Book binding

Getting over your creative funk in bookbinding

After having made over 30-40 books by hand, you might begin to feel as if you’re just doing more of the same thing. This has certainly been true in my case – I experimented with various types of binding methods at the beginning when I started learning bookbinding, and soon narrowed down on case binding and soft bound leather binding as my two preferred binding methods. After that, most of the journals I’ve made have been using these two methods, with some variations in size, paper, spine, etc.

Creativity and bookbinding

It’s not fun to keep making the same thing over and over again. Each of us has a strong desire to want to continue to learn and grow. In the case of bookbinding, it’s possible to feel a bit “stuck”, once you know the basics of various binding methods. You might feel that there’s not much else left to learn.

This is not true. Bookbinding is one of those art forms where once you know the basics, it’s time to grow both as an artist, as well as a craftsperson. Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful to continuing to grow in this craft:

  1. Trying new cover materials for your books: I personally find the cover material of my book, one of the most important aspects of what will eventually determine the aesthetic appeal of my book. I’ve made books that were reasonable from a binding standpoint, but did not please the eye as much because the cover material could have been better.

Finding new, unique and different kinds of cover materials can be one of the most fun parts of bookbinding. For example – I really like using leather for my books, and prefer using scrap leather to minimize the negative impact on the environment. And yet, there are so many different types of leather that you can use. There’s veg tanned leather which is much better for the environment, and also has a much nicer finish. There’s cow hide which is thicker, and goat skin which is more pliable. There are all kinds of colors you can choose from.

Different types of leather work better with different types of bindings. A hard bound notebook will typically work better with leather that is thinner or has been pared on edges, so that it folds easily over the edges of your book board. A soft bound leather journal on the other hand will work better with much thicker leather. As you practice, you will begin to develop a taste for what type of material works better for you, depending upon the binding method that you’re using.

I’ve also bought vintage leather goods from antique goods stores to source leather for my books. The unique stitches, patina and patterns on this leather (aka reclaimed leather), can be adapted to create interesting patterns on your books, and give them a bit more of a personality. Using reclaimed leather is a good way to reduce the environmental impact too. Here are some ideas on how you can use old materials in your bookbinding process.

You can go beyond leather when choose your cover material. You can use various types of beautiful, printed book cloth. You can use wood to cover your book. You can use stone to cover your book too! I found this “saree journal” shop on Etsy, that uses the traditional Indian saree to cover journals, that I thought was quite clever and creative 🙂

Trying different materials will also force you to learn how to work with that material. For eg: You cannot just cover a book leather. You need to learn how different types of leather are suited for different types of bindings, you need to learn how to pare it, how to stamp it, how to cut it. I can only imagine how hard but fun it might be if you tried to cover your book with wood or stone.

2. Trying different treatments for your book’s spine: The spine is again a place where you can experiment with how it should look. You can keep it simple, or add raised cords on the spine, or add patterns to the spine. In my case, learning how to add raised cords to the spine took me a really long time to figure out, but it was well worth the effort.

3. Learn to make some of the materials that you use when binding books: Bookbinding exposes you to a lot of different kinds of materials and tools. What if you could make some of them yourself, instead of buying them? For eg: You can learn to make your own paper, your own marbled paper patterns, your own book cloth, even your own glue! You can think of bookbinding as a gateway to introduce you to other and equally interesting sister crafts!

4. Trying different kinds of paper for your books: I haven’t explored paper a lot yet, but I can only imagines the huge number of possibilities that you can explore here. From thickness, to texture, to color to finish, there are lots of permutations and combinations to try out.

5. Go beyond perfecting your craft, to thinking of your book as an art form: I hope I can get to this stage some day. Instead of thinking of your book as merely a functional product, can you think of a book as a canvas to tell a story? How can a book’s binding be used to instill certain emotions, to convey an idea? A few hundred years ago when books were still precious, treasure binding was a real and true art form.

Amongst everything I’ve listed above, I’ve found the cover to be the area where I’ve gravitated the most when trying to think of something new to make. Whenever you find yourself in a creative funk, go to an art store, or an art gallery, or a craft store, and try to surround yourself with lots of different types of materials and textures. I find that this always helps me feel inspired and think of new ideas. I hope it works for you too!

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