Even though my retirement is several years away, I think it's important to start learning this now. I need to figure out two things: 1) Do I like doing it enough that I would be happy doing it a lot? 2) Can I make a decent "beer money" income with handmade books?
And there's another reason why I'm starting this now. Some people think that being a professional artist means you get to do fun things every day. Total fallacy! If you achieve full-time professional status as a creative person, your life involves doing the same things every day, over and over, day after day. It's important to get off your hamster wheel once in a while, before you forget how. If you depend on your creative work for your income, falling into a rut is deadly. I've seen it happen too many times, when a very talented person grows to hate their own work. It's sad. Shifting your brain into "learn mode" can do wonders for the way you feel about your daily work.
There's nothing like cutting off all the stitches of your hand-bound book, because you realized you made a crucial mistake at the beginning, to remind you what it feels like to be a beginner again. Which then forces you to see how far you've come in your own area of expertise, and to contemplate all the years of practice it took. It makes you feel pretty good, not bored or burnt out.
Bookbinding brings me back to all of my favorites aspects of my previous career as a print graphic designer (an almost extinct breed nowadays). Such as pawing through pretty paper samples, cutting and folding, knowing how to make tiny adjustments to accommodate paper's third dimension, among others things. And of course ... measuring! My favorite verb. And I get to say hello to my old measuring friends, Pica and Point.
Since last summer, I've taken two workshops at Pyramid Atlantic Arts Center in Hyattsville, MD (which I highly recommend). And I've started reading a series of books by Keith Smith, which were recommended by my instructor. These are the first projects I've made by myself at home, without the guidance of an instructor.
I'm calling this first design the "List Book." I am a zealous list maker and note taker, and go through lots of these little notebooks. From now on, I'm going to make them instead of buying them. The first one took me over five hours, as I figured out the design from scratch. You can see how many times I changed my mind about the details. And like I mentioned, I made sewing mistakes that forced me to start over.
Here are the text signatures. I printed the rules with my laser printer, and was able to space them for the size of my own handwriting. And once again my previous career training helped, because I already knew the definitions of signatures/sections, sheets, and pages, and how to count them.
Here is the book's cover mapped out. The back cover has an extended tab. It can be folded inside the back cover out of the way, or slotted into the front cover to keep the book closed, or used as a bookmark.
After spending five hours on the first one, the second one took only thirty minutes.
Here's a closer look at the stitching on the spine.
I have already begun using one of them. The size is just right, the cover and pages hinge very easily, and I like the way it holds itself open in a relaxed stance when you put it down. Overall, it's very comfortable to use, kind-of like a handmade mug or bowl.
After finishing these small books, I decided to try something more ambitious. I also use a lot of 8.5 x 11 spiral notebooks. I call them "Show Books" because it's where I record my before + after inventory lists for every show, and where I add up my sales. This book has fabric-wrapped hard covers, and is stitched together with a form of "coptic stitching." This stitching allows a thick book to lie open by itself, and even to flip the front cover around to the back. I'm a little skeptical that the linen threads will hold up to abuse, because this book gets carried with me to every show inside a messenger bag. But so far it feels nice and sturdy. And just like the List Book, the covers and pages hinge very comfortably. I guess time will tell how well it holds up.
I've already started using this book too. I have a growing list of reservations for my upcoming 2019 shows. I like that this is on the very first page of the book, which means it will be easy to find and edit this list.
I would also like to develop a journal-sized notebook, and possibly a calendar/planner. My plan is to have a few prototypes of these available for sale at my next Open Studio in December.