish a book. But I did with this one and is one of my favorites. Although you might find it difficult to believe, the idea of the design comes from the image of a movie: that of HAL’s brain room, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, where the core processor is stored. It is a magic place with its monitors of geometric forms and illuminated grids. My binding uses a set of colours inside a precise geometry. The transparent silicone drops are painted with acrylics on its base and inset one by one in the cover previously hollowed out with a leather hole punch by means of a paper template. When the book closes and is observed sideways from the spine, the colour disappears and transparent drops of water emerge, held on the vertical surface of the covers.

The books of poetry are full of images that offer a bigger freedom of design for the bookbinder. Perhaps this binding is a little daring. I am really happy to know that you have liked it. Some people have told me that this is my best work, but surprisingly, I have to say that it is one of my few books that I have not sold yet…

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With this interview, the lens is focused on Spain, with binder Eduardo Giménez. As I mentioned above I first came across his work in the DB catalog Bound for Success, since that moment his work has been on display in several other international exhibitions that have made their way to America. Eduardo’s work is sleek from his designs to use of multiple textures. Throughout the interview we discuss bookbinding in Spain and the techniques Eduardo likes to employ in his work. And since this interview is coming out on January 1st, I want to wish Eduardo a very Happy Birthday!

Check out the interview after the jump for more about Eduardo’s training and creative process. Come back each Sunday during the month of January for more on Eduardo’s work. You can subscribe to the blog to receive email reminders, so you never miss post.

Let’s start at the beginning: can you talk about your path to bookbinding and where you received your training. 
My approach to bookbinding comes from my love for books. I started bookbinding somewhat late, almost by chance. I had always wanted to learn to take care and repair the books of my library. I then joined a school in Madrid, where I used to live at the time, the school Antolín Palomino Olaya which taught classic training. I used to go to classes during my free time, and after two years of learning, I discovered my vocation. Thanks to my teacher who transmitted me the love for the profession, in the year 1998 I decided to leave my job as a civil servant of Foreign Trade and try the adventure of bookbinding. And here I am after 20 years.

You lived in Japan for some time, how did your time there influence your technique and aesthetics?
I lived for four years in Japan, working for the Spanish Government from 1984 to 1988. These were passionate years. The country and the people appealed to me from the very beginning. I was fascinated by its arts and culture. And that experience also arose my curiosity and interest for the oriental aesthetics and their crafts. By then I was not familiar with bookbinding. But some years later, when I became a bookbinder, I introduced Japanese bookbinding in Spain, which was then almost unknown in my country, giving courses, lectures and exhibitions. I translated into Spanish the classic book by Kojiro Ikegami, Japanese Bookbinding, a book which is quite popular here. Today the influence of Japan in my work is still very significant in spite of the years which have passed since then.

Since there are no accredited institutions in Spain for the study of bookbinding, how might someone go about getting their training today?
There are a few official centers, but there is not really a formal education like in other countries in Europe. Living off bookbinding is difficult today in my country, and there are not many people who decide to study it. Indeed there are private schools, some with high-level training standards, run by professional bookbinders who, out of their workshop schedule teach bookbinding classes. The majority of the students of bookbinding are trained in these private schools, and out of them, a small part decides to devote later to the job, that being my own case.

You’ve been teaching since 1998 and later founded Escuela Libro (Book School of Zaragoza) in 2006. How would you define your typical student? I wonder if your students are attending courses at Escuela LIbro with the intention of turning their skills into a career. Does Escuela Libro offer a diploma program?
In my Escuela Libro I teach continuous courses throughout the year, with a maximum of 6 students per class. I teach the techniques of repair, conservation and hand bookbinding of all types of books, as well as the creation and design of fine bindings and artist’s books. Not being an education with a diploma program, that allows me to offer personalized teaching according to the particular interests of each student. My students are of very different ages and cultural or professional backgrounds. Among them there are graphic designers, editors, photographers, artists and craftsmen, amateurs of handicrafts or just book lovers. Some of my students have opened their own workshops and work full time as bookbinders. But most use bookbinding as a complement to their professions, or simply as entertainment.

