Tag Archives: san francisco center for the book

In the studio

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to update this blog too much over the past year, but I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve been working on. I wish I had more time for blogging, but there has been no rest for the wicked (bookbinder), as I’ve been teaching or doing private work nonstop. I’d like to use this space to catch up a bit with some of the exciting projects I’ve been very lucky to have worked on over the past year. I hope my sharing something about them will make others feel inspired.

Custom box for memorial cards

One of my dearest repeat clients, a photographer who specializes in family portraits, came into my studio one day with a small paper bag filled with remembrance cards, other mementos, and a beautiful glass framed portrait that all needed to go into a box for a local family. This was a challenging project, since all the items were of widely varying sizes and shapes. I made a drop spine box with two separate compartments, a four-flap, and created a new frame out of contrasting book cloth for the portrait.

Remembrance Box Compartments

I created two side-by-side compartments to house most of the cards and letters. They were in honor of a woman who had a deep connection to the area’s redwood forests, so I felt a bit of a connection to her, too.

Remembrance Box Inside View

This is how the inside of the box would be viewed when opened.

Remembrance Box Front

This was the front of the box, with the woman’s name stamped in gold.

Working large

Last year I ended up doing a series of three oversize repairs for completely unrelated clients. At the outset, the complexity and challenging nature of each one seemed overwhelming, not to mention three at once. Here are some anecdotal photos of them, with brief explanations, though I might like to post an entire entry at some point, just on these projects.

Illustrated Atlas of Alameda County

This was an illustrated atlas of Alameda County from the 1800s. There were foldouts, text folios, single sheets and even a few double foldouts. The inside of each foldout had a map, and the outer sides of the map had charming illustrations depicting farms or other points of interest in the area of that map. Each page was a slightly different width, calling for the complicated series of stubs, hinges, and guards you see in this detail photo.

Big Book Board

This picture shows the mind-bending immensity of the largest book I have ever repaired (one cover board of it, anyway). I weighed the cover and a single board alone weighed over 6.5 pounds. The main challenge in repairing this particular book was to handle it throughout the repair process with the care it needed in spite of its heft. Good thing I exercise!

Monograph of the Ramphastidae before

This was the initial state of the third of these large books I repaired. All three books also presented challenges simply in the documentation I do for my internal record keeping. I had to move the camera so far away that I couldn’t get very clear photos at times. I took a lot of detail shots to fill in the gaps.

Monograph of the Ramphastidae After

This is the previous book after treatment. Two of the three books required a technique known as a leather reback; the Atlas got a brand new set of covers, since its original covers were severely water damaged.

Prelinger Treasure

Some of the first book conservation I did after moving out to the bay area was for the Prelinger Library, and last year, I was able to do some more work for this innovative collection. They house certain volumes of government publications discarded by other libraries for lack of space, and have happened on some interesting books. One of these that happened into my studio for a time was a record of a US military expedition from Missouri to San Diego conducted in 1841, passing through and reporting heavily on the region now known as New Mexico and Arizona. A researcher at the Prelinger felt the book was important enough to donate the funds to have it repaired, and so I did my best.

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This was the initial condition of this book, with ragged folds at the spine, broken sewing in several places, an odd section of stubs with no pages deforming the rest of the textblock, and many tipped-in illustrations in various stages of attachment.

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I carefully took apart the entire textblock page by page, then applied paper made from kozo fibers with wheat paste to give the folios a stable footing to be resewn and rebound. Note that only about two thirds of the signatures are in this photo-there were over 40 that all needed extensive guarding.

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Typical illustration from the text, one of many. Old Santa Fe. If you think the illustration is interesting, you should read the text! For a military report, it is a real page turner, filled with encounters with Native Americans of several different tribes as well as investigations of plants, geological formations, and animals that were completely foreign to the group of topographical engineers authoring the report. This book is available to see, read, and handle at the Prelinger Library. No academic credentials required.

Prelinger After

This is the spine after treatment.

Prelinger After Cover

This is the cover after treatment.

New bookbinding class at SFCB

I have been teaching classes in bookbinding at the San Francisco Center for the Book since 2011, and have most often focused on offering a foundational series of classes to give students a slice of what I got at the North Bennet Street School. I don’t see any use in hoarding what I know. I have met so many fascinating people while teaching, some becoming clients, friends, or both! So last year, I decided I wanted to push things a step further and offer an additional advanced class in leatherwork for bookbinding. This would be an idealized (for me anyway), traditional style of binding in many ways, though the class would be limited to two or three days of in-class time, depending on which option the Board of the SFCB voted to approve. Lucky for me, they approved the longer three-day version, and the class was held two weekends ago, over the holiday weekend to allow those who travel from long distances to take the class in three successive days.

