Saturday, 22 December 2012

Season's Greetings

It's that time in December when anything in the bindery that is not finished now won't get wrapped up until next year.
This week's image is of multiple copies of BEMBindery's 2012 Christmas card. The card features a photograph of Curtains, a work that gave me great pleasure in the making. Its components parts have been posted around the world to their new owners and the card is a satisfying reminder of the work's brief existence.
I'm now going to take a break for a few weeks to spend time with family, get in some bushwalking and sea kayaking and just lie on the beach for a bit. I hope to be back towards the end of January.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Booked and Bound - 3

Just back from a few weeks out bush in time to wrap up the 'Booked and Bound' postings before Christmas. This one is to a design by Dee Carrington that she calls her 'Tags and Pockets' book. Although the materials used are a little too 'floral' for my male liking, I found the structure intriguing and would like to explore it further at some stage. The spine consists of a series of dowels with each signature (the plain green bits in the photo at left) wrapped around and attached to one of these dowels. The dowels are then joined by the use of wrap around pieces (the narrow patterned bands in the photo) that each attach to two consecutive signatures. The whole is then held in place by cords interlaced around the dowels at the head and tail of the book. It was by far the most complicated of the books on offer at the Mogo weekend and I must say that I was impressed not only with Dee's ability to conceive a work of such complexity but also to teach it to others.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Booked and Bound - 2

This is the second of the three books that I made at the recent Mogo weekend. It's an 'industrial' book to a design by local artist Amanda Williams, who coordinated the weekend and ran a number of the workshops. What I particularly like about this book is the treatment of the cover boards. The boards have been covered with 0.15mm aluminium shim, which was distressed by beating with a texture hammer. Alcohol based ink was then applied to the beaten shim with a felt pad. When the ink was dry, the shim surface was rubbed back with steel wool, leaving a satin finish to the shim and ink residue in the beaten indentations. It's a stunning effect and one that I can imagine using again for the right book. The aluminium shim (available in six colours) came from a Spanish company called Artools.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Booked and Bound

Last weekend I travelled (with 44 other book artists) to Mogo on the NSW South Coast for Booked and Bound, the region's inaugural book making and paper craft festival. Sixteen workshops on eleven different binding styles were offered over the three days of the festival. The workshops were held in one large space, which made for a fairly exciting dynamic as people drifted between workshops to check on what others were doing. Working at a fairly frenetic pace, I was able to produce three books over the weekend. The first of these (above) was an oriental skewer book that made use of some wonderful Chiyogami and Basil papers. As is often the way with such workshops, the design decisions had already been made and the materials pre-cut so I can't claim too much credit for the work - this should rightly go to local fibre artist, bookbinder and print maker Keedah Throssell, who ran the workshop.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Australian Bookbinders' Exhibition

I was in Sydney a few days ago for the opening of the fifteenth annual Australian Bookbinders' Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW - a great catch-up with fellow binders and a chance to look at their latest work. The exhibition is very much about displaying the technical skills of the fine binder through contemporary design bindings. This year's exhibition features the work of twenty Australian and overseas binders and includes two of my own books - one of the pieces from the Curtains installation and The Book of Ampersands (above). The latter was imagined as the field notebook of a typographer out collecting ampersands. Bound in the French Simplified style and covered with various skivers, it contains the ampersands from 223 different fonts.
The exhibition runs until 14 December. Details can be found here.

Monday, 29 October 2012

It's Curtains

Curtains, my second work for BookArtObject Edition 4, is done! It is a reflection on the nature of BookArtObject, shaped by four questions I set myself at the start of the project:
1. The logistics (and cost) of posting parcels around the world means that BAO works are mostly small in size. Is this inevitable or is it possible to produce a larger scaled work?
2. The splitting of a large number of BAO artists into sub-groups means that the work produced is mostly shared only with the others in the sub-group. Is it possible to produce a work that is equally accessible to all?
3. One of the defining features of Sarah Bodman's An Exercise for Kurt Johannessen (the starting point for Edition 4) was its ephemeral nature - it ceased to exist almost as soon as it was created. Should (and if so how should) this be acknowledged?
4. Editioning can be tedious. Is there a way of making the end point seem more than the satisfactory execution of a multitude of repetitive tasks?
The result is an installation that existed for the time it took for a record to be made of its existence. Its component parts are now in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, the United Kingdom and the United States.
More photographs can be found here.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Gathering

