Monday, 23 December 2013

The Barwon Ballads Project - 5

Project realised and ready to send off in the new year. Received news a couple of days ago about the plans for this and its nineteen companions. First up will be an exhibition at the Writers' Centre in Sydney from late January to late February, then a flying visit to Melbourne in early March for an appearance at the CODEX Australia symposium, on to Canberra for three weeks in March-April at the Civic Library Exhibition Space, back to Sydney for a second showing and then finally to Geelong. All that remains to be done in 2013 is to tidy the bindery in preparation for new projects once Christmas and New Year are out of the way.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

The Barwon Ballads Project - 4

The slim volume I referred to in my last post has been completed along with the 'plinth' in which the volume sits. Also completed are trays to house this plinth and the text block plinth. The fit of the block and book has been checked as has the fit of the two trays when stacked. All that remains is the box lid. This is my first attempt at making stacked trays and the result has, I feel, been a success. This success has given me an idea for a new project featuring multiple stacked trays as storage containers for some found objects that have been sitting around the bindery for years just waiting for the right use. Something else to add to the list for 2014.

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Barwon Ballads Project - 3

The focus now is on preparing an account of my 'treatment' of the Cuthbertson block. It will be a slim, slightly-smaller-than-A5 volume of seven four-leaf sections, bound in the French Simplified style. It's advanced enough for me to be able to start working on the plinth in which it will be housed. The plinth (left) is of similar dimensions to the text block plinth. The semi-circular cut-out on the spine edge of the plinth recess is to make it easy to lift the book from the plinth. This is not a detail that I've used before and I'm hoping that it won't prove too difficult to mould the felt lining around the tight curve of the cut-out.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

The Barwon Ballads Project - 2

The base plinth of the box has now been shaped and lined with felt. My preferred lining material is usually Suedex, which is much less vulnerable to adhesive bleed than felt. In this case, I've elected to use felt because it is much better for stretching and shaping around corners and into recesses. In this case an added complication has been the need for the bottom of the recess to be raked (with a different depth in each corner). This will allow the top surface of the text block to appear level rather than tilted. Next step will be to check the fit of the block and start writing an account of the project.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Barwon Ballads Project

It's taken a few days but I feel that I have a way forward for what I'm now thinking of as the Barwon Ballads Project. I won't bind the text block that was the subject of my most recent post but will, instead, write and bind an account of the rationale for this decision. The bound account and the unbound block will together be housed in a tiered presentation box. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll try and post every few days with updates on my progress. The image above is of the first step in the construction of the base of the presentation box, secured to a purpose-made bench hook with a couple of G-clamps and held in place while it dries with some angle irons (offcuts from the scraps bin of a local steel fabricator) and spring clamps.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Barwon Ballads and Bush Verses

Earlier this year, twenty Australian bookbinders were each invited to  prepare an unbound text block from the 1912 edition of James Lister Cuthbertson's Barwon Verses and Bush Ballads for exhibitions to be staged in Sydney and Canberra in early 2014. Doing something with my copy is the last project I need to get out of the way before the end of the year. The block itself is fairly uninspiring - musty, foxed, poorly folded, of awkward proportions and with the paper grain running in the wrong direction. Working out what to do with it has caused more than a little angst and I have little enthusiasm for starting. My first step has been simply to 'bind' the block with coarse jute cord and let it sit for a bit.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Bind Date - 5

After a fortnight away from the bindery, it's now time to wrap up a couple of unfinished projects so that I can start 2014 with nothing hanging over my head. First up is the last part of the Bind Challenge. The task has been to make a book that draws on something I was passionate about in my early twenties and about which I remain passionate today. The result is a drum leaf binding of a series of extracts from Le Corbusier's Le PoĆ«me de l'Angle Droit that capture my enduring fascination with things French, inspiring architecture and the works of Euclid. This and my other three Challenge books (Riders on the Storm, Paisley World and Letters from Alice) are now wrapped in plain paper, ready to be handed over anonymously for 'blind judging' next week.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013


