This copy of ‘The Bicycle Diaries’, is the second of two bindings I have done for this text block and it was sent off to its new owner back in November of 2020. This brown leather version was for the illustrator of the book, Gaylord Schanilec who owns the private press called Midnight Paper Sales Press. The first copy, covered in maroon goatskin, I completed at the very beginning of 2014 for the Designer Bookbinders exhibition, InsideOUT.
Inside OUT celebrated the art and craft of contemporary bookbinding and printing. It was an exhibition of sixty-five contemporary bookbindings from thirty-four UK-based and twenty-five North American binders. Four British and five North American private presses supplied a total of twenty-eight different texts.
The four UK presses that participated were; Incline Press, The Old School Press, The Old Stile Press and The Whittington Press; and the five from North America; Arion Press, Barbarian Press, Midnight Paper Sales/Gaylord Schanilec, Shanty Bay Press and the Lone Oak Press. The exhibition opened at the St Bride Foundation on 15th May 2014 and then toured venues in the USA through into 2015.
I have always loved the woodcut prints done by Gaylord Schanilec at the Midnight Paper Sales Press, so for me that was my first choice when selecting which text to bind. I had seen some of the woodcut prints Gaylord had done for the Bicycle Diaries when they were on show at The Schneideman Gallery in London a few years before and loved them and I had also previously bound a copy of his publication, ‘Mayflies from the Driftless Region’.
I selected the text at the end of 2012 and began the first binding a year later. By chance it just so happened that I was in New York very shortly before I started to work on the first binding, perfect timing given the book is set in the city. It is a very personal account that documents the process of one New Yorker, among 19 million, dealing with the World Trade Center tragedy: from the initial shock through the process of returning to some sense of normalcy. More detailed information about the book can be read on The Midnight Paper Sales website.
As the first binding was made a long time ago, this second copy had been on my “to do” list for a very long while and sat dormant in my plan chest for much longer than I had intended. I made the endpapers for both books at the same time so they were ready to go, plus the book had been forwarded and was ready to be covered. I had even cut out and stuck down the onlays and pared the leather so the only thing that was holding me back was the embroidery! Earlier in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic struck so I set myself the task to complete this binding, given we couldn’t go out anywhere it seemed like the perfect opportunity to attempt to finish it.
As with all of my bindings, I create sample boards to test out ideas. In this case, I had made two sample boards – one for the first maroon binding and the other that I have just finished covered in dark brown goatskin. These sample boards are numbers 25 and 26 in my collection and measure approximately 125mm tall by 75mm wide. The cover design of the book shows a bike chained to a lamppost on a New York Street, with three pigeons wandering around on the pavement (or should I say ‘sidewalk’?!). I chose two different, but overlapping, sections of the design so that they could be laid together to create a larger sample image of the whole binding design.
I printed tyre tracks on the endpapers and doublures using the “soft-plate offset” printing method. Unfortunately I couldn’t track down any photos of me actually doing this at the time so I will try and explain the process instead!
Offset printing is a common printing technique in which the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to the printing surface. The “soft plate” refers to the fact that the printing plate is made of paper, in this case I created a black and white image of tyre tracks that were photocopied a number of times onto printer paper to form the plates. It is important to remember that all printed images are in reverse!
The paper plates had a layer of Gum Arabic applied to them using cotton wool, leaving them to completely dry for at least an hour after application. The Gum Arabic acts as a resist for when the ink is applied at the next stage as it sticks well to the white parts of the paper but not well to the black printed parts. Once dry, the paper plate was inked up using a roller and black traditional oil-based relief ink. Due to the application of the Gum Arabic onto the paper plate, the ink wouldn’t adhere to the white parts of the plate.
Next, the paper plate was put into a large tray of water and eased under the surface of the water using the end of a knitting needle. As the Gum Arabic dissolves in water the ink lifts off the printing plate from the white areas where the Gum Arabic stuck and floats to the surface of the water bath. The plate is left in the water for a few minutes and is then lifted out by one edge so that the water can run off it. The final stage in the preparation of the plate is wiping any excess ink off using a scrap of wool cloth – the wool attracts the oily ink and helps to remove it from the surface of the plate.
