Experiment: book title in tin

A couple of the best castings from yesterday. Much less formal and more uncontained than I envisaged, these initial attempts are encouraging. I need to find a way of casting them thinner or reducing their thickness once cast, maybe by filing (in order to make them lighter and less prominent). This will allow me then to fix them to an inlay on the book cover.

Binding “Letters to a Young Poet”

I recently completed the binding of one of my favourite texts, “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke. Since I read this book last year I have loved the wisdom and beauty of its language and the messages it contains. From first picking it up I knew that I wanted to illustrate it with pinhole photographs. The book was printed on standard 100gsm Conqueror paper in contour finish and using A4 guillotined to A5 short-grain allowed me to print to a page size of A6.

First, the signatures were trimmed and then pierced. As I don’t have a plough I trim the pages as accurately as possible prior to binding to make the edge finish of the pages as smooth as I can manage. The result is usually not completely level but I find the slightly rustic unevenness suits me.


The pierced signatures ready for sewing.

Sewing the signatures.
Sewing frame


Once the signatures are sewn the cover boards and spine are pasted in place. I chose to use a hollow back made from kraft paper rather than a rigid spine. The inlaid section is fully covered by the covering material and pressed down after pasting to make an indented area into which I place the cover illustration (see below).
Hollow back and cover with inlay

The book starts to take shape now. The next step is to paste in the endpapers. I find this part the most difficult as a mistake can write off the whole book. The trimming of the papers needs to absolutely precise as does the application of the paste so that it does not touch the cover material and edges nor the inner pages of the book.
Endpaper materials

Once pasted, pressed and dried, the endpapers really finish the book beautifully.
Finished endpapers

The text pages of the book were laid out using Lyx.
Book open showing text

I chose to bind illustrations into the centre of two of the signatures. The images were printed on a heavier grade paper than the text (Bockingford Inkjet Watercolour double-sided 190gsm). This makes the feel of the page flow slightly uneven when leafing through the book but it was a necessary compromise to allow the images to be reproduced as close as possible to photo quality.
Book open showing photos

The final stage was to paste and press the cover illustration into the inlaid section. Although this method of titling is more fiddly than the simple pasting on of a cover title, I personally like to use it for a couple of reasons: it is more stylish and crafted; and the cover photo is protected from abrasion when rubbing against neighbouring books on the shelf.
Book cover with title photo

Photography.Book.Now symposium

I attended the Blurb symposium last Friday and I have to admit it was not quite what I was expecting. Advertised with the words “You’ll hear working photographers talk about their books, hear industry practitioners discuss how to curate and design books, and learn how to market a successful book.” I did expect something with a slightly more practical, craft-focused angle. Instead we were privileged to hear some very eminent publishers (notably Dewi Lewis and Chris Boot) talk about the state of the photo book world and gain some insights into how they approach the market and manage their own activities. Curiously, none of the speakers was a Blurb user and all of them spoke from the perspective of a “traditional” publisher. It was fascinating to discover that many books run to only 1500 copies and that one which sells 3000 is more or less a bestseller! It is also expected that in pursuing this route, a publisher is likely to require the unknown photographer to inject substantial amounts of their own cash into the £10,000 – £15,000 average cost of publication.

In comparison, the £25- £50 (or thereabout) per copy for creating and publishing one’s own Blurb edition seems positively risk-free. The advantage of the standard publishing method is, of course, that the publisher has a head start in marketing and already has routes into the distribution network of the book trade. Nevertheless, given the stunning quality of the Blurb editions on display last Friday, the self-publishing option is very, very attractive, especially as the print quality problems which have marred its potential until now appear to have been largely dealt with. My first book is shaping up now and I am now getting quite excited about the possibilities that these new technologies present.

Photography book symposium

I have booked my (free) ticket for the PhotographyBookNow symposium in London on Friday 10th October 2008. I’m not sure it is really aimed at hand binding of photo books but it looks fascinating. In any case, as I have had the intention of making of a book using blurb.com for some time now I’m hoping to get some ideas and motivation. If anyone reading this (does anyone read this?) is going too, please drop me a line. It would be great to meet up.