In November 2011, around seventy bookbinders gathered in Canberra for three days to share their work, wit, tips, techniques and ideas. The event was a great success and a few months later the conference notes arrived in sheet form - beautifully prepared on quality stock, with thin sections, generous margins and the paper grain running in the right direction! With my second BAO4 edition now out of the way, it's time for a new project and I've decided that it should be a fine binding of these notes. The afternoon has been spent trimming the sheets and folding and assembling the sections. The next task is to settle on a design. No decisions made at this stage except that I will probably use one of the lush hand made Tibetan papers (above) that I picked up from US binder and conservator Jim Canary at the event. Watch this space!

Friday, 19 October 2012

Handwritten Handbound

Spent a few days this week helping bump-in an exhibition that opened last night at Belconnen Arts Centre - a fabulous lakeside venue in Canberra's north. The exhibition is a mix of works by local bookbinders, book artists and calligraphers with the calligraphers taking the walls and the bookies the plinths. Two of my works are featured in the exhibition - Little Bit Long Way (left) and Tinted Undercoat Required. The latter was designed as a wall work and the bump-in was the first time I had seen it hanging. I must admit that it was a thrill to see that it worked as I had intended. For those who might be interested, Handwritten Handbound runs until 11 November.

Friday, 12 October 2012

On concertina bindings

A couple of years ago, it occurred to me that the poor quality of many concertina bindings that turn up at book arts exhibitions was perhaps a result of the need for them to be constructed of material that is both flexible (for hinging) and inflexible (for structural support) at the same time. I wondered if making the panels and hinges of different materials might be a way around this problem? After a bit of experimentation, I made three concertina bindings - Cartographica, Little Bit Long Way and Tinted Undercoat Required - using covered box board for the leaves and gros grain ribbon for the hinges. I had a chance this week to talk with local binders and book artists about some of the techniques I developed for producing what I believe are reasonably elegant works. I also spoke about some of the more traditional concertinas that have peppered my binding life, including one (above) made jointly with a recent four year old visitor to BEMBindery. It seemed to go well but, as is always the way with such talks, I came away feeling that there were things I forgot to say, things that could have been better expressed and a resolve to be a bit sharper next time.

Sunday, 7 October 2012


After fuming a couple of weeks ago about exhibition red tape, in the end I meekly surrendered, filled in the forms and sent the books off. The exhibition, Cover to Cover, opened last Thursday at Bribie Island Seaside Museum and runs until early December. Hopefully my two books arrived safely.
I've written elsewhere about the first of these (41: It's beginning to hurt) and included a photo of the second (Cartographica) in an earlier post. The photo above is a detail of this latter work. Cartographica grew from a realisation that paper maps are fast disappearing, with the information they contain either being lost or made available only in digital form. The work is a concertina binding, consisting of 162 fragments of maps and charts, arranged in random sequence. At just over four metres in length, it is the 'longest' book I have produced to date. It was great fun to make and I've since fantasised about what it would be like to make a concertina binding with a length of, say, 20 metres or even 50 metres. Perhaps a project for a community workshop?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Grinding away

After the distractions of the last couple of weeks, I've returned to the grind of editioning Curtains, satisfied that my problems are behind me.
The first copy of the edition has been completed and delivered to Sydney for an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW that will open at the end of October. That's it on the left in its plain paper wrapper (I can't give too much away until after the exhibition opening).
The forwarding work on copies 2-7 is done and there's about one day's forwarding work remaining on copies 8-10. After this, another two or three days should see all ten copies finished, apart from slipcases and packaging. My aim now is to get the edition done and dusted a couple of weeks before the exhibition opens so I can begin tending to the ideas for new works that are backing up in my brain.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Tied up in tape (red)

