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This blog post is about a binding that was actually actually completed
in September of last year for the 3rd International
Designer Bookbinders Competition. Given the anonymous nature of the
competition I have waited until now to do a write up about it and
have also held back on posting up anything on social media between
now and the announcement of the prizes (although it was very tempting to do so!).

In
December of last year I was thrilled to find out I was one of the 28
prizewinning binders. There were 194 entries from 31 countries and 74
bindings in total were selected to make up the “Heroic Works”
travelling exhibition. The private view and prize giving took place
on Monday 17th July when I learnt I was one of the
twenty-five “Disinguished Winners”, earning myself a wonderful
little Doric column award with my name engraved onto the top.

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Andrea
Odametey of Germany took first prize with her beautiful paper binding
of “Daedelus and Icarus”. The strips of paper are fixed crossways in two planes and are ordered like the feathers of wings.

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Second prize went to Rachel Ward-Sale of the UK with her wonderful binding of “The Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite”. The design of her binding was inspired by broken Greek pottery and the Japanese technique kintsugi, where precious metals are applied to repair and enhance it. Andrea Odametey’s binding has been given to the Bodleian Library and Rachel Ward-Sale’s to the Getty Collection at Wormsley.

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The
bindings are currently on display in the spacious Blackwell Hall on
the ground floor of The Weston Library, part of
the Bodleian Libraries
at the University of Oxford. It opened to the
public in March 2015 following a three-year transformation, the
refurbishment turned the 1930′s Grade II listed building into both a
world class research library and a new visitor space with exhibition
galleries, a lecture theatre, a cafe and shop.

The
theme of the competition was, “Myths, Heroes and Legends”, a wide
and open field from which to choose a text. I searched online for a
text block that would fit the brief and settled upon
a 1909 Hodder and Stoughton publication of “The Fables of Æsop”,
with wonderful illustrations by Edward J. Detmold.

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I
have a particular penchant for nature, especially birds, so this book felt like
a natural choice for me given the number of bird and animal related fables.
Given the three dimensional nature of a book, and therefore the different
possibilities for decoration, it gave me scope to select a variety of
the fables and illustrate each separately on different parts of the
binding.

It so happened that at the time of working on this binding I was living in Queens Park in London and at the annual “Queens Park Day” there was an Eagle and Vulture display team, Eagle Heights, there doing a show – we came within centimetres of some of the most awe-inspiring birds of prey in the world! What better place to do a bit of feather-related research…

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The
first task was to chose the fables I wanted to illustrate and where they were all going to be placed, listed as
follows:

________________________________________________________________

‘THE
OAK AND THE REEDS’ – The box

A
very large Oak was uprooted by the wind, and thrown across a stream.
It fell among some Reeds, which it thus addressed: ‘I wonder how you,
who are so light and weak, are not entirely crushed by these strong
winds.’ They replied, ‘You fight and contend with the wind, and
consequently you are destroyed; while we on the contrary bend before
the least breath of air, and therefore remain unbroken, and escape.’
– Stoop to conquer.


‘THE
EAGLE AND THE ARROW’ – Front cover

An
Eagle sat on a lofty rock, watching the movements of a Hare, whom he
sought to make his prey. An archer who saw him from a place of
concealment, took an accurate aim, and wounded him mortally. The
Eagle gave one look at the arrow that had entered his heart, and saw
in that single glance that its feathers had been furnished by
himself. ‘It is a double grief to me,’ he exclaimed, ‘that I should
perish by an arrow feathered from my own wings.’
– A consciousness
of misfortunes arising from a man’s own misconduct aggravates their
bitterness.


‘THE
HEN AND THE GOLDEN EGGS’ –  The 3D hen atop of the
front book edge and the front doublure

A
Cottager and his wife had a Hen, which laid every day a golden egg.
They supposed that it must contain a great lump of gold in its
inside, and killed it in order that they might get it, when to their
surprise they found that the Hen differed in no respect from their
other hens. The foolish pair, thus hoping to become rich all at once,
deprived themselves of the gain of which they were day by day
assured.


‘THE
FISHERMAN AND THE LITTLE FISH’ – The edge
decoration and the front and back endpapers

A
Fisherman who lived on the produce of his nets, one day caught a
single small fish as the result of his day’s labour. The fish,
panting convulsively, thus entreated for his life: ‘Oh Sir, what good
can I be to you, and how little am I worth? I am not yet come to my
full size. Pray spare my life, and put me back into the sea. I shall
soon become a large fish, fit for the tables of the rich; and then
you can catch me again, and make a handsome profit of me.’ The
Fisherman replied, ‘I should indeed be a very simple fellow, if, for
the chance of a greater uncertain profit, I were to forego my present
certain gain.’


