Thursday, May 18, 2023

Boxes of all kinds

Books and BoxesAt our group meeting yesterday, Joe Landry spoke to us about various box structures and presented a wide variety of samples from his collection.

Master bookbinder, Joe Landry, has been binding books since he was a little boy, seated at the bench in his uncle's bindery in Halifax. Joe received his formal training in England at the London College of Printing. Upon graduation, Joe studied conservation of rare books and manuscripts at West Dean College, University of Sussex, where he apprenticed with noted book and paper conservator Chris Clarkson. At Montefiascone, Italy, Joe taught conservation to students from all over the world. Since 1999, Joe has taught hundreds of students at NSCAD University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He has produced books for film and television, and has made regular appearances on the acclaimed History Network series, The Curse of Oak Island, to offer advice and expertise on book-related matters. Joe has had some very prestigious clients, including King Charles III, and examples of Joe's work are held in a number of collections internationally.

Joe showed us over twenty different box structures and book enclosures. These examples included many that he'd made as well as numerous historic examples that he has collected over the years. Joe shared his experiences working with and constructing various styles of protective enclosures and how they are used in library and conservation settings. Thank you Joe, for your knowledge, your time, and your stories!

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

The Douglas Cockerell collection

The Nova Scotia Book Arts Group had a wonderful opportunity yesterday to view the Douglas Cockerell collection of books that are held at Dalhousie University's Killam Library.

Douglas Cockerell Fine BindingsSpecial Collections librarian, Karen Smith, introduced the collection by telling us about Cockerell's life and how the books came to be housed in this library. The short version of the story is that a friend of Cockerell's, William Morse, who lived in Nova Scotia, purchased these books from Cockerell and then later donated them to Dalhousie University. There is an online exhibit with photographs of each of Cockerell's fine bindings and information about Cockerell's life and work, available here for a closer look: Dalhousie Libraries Digital Exhibits.

Karen was kind enough to pull all of these books for us to see firsthand. Of course, complementing the fine leather bindings and elaborate gold tooling are several examples of beautiful Cockerell marbled papers.
Cockerell Marbled Paper
Morse also purchased Cockerell's collection of historic bindings and these were also donated to Dalhousie University. This includes several historic bindings and are actually some of the oldest items owned by Dalhousie University. There are some wooden board bindings in alum tawed leather, wooden bindings in leather with lots of hardware like clasps and metal bosses, a bible that belonged to King James, other books with fore edge painting and other types of edge decoration, etc. These are books that Cockerell had collected for teaching and studying and also to practice conservation treatments.
Douglas Cockerell historic binding collection
Our thanks to Karen Smith and library staff for this rare opportunity to see these books up close.

Monday, May 1, 2023

NSBAG Book Swap 2023

The Nova Scotia Book Arts Group is hosting a handbound book swap! Brown Paper Packages
  • What is a handbound book swap?
    Make a book, bring it to the meeting, and swap it for a book made by someone else.
  • Who can participate?
    Anyone who is, or wants to be, involved with NSBAG. All bookbinding skill levels are welcomed and encouraged to participate, but of course participation is entirely optional.
  • When will the swap take place?
    We will swap the books at our November meeting (exact date to be determined).
  • What kind of book should you make?
    It should be a blank book with height and width dimensions somewhere in the 5" to 9" range (14cm to 24cm). You can utilize whatever bookbinding techniques you like and make something that you'd be proud to share! Please include a colophon or a note with your name and details about the binding techniques and the materials used.
  • How will the swapping be done?
    The books will be swapped randomly and blindly with the other swap participants. Bring your book to the meeting in November. Everyone who brings a book will get a different book to take home. Please wrap your book in brown paper or put it in a bag before you come. The books will be numbered and then participants will draw numbers and take the corresponding package. Imagine the suspense!

