Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bookbinding Part I: Simple Accordion and Pamphlet Books

Financial Investment: $-$$
Time Commitment: T-TT
Space Requirement: 0
Skills Required: none

After learning how to letterpress text or artwork that I might want to bind in a book, the next step was to learn how to make a book.  So I signed up for the Bookbinding I class with Shanna Yarbrough at The Center for Book Arts (read my review of CBA here).  This time I took a series of 10 classes held on Tuesday nights from 6:30 – 9:30 pm. The class taught how to make several types of books, including accordion, pamphlet, modified case, French flat back case, and English rounded back case.   Because each type of book is very different and has varying levels of complexity, I’ve broken up the review for bookbinding into two parts: one for the simpler accordion and pamphlet books and one for the more complex “case” books.  This entry will discuss accordion and pamphlet books.

The first class taught accordion books.  If you have ever made a paper fan, you can make an accordion book.  Because this type of book is relatively easy to make, much of our class time focused on understanding the different types of paper, grain direction of paper, proper methods for folding and cutting, and appropriate adhesives to use.  One of the most important lessons we learned was that no matter what type of paper you use, make sure the covering, binder board (think chip board if you do any scrapbooking or paper crafts), and text block (pages of the book) are in the same grain direction to prevent bowed or misshapen books.  After learning the key techniques, we made an accordion text block with paper-covered backing boards.

During the second class, we learned about different types of pamphlet books.  Pamphlets, as you might imagine, are the simple books made from stacking a few sheets of paper and folding them in half.  The folded edge serves as the spine, which is sewn to keep the pages together (trust me, anyone could do this minimal amount of sewing).  What distinguishes one pamphlet from the next is the way the cover for the pamphlet is made.  You can skip the adhesives by simply making a paper cover that is long enough on both ends to wrap around the first and last pages of the text block, and sew it on when you sew the pages together.  Or you can make the paper cover longer on the back cover side, trim it to look like an envelope flap, wrap it around the closed book, and tuck it into a slit cut on the front cover.  

We covered our pamphlets with backing boards, i.e., made it a hardback.  We used one big piece of bookcloth and glued two pieces of binder board on with enough space in between for the spine.  Then we lined the inside of the covers with decorative paper. 

Below are pictures of both the pamphlet (left) and accordion (right) books that I made:

As you can see, accordions and pamphlets are relatively simple to make and don’t require a lot of materials, time, or space.  Unlike some crafts where you are required to use special materials, the cost of materials depends completely on the types of materials that you select.   You don’t have to buy many special tools, and you can use inexpensive materials for a simple book or use more expensive materials to make an elaborate book.  You also have considerable control over the amount of time you want to invest in the project.  For example, if you are pressed for time, you can make a paper cover instead of a hard cover.  These projects are great for busy people because there are easy stopping points, allowing you to work for short increments of time, such as 30 minutes to an hour.  Overall, I made each book during one 3-hour class, which also included a lot of instructing time.  As for the amount of space required for making these books, the size of your average kitchen table is sufficient.

After learning how to make a pamphlet book, I used my newly acquired skills to make invitations to a party I threw for my husband to celebrate his birthday and election to the partnership of his law firm.  Because of my busy schedule, I couldn’t make all 75 of the invitations I needed at one time.  I was, however, able to assemble the unique, personalized invitation in stages.  And it was all done on the “island” in our kitchen.  Below are pictures of the invitation:

Stay tuned . . . my next review will cover the more complex bookbinding techniques.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Letterpress Printing

Financial Investment: $$$$
Time Commitment: TTTT
Space Requirement: OOOO
Skills Required: if you want to do anything other than text, some graphic design or drawing ability (i.e., you have to be able to create what you want to print)

Letterpress printing is an old style of printing that was used mainly from the mid-15th century until the 19th century.   Today, it is mainly used in high-end stationery, such as invitations and business cards.  You would recognize it for the distinct impression made in the paper by the image or text, which is created by protruding text or images that are inked and then pressed into the paper with pressure.  Printing is done with the help of large presses, such as a Vandercook, which is a cylinder proof press, or treadle platen presses, though tabletop platen presses are available.

I took the Letterpress I – Contemporary Letterpress Weekend Workshop with Amber McMillan at The Center for Book Arts.  If you know me, you won’t be surprised to hear that the first art I chose to learn seemed to be the most complicated and most expensive.  The class lasted 6 hours each Saturday and Sunday for three consecutive weekends and cost $540 for members and $565 for non-members.  The class taught how to use both the Vandercook and platen presses, hand set type, prepare a digital image to be sent out for polymer plate processing, process a plate by hand, and of course, print.

Hand setting type is the painstaking process of laying out each letter (known as “type”) and every space of your project by hand.  Once you determine what text you want to print and how you want to lay it out, you have to pick each of the letters of type and place them in something called a composing stick.  This can be quite tricky, as the letters get placed upside down and backwards.  One time I mistakenly placed a “u” in the place of an “n.”  After printing it, I had to undo my setup, fix the letter, and redo the setup.  

Below is an excerpt from “The Fountainhead” that I printed using metal type:

As a contrast, below is a date I printed using large wood type:

We were also given the opportunity to create a modern polymer plate to print our own design.  However, since I had no drawing, graphic design, or other “artistic” background, I simply made a business card for my sister to learn the process and compare it to hand-setting type.  In a nutshell, we had to create a digital image, such as a PDF, to submit to a company that would produce the polymer plate.  Below is a picture of the polymer plate and the text of the business card that was printed using the plate (I purposely blurred personal info here):

Next, we created our own printing plate by hand.  To do this, we took digital images (I used a picture taken at my wedding, but some scanned drawings they had created), changed them to black and white images if a color image was used, increased the contrast, inversed the color, and printed them on a transparency film using an ordinary office laser printer.  The films were then used to expose the polymer plate in a light box so that the parts corresponding to the black portions of the film could be washed away, while the white (clear on the transparency) portions would remain.  The polymer that remained was inked on the press and produced a print of the original black and white image. 