Last week's post generated some insightful comments from Ronnie and Susan on what it means to be an artist trying to generate some form of income from one's practice - comments that have been thrown into focus by an email this week from a curator regarding a couple of pieces (including Cartographica (left)) that I have offered for an interstate exhibition. As one of the pieces is to be for sale, I find that I am required to register as a supplier of goods and services with the organisation responsible for the exhibition; complete an Australian Tax Office 'Statement by a Supplier' pro-forma; endorse two pages of 'Consignment Terms and Conditions - Artist Rights and Responsibilities'; and fill out and sign a formal loan agreement. At this stage, I must admit the temptation is either to withdraw from the exhibition or to mark both the pieces Not for Sale.

Monday, 10 September 2012

On a career as an artist

With students' work-in-progress filling the bindery, there's been no need to feel guilty about reading, rather than making, books this week. I'm part way through Orhan Pahmuk's My Name is Red, a glorious novel about a secret (and blasphemous) book put together in Istanbul at the end of the 16th century by the Ottoman Empire's best calligraphers, gilders, miniaturists and binders. Just a few pages in, I came across the following declaration by one of the characters: "To avoid disappointment in art, one mustn't treat it as a career. Despite whatever great artistic sense and talent a man might possess, he ought to seek money and power elsewhere to avoid forsaking his art when he fails to receive proper compensation for his gifts and efforts". It triggered memories of the business plans and prototypes (one of which is pictured above) that I put together when I was seriously considering trying to make a living as a full time bookbinder. I ultimately decided that heading down this track would quickly kill my passion for my art and held on to my day job. For me, it was the right decision. As New York photographer Bill Cunningham put it so succinctly, 'If they are not paying you, they cannot tell you what to do".

Thursday, 6 September 2012


This week's photograph is of the top of a three-piece lidded box I made a couple of years ago to house a project called The Indian Essays. The box was pulled from the shelves for use as a prop in box-making workshops that have been running  in my bindery over the past two weeks.
I still get a lot of pleasure from teaching (which I guess is why I do it), particularly when most of the students are artists from different disciplines, who come to the classes with their own ways of thinking and working. This year's crop of box makers included an architect, a paper maker, a textile artist and a couple of painters. It was great to see the diversity of responses to common problems and to share the box makers' satisfaction with their finely crafted pieces at the end of each workshop.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

The shape of pears

One message that has stayed with me from my trainee bookbinder days is the importance of having the design details of a project resolved before you start cutting and pasting.  It makes sense, of course, and the risk of doing otherwise is that things will at some stage go pear-shaped.
On the other hand, if you find during the construction of your fully resolved project that what you are producing doesn't please you, then it is highly likely it won't please others and there is probably not much point in continuing.
This is about where I am with Curtains right now. I finished the first of the edition and it didn't feel quite right. I had a bit of a rethink and made a prototype of a second version, which also had its shortcomings. All the bits and pieces that had been carefully prepared and assembled over the last couple of weeks are now in the waste paper basket. This is obviously frustrating but I'm now far enough into version three to feel confident that scrapping version one was the right decision.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Mental arithmetic

The forwarding part of many editions involves lots of repetitive, not-especially complex tasks that don't require a lot of concentration. The risk of error is relatively low and the challenge is to avoid becoming too bored. My mind inevitably wanders and I find myself making multiple mental calculations of how far into the task I am and how much remains to be done.
This edition of 10 will use a total of 180 paper covered and 180 cloth covered tiles. Two passes of the board cutter are needed to make each tile (720 passes); the paper and cloth covers are then cut with a craft knife or rotary cutter (360 cuts); the covers pasted on to the tiles (360 pastings); the corners of each cover trimmed for turning in (1440 trimmings); and each of the cover sides turned in  (1440 turn-ins). If I allow a 5% overrun for the inevitable mistakes I make and the flaws I find, I will have performed in excess of 4500 separate operations before I get to assembly and finishing.