Travelled to Sydney last week for the opening of the 16th annual Australian Bookbinders' Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. The focus is again contemporary design bindings with readable content and this year's exhibition features the work of 31 Australian and international bookbinders. Two of my works are included in the exhibition. The first is a Franzband rebinding of a copy of Charlotte Smith's Dreaming of Dior (cover detail left) with leather spine and paper covered boards with leather and paper onlays and gold foiling. The second is a French simplified rebinding of a copy of Alfred Wainwright's A Third Lakeland Sketchbook. The exhibition runs until 13 December and more details, including opening hours can be found here.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

BookArtObject Exhibition

Slack, slack, slack! There's no other way to describe the paucity of posts. Sure there's been lots of busyness but that's no excuse. I'll try and do a bit of a catch up over the next few days, starting with the BookArtObject exhibition that opened a few weeks ago at UNSW Canberra. Co-curated this one with Ampersand Duck who has written about it here with lots of photos here.
The exhibition's 'poster child' (left) is Making Bread (not bombs), a fabulous flag book by Canadian artist Tara Bryan. The exhibition runs until 28 November.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


It's been a frantic few weeks - so much so that posting to BEMBindery hasn't even been an option. The busyness is book arts related but unfortunately not all that much to do with time at the binding bench working on current projects. The Guild 13 exhibition has happened; there's been a trip to Sydney to deliver some books for an exhibition that opens at the Art Gallery of NSW in early November; a trip to Melbourne to take part in the Australian Bookbinding Symposium; four days at a workshop on making a traditional French chemise and slipcase (above); preparation for a two day workshop next week on the Dos Rapporte spine structure; and bumping-in an exhibition at UNSW Canberra with co-curator Ampersand Duck that opens this Thursday. More about some of these things in coming posts.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Bind Challenge - 4

The Bind Challenge rolls on and the third of my four books has now been completed. It's a response to the query "What were you doing in the year of your 21st birthday and where did you live, work and play?"
The book Letters from Alice draws on memories of time spent as a vacation student in the Australian outback town of Alice Springs. What was intended to be a grand adventure turned out to be a lonely excursion into a racist world where difference was despised and where changing the status quo was never an option.
Like books one and two, it's a drum leaf binding. It will be the smallest of the project's four books, measuring just 65mm x 65mm.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

For Martin ...

This week's image of is for Martin, who was taken by a detail of 7POEMS that featured in an earlier post and asked for some more information.
Completed in an edition of five, it's a simple work consisting of a clam shell box that houses eight accordion fold loose leaves (the seven Maxwell Bodenheim poems plus a title-index-colophon).
7POEMS grew from frustration at being unable to secure a 'licence to use' for part of the text of a planned work and a subsequent on-line search for 'poets-who-died-in-1953'. For those unfamiliar with Australian copyright law, the 2004 US-Australia Free Trade Agreement extended the 'copyright-after-death-of-the-creator' period from 50 to 70 years, meaning that new 'out-of-copyright' material will be not become available in Australia until 2024.
7POEMS is currently part of an exhibition at Artisan Books that runs until 12 October.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Guild 13

This week sees the opening of Guild 13 in the Mezzanine Gallery of Canberra's Civic Library. It's an exhibition of recent works by members of the Canberra Craft Bookbinders' Guild and features thirty six works (including three of my own) by nineteen bookbinders and book artists. The exhibition marks my debut as a curator and I've also taken on responsibility for catalogue design and preparation and exhibition graphics. It's been a busy (but satisfying) time and, fortunately, the pace is starting to ease now that the bump-in has happened. For anyone who might be interested a copy of the exhibition catalogue can be viewed or downloaded here.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

A Third Lakeland Sketchbook - 2

After a couple of weeks in the doldrums, things have really taken off. A Third Lakeland Sketchbook - a French simplified binding that's headed for an exhibition in Sydney in November - has gone from go-to-whoa in just a couple of days (at right is a detail of the spine and cover boards). Its completion has marked the start of frantic times with two stalled projects wrapped up, a new project started and finished, and the beginnings of another book drying under weights while I work on this post. More on these in coming weeks. All this activity has been overlain with preparations for an exhibition that opens in Canberra in a few days. I'll have three pieces in the exhibition but, more importantly for me, it will mark my 'debut' as a curator. The deadline for entries was a few days ago and last week saw a steady stream of binders and book artists delivering their work. It felt like Christmas!

