Teaching and Learning

Everyone has his or her favorite cultural icon, right? I do too, and mine is John Cage. He grew up in southern California, lived most of his life on the east coast of the US, and was a composer, among many other skills and specialties. His music is sparse, abstract, noisy, at times loud and harsh and at other times perfectly quiet and peaceful. In some ways a product of American culture and history, in others a radical departure, Cage was at all times a hard worker, completely devoted to creating music and bringing sounds together. He brought this same focus to his side pursuits, such as mushroom gathering and macrobiotic cooking, as well. His whole life, as a synthesis of all of these dynamic activities, went into his compositions and recordings.

Cage's mycological collection is at UC Santa Cruz!! Let's go!!

Cage’s mycological collection is at UC Santa Cruz!! Let’s go!!

We also have just a few books containing his lectures and poems, such as Silence and Indeterminacy. There is so much more to explore about Cage’s life, music, and philosophy, but this is a bookbinding blog. What I wanted to share about Cage is one of his writings I happened across, very much in chancy Cage-like fashion, at the Prelinger Library. Cage had mixed opinions about formal schooling, having dropped out of Pomona College as an undergraduate, though he was valedictorian of his high school class. I think it can be comfortably said that he continued to learn, study, and teach throughout his life, and that the concept of lifelong learning–questioning assumptions, gathering data, and growing and adapting–was central to his thinking. I wanted to share the following piece in light of the classes I will be teaching soon, as well as the classes I have been taking lately. The past year has been a very active one for me, filled with growth and change. It has been over eleven years now since I received my diploma in bookbinding, and so I have had nearly adequate time to begin to practice and reflect on what I learned there. But now, it is time for me to resume my pursuit of learning, growth, and adaptation. Last summer, I took the Design Binding Intensive class from Dominic Riley. I think Dominic is a very Cage-ian instructor: eccentric, with unparallelled skill, completely engaged in his classes, often taking us on field trips and giving us lots of concrete information.

Dominic demonstrates board chamfering

Dominic demonstrates board chamfering

I also taught some classes, some at home and others further afield.

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Creative interpretation by a student in one of my classes. Brilliant!!

 

This summer, I will be taking some classes at the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation in northwestern Illinois. And last weekend, I took a class in finishing with gold leaf taught by Gavin Dovey to refine my skills. I believe there is always more to learn in any field, but especially in a field like bookbinding, and I am grateful to have found a profession for which there is always room for expansion.

I have been teaching bookbinding for years, and feel that I often learn more from my students than they learn from me… Perhaps these few lines from Cage explain why.

 Some Rules and Hints for Students and Teachers
John Cage

RULE #1: Find a place you trust and then, try trusting it for a while

RULE #2: GENERAL DUTIES AS A STUDENT
Pull everything out of your teacher
Pull everything out of your fellow students

RULE #3: GENERAL DUTY AS A TEACHER
Pull everything out of your students

RULE #4: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE #5: Be self disciplined.
This means finding someone smart or wise and choosing to follow them.
To be disciplined is to follow in a good way.
To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE#6: Follow the leader
Nothing is a mistake.
There is no win and no fail.
There is only make.

RULE #7: The only rule is work
If you work it will lead to something.
It is the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things. You can fool the fans but not the players.

RULE #8: Do not try to create and analyze at the same time.
They are different processes.

RULE #9: Be happy whenever you can manage it.
It is lighter than you think.

RULE #10: We are breaking all the rules, even our own
How do we do that?
By leaving plenty of room for ‘x’ qualities
HELPFUL HINTS:

Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully and often. Save everything. It may come in handy later.

 

…and speaking of “Come or go to everything,” here is an event not to be missed for anyone who was ever curious about how fine bindings are made:

HBC Codex Event

It is sponsored by my local bookbinding organization, and will be a great way to begin the festivities relating to Codex and the Antiquarian Book Fair. I’m hoping we will record it in some way, but the best way to experience it will be in Cage-ian fashion: be there.

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Filed under Classes I've taken, Classes I've taught

Cleaning rusty dividers

One of the things that keeps me interested in bookbinding is how it encompasses so many different fields. Before working in bookbinding for too long, I quickly realized I needed to learn a little about woodworking, metalworking, tool and die making, fabrics and textiles, graphic arts and typography, materials science, and so on. These days (at least, for the past century or so), if you want to do a good job at bookbinding, you need to be able to service your own tools. One frequent question/complaint I hear from my students is about dividers. What are they? Is this a dividers? How about this? Well… those may be listed as dividers, but they’re not exactly what you’re looking for. Using a dividers is, to me, one of the more important steps in one’s development as a hand bookbinder. A good set of dividers can make your work more accurate and efficient. It’s important to get the best tool you can afford, and certainly a decent pair of dividers is affordable; you just may have to do some hunting. I have a considerable amount of brand loyalty in this area, and Starrett is the only kind of dividers I like. Though they can be expensive to purchase brand new, it is relatively easy to find Starrett dividers at flea markets and on ebay. The down side is they will often have a considerable amount of rust.