Thursday, 16 August 2012


The annual roadshow that is Australia's travelling craft expo rolled into town last weekend. Part exhibition and part trade fair, it drew thousands of enthusiasts over four days. The expo's focus is clearly quilt making and other textile arts but there is enough of broader interest to make me feel it's worth checking out every couple of years. The purpose of this year's visit was to hunt down some fabrics that I could use as part of Curtains, my second BAO4 title. I came away with some delightful Japanese cottons from Wabi Sabi Designs and spent a satisfying afternoon trimming these to size with a new rotary cutter. The cottons are tightly woven and easy to work without any need for backing. Am looking forward to building them into my edition of ten.

Saturday, 11 August 2012


This week's piece, Gumballs - I want the whole jar, is mine only in the sense that it's a recent addition to my (modest) collection of artists' books. It's a work by Canberra book artist Linda Newbown that featured in Turning Over, a recent exhibition of artists books, printing and 3D paper works at Strathnairn Homestead Gallery. It was a fabulous exhibition - full of witty and inventive original pieces housed in superbly crafted 'containers'. Gumballs consists of 270 miniature cased-in concertina bindings (each with text). As Linda puts it: "For all of us there is something that we crave - something that we do not want to share, that we want to gather and hoard. For me, it's a greed for books."

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Rugrat in the bindery

I've been sharing my bindery with a two year old this week so not much progress on my own work but it is a delight to introduce young children to the world of books. Matilda has been engrossed, enthusiastic and proud of her developing fine motor skills.
Together, she and I made her first book - a simple concertina structure in which she then 'wrote' her story before using the book for scissors practice. Paper and boxboard offcuts have been retrieved from the waste basket and put to good use with a roll of sticky tape and a glue stick. She's now aware that her cousins have been allowed to use the nipping press and board cutter since they turned three and is counting down to her next birthday.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

On photographing books

Some random comments as a follow-up to last week's post ...
Much of what is written about studio lighting is directed at portrait photographers - books are mostly much smaller than groups of people and need a much smaller lit area.
Synchronous multiple flash photography is fine for the professional but it doesn't allow you to see effect of the lighting until after you have taken the photograph - continuous lighting is probably easier to manage for less experienced photographers.
The development of compact fluorescent bulbs means that lamp heat output is no longer a serious problem with continuous lighting.
An 85watt compact fluorescent gives a similar light output to a 500watt incandescent bulb.
Bulbs with a colour temperature of 5500K give a colour rendition that most closely matches natural light.
Umbrella lights and soft boxes are bulky and can be awkward to work with in the small space that is all many of us have for photographing our books. Simpler lamps on smaller stands that can sit on a table should be more than adequate for most book photography.
Three or four lights of these lights would be needed to eliminate all shadows but the same effect should be possible with two lights and camera flash.
Unprimed off-white canvas and black felt work well as backcloths (and can be recycled for as art canvases and box linings when no longer needed for photography).
Details of the studio lights I bought can be found here.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Snap happy

Lots of hours spent this week taking photographs for submissions to a US publisher and three juried exhibitions. The publisher's extremely tight digital image specification has meant lots of research on file formats and much much more - frustrating at the time but satisfying when it all fell into place.  This concentrated effort gave me the excuse I needed to upgrade some of my photographic equipment. I've invested in some new (larger) backcloths and basic studio lights and am reasonably satisfied with the results. It all still happens on the dining room table but  the colour rendition is much improved and the images crisper and clearer. The contrast between this image of Babushka Boxes and one that I used in an earlier post makes me feel that the upgrade has been worthwhile.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Tinted Undercoat Required

My fascination with colour gradation and transition means that no visit to the hardware store is complete without swinging by the paint department to ogle its racks of swatches and sample cards.
Tinted Undercoat Required, which I finished last week, is nothing more than an excuse (if one were needed) to pick up and play with some ninety of these swatches. The result is a huge (for me) concertina book that stands over half a metre tall and stretches out to over two metres in length. The book has been made using covered box board panels and strips of gros grain ribbon for the hinges - a method of construction that frees the binder from the scale and accuracy constraints inherent in more traditional forms of the concertina binding.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Book of Ampersands