Portfolio binder

I have been experimenting with hand-made folders and bindings for folios of prints. Constructed in the same way as the outer case or binding of a hardback book, such a folder really finishes off the presentation of a collection of artworks beautifully.

My first style is made simply of bookbinder’s board covered in buckram with a printed label pasted to the front. The inner of the folder has foldout edges made from heavy-grade watercolour paper or acid-free sketching paper to prevent the prints from slipping out when the folder is closed. Everything is fixed shut by a ribbon which is inserted and pasted into small slits in the covering material on the front and back. There is no spine to this folder which is perfect for small numbers of prints.

For collections of larger numbers of prints a spine is necessary to prevent the folder from compressing and possibly damaging the contents. This version with a 3/4 inch spine can comfortably hold 15 prints or more on 310gsm paper. The construction shown here is slightly different as I wanted to inlay the title plate. The front cover is made of two boards pasted together, the top one having a window cut out of the same size as the name plate. This inlaid section will hold the title plate and prevent it from standing proud of the surface and being damaged by anything else which it rubs against.

Front cover

Inside the folder

Inlaid title plate

I initially wanted the plate to be a brass etching. However, having spent many hours testing (and failing) some of the many suggestions available on the web for using toner transfer to create an etching mask, I have given up! I would love to pursue this further when time permits but so far I have come no where near the result I envisaged.

Bookbinder’s press and tub

The press and tub is now complete, again following the plans from the Aldren Watson book. i used pine for the tub and some hardwood off-cuts from the local DIY shop for the press. I had some trouble finding the bolts, or rather finding bolts that were threaded full or nearly full length. In the end they came from a local timber merchant where I went to look for hardwoods and spotted them unexpectedly lying on the counter.

It was challenging for somebody of my fairly modest woodworking skills to get the tub exactly square. In fact it isn’t critically square but seems to work well enough. The hole for bolt to pass through in the jaws needs to be a lot larger than expected (my bolts are 10mm and the holes are 12mm/13mm in diameter) otherwise the bolt action is so stiff that the jaws cannot be moved. I was concerned that they would be wobbly but once in place with one side fixed to the tub the action is smooth and perfectly solid.

The jaws using 200mm bolts with the fixed jaw 50mm and the moving jaw 35mm thick give a maximum opening of 100mm which is larger enough for my purposes and should allow for a book of 50mm thickness with room for backing boards.

Tub, press and piercing board
Tub and press with piercing board.

Tub and press side view
Tub and press side view.

Press threaded bolt
Close up of threaded bolt. I cut a groove in the head of the coach bolt with an angle grinder to allow a screwdriver or coin to fully tighten the jaws.

Close up of threaded bolt
Close up of threaded bolt from the back show the inlaid nut held in place with epoxy glue.

Bookbinder’s sewing frame

I’ve just finished the first of my larger bookbinding tools, the sewing frame. It is made of 4 parts.

Sewing frame

First,the cross bar, jigsawed, carved and sanded from a pine offcut.

Second, the uprights comprising two 12″ pieces of 18mm pine dowel drilled eight times each ½” apart to hold two small pieces of whittled dowel which prevent the crossbar from falling when under tension from the tapes.

Sewing frame detail showing pegs which hold up the crossbar

Third, the base which I originally intended to be a nice solid piece of hardwood but as I found this hard to get I used a 10″ x 18″ x ¾” plywood offcut which cost me 30p from a local DIY store. I used a router to cut the channel where the tapes will pass but this could be done – though less cleanly – with a drill and coping saw or the 2-piece method described in the Watson book.

Sewing frame base detail showing routered slot and upright

Finally, we have the wooden dowel mentioned above to hold the crossbar at the correct height and some flat pieces of plywood to act as anchors for the tapes under the base board slot.

The whole assembly will allow the binding of books with a spine of up to 11½” in length and as thick as I can ever imagine a book being!