Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Book Art: Review Special





Book Art Studio Handbook: Techniques and Methods for Binding Books, Creating Albums, Making Boxes and Enclosures, and More

By Stacie Dolin and Amy Lapidow

Quarry Books, 2013

£16.99, paperback



Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing, and Reimagining the Book

By Jason Thompson

Quarry Books, 2010

£16.99, paperback



Book art is having a moment. Perhaps the emergence of the e-book is making crafters appreciate and value physical books more (sometimes in kitsch and unusual ways). Book art can encompass both making books and making things with books. Deconstructing them, as it were.

The idea of books as craft materials used to make me flinch.  But it is true that unsold books are sent to be pulped. And library books are retired. And you just can’t keep everything. So I’m OK with chopping up books for craft purposes now – as long as the book is carefully selected for its expendability – and the end purpose is worthy.

With book art in mind, I am reviewing two craft titles. The first title, Book Art Studio Handbook, is about constructing books (as in bookbinding). The second, Playing with Books, is about using books as a craft material. The first book is just published. Playing with Books came out in 2010. (The companion volume to Playing with Books, Playing with Paper, has recently been published. It is reviewed here.)  Playing with Books has lots of craft book competitors now – it’s a hot topic – but it is one of the best on the subject. 

Book Art Studio Handbook is a primer that covers the fundamentals of hand bookbinding. It is not a title for the casual crafter – it is for the individual who seriously wishes to acquire a new skill. Bookbinding is a very meticulous craft. Spending time with this handbook offers a glimpse into the bookbinder’s world – I feel as if I have attended a weekend bookbinding retreat. 

The authors are both practising bookbinders. They generously share their knowledge including info on tools, terminology, techniques, and tips of the trade. All are covered here – in beautifully photographed step-by-step detail. There are suggestions for setting up a studio space; advice on how to choose materials and calculate paper quantities;  plus techie details on how to sew the textblock and glue the cover. There are also how-tos for making your own renewable tools, like a punching trough and a sewing template.

In addition to the practical bookbinding info, there are some lovely projects (grouped by difficulty), and an attractive gallery section.  In the project section, the Woven Album with clever and colourful Jacob’s Ladder-style binding, and the 5-minute Slipcase, a one-piece origami-style book enclosure stand out. Both have wow-factor.  The Gallery section features variations on featured projects – so it is aimed at extending the reader’s newly-acquired skills.

This is an American title, and the resource section only has U.S. listings. (In the UK, Shepherds Falkiners, 30 Gillingham Street, London SW1V 1HU, is a major bookbinding supplier.)


Playing with Books, as the title suggests, contains a collection of quirky and fun papercrafts made from books. (Here, too, the author is a bookbinder by profession.) All of the projects are doable (with the notable exception of the books shaped by power tools – and here the author provides handmade alternative versions). The projects are beautifully photographed – and have step-by-by step photos where deemed necessary.


There are plenty of really good ideas here. Things that you want to rush out and do – like the postcards from paperback covers, and the retro-style handbag actually made from a book. The child’s matching game is a great idea. It requires two identical picture books. One stays intact. The other is cut up into picture discs, which can be matched to the original.


The author gives instructions for making shaped books. You’ve probably seen these – they are very popular. The book cover is removed, the pages are contour-cut, and the book is fanned out into a circle.  In a similar vein, there’s a handy little Rolodex-style Business Card Holder made from a folded and fanned paperback which has had its cover and spine removed.


Some of the ideas are very familiar territory for papercrafters – like origami kusudama flowers and paper beads. But they look just great  made up in printed pages!


The gallery section at the back of the book is exceptional. The contributors, from around the world, are pushing the envelope where book art is concerned. I have seen the work of one of the featured artists, Su Blackwell, at craft exhibitions. She transforms books into amazing 3-D papercuts that reflect the content. Most of the work in this section exists in the netherworld between fine art and craft. It may not be easily categorized but all of it is amazing food for thought and is very worthwhile.

Book Art: are you a constuctivist or a deconstructionist? 

Note: I was provided with review copies of these titles.