‘THE
SWALLOW AND THE CROW’ – The 3D crow and swallow
atop of the back book edge and the back doublure

The
Swallow and the Crow had a contention about their plumage. The crow
put and end to the dispute by saying: ‘Your feathers are all very
well in the spring, but mine protect me against the winter.’
– Fine
weather friends are not worth much.


‘THE
ANT AND THE DOVE’ – The back cover

An
Ant went to the bank of a river to quench its thirst, and, being
carried away by the rush of the stream, was on the point of being
drowned. A Dove, sitting on a tree overhanging the water, plucked a
leaf, and let it fall into the stream close to her. The Ant, climbing
on to it, floated in safety to the bank. Shortly afterwards a
birdcatcher came and stood under the tree, and laid his lime-twigs
for the Dove, which sat in the branches. The Ant, perceiving his
design, stung him in the foot. He suddenly threw down the twigs, and
thereupon made the Dove take wing.
– The grateful heart will
always find opportunities to show its gratitude.

________________________________________________________________

Once
I had worked out the design I set about pulling the book. The
original text block contained numerous illustrations from drawings by Edward J. Detmold plus
23 original tipped-in colour plates.

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Unfortunately
the plates had been tipped onto a paper that had quite badly
deteriorated over time through fading, and the edges had had a lot of
wear. I therefore decided to carefully remove the images from these
pages, pressed each of them flat, and sourced a new paper on which to re-mount them. 

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The
best match I could find colour and weight-wise was 312
Dark Green Hahnemuhle Bugra Butten paper
from
John Purcell Paper.
 As
I knew I wanted to decorate the edges of the text block, rather than
tipping in the colour plates before re-binding, instead I tipped in
waste sheets to compensate for their thickness. I also made sure the
waste sheets were the same size as the book‘s pages so that they would span
right to the edges of the text block in order to have a level edge to aid me
when doing the edge decoration. These were to be removed at the end
and replaced with the colour plates.

In
the process of pulling the book I realised it was going to be
necessary to repair the spine folds of the sections where the
original sewing holes had been as they were quite large and
vulnerable. I did this using Japanese tissue (dyed to the same shade as the paper of the pages) and paste.

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I chose to use the endpapers to illustrate the fable of “The Fisherman and the Little Fish” and wanted to print a net onto them. I inked up the net using some black lithographic ink and a roller, then laid it onto paper and pressed it hard in the nipping press.

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In order to get the net printed in exactly the correct place on the page so that it could run around the book edge continuously from the front to the back I had to carefully map out where to print it. I made a paper frame upon which I could stick the netting to in order to print it in the right place on the page.

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Once inked up, the page was laid within the frame and the whole thing was pressed in a nipping press.

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The printed pages were left to dry for a few days and were then made up into the endpapers. Before laminating these with a folded sheet I cut out a small fish and backed it with gold leaf, to illustrate “The Little Fish” in the fable. The sections were then individually pressed before being sewn onto 4 tapes using a link stitch.

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The book was squared up and placed between boards under a weight and the spine edge was glued with PVA.

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Once dry, the shoulders were marked onto the outer edge of the text block and placed between backing boards. The spine was rounded and backed before being glued up and lined with linen between the tapes.

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I was then able to sand the three edges flat in preparation for the edge decoration. Firstly I clamped the book tight in a press and made up a template for the top edge which I tacked in place with a couple of small pieces of masking tape.

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Through small holes I had pierced out of the template I was able to pencil in the joins of the net. I then removed the template and inked in the net using a fine nibbed pen.

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Given it was hard to accurately print the net on the front and back endpapers exactly in the correct place it was necessary to slightly elongate the netting across the spine to match. I started by drawing guide lines in with pencil and worked out the spacing manually. I then inked in the lines.

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The end result was quite satisfying…

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For the headbands I worked with black and cream thread, working them in a pattern to continue the grid of the net on the top edge.

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Before lacing on the boards It was necessary for me to fix three metal tubes into the board edges. These were in order to insert some three dimensional characters into the board edges – a part of the overall final design. Firstly I cut some channels into the core of the board using a jeweller’s piercing saw.

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I then encapsulated some square profile metal rod into the channels by laminating watercolour paper each side.

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A hole was drilled down the centre of the square rod in order to fit a 1mm gauge pin which would later be topped with some carved figures. The edge of the board was then sanded to a bevel all the way around.

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The boards were then laced on and back-cornered.

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It was then time to work on the leather, starting with the onlays. The leather I used for the onlays was the split/suede side of a variety of coloured skins that I coloured with watered-down white acrylic paint. This gave me the colour and texture I wanted for what was to become the feathers of the two wings on the cover design.

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These onlays were then stuck down in place on the covering leather with PVA through a tracing paper template, first the dove’s wing on the back…

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…then the eagle wing on the front, starting with the larger bottom feathers…

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…building up to the smaller feathers on the top of the wing in a lighter colour.