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This binding included lining the boards, sewing on four raised cords, using loose guards, ploughing, sprinking the edges, sewing silk endbands, lacing the boards through twice, and of course covering the spine in specially-pared leather. We also did some blind tooling around the raised bands for a traditional look.

Quarter Leather Binding x6

These were all of our books at the end of the class! Everyone survived, and I think we all had a good time, too.

Life has been full; I look forward to more fun on Book Island!

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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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This is my job.

Yesterday and today, I have been working on a special project: making lifting knives for my Intro to Book Repair  students. I have to make seven of them, which is twice as many knives as I have ever made at once, and seven times as many as I have ever made of one type. It takes a long time to make even one good knife by hand, so it’s a fair job for me. I began by visiting Noisebridge, a local hacker space which also happens to have a wood shop, to use their bench grinder to grind the high-carbon Sheffield steel blanks down to the right shape. A few of the young computer guys would come in and chat with me from time to time about what I was doing, and I got a lot of raised eyebrows. It turned out one of the guys who keeps up the wood shop is from Madison, so we got to talk about how much we miss a good cheese curd. Two other dudes came in to use the router in order to make a slit drum, and there was a lady making phoenix stencils and painting and sanding pieces of wood. Meanwhile, outside the wood shop, Noisebridge is having its weekly 10 minutes of fame event, where people share what they like to do. The place is packed! I heart SF.

The blanks having been shaped, I progressed to the actual sharpening process. We learned to make our own knives when I was at North Bennet Street School, as I have mentioned in this blog before. Although that process was painful, frustrating, and time-consuming, filled with lots of whining, crying, and the sharing of disturbing nightmares among my fellow students (Mark, I’m so sorry we put you through all that!), now I feel totally confident when dealing with anything knife-related, from small hand tools to board shears and guillotines. Since then and now, I have had a lot of time to think about steel, its uses, types, and qualities, and observe the tools I see in the field. I can appreciate the extreme hardness of the steel we use for our bookbinding tools. I have experienced tools that hold their edges and tools that don’t.

In any case, now I use a combination of Jeff Peachey’s sharpening system, a dry system which uses disposable sheets of progressively-smaller grit microabrasive papers, and my good old Japanese water stones from school.

The 6000 grit water stone with nigura stone in the foreground. Finishing strop is to the right, and three knife blanks at the back (with my own lifting knife in its sheath on top).

The 6000 grit water stone with nigura stone in the foreground. Finishing strop is to the right, and three knife blanks at the back (with my own lifting knife in its sheath on top).

Although the adhesive-backed papers are really easy to use, and much cleaner than the water stones, I used the water stones to create the edges on my seven students’ lifting knives.

From left to right: a Hewit paring knife I use as a blank; two right-handed lifting knives after being sharpened on a Peachey slab of 80-micron sandpaper, left-handed knife after same.

From left to right: a Hewit paring knife I use as a blank; two right-handed lifting knives after being sharpened on a Peachey slab of 80-micron sandpaper, left-handed knife after same.

The cleanup is worth it when you make multiple knives, and I try in general to stay away from disposable stuff unless the convenience really makes a difference. Well, the water stones really came through for me today, and though the knives are all a little irregularly- shaped, I am really happy with the bevel angle and the fact that they’re all sharp enough to shave. Ready for a class full of eager future book conservators!

It's shaving! You can see here the hair on the bevel. Game on, bookbinders!

It’s shaving! You can see here the hair on the bevel. Game on, bookbinders!

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Modern Shop Talk

The bookbinder’s trade has evolved in a rather solitary way these days, at least in North America. It hasn’t always been such. Depending on the size and region of the shop, there would be enough workers to support a division of labor into separate departments such as folding, sewing, forwarding, finishing, paper beating, paper sizing, ploughing, and edge treatment. Binders in European seventeenth century encyclopediae and manuals show jolly shops with generally cheerful workers all doing his or her own part. (For more on those, see Mirjam Foot, Bookbinders at Work, Oak Knoll 2006.) Even as late as 1906, we see the roster of the Doves Bindery in this photo, happy together and probably fresh off one of their lunchtime croquet matches. (If you made books as finely as the Doves, one might say you’d earned your afternoon croquet.)

Doves personnel

By comparison, this oft-published etching of Roger Payne from 1800 shows what happens when a bookbinder works alone in a garret for too long, though Payne took the status and skill level of bookbinding much farther than anyone working in the trade at the time.

rogerus payne

Is there some kind of line to be drawn between happy bookbinders working in concert with one another and unhappy, solitary, dark souls, hammering out reading material fit for the bookshelves of a king? I don’t think it’s quite that simple these days; however, one thing I do know is that it’s great to get together with other bookbinders and swap horror stories, tall tales of glory, and of course, just a sliver of plain old-fashioned gossip. Some might call this “shop talk”, but since no bookbinder I know works in anything similar to what is known as a “shop”, perhaps we can call it kvetching? Venting? Or just the modern bookbinding version of shop talk.