Sunday, 25 August 2013

A Third Lakeland Sketchbook

The second step in dealing with binder's block is to take yourself off to your binding bench and start working on something mundane that doesn't require too much agonising about design or detail. I've set myself some forwarding tasks on the rebinding of a copy of Arthur Wainwright's A Third Lakeland Sketchbook and it seems to be doing the trick. My enthusiasm is returning and I'm feeling about ready to deal with a backlog of exhibition and other commitments and even starting to think about ideas for new projects.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Books ... beyond words

Over the years I've developed what, so far, has been a sure-fire way of working through binder's block. It's a two stage process, the first step of which involves just getting out and looking at what others are doing - not as a potential source of inspiration but simply a way of getting excited again. Step 1 is now complete with last weekend spent in Bairnsdale for the opening of East Gippsland Art Gallery's Books ... beyond words exhibition. The exhibition (which runs until 4 September) features over eighty artists' books from Australia and overseas and is a treat. There was a real buzz around the opening on Saturday evening and I was thrilled that my entry Cartographica (detail above) was awarded a Judges' commendation. The fun continued on Sunday morning with an opportunity to present my work as part of a series of floor talks by local book artists. More information on the exhibition can be found here.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Binder's block

Back from a month's walking on the Arnhem Land Plateau and suffering from a bad case of binder's block. Usually I'd come back all inspired and ready to go but this trip was physically more demanding than most and I fear that I'm just worn out. There's no enthusiasm to get back to work in the bindery, despite opportunities to take part in interesting projects, a new bunch of students looming and lots of work to do curating an exhibition that opens in Canberra next month. I took the photo above (a local rock platform detail) a few days ago in the hope that it will provide the inspiration for the cover board design for a landscape format book of sketches that I'm intending to submit for a fine binding exhibition scheduled for Sydney in November.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Bind Date - 3

The instructions for Part 3 of the Bind Challenge have arrived: 'We now know what music you thought was GOOD when you were 21 but what were you wearing when you listened to this music? ... Now make a book/object for the second of your four containers.'
My response is 'Paisley World' a hymn of praise to that ubiquitous 1970s fashion statement - a fashion statement that must rank close to the top of those that only ever felt good at the time.

Monday, 17 June 2013

On paper marbling

Until now, I've always been a little bit ambivalent about paper marbling - admiring the skills of those who do it well and loving the exoticism of materials such as carragheen moss and ox gall but, frankly, feeling that many of the finest of designs have been just a little too 'combed to death'. Apart from that, it always seems that about twice as much time is taken with setting up and cleaning down as is taken with marbling.
I say 'until now' because I had the opportunity to spend yesterday as a bit of an imposter in an advanced marbling workshop run by renowned Australian marbler Joan Ajala and discovered that it's all a lot more fun than I had remembered. It was great to work with people who knew what they were doing and although my own papers have plenty of flaws they are big, bold and, dare I say it, unfussy. It will give me a lot of pleasure to work with the good bits of the sheets that are now draped drying around BEMBindery.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013


Finished an edition of five a couple of days ago. The work is a collection of seven poems by the US poet Maxwell Bodenheim, presented as a set of loose leaf accordion folds housed in a drop-side box. Set up the studio lights, backdrop, tripod and camera this morning to photograph the work and managed a couple of shots before the camera battery died. The image at left is a detail of an inlaid panel in the box lid. The beaten and inked aluminium panel seemed to fit the gritty, urban character of the poems and I'm pleased with the result. I'll post more about the work when my camera is back in action.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Eco-dyed monoprints

