Growlygracepress's Blog

One sheet at a time.
February 26, 2012, 5:27 pm
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Cheryl sent me this article

My new thought on bookbinding is “books are vessels” they are simple containers, as objects they are required to protect the contents from harm. We achieve this by ensuring that the methods of construction are sound and the materials are the best we can source. And we don’t lie or embellish or talk it up.  I should be “I make books like this, do you want to buy one?”

There is too much trying to keep the client happy, trying to second guess them, when it should be “Do you want me to make this book for you or not?” We are keep saying “YES I CAN” when what is really required is “NO I AM NOT GOING TO DO THAT”

I think what my ideal business model would be I get up in the morning and go to my bench and bind books that people are waiting to buy directly from me ideally I’ll have a long waiting list and I bash out the books and go to my list and contact the names at the top and say “it’s your lucky day your book is ready” and I’ll get a cheque.

All roads lead back to William Morris
February 25, 2012, 3:44 pm
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and that’s never a good place to be.

This “period of exploration” which will last the length of the Designer Bookbinders exhibition which is on show at the central library, and I am seeking to reconcile some of my ideas, approaches, methods of bookbinding. My thinking of how to teach bookbinding techniques to small groups. “Where” I think bookbinding is going.

I also want to use this space to detail how I am publicise my own bookbinding and what is working and whats failing. On this I can state quite categorically that telepathy as a sales technique sucks.

I have now seen the exhibition four times and I am starting to feel a bit queasy it’s like I’ve had too much trifle. Some of my issues are around the presentation and display of the books.

The first thing that strikes you when you see the exhibition is sizes of the books and that is because they are bindings of “private press” books and it’s been taken for granted that this is understood.  The actual books are even more esoteric than the bindings.

We are being asked to judge these books solely on their covers and that’s a bit of a shame because you actually have to have them in your hand, you have to turn them over up and bring them close to your eye, you have to smell them, to breathe them in and listen to the sound they make as you open them.

I think is would have been possible to have a book on display that people could handle and forget that nonsense about wearing white gloves that’s a bit too precious for my liking.

I’ll come back to the exhibition later.

I mentioned the map I was going to get from the Japanese dude, this is a bit about him from wiki

Mingei Theory

The philosophical pillar of mingei is “hand-crafted art of ordinary people” (民衆的な工芸 (minshū-teki-na kōgei?)). Yanagi Sōetsu discovered beauty in everyday ordinary and utilitarian objects created by nameless and unknown craftsmen. According to Yanagi, utilitarian objects made by the common people are “beyond beauty and ugliness”. Below are a few criteria of mingei art and crafts:

  • made by anonymous crafts people
  • produced by hand in quantity
  • inexpensive
  • used by the masses
  • functional in daily life
  • representative of the regions in which they were produced.

Yanagi’s book The Unknown Craftsman has become an influential work since its first release in English in 1972. Yanagi’s book examines the Japanese way of viewing and appreciating art and beauty in everyday crafts, including ceramicslacquertextiles, and woodwork.


I am getting lots of Morris and hints of Ruskin. Bernard Leach is his home boy or it might be the other way around. Whatever. As soon as I got that I realised this is why we get that wave of ugly muesli bowls that are the staple in craft shops up and down the land.

What I am excited about (can you tell?) is this  “representative of the regions in which they were produced”

Before William Morris and his chums came along bookbinding was a trade that pretty much went along the criteria that the dude outlines.  Then things change gradually to the situation we have now. The look but don’t touch books of “designers bookbinders”.

I want a regional bookbinding, how do they produce a Norfolk notebook? why is it done that way in Aberdeen.

I think what I want is a ream of paper, some kraft paper, boards, inks, canvas, leather, linen and a big dose of integrity.

Todays endpapers look like this.

When I get it right.
February 16, 2012, 11:18 am
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I have always been happy that a book I have made for a commission has been to the best of my abilities and that I have committed myself and the materials to make what the client instructs. If it I had a sense of failure I would not take the payment. All my best work is in clients hands.

What I have is a bit slush pile of finished and incomplete books, experiments that were never finished. I whittle them down and bin them every so often. So this process has yielded books that I am naturally selecting because they please me in some way.

The book with the Lindisfarne lettering on it works beautifully and I have held on to it because it I asked for and took advice about how to do the “on-lay” and I followed the advise to the letter! The leather is pared to almost the point of transparency so it looks like paint stroke.

The natural line of the edge of the leather works and the marble paper works.

I should do more of this.

The two little books with no covers were initially made for an artist, I had previously made her books that had big long leather ties on them as a security device at an exhibition and I noticed one day that she had bound the books together with the ties. I decided to make her what I called “umbilical books” that these little books could be connected like twins.

But I liked them so much I kept them and I like them because with out there leather they look great, functional and industrial.

I should do more of this.

I did actually. The book with the flower on is partly a response to seeing the arty farty books at the Designer Bookbinders exhibition, it’s me having a bash at graphics rather than type and it’s all rightish but I couldn’t eat a whole one.

Whats good about it is that the binding method, for a “ledger” that book is neat, sweet and petite.

I make big fearsome books they could be used as weapons.

I need to do more like this.

And Soetsu Yanagi (go look him up) is going to give me a map.