Removing the rust is a quick and easy way to make your new find your own. All you need is a little citric acid, some metal polishing compound, and a light machine oil such as 3 in 1.

I have seen bookbinders perform experiments in removing rust with Coca-cola (which contains citric acid), but I don’t usually have that around. I do keep some citric acid (available in natural foods stores in the preserving/canning section) on hand for making jam, to balance the acidity of low-acid fruits in order to properly set the pectin. After doing a little web scouting on the topic I turned up this Wikipedia article on pickling metal which I found fascinating, and made me feel a little more confident in removing rust this way. One thing to note is that even though citric acid is safe to ingest, it is still an acid, and how strongly you mix it determines its safety to use. I used about 1 teaspoon for a 9×9″ square pan filled to about 2-3cm deep with tap water.

Visible rust starting to create pits in the metal; citric acid available at natural foods store

Before: visible rust starting to create pits in the metal; citric acid available at natural foods store

After only an hour, much of the rust has lifted off

After only an hour, much of the rust has lifted off

After soaking another hour in the citric acid, then wiping down with a metal polish, rubbing with a light machine oil, then drying off.

After soaking another hour in the citric acid, then polishing any pitted areas with a metal polishing compound such as jeweler’s rouge, rubbing with a light machine oil, and finally wiping dry.

It is a really satisfying feeling to clean up an old tool like this. Using a light acid bath instead of scratching away at the metal with a steel wool or brillo pad is much better, in my opinion: the acid removes the rust only, not the unaffected neighboring metal surfaces. The acid bath also removes rust easily from threaded parts of the tool and other hard to reach areas. Just be sure to dry the tool completely afterward and don’t hold back with the oil. Let the tool stand with the oil on it for at least a few hours at warm room temperature to let it seep in, then wipe it completely clean with a soft cloth. The dividers pictured above now works smoothly and is ready for adventure.

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Nifty Folio Repairs

Hello again and apologies for the long absence. Since I last added to this blog, Book Island broke loose of its moorings and took float, settling just a few cattails from its former position. Improvements include more space for my growing family of bookbinding equipment (more on that in a later post) and for holding mini-workshops; and proximity to a large vintage Wedgewood gas stove. There are many tradeoffs to living and working under the same roof; working for oneself also has its pluses and minuses. Not having to commute long distances, and being able to do things like let bread dough rise or soup simmer while working at the bench are things I would identify as pluses. Of course, it is a more solitary lifestyle; and there’s the whole tax/admin angle that has to be dealt with. In any case, it’s where Book Island is at right now. After sharing some tips on guarding and folio repair, I will include some snapshots of the new studio and workspace.

One of the great advantages to having formal training in bookbinding was the multitude of sidebar-type techniques we all learned. Being in a two-year, full-time bench-centered program afforded my class a fair amount of time for goofing off in the nerdiest way imaginable. In teaching us paper and book repair and conservation, my teacher gave us lots of bonus extra tips and methods for saving time and making a better result. Some of them may be in wider use than I am aware of, and some I go through phases of using heavily and then not using for a long time. One of these is something I have nicknamed the Folio-Mat. Like many studio aids in bookbinding, it is simply fabricated from a few pieces of scrap materials you probably have laying around not currently helping anybody, but it is completely out of the question to discard: binder’s board, buckram, mylar, and your favorite archival spun polyester. Oh, and don’t forget the Scotch 415 double stick… Yes, from these humble beginnings, you too could create wonders! Observe…

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step one: Place a strip of pasted repair tissue on the center line of the board

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue , amtching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step two: place the folio or signature to be guarded on the tissue, matching up the fold line with the center of the repair tissue

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step three: lift the buckram flap, and fold the whole flap over the folio or signature, thus bringing the otherwise wiggly half of the pasted repair tissue cleanly over the fold

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

Step four: lift the buckram and return it to its original positions, and-voila!-your folio or signature has an unwrinkled, completely flat guard. Trim height to size when dry.

The Folio-Mat (trademark pending) allows you to easily unite two leaves separated by time and neglect in order to prepare them for sewing. I recently had to guard an entire textblock this way and was able to save some time. It was much easier to jog the separated leaves to the foredge, avoiding much of the stepping out leaves often do when regrouped into signatures. This paper was quite soft and fragile, having been in a mostly-disbound state for many years (burns and fading could be seen on the edges of the pages sticking out from the stack). To say this book was in tatters would be an understatement. I’m not sure the pre-treatment photos quite express the causes for trepidation I felt when approaching the repair… I’m sure we’ve all been there. It was very rewarding to see how it came out, however.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Before treatment, foredge is in tatters.