I recently reread Simon Garfield's Just My Type, a quirky book that breathes life into the arcane mysteries of fonts. I was taken (again) by the author's reflection on the delights of the ampersand - 'Done well, an & is not so much a character as a creature, an animal from the deep. Or it is a character in the other sense of the word, usually a tirelessly entertaining one, perhaps an uncle with too many magic tricks ...'
I decided that the ampersand deserved a book of its own and that I would make it. After much playing around with options, I've settled on a binding in the French Simplified style that will hopefully be heading for an exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW later in the year. I've now printed images of 223 ampersands onto sheets; folded and cut the sheets; assembled the sections; and (this afternoon) sewn the block onto tapes. It's a great feeling to have a new work underway.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Here's one I prepared earlier ...

A couple of weeks ago I had a chance to get enthused again about non-adhesive bindings. Caren Florance, a local letterpress printer, bookbinder and book-arts teacher, gathered about 20 of us for a short workshop in which we played around with long stitch bindings. It was a great evening with a sociable bunch of artists, binders and calligraphers and quite a contrast to my fairly hermetic (heremitic?) studio practice. We each produced a binding with limp covers made from recycled leather aprons. Mine was absolute rubbish so this week's photograph is of a long-stitch binding that I made a while ago (but could have made at Caren's workshop if I'd spent less time chatting and more time concentrating).

Friday, 22 June 2012

A bit of shameless self-promotion

This week's mail included a copy of Sandra Salamony's 1000 Artists' Books: Exploring the Book as Art (Quarry Books 2012), which features one of my works.
Details of Sandra's book can be found here.
Leaves of Irony resulted from a light-hearted challenge to produce a book from the contents of a fellow binder's rubbish bin. It is a non-adhesive visible structure binding made from weathered galvanised iron (from the base of an abandoned garden wheelbarrow), telephone wiring and beaten lead fishing sinkers. While it has featured in three exhibitions to date (winning awards at two of these exhibitions), I will always remember it fondly as the work that led to my first ever piece of fan mail. Enough said!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

I am curious ...

I started a new piece this week - working title I am curious ... . It's come from a curator's invitation to prepare something wall-hung for a possible artists' books exhibition at the end of 2012. The curator will be working with a gallery that is mostly used for showing paintings so lots of wall space but a less-than-ideal number of plinths and cases.
After working through the usual design anxieties about form, proportions and dimensions and frustrations over prototypes and prototype details that don't work as intended, I plunged in yesterday. Lots of activity cutting sheets of box board; becoming familiar with the properties of a new (for me) Spanish bookcloth; and working out how best to use the hundred or so paint swatches from my local hardware store that will be at the core of the work. So far, so good (I think)!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

41: It's beginning to hurt

The distribution of my Group 2 contribution to BAO Edition 4 is complete and copies are now in the hands (collections?) of those in my group.
41: It's beginning to hurt takes as its starting point the possibility that one of Sarah Bodman's stories has been recovered from its place of interment in a Danish forest and subsequently offered for sale by a London bookseller.
The work is housed in a simple drop side box and consists of a colophon, ephemera associated with the sale of the book and the book itself - much distressed with significant staining and water damage and evidence of insect attack.
For those who might be interested, more photographs and details can be found here.
The work is intended as a reflection on the hurt experienced by artists when their work is appropriated by others and used, often for profit, without consent and in a manner contrary to the artists' intentions.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Back from the bush

Back in the bindery again after three weeks off bushwalking in northern New South Wales and south east Queensland. Time on the track is great for reflection and I've returned with ideas for new projects; some thoughts on a way forward for started but stalled projects; and an offer of some teaching at a small contemplative retreat in the Gold Coast hinterland. Spent this morning tidying up in preparation for an anticipated burst of activity, including cleaning up some bench weights that I picked up from an old wares shop on the way to the start of my first walk.
Delighted to find two BAO books waiting for me on my return - A Subversive Stitch and Snow Falling in Daylight - both by Queensland calligraphic and book artist Fiona Dempster. Some wonderful photographs of these (and other examples of Fiona's work) can be found here.