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Artists' Books at the Mary E. Black Gallery

Mary E Black GalleryThe Embodied Press: Queer Abstraction and the Artists' Book, is a retrospective exhibit of artists' books, currently on display at the Mary E. Black Gallery in Halifax. Curated by Anthea Black, the exhibit features the work of 14 artists with works spanning over 45 years, from the 1970s to present day. The 14 featured artists are: Nadine Bariteau, Joshua Beckman, Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Edie Fake, Tatana Kellner, Kate Laster, Emily McVarish, Heidi Neilson, Lyman Piersma, Pati Scobey, Miller & Shellabarger, Stan Shellabarger, Nicholas Shick, Clarissa Sligh.

This exhibit features "artists' books and publications by queer and transgender artists, from graphic novels and collage-works to bold experiments with letterpress, screenprinting, video, performance, and risograph." Curator Anthea Black, a Canadian artist and writer who is an Assistant Professor at California College of the Arts, recently gave an artist's talk at NSCAD about the exhibition, where they posed the question: "So what happens when a book object (or a body) 'frustrates legibility' or becomes difficult to read? It must be felt. Held in our hands. Absorbed."

The artists' books on display are absorbing, but unfortunately, they cannot be felt or handled. Many are protected under plexiglass cases. The majority of the works are strongly focused on content. Form seems to follows content. It's as though structure is an afterthought. That being said, there is an integration of content, structure, and message.

Nicholas Shick - RadiateThe precision of these well-constructed artists' books is impressive. They consist mainly of editions versus one-of-a-kind creations. Nicholas Shick's series of 9 books entitled Radiate, is pure eye candy with each volume being a series of shades of one rainbow colour. Bound using the drum leaf technique and letterpress printed on Mohawk superfine paper stock, the books are displayed with all the pages fanned out and is a visual magnet.

Also on display are a few zines (which are saddle-stitched) and Untitled Hand Book (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6), by Miller & Shellabarger, one of which is labelled as "case binding" but is constructed using a Japanese stab binding (tortoise shell pattern). The other letterpress books in this edition have pages printed in brown, pale blue and gold jewel tones that positively shimmer. It is the content, not the structure, that dazzles us. The pages entice the viewer to caress and touch.

Kate Laster - Yearbook Photo MissingLamination is used for a few books and these books in particular challenge our notion of book structure. Kate Laster's Yearbook Photo Missing consists of multi-coloured, laminated tinsel (that resembles ribbons) and found photos. However, it is the backs of the photos, each of which are each inscribed (and resemble cue cards), which face the viewer, not the photo image. And there is more transparent plastic than there is content. Blank paper pages in book construction are rarely questioned. Then why are pages that are made of transparent plastic so unsettling?

Other distinctive laminated paper cut accordion fold books by Kate Laster include Waiting Game - Bookfair, an oversized four panel "pamphlet" (standing about 20 inches in height) that is reminiscent of Papel Picado, Mexican cut-out paper art. Kate Laster - Road Map AccordionHowever, Kate Lester’s approach is not solely using cut-out patterns and graphics as Mexicans do, but Laster has substituted stylized letters of varying sizes that hint of folk art. The cut-out stencils get their power from seeing right through them. Laster also riffs on this form in Roadmap Accordion, where the book is laid out on the display table (like a road map) and the cut-out stencils get their power from the shadows created from the strong beam of light overhead. In this case, the message is amplified by the light and is ephemeral, like the material.

There is An Ocean by Joshua Saul Beckman is an 18-panel accordion fold book with six horizontal zig-zag lines of blue and grey thread that run continuously and precisely for the entire length of the book. The lines appear to have been machine-sewn without ripping the paper. Joshua Saul Beckman - There is an OceanStan Shellabarger has three accordion fold books on display, each of varying lengths, whose panels feature a series of swirly dots set against white and pale blue backgrounds, with solid dark blue front and back cover panels. The dots give this otherwise static display a fanciful sense of movement. Random dots are also used in Heidi Neilson's Atlas of Punctuation (letterpress in case binding), which only features periods. While the dots may appear randomly placed on the page, one is left wondering are they simply punctuation place holders for the text that has been completely removed.

As Anthea Black notes, "Artists in The Embodied Press make important visual and material choices in their use of printing techniques, sequencing, and manipulation or absence of text... These ideas find great resonance in the artists' book field as it radically expands the ways books can be produced, read, and understood as a form of culture."