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Spine is tattered and battered, with many loss areas to outer leaves

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

Post treatment: top edge lines up much better, and you can see the bright yellow inked edge

no more tatters!

no more tatters!

Lovely illustrations now come through

Lovely illustrations now come through

Spine functioning normally

Spine functioning normally

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

Book lays flat and can be read without damage to the pages. Success! Thank you, Folio-Mat.

More fun from Book Island:

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly aquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!

New space with expanded equipment family: Ursa Minor (little nipper) on the far left, next Ursa Major (big nipper); Kensol now has its own homemade table with two castors. Workshop table is new too, as are the rudimentary tool kits mostly acquired from the Japantown mall. Come visit!

 

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Filed under Bookbinding techniques, My projects

Time for some pie!

…Or rather, time for pie to be transformed into something beautiful. Something gorgeously well-ordered. What on Earth am I talking about?? For a hint, here is a definition:

pi

noun

  1. The name of the sixteenth letter of the Classical Greek, Classical and Modern Greek alphabets and the seventeenth in Old Greek.
  2. (mathematics) An irrational constant representing the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter; approximately 3.1415926535897932; usually written π, where pi x diameter = Circumference.
  3. (context, typesetting) Metal type that has been spilled, mixed together, or disordered. Also called pie.

And, the exciting transformation:

IMG_3025Organizing this type is something that has taken me several years. Some of it is fairly worn, but it is all brass, and thus ideal for the hot stamping known in bookbinding as tooling, or finishing. Countless hours have been spent in sorting the various sizes and styles shown here, and even then, about half of the entire box in the bottom right of this picture comprises letters with no match. The other half of that box is punctuation which probably belongs in one of the other boxes, but I’ll have to leave that last part of this project for another day.

Sometimes it is difficult for me to explain to my clients why I cannot stamp their name in their chosen font on the book cover I make for them without having a die made. Perhaps the photo above might explain a little bit about the process of titling a book cover. As you can see, the tiny brass letters are fixed in size and shape. To a bookbinder, the meaning of the word ‘font’ refers to a set of these pieces of brass; it is not something that you highlight with your mouse and change from a dropdown menu. Very unfortunate, to some extent, since it does not allow for creative layout possibilites which respond to the particular needs of a specific project. For that, one must contract to have a die made, usually from magnesium, or for high volume production jobs, from copper. There are environmental risks involved in this process that the city of San Francisco has deemed unsafe; thus there are no companies that perform this service here. And once it is made into a stamping die, the magnesium is a health hazard of sorts as well– it is extremely inflammable, so for a bookbinder to store old dies is dangerous. G-d forbid any bindery with magnesium dies in storage should catch fire, for it would explode to high heaven. In a fire, brass type might melt. Which would be sad. But not dangerous.

Brass type is often the preferred choice for me because it also reduces waste; it is nearly infinitely reusable. A magnesium die is generally used only once, at the time of a single project. Of course, having a magnesium die made can be more fun because the possibilites are nearly limitless. Brass type lends a traditional, cultured appearance, where making a die allows more creative control. Here’s an example of a project I worked on which required a die.

sanfranciscocenterbookdodocaseipad22Dies are best made with type and line art– very little shading or solid blocks of color will come out well with a die. Theoretically it is possible, but for best results, line art and type are recommended.

The topic of book decoration could go on for volumes, and this is just a blog. There are lots of points of departure on my links page over on Book Island in case you’re interested.

Recent Project

Something I truly enjoy which most other bookbinders veer away from is Bible repair. The large family Bibles of the late nineteenth century are often unwieldy mammoth objects with heavy double-thickness boards, weak joints, and crumbling paper due to the production advances of the Industrial Revolution. Around now, 150 or so years after their production, these Bibles are widely in need of, ah, joint replacement surgery, so to speak. They are difficult to repair because of their heft, size, and fragility– never a good combination. I enjoy them, however, because they offer me the opportunity to fulfill what I feel is my purpose in being a hand bookbinder: keeping history alive, educating clients about the items they possess, and allowing clients the ability to page through a book they’ve been too scared to touch because it was damaged.

This Bible was a particular pleasure to restore because it was made prior to all the so-called advances of the late 1800’s. Instead of two laminated boards, this book had one thick one for each cover. Instead of deep blind tooling on the covers combined with carved board (which often delaminated), this one used fine gold stamping to decorate the covers. The leather used was not suffering from red rot, and probably never will, since the tannage seemed fairly stable, and the leather still fairly strong. the paper, as well, was healthy, and registered a pH of 6! Amazing. Another thing that impressed me about this book was the sewing. Tens of thin signatures all sewn in a remarkably regular way, as can be seen below. In binderies of this period, it was generally women who did the sewing, and they often sewed without pre-punching the signatures as we do today (though this book was likely sawn). I was kind of touched to see how many signatures there were to this giant behemoth, and all of them sewn perfectly regular.