Below are the original picture, the high contrast black and white inverse image, and a side-by-side of the print and the plate:

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the class, but as you can see, letterpress printing is not for the faint of heart.  It requires numerous steps, which means a lot of places where things can go wrong, expensive materials and equipment, and huge time commitment (set-up and cleaning alone can take over one hour).  Although the class may seem pricey, I believe it is well worth the 36 hours of class time, use of the equipment, and the materials, which included polymer plates, paper, and ink.

On a final note, I really liked Amber as a teacher.  She’s very mild-mannered and clearly knows her art.  Although we were all new to letterpress printing, she stressed the importance of quality results and perfecting the printed image.  She has her own letterpress and design business (Post Editions).  I’m sure that her clients are happy with her attention to detail.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Center For Book Arts

When it came time for me to decide what class to start with first, I couldn’t help but think of when my husband and I planned our wedding.  With help from my sister (check out her craft blog at Gardner’s Basket), we put a lot of time and effort in designing all the details, including creating our own stationery.  We had printed our invitations on regular laser printers, so I thought about being able to learn the skills to make invitations that you find at high-end stationery stores.  After spending quite some time on the internet learning about the different types of stationery, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to learn about letterpress printing.  After another round of searches, I came upon The Center For Book Arts (CBA).

CBA is a not-for-profit organization that is dedicated to – you guessed it – the book arts.  The book arts include everything related to bookmaking: bookbinding, letterpress printing, papermaking, and other associated arts such as calligraphy and box making.  CBA is a great facility – it’s an art gallery, bindery, printshop, education facility, and book arts community center.  It’s really a resource for anyone (artist, novice, or admirer) interested in the book arts.  I feel lucky to have it in my neighborhood, and I never even knew it existed before my internet search!

Since my day (and sometimes night and weekend) job is being a lawyer, I needed flexibility on when classes are offered.  Fortunately, CBA has weekday, weeknight, and weekend classes.  The price for classes starts at $150 for a one-day (6-hour) weekend class and go up from there.  Members ($50 for annual membership) receive discounts on classes and events.  All materials are included except for basic hand tools (like scalpels and bone folders).  For convenience, CBA offers a kit containing all the basic bookbinding tools for $38. 

If you think you may be interested in the book arts but don’t want to pay a lot for a class, CBA offers several events for a suggested admission fee of $10 for non-members.  The first is the Book Arts Lounge, which is a hands-on workshop held the first Friday evening of the month and features some of the arts that are taught as full-length classes.  The second event is the Professional Development Workshop, which offers advice for artists on topics such as finances and tax preparation, portfolio consultations, and social networking/advertising.  Other events include Artist Talks, Center Broadsides Reading Series (usually poetry), and last, but certainly not least, the annual Holiday Fair and Party.  I’ve never left the Fair empty-handed and have bought several gifts others have enjoyed. 

The bottom line: CBA has something for everyone.  Even if you don’t want to take a class or attend the special events, I recommend dropping by to take in the current exhibit in the gallery (free admission).  You may change your mind!

The Center For Book Arts
28 West 27th Street, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10001
(212) 481-0295

Pros:  wide variety of classes and events for all levels of interest and availability
Cons:  full-length classes are a little pricey due to the time and equipment required

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Welcome to Patently Crafty!

I grew up in a very “crafty” environment.  From my early tween years, I spent my weekends helping my stepmother with her craft business and attending various craft shows on the Eastern Shore.  During the summers, my sister and I would visit my aunt and uncle in Virginia, where we would inevitably take a trip to the local craft store to pick out a “20 minute project” that ended up taking the whole week to complete.  As I got older, I even ventured to make my own jewelry to sell in my stepmother’s booth at the craft fairs.  But then I went away to college, moved to DC to be a microbiologist at NIH, and attended law school to become a patent attorney.  There was little time for crafting.

As a patent attorney now living in New York, I work with scientists every day to learn about their new pharmaceutical inventions.  But I missed having an outlet for my creativity.  My husband, therefore, encouraged me to take advantage of all the artistic opportunities that the city has to offer.  So, I ventured out into The City That Never Sleeps to rekindle my former crafting life.  

It immediately became clear that the options for arts and crafts classes were limitless, and I started taking a variety of them at different venues.  However, with so many options, it occurred to me that busy people like myself might want to do something creative but would not know what they would enjoy or where to go to learn how to do it.  It would be great to have one source where people could go to read about the options and quickly determine whether it would be something that they would want to try.

This blog will review both the art/craft and the teaching venue to become a source for those wanting to explore a new art or craft hobby.  To review the art/craft, I’ll consider the financial investment (scale of $ - $$$$), the time commitment (scale of T - TTTT), the space requirements (scale of O - OOOO), and any special skills that are required.  Since I will be expanding my craft repertoire, I will be providing most reviews from an introductory perspective.  As for the venue, I’ll describe the atmosphere, instruction method, costs, other interesting points, and a summary of the pros and cons.  Although most of the venues will be in New York City, I will try to take classes in some of the national craft stores. 

I hope you come back to learn about all that the arts and crafts world has to offer and decide to take a class or two.  You’ll be amazed at the satisfaction that you will feel when you complete your first project and the pride that you will have when you receive your first compliment!  If you do try one of the arts or crafts discussed in this blog and/or know of a place in your area that you would recommend for lessons, please feel free to share in the comments.