Monday, 7 May 2012

The book's in the mail

The end of last week saw me finally wrap up my first title for BookArtObject Edition 4. I'd been putting off doing this until we rolled into May, which was the date I'd included in the colophon back in February when I sent the text off to the printer.
Eight copies of 41: It's beginning to hurt were packed into padded bags and posted to New South Wales, Queensland, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Very satisfying and I am now looking forward to enjoying the books from the other artists in my group. The first of these arrived a couple of days before my own mail-out, a magnificent tunnel book by the American collage artist paperworker. You can read more about this book here.
I'll post something similar about my own piece once others in the group have received their copy. Right now, I'm going to take a break for a few weeks before starting on my next project. Back in June!

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

15 Mountain Houses

I'm away from BEMBindery at the moment which means that this week's book is one from my back catalogue.
I'm taking a break for some bushwalking in the Australian Alps, one of my favourite places and somewhere I try and visit at least a couple of times a year.
15 Mountain Houses is about the Alps. It contains drawings from an architectural competition that aimed to promote new approaches to designing buildings for the Australian high country. The book dates from my very early days as a bookbinder and was, in fact, the first 'unsupervised' book that I produced. It is a concertina binding with paste paper covered boards trimmed with black goatskin. It has never been exhibited.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Floating Boards

Have just spend a very satisfying couple of days in a workshop with seven other binders exploring a technique known as 'floating boards' - a technique, developed by the Belgian binder Edgar Claes, in which the boards are connected to the spine by cords (or tapes) alone. While this structure is inherently weaker than bindings with leather, cloth or paper hinges, it is well suited for use with clean cut or non-traditional (eg metal) boards. For those of us doing the workshop, it was an opportunity to fine-tune some skills and working methods that will be needed for a series of follow-up workshop on French 'laced-in' bindings that are planned for later in the year. The workshop was run by John Tonkin, one of Australia's finest design binders. It was great to be able to pick John's brains, catch up with old friends, make new friends, exchange ideas and talk about the sorts of things that only bookbinders find interesting.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Backwoods and Along the Seashore

I'm back from the bush and definitely missing the small things that you notice in the absence of an urban cacophony - the processions of ants, the movements of birds, the stalking of a goanna.
Among my favourite authors are those who lovingly document such things - Annie Dillard (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek), William Least Heat-Moon (Prairyerth), John Blay (Part of the Scenery) and, of course, Henry David Thoreau (On Walden Pond).
This week's book is a rebinding of Thoreau's Backwoods and Along the Seashore, a selection of extracts from The Maine Woods and Cape Cod. The design comes from an imagining of the author dressed in a cotton shirt, striped woollen trousers and braces. The binding style is French Simplified with capeskin spine and cloth covered boards with wool and nylon webbing onlays. The book has been included in exhibitions at Sydney's Gallery Red (2009) and Canberra's Civic Library (2011).

Monday, 2 April 2012

Slow progress

I am slowly working my way through the set-back described in my last post, one book at a time, one book a day with lots of days without the enthusiasm to manage even this.
A useful distraction has been PJM Marsh's book Beautiful Bookbindings - A Thousand Years of the Bookbinder's Art. Included in the book is the following tale:
In 1911, the London binder Francis Sangorski completed an elaborate, jewelled binding of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kajayyam which was sold to an American collector. The binding was lost when it went down with the RMS Titanic on its voyage home.
In 1932, Stanley Bray, a nephew of Sangorski's business partner, recreated the binding and placed it in a bank vault for safe keeping only to have it destroyed when the bank was bombed during the London blitz.
A third version of the binding was produced by Bray in 1982 and is now housed in the British Library.
The thought of Bray's persistence is just the spur I need to press on.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Some thoughts on editioning