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Once these were done I was able to back-pare the leather and begin the embroidery process. Firstly I worked on the outlines of each of the individual feathers, pricking the holes first using a needle bodkin. I then used a Holbein stitch that was further whipped around with a thread of the same colour.

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I used a different thread colour for each of the layers.

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I then added the central quill shaft of each feather before adding the linear vanes to each using a couching stitch to tie down the long threads.

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Next I added shorter threads to add a tonal effect on each of the feathers.

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And added further stitches to each of the quill shafts in contrasting coloured threads.

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The reverse of the leather began to take on a life of it’s own too!

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The topmost feathers then got the same treatment.

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Finally, metallic threads were also woven in underneath the stitches of the vanes, copper in colour for the largest great feathers…

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The same method was used for the wing of the dove on the reverse using threads in white, light greys, gold and silver.

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The water ripples on the back cover of the book were first machine sewn using a sewing machine and then they were whipped by hand in a thread of the same colour.

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Finally a “floating” leaf made from gold leaf adhered to Japanese paper was stuck down in the centre of the circular ripples. 

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The body of a black ant was inlaid onto the leaf and the legs sewn on top of it, along with some veins on the leaf.

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Once the embroidery was complete the leather was damped on the front with an atomiser and then paste applied to the back.

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Despite all of the embroidery the leather stayed pretty flat and went down onto the book easily – always a relief!

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A couple of days later, once the paste had dried, it was possible to open up the book boards by dampening the outer joint with water. I could then stick down the leather joints and infill the insides of the boards.

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The front and back endpapers were devised to work with the little three dimensional characters I had designed to sit on the board edges. The same gold leaf on Japanese paper (as used of the leaf on the back cover of the book) was used here. On the back endpaper featured some swallow feathers for “The Swallow and The Crow” fable… 

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…and on the front some golden eggs for the fable of “The Hen and The Golden Eggs”.

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I don’t often title my books but decided on this occasion I would like to title both the book and the chosen fables featured on it. In order to tie each of them into the design I tooled individual letters onto punched circles, firstly onto paper. 

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These were then adhered in place on the endpapers and doublures of the binding using PVA glue and tweezers to place them down correctly.

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I added extra circular “bubbles” in a variety of blues to illustrate the watery sea that the fishing net was in.

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I then did the same for the cover, tooling the titles onto leather circles.

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For “The Eagle and the Arrow” fable, before gluing the title down the circles were placed in position in order to work out the tooling of the arrow heads.

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The gold tooling of the arrow heads could then be done using Moon gold.

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And finally the title of the book was tooled in Moon gold leaf using larger handle letters, on larger circles of leather. These were stuck down on the spine section of the binding, following the curved lines of the water ripples.

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From the onset of working on this binding I knew I wanted to do something to take it to the next level – it was for a competition after all! I decided the way to do this would be to make some small three-dimensional pieces to sit on the boards of the book, but to be removable so as not to be impractical. I decided to carve some birds to illustrate two of the fables that I had chosen to feature on the doublures.

I worked out how large the three birds in question (a hen, swallow and crow) needed to be in scale to one another. I then used some little blocks of tulip wood that were first roughly cut to shape with a junior hacksaw.

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These were then shaped using files and sandpaper until I was happy with the end result.

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Pins were glued into a drilled hole to make the legs. One was left long as this would be the pin that was going to push into the metal tube inserted into the boards. The other was left short enough so that when the wire legs were formed the foot would sit on the top edge of the board to stop it from spinning.

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Paper feathers were cut for each of the birds in the relevant colours, including some feathers cut out of the Japanese paper/gold leaf lamination. 

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The wooden forms were then painted with acrylics ahead of the feathers being stuck to them using PVA. The feet were formed using wire and a spot of glue added to the base of the feet to keep them in place.

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Once all of the feathers were added the beaks were painted and little eyes added.

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With the addition of the three dimensional birds I needed to make a container that would house them in safely both for storage and for travel, given the books were due to tour as part of the exhibition. I devised a box that had an extra section above where the book was going to sit for the birds to sit in. A piece of wood was machined to slide in and out of the top section upon which the birds were to sit on “perches”.

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The box sides were machined from oak with a channel routed into them in which to hold the Diabond lid and base of the box. The Diabond panels were covered in paper to match the look of the endpapers and doublures. A ratchet strap was used to hold the box tight whilst the glue dried and then small brass pins were driven in to hold the corners secure.

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The box was lined with paper and oak spacers added to hold the book snugly in place. A ribbon was attached to aid the lifting of the book out of the box.

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Finally the spacers that were stuck in at the beginning of the binding process were removed and the original colour plates adhered back in place.

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A removable foam cut-out was included in the box to stop the birds from jumping off their perches during travel!

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The book was delivered to Oxford and then the waiting commenced…! 

I am now pleased to share the details of this binding and have now posted it onto my website at the following link:

The Fables of Æsop

I will leave you some photos of the final binding…

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