The Mary E. Black Gallery is run by Centre for Craft Nova Scotia and is located at 1061 Marginal Road, Halifax, beside Pier 21. This exhibit runs until Sunday May 7, 2023.
Review by Charles Salmon

Friday, March 17, 2023

A Collection of Handmade Books

Rhonda Miller has accumulated a collection of over 80 handbound books and artists' books, made by nearly as many bookbinders and book artists around the world. For our March meeing, Rhonda brought most of this collection for the group to examine and discuss.

Her collection was acquired through a variety of book swaps over several years. Rhonda has participanted in many different types of swaps and she disucssed the different formats that she had participated in and how this had been a great way to build a varied collection for studying and teaching. The collection includes handbound books in a wide range of styles and structures utlizing many different materials and techniques, both familiar and unfamiliar, common and uncommon.

Blank books make up a substantial part of the collection, some of which can be seen here in the first two photographs. Most of these swaps occured between 2007 and 2012. Some of the swaps were documented on her bookbinding blog at the time, where there are also pictures of a few of the many books that she made and sent out to others.

Other swaps were more focused on content-driven books and artists' books, including numerous miniatures from an edition exchange, most of which can be seen here.
Later this year, the Nova Scotia Book Arts group is planning to host a blank book swap within the group. More details about how to participate will be shared soon.

Update: Check here for more details about our book swap.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

Making Small Bookbinding Weights

This week, NSBAG had its first meeting of 2023. At this meeting we undertook a group project to make ourselves some small bookbinding weights! Here's the result:
bookbinding weights
For anyone who has spent time around seasoned bookbinders, you've maybe heard how they made their small weights by filling boxes with their old lead type or some discarded lead shot that they found in a shed. That's great, but what to do if you don't have a ready supply of old lead?

You can purchase lead, of course, although it is quite expensive. You can also buy small weights, ready-made, so that's certainly an option. But, if you just want to make a couple of small weights without spending a lot of money, there are other possibilities. Definitely check around your home and see if you have any small, heavy items that could be used, such as steel ball bearings or heavy bolts, nails, etc, that could be used to fill up a small box.

Here's how we did it.

We started by making a small box with book board. These are the dimensions we used, in inches.
Assemble the box, using PVA glue, leaving the top of the box open, of course.
For our weight-making project, we had a few chunks of lead but not enough to fill all the boxes. So we put the chunks of lead in the box and then filled the rest of the space with aquarium gravel.

Then, to really fill it up, we poured glue in as well.

When you're satisfied with what's inside the box, attach the lid. Then it's helpful to place a weight on top of the box and let the glue dry for a while.

We covered our weights with a durable, starch-filled book cloth. There are various approaches to covering a box and all are acceptable here. We prepared the covering as a single piece like this:
Glue the cloth to one side of the box and rub it down firmly. Then work your way around the box, gluing one side at a time, firmly rubbing the cloth each time to remove any air bubbles. Let that dry for a while and then your finshed weight is ready to use.
Certainly, the beauty of making your own small weights, is that you can make them whatever size you find useful or whatever shape best suits the heavy object(s) inside.

It was lovely to see everyone who came out for the meeting this week. See you next time!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

What I did on my summer vacation: Medieval Bookbinding Boot Camp

A big thank-you to NSBAG members who made it out to the Central Library on a cold, November night to hear about Jim Croft's Old Ways medieval bookbinding boot camp and sit through 70 slides of vacation snaps and my judiciously documented "medieval face".  I think we can all agree that this vision of loveliness was worth the price of admission.  

Who has the better medieval face?

It was a pleasure to talk about my off-grid, off-line bookbinding adventures with you and I am happy to expound on my experience further to anyone who will listen.  Feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions or you'd like to hear more, especially if you are thinking you might like to attend Jim's workshop one summer.  It was a transformational experience.