My old friend and compatriot in bookbinding from Chicago, Karen Hanmer, visited San Francisco for a few days in October to teach her brilliant way of doing things, and I was ultralucky enough to host this Famous Bookbinder while she taught here. Karen’s formal training in bookbinding is from the American Academy of Bookbinding, but my immense respect for her stems from the fact that experience is her guide, and she is constantly working and trying new techniques and binding styles. The space race of the 1950s, the early history of computers, and midwestern prairie imagery figure heavily in her work, and I must confess some envy of her quirky creative perspective. She and her husband travel by train almost everywhere they go, and they’ve taken some pretty neat trips together.

I also like Karen’s unpretentiousness, her humility about her own work, her uncompromising work ethic, and her desire to learn something from every project regardless of how well it turns out. Over the years I have seen Karen’s work evolve and her focus change and change again, and it is fascinating to me how dynamic the field of bookbinding seems when I think about the range of projects she has taken on. Typically I am not a “content guy”, as some have noted– rather more interested in technique and structure, but Karen’s creative work inspires me to devote more time and energy to design, color, and maybe even one day, content. That is one quality of a great friend– he or she likes you as you are, but will also draw you outside your comfort zone and encourage you, either literally or by example, to try new things. When we both lived in Chicago, we would show each other our worst binding mistakes, the most embarrassing boo-boos or bad design choices, and we assuaged each others’ guilty feelings as only the best friends do. Will do better next time and keep soldiering on.

While Karen was here, we didn’t have too overmuch time for hanging out– she taught classes over four full days, mostly to full groups of ten students. It is exhausting to be on stage all that time for anyone, and I also had to work each day she was here except Saturday.  We would eat dinner together and pretty much pass out just after! On her last day here in San Francisco, we went to see the mural by Diego Rivera at City College. It’s something I’ve always meant to do, but never devoted the time to doing it, and it was amazing. It’s remarkable that the mural is open to the public, viewable anytime the theater is open (11-4 Tuesday through Saturday). There was a student docent (history major, no less!) sitting near the mural to answer questions about it, and he was really helpful and informative.

Thanks for visiting, Karen! I’ll miss you! And thanks to Hand Bookbinders of California and the San Francisco Center for the Book for arranging for Karen to teach here.

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New Work, New Classes

I am excited to be doing some work for Dana Smith and Steve Macdonald. I’ll be binding a total of 27 copies of their book Sweet Call and Response. I love this work and how the printed imagery combines with embroidered shading, blocks of color, and detail work. They’ve dropped off two giant stacks of raw pages for me to sew and bind into hard covers just today, so I’m about to get cracking at it! I’ve already bound some advance copies for them, and here are some images of those books that are already complete. You can see more of this book, and Dana’s work, here.

Printed cover cloth

Fly fishing with satin stitch edge

Geometric pattern with full moon

Embroidered shading outlines this black and white palm tree

Detail of embroidered edge– you know how I love edge decoration…

Local Interest

Soon another round of Beginning Bookbinding at the San Francisco Center for the Book will begin. As of today, there are only three spots left in this class, which runs on Wednesday evenings in June and July. Beginning Bookbinding is the first half of the certificate program at SFCB, and is structured to provide a hearty, solid foundation in bookbinding, focusing on hand sewn books with hard covers. It is heartening for me to work with such students as I have been extremely lucky to have! It’s been a lot of fun, and much has been learned by all.

Lovely *and* fun

Various styles of books we make in Beginning Bookbinding, all sewn by hand with hard covers

Speaking of classes, I just completed a round of calligraphy classes (as a student!) through the Friends of Calligraphy. Judy Detrick was our amazing instructor for (you guessed it) Book Hand. I love the legible, circular shapes of Book and Foundational hands and their connection to greater developments in the history of the book. I’ve tried to learn Book Hand on my own, reading, absorbing, and practicing for a few years, but nothing compares to personal attention from an extremely skilled practitioner of the craft. My writing is still pretty humble, but much improved, and much easier and enjoyable to practice now that I know some tips from a pro!

Practice, practice, practice… and more practice, and perhaps some. more. practice

However, it is now time for me to, as they used to say, “return to our regularly scheduled programming” (live television broadcasts seem so far removed from me these days, yet ingrained my memory!)… Anyway… back to the books!

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