How has Escuela LIbro affected the bookbinding community and the community of Zaragoza?
I believe that from my school I can offer good training standards that did not exist in my city before me. I have organized several exhibitions of binding with my students and also on my own, the local newspapers have published some articles on bookbinding, and I have given lectures with the intention of encouraging and promoting the art of bookbinding in my community. I think that lately there is more interest for our profession than ever. Of course, always from the perspective of a minority discipline.

In an article recently published in the Designer Bookbinders Newsletter (Autumn No. 183), you wrote briefly about the bookbinding community in Spain. In the next two questions I would love to have you elaborate on a few aspects of binding in Spain. 

We already discussed educational opportunities in Spain. Let’s focus next on job opportunities. In what capacity are binders employed in Spain or your area? I wonder about the type and volume of work that is available. You mention in the aforementioned DB article that the demand for design binding is scarce.
At present there are very few bookbinding workshops with an important volume of work and employees as those which existed in Spain three or four decades ago. The opportunities are therefore, small. Professional bookbinders dedicate most of the time to works for collectors and public libraries, in restoration and conservation of books or to private education. The workshops are small business that work with difficulty in a more and more scarce market, in line with the current interest of society in books, and in particular for old books. The crisis that began a decade ago made the problem even worse.

The collections of books, once their owners have died, do not find private buyers easily anymore nor do they arouse the interest of local libraries either. The interest in conservation and hand binding of books has diminished. And the problem is even more serious when we are talking about fine bindings because of its bigger cost. On the other hand young people interested in the world of books are now demanding a type of simpler binding, more related to the artist’s or illustrated book, or a new book with simple structures at more economic prices. There are also projects of collaboration with artists with editions of a small print run. Cultural habits have changed, and I believe that all the bookbinders are getting used to the needs of the moment in order to survive.

What is the cultural view on bookbinding, you mention an annual award presented by the Spanish Ministry of Culture in your DB article. The National Prize for Binding has been awarded to you twice in 2012 and 2014. Has this award changed the awareness of bookbinding in Spain? Did it change anything for you in terms of work flow or interest in your courses?
The granting of awards to artistic binding is linked to a series of circumstances that arose in the decades of the ‘80s and ‘90s in Spain: the creation of an Association for the Development of Fine Binding (AFEDA), the programming of exhibitions and the proliferation of private schools. All this stimulated the world of bookbinding, not very recognized in the Spanish society up to this moment. These activities promoted extraordinarily our profession and they brought over bookbinders, bibliophiles, students, booksellers and collectors, with a big benefit for our profession and increasing the opportunities of work. The awards represent a great incentive and a recognition to the excellence in our work and, of course, that also brings benefits to the winners. In my case, also the interest and a bigger flow of new students to my school.

Since Water was on display in the DB International Competition, your work has popped up (and been awarded) in several international exhibitions. Are there exhibit opportunities in Spain or are you mainly exhibiting your work internationally? Since your work is celebrated on an international scale, are you receiving work from international clients?
The opportunities to exhibit our work are not very common. The disappearance of AFEDA in 2012 finished drastically with the dynamics of the exhibitions of previous decades. Precisely my interest to take part in the international contests is due to the bigger possibility of exhibiting my works outside. Apart from the competitions, there are also the exhibitions and biennials organized by the Associations of European bookbinders (ARA, APPAR, etc.) very active at present. I have also taken part in them regularly.

These activities, strangely enough, have scarcely provided me with more fine binding work. I think that customers need a nearby contact with the binder, to visit their workshops, to touch and to examine their books, to talk and discuss the designs that they wish for their books. This closeness is not true for me, as I live in a small city far from the centers of the bibliophile market. And above all, I have not probably been able to promote my work very well.

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  • My name is Erin Fletcher, owner and bookbinder of Herringbone Bindery in Boston. Flash of the Hand is a space where I share my process and inspirations.
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