As promised, here is a link to Jim and Melody's Old Ways, though if you would like to contact them, it is best to reach them by phone.  And here are a handful of links, some from participants in previous years, to give you more information about making things by hand in the wilds of Idaho: 

Looking forward to getting together again in the new year for making our own book weights.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Nocturne "Legacy": printing, collage, and origami

Nocturne, Halifax's October contemporary arts festival, is now in its 15th year. This year's theme of "Legacy," featured installations of particular interest to book and paper arts enthusiasts.

Outside the Dawson Print Shop on the Granville Mall, Katherine Taylor, a NSCAD book arts and letterpress instructor, was running a "hands on" demonstration of a table top printing press. This family-friendly exhibit let people experience making a colour pressure print. Based on Ms. Taylor's Ukrainian legacy, she had the word "Family" carved using Cyrillic letters, into a lino block. It was then printed on a base print of an intricate flower pattern, reminiscent of paper filigree. The chipboard base print pressure plate was cut using a Cricut machine, which can reproduce and cut most paper material and almost any pattern that is uploaded to a computer. The design possibilities for cards, posters, end plates and text blocks is virtually limitless.

The Legacy theme continued over at Inkwell letterpress studio on South Park Street, with another interactive print/paper activity. Billed as "Mind your Ps and Qs," prints of common English language phrases originating from the print industry, were created on a 1921 cast iron printing press that uses carbon negative ink made from algae. Like the Dawson Print shop, each participant went home with a print.

On Lower Water Street, the Halifax Collage Collective created a large, paper-based mural collage. Participants were asked to comb through paper-based materials and ephemera like old magazines, journals, drawings, printed material, etc., and select items that they felt contributed to their personal legacy. Using scissors, glue and drawing materials, a paper-based collage was created that encouraged participants to reflect on their personal legacy.

At the Chase Gallery (located in the NS Archives, on the Dalhousie University campus), a group show based on identity called "I Am What I Am," featured works using materials ranging from acrylic, paint and fabric to metal, found objects and paper mâché. Among those featured, was Miya Turnbull, a Japanese Canadian artist living in Nova Scotia whose art practice is informed by Japanese paper work. Among Ms. Turnbull's works was a series of Origami Self Portraits (of crane, frog, heart, box and butterfly) created from colour photographic prints incorporating the artist's eyes and lips. This original approach in utilizing deconstructed facial features in origami was both mesmerizing and unsettling.

While Nocturne is over, "I Am What I Am" continues until Oct. 29th, 2022.
Miya Turnbull origami self portraits

Review by Charles Salmon

Friday, September 30, 2022

First NSBAG Meeting, Sept. 29

The first meeting of the Nova Scotia Book Arts Group was a lovely success last night. We enjoyed meeting everyone and learning about their backgrounds. The range of participants was broad, from medievalists to modern book artists and hobbyists. We heard from a classically trained bookbinder, an expert on Japanese paper, a librarian who works with medieval manuscripts, visual artists and sculptors, an online book reviewer, and letterpress and marbling enthusiasts. Many of the attendees brought items to share for the show-and-tell component, including a variety of handmade books and boxes, artist's books, marbled papers, handmade papers, some interesting tools, and a pop-up book. Thanks to everyone who came and shared their passion for the book arts.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Welcome to the Nova Scotia Book Arts Group

The Nova Scotia Book Arts Group has recently come together with the intention of establishing a local, active, and connected community of book and paper arts enthusiasts and practitioners. Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, we invite folks in this area and across the province, to get in touch with us if you would like to be involved and we will add you to our email mailing list. We will post more information and meeting details on this blog regularly so you can also check back here to stay informed.

We intend to have regular meetings in Halifax and we have a variety of programming ideas that we're excited to share with the local book arts community. For example, our meetings will include some guest speakers, demonstrations, book arts projects, book swaps, etc. A schedule for the upcoming months will be announced soon. We look forward to having more folks involved and gathering your input for future programming.

Who is invited?
Any local book arts practitioner or enthusiast.

What are book arts?
A category of art forms that include traditional skills such as bookbinding, papermaking, paper marbling, letterpress printing, and newer methods of artmaking inspired by the form and function of books. 

Who are the inaugural organizing members?

Rhonda Miller, Stephanie Morley, Marilynn Rudi, and Charles Salmon.