Great day spent experimenting with eco-dyed monoprints under the guidance of two printmaking book artist friends. Finished the afternoon with over sixty prints, some of which will be worked into future projects. The prints were produced in two batches, each batch a multi-layer tied 'sandwich' of sheets of Hahnemuhle 300gsm mould-made watercolour paper alternated with assemblies of gathered leaves, flowers and shredded vegetables. One batch was boiled for two hours in a solution of water, vinegar and rusty nails; the other was steamed for two hours over a solution of water and vinegar. The results were stunning but somewhat unpredictable and certainly not repeatable, which I guess is the delight of monoprints. For anyone interested in the process, details can be found here.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Bad Gallery v Good Gallery

Bad Gallery: I once sent a book off for exhibition and heard nothing more of it until it was returned at the end of the exhibition with a fresh grease stain on the front cover and missing most of the purpose designed packaging materials that were designed to protect the book in transit.
Good Gallery: One of my recent works is currently included in the 2013 Libris Awards exhibition at Artspace Mackay. This gallery's dealings with me (and I presume the other exhibiting artists) have been impeccable. I was advised that my work had arrived, invited to the exhibition opening, provided with details of the exhibition awards almost as soon as they were announced and, last week, forwarded links to photographs of the opening, general shots of the works as displayed and individual shots of each of the works in the exhibition (the latter can be checked out here). As well as all that, I'm delighted that my piece has been displayed to advantage (above). Well done Artspace!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Bind Date Update

At last some progress! My Bind Challenge container is complete (apart from a fastener), as is the first of its books, Riders on the Storm. The original four compartment box has been lined with Suedex and fitted with a Geltex covered bi-fold case.
The design decisions I've made for the first of the books - binding style, text paper, digital image formats, cover paper, fonts, leather spine piece - will now impose a discipline on the rest of the project. I'm reasonably confident that I've left myself enough flexibility to cope with whatever the instructions for parts 3,4 and 5 of the challenge throw up. Famous last words?

Sunday, 12 May 2013


This week's image was taken part way through  last weekend's workshop (Franzband Part 1) - my book is the one with the red headbands. The Franzband is a very exacting technical binding with the boards laced-in before any covering materials are applied so that any errors or blemishes are difficult to remedy or disguise. I made things doubly difficult for myself by choosing a smooth leather for the spine and a plain paper for the covers that show any faults for all to see. After completing Franzband Part 2 this weekend, I'm a little disappointed with what I've produced but will plug away at the leather onlays that are part of the cover design in the hope that I can make some of the more obvious flaws less apparent.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Playing with gold

Lots happening but frustratingly little to show for it, hence my lack of recent posts. In the last couple of weeks, I have started a new edition; made some progress on my Bind Challenge; completed two of the four days of my Franzband refresher; run a few sessions of an eight week master class with four book artists who are spending time in BEMBindery working on their own projects; and wound up the first part of a short course on illuminated lettering that will hopefully improve my very rudimentary gold leaf skills. None of this has yet generated anything of interest to share and my feeble A (above) is the best I can offer at the moment, I'm afraid.

Monday, 22 April 2013


I posted about DEATHMASK when I was working on it back in January and again when it was a finalist in the 2013 Manly Artist Book Awards without, I now realise, actually giving any details of the piece. It's a concertina binding with Geltex covered boards and gros grain ribbon hinges that features multiple images of the death mask of Ned Kelly.  There's something about the apparent serenity Kelly has reached in death that appealed to me when I found a bunch of postcards of the death mask a couple of years ago. The work arrived back from the Manly exhibition last week and has now been posted off to Artspace Mackay where it will be a finalist in this year's Libris Awards.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Bind Date 2

Instructions for the the second of my Bind Challenge tasks arrived a few days ago. The task is to select a song that defined GOOD from a list of the top 100 singles released during the year in which I turned 21 and use this as the starting point for a book/object for the first of my four compartments. The song I've settled on is Riders on the Storm by The Doors. I still feel good every time I hear it. It brings back memories of an exciting time in my life, a time in which we all felt like riders on the storm. Not much else settled yet but I have been having fun with a bit of digital manipulation of a photograph of Jim Morrison, taken shortly before his death in July 1971.