IMG_2806

Image of Trinity Church in New York City

Every panel on the spine had a different illustration of a Bible scene or story

Every panel on the spine had a different illustration of a Bible scene or story

IMG_3024

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New addition to Book Island

Most of you reading this blog know how much I love bookbinding equipment. One of the special things about this profession is all the extremely specialized tools and machinery we have at our disposal, when we can find it! And usually it seems to take care of itself, once you learn to use it properly. Acquiring a piece of old bookbinding equipment is like receiving a postcard from a simpler time– remove a little rust and a little tape goo, plug it in, and there you have it: a perfectly designed labor saver with steel and cast iron parts machined precisely to thousandths of an inch. Well, finally, it is my time to receive such a gift from the past. This very day with the help of my friends I un-shrinkwrapped a lovely, cherry-red Kensol. It is not (yet) as nice as some I’ve used, better than many others, but at last it is mine. Enjoy some pictures of the new baby and some other examples of titling I’ve done lately.

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!

Bright red paint makes it heat up faster!

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Setting brass type for heat stamping

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

First strike a little deep. so I make some height adjustments to the table

Now we're starting to have some fun

Now we’re starting to have some fun

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio

Dos-a-dos (back-to-back in two parts, but bound together) Student Portfolio. The only font available that seemed appropriate was too small and narrow for this large field, so I used large spacers between each letter to make the words take up more space. The result is a modern, minimal appearance that complemented the student’s content nicely.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

These were done with two dies, one in English and the other in Russian. Scarcely 4 mm tall, they had to line up exactly with each other, yet they were upside down from each other.

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)

Leather labels: one stamped with type, the other with decorative leaves (done by hand)

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Type was hand-set and stamped on a Kwikprint; all other decoration done with hand tools

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Filed under Bookbinding techniques, My projects, Tool Talk

NBSS on tv

While having a deep conversation of a bookbinding nature with a friend recently, and wrapping up one of my typical thousand-ply yarns, I said, “Guess that was more story than you bargained for!” “Well, it just means I don’t have to watch more Craft In America episodes,” she answered. A pause. “Wait, what’s Craft in America?” D’oh! My tv was one of the many things given up in my move from Chicago to California. Although I don’t miss it, I suppose there are work-related things on tv from time to time I miss by not having one. I caught up on some of the episodes available online of this 2009 PBS series, and to my surprise discovered a segment on my alma mater, the North Bennet Street School. This episode also has an interesting and thoughtful interview with bay area book artist Julie Chen along with some shots of her beautiful and well-composed work. Another beloved bay area artist and printmaker, Tom Killion (yessss!!!), is featured in this same episode. I am always interested in how craftspeople integrate their work into their lives– the different work environments we create and the business models that result. The PBS series does not go too deeply into these issues, just gives us small, tv-shaped windows into the work and lives of craftspeople in a variety of fields.

Since some time has passed since I left NBSS, it was nice to watch the segment on my school, although at the time of filming, the bookbinding department had a different instructor and had moved to a different floor. I hear that spring 2013 marked the final year of classes in the building where I spent my two years beginning to learn my trade, and that the school is moving to a much larger building as of fall 2013. It’s great to know the school is growing; hopefully a good sign for the traditional crafts taught there. But oh! if those basement walls could talk. I remember that tiny closet with the Tormek where we all honed our knives, and the closet on the other side where the finishing tools were kept. My year was the first class that had the distinct advantage of a full set of gouges including a blender set for finishing tools, and wow, did we all keep those in heavy rotation. One of my classmates tooled a line drawing of Hank Williams and his wife Audrey on a plaquette! Amazing. My class also shared the distinction of producing the first bookbinder to win the prestigious Stanislov Cup. NBSS, the Fighting Craftspeople! Thanks Mark.

The segment on North Bennet Street School is about 44 minutes into the episode; Tom Killion is at about minute 18, and Julie Chen is 37 or so.

http://video.pbs.org/video/1275408713

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Ten years!

Ten years!

This was my Grandma Roz’s copy of the Fannie Farmer cookbook. Nothing left of the covers other than a scrap of the spine, I rebound it as a project in the bookbinding program at North Bennet Street School when I was there ten years ago. The book is still going strong through consistent use. It stays open flat enough to cook with without having to weigh down the pages or use some kind of cookbook stand contraption. Humble cookbook repair remains one of my favorite parts of being a book conservator in private practice, forming its bread and butter, so to speak. Anyone who has been to my kitchen knows I love cookbooks! I love to cook, so it’s natural that I like to keep those Joy of Cooking, Betty Crocker, Good Housekeeping etc books in good shape for all you home cooks out there.

Fannie-coversFannie-open

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May 16, 2013 · 9:09 pm