Most of my pieces are unique so an edition of fifteen is a real change to the way I normally work. On the plus side, I've been forced to smarten up, think carefully about the time implications of each step of the production process and look for alternative and more efficient ways of working.
On the negative side, doing something fifteen times over can be unspeakably tedious.
All this I'd more or less anticipated. What I hadn't appreciated was the demands editioning would make on my equipment. I simply do not have fifteen of anything in my tool kit and insufficient bench weights, pressing boards and closed cell foam, for example, have been real constraints on the speed at which I've been able to work. Mostly I've gotten around this by batching the work in lots of three or five but I came badly unstuck last week with the end in sight. I made the mistake of pasting out the final panels of fifteen drop side boxes all at once without thinking through how I would effectively weight these overnight while they dried properly. I did the best I could with what I had on hand and then headed off for three days to celebrate the end of the edition - all a bit prematurely as it turned out. I came back home to find that each of the fifteen boxes had warped along its foreedge. I know why this happened and am kicking myself for not taking more care and for being in such a rush to finish. The next couple of weeks will be spent sorting out this mess - one box at a time!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Little Bit Long Way

Little bit long way is how Australia's Wunambal people describe the vastness of Ngauwudu, their traditional country. In mid-2010, I had the good fortune to spend three weeks in Wunambul country visiting rock art sites not known to have been previously seen by non-Aboriginal people.
As a way of celebrating the richness of what I had seen, I put together a small photograph album at the end of the trip. Despite its apparent simplicity, the resulting concertina binding is one of the more complicated of my books. Each of its twenty leaves consists of a nine separate layers, laminated in a way that allows the leaves to remain flat and flush, even if displayed under less than ideal environmental conditions. Gros grain ribbon was used to hinge the leaves.
Little Bit Long Way: the Ngauwudu Photographs was exhibited in Sydney in 2010 and in Canberra in 2011.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

The trouble with snails ...

The trouble with snails is that they are unreliable workers. Faced with a need for fifteen copies of a book that needed to look as if it had been buried in the forest for a couple of years, I turned to my local gastropods, Helix hortensis, for a bit of help. I felt sure that they would give my books that chewed around the edges look I was looking for - after all, they do this to my mail all the time. No such luck! They nibbled a small patch in the corner of one of the books in the first few hours and then nothing more for the next week. I've given up, sacked the lot of them and done this distressing work myself with cotton tips, water, scalpel, fingernail, sandpaper and hammer. Nothing more than a small setback but it has slowed down the edition a little.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

If you go down to the woods today ...

In a previous post, I wrote that the starting point for my contribution to BAO4 would be the possibility that one of Sarah's stories had been recovered from the forest.
To put myself in the right frame of mind for this possibility, I've decided that the production phase of the edition should happen in a forest. I'm afraid the project budget doesn't allow for a trip to a forest in northern Denmark, so I've settled on a spotted gum forest on the south coast of New South Wales, a couple of hours drive from home. I've set up a small work table with a cutting mat and a tray of hand tools and have been hard at it for almost a week now. With only kangaroos for company, my one distraction is a nearby beach when the weather is sunny or the surf is up. The edition is progressing well.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Sixe Idillia

Sixe Idillia is another of my works from the days of the Berkelouw exhibitions and the Delmar Gallery retrospective. Its last 'outing' was at The Powerhouse Museum in 2008, as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival. It is a rebinding of a selection of poems by Theocritus, published as a limited edition by Duckworth and Co in 1922. Printed on handmade paper, the book features a series of magnificent woodcuts by the artist Vivien Gribble. The book came to me bound in the publishers original temporary paper boards - boards that were highly acidic and had caused significant damage to the book's endpapers. The full leather binding is in the French Simplified style, with oasis spine piece and natural kangaroo boards with black-line kangaroo onlay. The red chevron, also kangaroo, is a later addition that hides a grease spot picked up in one of the galleries in which it was exhibited!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Pieces: A Graffiti Alphabet

