Friday, January 4, 2013

Always the Same: Rules of Bookmaking

We are pattern-seekers. The calendar rolls over for the new year, but we notice that some things don't change. Gravity, for one. Step sock-footed into a puddle and your foot gets wet, for another. In Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf, I read this phrase:
As an infant…[we]…learned that some visual features (mother's face, and father's) don't change. They are invariant patterns.… (92)
So, it seems, we start out as visual learners. The book includes a chapter on dyslexia and how some people learn differently, particularly how they may use the more visual, right sides of their brains to help solve usually left-side-oriented tasks like reading.
From the start…children search for invariant features when they try to learn something new. (92)
If this is a basic human function, perhaps adults look for these patterns when learning something new as well. I began to wonder if "invariant patterns" might be useful in teaching bookmaking. If, from the beginning, students learn what is fixed, it is possible they could create their own work more easily. Certain outcomes are always the same. Perhaps we can create "book faces" that become familiar and that students can continue to recognize.

What, then, might these invariant patterns, or rules, be? What might these "book faces" look like? Here are some features regarding The Properties of Paper, Adhesives, Thread, Materials, Structures, and Function.

  • Folding and tearing paper with the grain is easier (and makes a better and cleaner fold) than folding or tearing against the grain.
  • Most tapes will become brittle, lose their adhesive properties, and leave a residue on paper over time. Only self-adhesive linen tape is archival, holds its tack, and does not yellow.
  • Glue stick doesn't stick indefinitely.
  • PVA dries quickly and is not repositionable.
  • Homemade wheat paste will only last 1-2 weeks if it is kept in the refrigerator (on the longer side if you add a little PVA to it).
  • Photographic paper is best mounted with rub-on adhesive or put in corners, slits, or pocket frames. PVA will warp. Spray mount will lose its tack.
  • Aleene's tacky glue will hold nonporous items (like metal or plastic) on paper or board.
  • A sewn book will eventually come apart if the thread used stretches or breaks easily.
  • Acrylic paint will make book pages stick together. Acrylic inks, if not allowed to pool, won't.
  • Thin papers and cloth must be backed with a strong paper (such as mulberry paper) so the boards and glue don't show through.
  • For clean holes, you must wait until the covering material dries before you drill into boards. Drilling into damp boards will leave ragged holes.
  • Pages do not open completely with a side binding.
  • Pages do open completely with a Coptic binding.
  • Accordion-folded books are best for display.
  • Making a smaller book is faster and less expensive than making a larger one.
  • For a book with signatures, holes are always poked along the fold.
  • If a book will have multiple signatures, chances are you will need to know the kettle stitch.
  • For a hardcover book to open and hinge properly, the measurement between the spine board and each of the cover boards should be 3 board thicknesses (the thickness of 3 of the cover boards, whatever you use) 
  • If you put one word on each page your reader will have to work to remember what came before.
This unchanging list of features is only the beginning. Teaching, as usual, is a work in progress. And the students' learning styles always vary. It will be interesting to see if highlighting the rules as a group will help students learn in the classroom. Or, perhaps a set of activities can be developed so that they can teach each other. Perhaps knowing what is fixed can release new creative energy.

(Related post: "Active Learning: Students Are Not Sponges").


Velma Bolyard said...

here's one: when demonstrating handpapermaking to a group of middle schoolers, one boy will be up front and will be cocky, showing off and challenging me. when i say some "japanese papermakers say that pulp should be so pure it's pure enough to eat". that kid, always a boy, will say "can i eat it?" fully expecting me to say "no!" and when i say of course, he's then obligated by all the rules of tweenness to save face and eat a bit. not one child has been lost. (i do this with abaca or a botanical pulp-NOT recycled paper pulp).

Christine Linton said...

It's when we understand the "rules", e.g. Pages do open completely with a Coptic binding, that we can extend outwards from there into experimentation.

Shirley said...

I love your list!

As an amateur bookbinder, I've been following the rule that you leave 1 1/2 binder board thicknesses between the front cover and spine and another 1 1/2 between the spine and back cover.

Can you tell me more about leaving 3 thicknesses?

Ersi Marina Samara said...

This is a nice list of essentials, thanks!

Knowing what is fixed can become a solid ground where to stand securely and, from that feeling of security, venture further to explore and experiment.

Monica said...

I have an issue with archival. How long is it and at the rate that people seem to alter books etc is it necessary. An attitude related to my reaching 70 this year, and feeling archived, antiquated and waiting for the last train.

Samantha Lane said...

Hi Alisa, thanks for this post. I bought your book, which led me to your blog. I'm a high school teacher (English), part-time artist and a beginner book-maker. I bound my first book the other day - inspired by your book - it was pretty terrible but it should hold together for a while! I think I used long-stitch and I admit I was too impatient to try a blank book first. I've turned it into a sketchbook for The 2013 Sketchbook Project! I'm not bothered that it's not perfect, though in future I will look to improve! These tips are great, especially the tips about adhesives. People just don't tell you these things until you've been working at your craft for months or years and you're thinking, why didn't you tell me this when I started? You know? I just have one question - about tearing with the grain. How do you know where the grain is, no matter what type of paper it is? And if you're going for the torn edges look, you're going to have to go against the grain for two side of the paper, aren't you? Hopefully these are not stupid questions. PS. I love your work! Especially the little felt pieces in boxes with little books - and the shelf under the lid is genius. I'm not sure what it is - the promise of secrets revealed, or what - but I love those sorts of things.

Miriam said...

I've just purchased your Painted Paper book, and I'm ready to try your techniques. But, I was wondering what the difference is between acrylic inks and fluid acrylics. You mentioned in this post that acrylic paint is sticky. Will this be same for (Golden) fluid acrylics? I also love your Making Handmade Books! Thanks :)

Alisa said...

Wow, folks! All these comments came in at once. I'm going to try to answer them all.
Velma: That's hilarious. Love the story.

Christine & Ersi: Absolutely, I agree.

Shirley: I think you are thinking of the amount of space you leave when cutting the corners, because 1 1/2 thicknesses are correct for that. Are your books opening okay with 1 1/2 thicknesses between spine and boards? I'm guessing they don't open all the way. Another possibility is that you are using bristol for the spine piece, which would mean you could get by with less of a gap.

Monica: I understand what you are saying, and it is really up to you. My feeling is that if I'm going to spend the time to make a book by hand, I don't want it to fall apart. This is particularly important since I sell my work. A buyer expects the work to live on. If you don't sell your work and you don't mind that it might turn brittle in a year (tape and newspaper) or years (other papers and some materials), then it is really personal preference. Also, if you are making the work to photocopy or scan then you can use absolutely anything since the longevity of the original is not important. Many of those altered books are not going to look very good over time and may need a conservator's hand, eventually.

Samantha: I do describe paper grain and how to find it in the book, but I'll try to give a quick summary. The best way to see how the grain works is take a piece of newspaper and tear it one way, then tear it the other. The straighter edge is with the grain. All machine made papers have a grain. You can't see it, but you can practice gently folding it to be able to feel when it resists your touch and when it doesn't. And it is perfectly fine to tear against the grain for a nice torn edge. Just tear against a heavy ruler.

Miriam: I've been working with the inks for about 15 years and found them to be best. I haven't really explored the liquid acrylics for any length of time, but I know they should also be applied thinly or watered down a little since they are thicker than the inks. If that's all you have, it would be worth experimenting, anyway.

Good luck to all!