Once all of these stages have taken place the paper plate is placed onto a piece of paper (in this case a Zerkall Ingres laid paper in pale blue) and then pressed hard in a nipping press in between boards and a thin layer of foam. The press was released, the print taken out and was hung up to dry on a washing line for a number of days.
I love the way that the soft-plate off-set printing method leaves little “extra” bits of ink on the surface of the print, some of these I embroidered around with cotton threads to match those on the leather cover to add a splash of colour. They were also tooled with gold foil using hand-made finishing tools, as can be seen in the below image of the sample board doublure.
The cover leather was pared on all edges using my Brockman paring machine to a thickness of 0.4mm. It was pared to this thickness so that when the edges of the leather are turned around the boards they are the same thickness as the watercolour paper used for the infill. Thin leather onlays were cut out and stuck to the surface of the leather and back-pared and then I added a wash of acrylic paint over some areas of the design, for example on the green lamp post and the wheel cog.
The leather was then embroidered using a variety of colours of cotton threads, along with metallic threads
A similar colour palette of threads was used on both the first maroon leather binding and the latest brown leather one. Once all the embroidery was done the leather was pasted out and stuck to the book block and left to dry overnight.
I decided to make the key feature of the design the bike spokes, which on the first binding were made using fine gold wire which I passed through holes that were drilled in the boards. For the second bindings I used fine black wire. I laid a tracing paper template on top of the covered book and pricked though with a bodkin where I need to drill holes for the bicycle spoke wire to go through.
The holes were drilled with a very fine 0.5mm drill bit in my Dremel at each of the points marked by the bodkin. I had to be very careful not to catch the embroidery stitches with the drill bit whilst making the holes.
The black wire was cut into short lengths and bent at a ninety degree angle where it needed to pass through the drilled holes in the board.
I built up each spoke in turn, some holes had to take two or even three wires through them.
The bike chain was made by drilling a series of holes, through which a thin piece of thread was passed to tether down a thicker piece of great embroidery thread. I added detail to this thick grey thread using a fine permanent marker pen to give it more of an appearance of a chain.
The reverse of the front board, pictured below, was prepped for the infills. Small “channels” were cut into the board that the ends of the black wire could be bent into, I stuck a small piece of masking tape over these whilst working on the other wires so they stayed in place and didn’t get caught.
The extra holes that you can see in the picture below, were drilled at the points where the black wires overlapped on the bicycle spokes, these were tethered down with black thread to stop them moving around too much on the front cover of the final binding.
On both bindings I added two gold-plated pieces of brass to the covers to represent nuts on the bike. They were made by rounding off the end of a piece of brass rod and then cutting this rounded slice off the end of the rod with a jeweller’s piercing saw. The flat backs of the brass pieces were sanded level and they were then soldered onto a piece of brass wire in order to create a mechanical way to fix these piece to the book cover rather than gluing them on. I then had these professionally polished and plated with gold.
Holes were drilled through the boards so that the wire back of the metal pieces could be passed through the boards. The wire “tail” of the piece was then bent into a channel cut into sth reverse of the board.
The first binding I did for this book was contained in a mahogany box, the box for the second binding was made from African Padauk wood. Padauk wood originates from West Africa and is rich orange red in colour, moderating and darkening with age to a deep red brown. It is medium to coarse in texture and very stable.
The box was lined using off cuts of the printed endpapers, cut into strips and glued inside the box using PVA glue.
I made a title for the box by piercing out the title font and backing it with gold leaf. This was done on another off-cut for the printed endpapers and I attached this label to the lid of the box by drilling small holes aournf the outside and sewing it on.
The box was lined with green felt and a ribbon was attached to the box to aid the book to be lifted out of the box.
I pierced a bicycle track out from the front endpaper, and stuck down gold leaf on the coloured page behind which was then visible through the cut holes. To me, the gold track signifies the movement of the bike that the book is based around.