Great session last night with local binders and book artists and printmaker Lee Bratt. Lee generously shared her work and working methods with us, including the use of a pasta machine as a printing press.
Over the years, I've dabbled in various forms of print making (monoprint, linocut, etching, dry point, screen printing) but never with enough commitment or diligence to develop the sort of skills I envy in others. Lee's enthusiasm might just be enough to set me trying again.
Pieces: A Graffiti Alphabet is a series of 26 solvent release images of graffiti letters that I made some time ago and bound in the French simplified style. Releasing the images with artist's turpentine was not a pleasant experience and I was interested to learn from Lee that eucalyptus oil works just as well. The cover is a lino cut image printed using the standing press in my bindery. The work was first shown in one of Australian Bookbinders' Inc's early exhibitions at Messrs Berkelouw's Leichhardt Bookshop. It's subsequently been shown in a 2008 retrospective exhibition at Sydney's Delmar Gallery and in the Canberra Craft Bookbinders' Guild's 2012 Showcase exhibition.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Well, BAO4 is really taking off. At last count there were 65 artists working on 78 titles with more to come - wouldn't it be great if the edition could run to a book for each of the 100 titles! Participating artists have been invited to take on a second title and I've put my hand up for this. My second title is #78 Curtains and, while my other commitments mean that I won't get started in earnest until the second half of 2012, I cannot help but think about it. The word association games have started - draw the curtains, bamboo curtain, curtain call, curtain raiser, curtain wall, it's curtains. Who knows where they will lead?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

It's beginning to hurt

Have begun working on a response to my BookArtObject Edition 4 title, It's beginning to hurt. I started with a reflection on the nature of hurt, both physical (trauma, illness, aging) and emotional (separation, alienation, grief, remorse, embarrassment). This led to a bit of a dead end as I realised that the hurt I've suffered is either too raw or too personal to share and that the hurt of others is not mine to draw upon.
I stepped back and thought more broadly about the edition as a whole; about the conceit of producing a-book-about-a-book-about-a-book; and about how this conceit could be manipulated in a way that brought the title into play. The end result is a decision to take as my starting point the possibility that one of Sarah Bodman's stories has been recovered from the forest. The task I have now set myself is to document this recovery in some way. I've done a few sketches, made a couple of prototypes and am now at the point where I feel that I'm just about ready to commit!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012


BookArtObject began a couple of years ago with eight artists working on Edition One. Numbers grew with Editions Two and Three and have exploded to 60+ artists for Edition Four. Under the BAO banner, we make small editions of handmade artists' book in response to agreed texts that we share with each other and the world. We also share our stories, ideas, creative processes and our work-in-progress. You can find out more about us here.
The inspiration for Edition Four is Kurt Johannessen's Exercises (1994), a handbook of gently subversive tasks that prompt readers to reflect upon their world. One of Kurt's exercises, "write 100 stories and bury them in the forest", inspired British book artist Sarah Bodman to do just that. Her 100 stories, collected as An Exercise for Kurt Johannessen (2010), have been buried and are quietly decomposing in a forest in northern Denmark. The Edition Four artists have, with Sarah's permission, taken the titles of her stories as the starting point for their work. My title is #41 It's beginning to hurt.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Babushka Boxes

For the next little while, I thought that I would mix up some works from my archive with work-in-progress reports on BookArtObject Edition 4 and other projects. First up is something from the archive.

About this time last year, I came across some vintage Japanese cottons that triggered memories of the babushka apron patterns found on the painted figures of traditional Russian matryoshka nested dolls that had fascinated me as a child. I subsequently wrote a short meditation on the delights of nested objects, bound the work with a simple case binding and then made a series of seven nested boxes to house the book. The finished work, Babushka Boxes, was part of a group exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW in late 2011.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


Hello and welcome to my blog!
I am an Australian book artist and bookbinder with a passion for the 'complete' book. My studio, BEMBindery, produces unique and small editions of artists' books and contemporary design bindings. I exhibit regularly with Artbound, the Canberra Craft Bookbinders' Guild and Australian Bookbinders’ Exhibitions and teach traditional bookbinding skills to artists and others through a local community organisation. I am also a member of the artists' collective BookArtObject. This blog is my way of sharing my work with other BAO artists and with you.