Thursday, 11 April 2013


I'm signed up to do a four day refresher course on French traditional laced-in (Franzband) bindings in a couple of weeks and, in preparation for the workshop, have needed to source and pull a commercially published book - something I've not done for a while. The book's technical details (size, number and thickness of sections, margin widths, paper grain direction etc) were important but nothing out of the ordinary for any publisher for whom getting the technical criteria right was as important as content and graphic design. That it's proved extremely difficult to find a book that met my specification is, for me, a reflection on the extent to which commercial pressures continue to contribute to the decline in quality of published works. Nothing surprising here of course but nonetheless disappointing.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Bind Date

New week, new project!
The Bind Challenge has been set by Canberra-based book artist and printmaker Lee Bratt. Designed to be completed in five parts, it is a challenge about opposites, about starting at the end and working backwards. The first part of the challenge has been to make a container with four compartments, which I've now done (left). Instructions for the second part of the challenge (which I'm assuming will be to make something to fit in one (or more) of the compartments) will arrive in a couple of weeks. The project is certainly a change from my usual way of working in which most, if not all, of the details are resolved in my mind before I begin and I can't help wondering if I'm going to come horribly unstuck along the way.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Manly Library Artist Book Collection

A couple of years ago, the Manly Library quietly began building a small collection of artist books.  Works are added to the collection through a biennial acquisitive Artists Book Award, donations and occasional purchases outside the award program. A changing selection of works from the collection is on display at the library and the entire  collection can be viewed online.
Despite its short life, the Award has acquired a certain prestige and attracts entries from established Australian and international book artists as well as from young and aspiring practitioners. The 2013 Award was judged by Noreen Grahame (Director of the Centre for the Artist Book) and Monica Oppen (writer, printmaker, photographer and bookbinder) and I was thrilled to have one of my recent works, DEATHMASK (above), included in the Award exhibition.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Affordable Bookbinding Equipment

For years I’ve struggled with traditional tapered backing boards, never having enough hands to hold the boards and book block steady while I accurately positioned them in the backing press and tightened its screws. I recently resolved to do something about this and searched online for a set of lipped straight boards that I hoped would make aligning the boards just that much easier. After a bit of effort, I happened upon Jim Poelstra – a Californian cabinetmaker who runs Affordable Bookbinding Equipment as a sideline to his regular business as a cabinetmaker. His website is a delight. It includes short videos that demonstrate how to use his equipment and is worth visiting even if you’re not in the market for anything at the moment. I particularly liked Jim’s small plough (held in the palm of one hand) and a simple nipping press that converts to a sewing frame. I finished up ordering a set of backing boards and they arrived within a few days. Well made, good value for money and they work.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Back in the bindery

It's been a long time between posts. Somehow January's good intentions dissolved in a mid-summer heatwave that was followed by an invasion of more than twenty house guests over a two week period.
Since then I've been travelling in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia but have now returned with a brain bulging with ideas for new projects and a suitcase bulging with materials that I intend to use in some of these projects. First up will hopefully be a work incorporating some images of socialist posters collected during my travels, including (above) Determined to harvest a great Winter-Spring crop, Militia women exterminate the USAF. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Finishing Off

January at BEMBindery has so far been spent wrapping up stalled projects from 2012 to make way for the half-formed ideas that hopefully will turn into 2013's new works.
DEATHMASK is one of these stalled projects. It started in the second half of 2012 under a different working title, changed its form after I was unable to secure all the copyright permissions I needed and then sat gathering dust in a corner for a couple of months. I picked it up again last week without much enthusiasm but had great fun yesterday with some relief lettering on an inlay panel for the lid of a box that will house the finished work.