Can we get more corporate.
February 7, 2012, 9:35 am
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All things considered my favourite client is the corporate one preferably with a PA. I like the detachment that the PA brings to the commission. Her boss wants a book, she gets me to make the book, I make the book she gets me a cheque. It’s my favourite transaction every one wins and a nice book gets made.

Consider the humble visitors book. The client (preferably the PA) should think where the book is displayed and what would induce the visitor to write in it. Obviously they want to see who’s written in it, or what they have drawn in it. If you get artists drawing in your visitors books that going to be interesting.

This book was called a “contact book” the idea being that people would leave their details in it and it kinda worked although I think the creative types like to hand out there lovely letter pressed business cards.

Whatever, I know I would like more corporate clients and I going to go and list down ten ways I am going to get them.

I gather up my ammunition.
February 6, 2012, 10:59 am
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I think that if you care about a discipline you will obtain guides to construct the maps you need to deepen your understanding of the terrain. This journey is not for sissies. Go to your bookshelf’s and you will be able to pull the books out that you are going to grab if the house catches fire. Same goes for tools. There would be no dithering it’s this, this, this and this. Because you just “know”

These are the books that I reckon I should do better to honour.

The Threads that Bind : Interviews with Private Practice Bookbinders. Pamela Train Leutz.

Every so often a book comes along on bookbinding and it should just be required to buy it if you feel you can call your self a bookbinder. The hard work and sacrifices that people have made to the development and practice of craft is laid out in these pages.

Creating Sketchbooks for Embroiders and Textile Artists. Kay Greenlees.

There is a veritable industry out there churning out collections of sketchbooks pages which I believe seek only to undermine and cause deep fear and anxiety in the unfortunate who seeks to have a pretty sketch book. This one is good I can go through this book without feeling threatened and it instills a sense of possibility rather than panic.

Bookbinding. Arthur W Johnson

The classic “how to” Every so often I think “How would Arthur do it?” It’s going to have the answer.

Fine Bookbinding a technical Guide Jen Lindsay

A future classic. I love it and fear it at the same time. Revolutionary and reactionary at the same time.

It finds me wanting.

Creative Pencil Drawing. Paul Hogarth

Just lovely, as good as pudding.

Drawing Projects an exploration of the language of drawings. Mick Maslen and Jack Southern.

I have just acquired this and this is like advanced theoretical psychics except it’s drawing! It’s a first-rate book that demands attention. The writing is illuminating.

The Painted Inscriptions of David Jones : Nicolete Gray.

If the house was in fire and I had to choice between a t-shirt and this book I am going to running around naked in the street with this book strategically placed about my person. Doing justice to this book requires Sister Wendy discipline. I need religious chops, the work is that spiritual.  I am prepared to examine my inevitable failure with this book and I will try to remember to be kind to me.



In which I make a shocking admission.
February 3, 2012, 3:25 pm
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I don’t use my own books. Every day I stand at my bench and I write out my list and I use a sheet of paper usually it’s this really funky graph paper for the past couple of months it’s been scrap bits of the 300 gms 50% cotton because it is beautiful.

It is very rarely a book I have bound myself. Usually I’ll make a “bench book” and I will have a “go at it” and it may last a week or two then I exile it to the shelf and get back together with dirty loose leaf paper.

Here’s the kicker : Why should I expect people to buy these books when I am not fully committed to using them myself? Good question Well presented.

I think what is at the heart of this issue is that I am up writing a “to do list” and not the great american novel. It’s all:  “make curry, take the dog out, clean the press, think about block, take the dog out again, put boards on hare, puppy, star, foal, sparrow, piglet, and cloud. (this is how I name books when I am making them it’s a bit twee but it’s better than numbers and letters)

Writing is what other people do.

In this period of experiment, which ends on the first of April, I am going to write in a proper book that I have made for the purpose and it’s not going just lists of tasks which I have scored out.

I am going to fill the book with ideas, colours, diagrams, notes, commonplace, drawings, and stuff. It will all be about bookbinding and experimenting.

The book I made to do this is long and narrow I hate the metric series of paper sizes I am going to go back to Victorian foolscap sizes. The book fully covered in brown goatskin that has marks and blemishes on it (it’s going to get more) the end papers are bonkers and to make it extra handsome I have given it 11 raised bands on the spine because I wanted to.

I have to go and walk the dog then go to Boots now.

Getting better at bookbinding or die trying.
February 1, 2012, 2:34 pm
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Last week I attended the “Designer Bookbinder” exhibition at Newcastle Central Library, I came back really excited by the books and immediately went to my bench got some paper started folding then sewing.

The next morning I looked at the book and was filled with a sinking feeling. I was not creating a book that would contain all my new inspired ideas. I was making was a book that would encompass all my failings as a binder. The book would be a trade-off and a compromise. This book would suck.

Between now and April 1st I am going to make significant improvements in my bookbinding practice. I am going to use this space to record what I am doing. I am going to find measurable ways that I have changed my bookbinding and I am going to prove it.

When I was going blah blah blah at the students a couple of weeks back I was droning on about “integrity” and when I pulled the paper on top of the bench to make my new wonder book “integrity” flew out the window, what I was about to start to do is “bodging”

I don’t want to bodge anymore.

The major clue that the book I making was doomed to failure was that I had not made a note, a plan or a design. Somehow I figured that I could somehow extrapolate what I had seen at the exhibition and somehow transmit my intentions via my fat hands!

This is not going to be a grim exercise in self recrimination it’s going to be a blast and I might even get better at spelling.