Wednesday, July 17, 2019


For the past 15 years I have been engaged on a single project making custom clamshell boxes for signed Modern First Editions, using many different design binding techniques such as tooling, onlays, inlays, and a variety of different methods of printing and photo transfer on leather.

These methods I briefly detailed in a previous article, basic techniques for printing on goatskin

The motivation to explore these techniques as always was the necessity to find easy methods for introducing a design element quickly, and where applicable avoid large amounts of tooling and onlay work - primarily to save time, but they also look cool too. 

Alongside these experiments, I was also looking for a way to print on leather without using blocks, mag plates, and half-tone polymer plates(all very good methods), namely photo transfer.

Having done some rudimentary woodblock printing, I had come across a useful tool called a blender pen. This felt tip pen is loaded with Xylene, and I had been using them to transfer an image from a photocopy onto a block for carving. 

After doing some initial transfers on skin with the Xylene pen, which worked fine, I quickly embarked on a determined quest to find a method that did not involve possibly damaging solvents.

So briefly I will give the pros and cons of the two methods of photo transfer that have given me the best results - none of which involve Acetone or Xylene.


Available in all art stores, Matte Medium is basically an acrylic.

1. Stipple matte medium onto copy.
2. Place copy face down onto area to be printed between acrylic boards with wax paper.
3. Press for 20 seconds.
4. Spray back side of the print with water, the image should show through.
5. Carefully rub fibres of the back of the paper, and gradually peel back the layers of paper.
6. take care not to be too rough and peel the image.

What you are essentially doing is gluing the image to the surface, so it's a very low-tech


effectively fool proof if done correctly


The glued area becomes stiff, making it difficult and problematic to use over areas that require flexibility, such as joints. If the area becomes cracked, the layer may peel, and nobody wants that, so avoid where possible using across the joint. This method is used best for inlays, and for images requiring great detail and half-tones.


This method basically turns your copy into a printing plate, making it able to be used over joints as only the ink adheres, so while you can use it over the joints and turn-ins without cracking or risk of peeling, its still delicate, best results are achieved in high contrast and black and white images.

1. Mix Gum Arabic with water in a 12oz bottle in a 1-1 or 50-50 solution.
2. Paste solution onto an acrylic board and place copy print side up on board.
3. Paste solution over the print, removing all bubbles making sure copy is pasted onto board
4. Sponge off plate with water, let dry for a few minutes, and brush over more solution.
5. Repeat 2 times before applying ink 
6. Ink plate after 5 minutes.
7. Remove any ink in the white areas with sponge and water.
8. Repeat 2 more times.
9. Peel up the copy, place it on leather and press for a few minutes, remove and peel before it dries.

Best results achieved in either method are made using smooth regular goat is not so good, but smooth goat and calf can be used in any and all printing and transfer techniques to great affect, the longer any printing dries the better, and calfskin works very well with ink.

Thats all folks !

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Heroic Works - Designer Bookbinders International Competition 2017

Designer Bookbinders UK opened their 3rd international exhibit mid-July 2017 at the Bodleian Library, and I was pleased to be included.

The binding was of Ovid's "Metamorphoses", an edition from Shanty Bay Press, a good size plenty of room on the page in both english and greek, with some very nice photogravure work.

I printed the ends with oak leafs on sekishu tissue, the binding itself is a split board, three piece, bradel , or caped - binding - depending on who you talk to! There are a lot of different ways to describe essentially the same thing.

The boards are covered in sanded and airbrushed goatskin with matte foil tooling, suggestive of the pattern of an insect wing, with hints of gold leaf and turquoise onlays.

The exhibition goes to Birmingham, and later to St.Brides, before coming state-side to the North Bennett Street school in Boston.

Ive a number of new book projects and bindings to get stuck into so hopefully more technically challenging work to follow.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

COMING IN FROM THE COLD - Binding Exhibitions in 2013, 2014, and 2017

Since leaving the city in 2014, I have made a concerted effort to complete and send bindings to exhibitions for display and just for me.

Afterall, I never became a bookbinder because I enjoyed making case-bindings and boxes.

Opposite at the top is a binding of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" which won First prize in the Argentinian International binding competition in 2014 (EARA 2014).

Before leaving New York in 2013 I was very pleased to be invited to send a binding for the Designer Bookbinders anglo-american exhibit, which toured the UK and the USA.

The next 2 shots feature this binding, "Lens of Crystal", dyed goatskin , with monoprinted endpapers.

This year I was very gratified that my binding will be featured in the up-coming designer bookbinders international competition.

The theme of the exhibit is "myths and heroes",
so having sourced a beautifully printed copy of Ovid's "Metamorphoses" printed by Shanty Bay Press, binding was completed in september of last year.

The last 2 shots on the right show details of the front and inside, aswell as dyed skin, tooled onlays, and monoprinted doublures.

I will post more about it after opening night at the Bodleian library in Oxford, UK, July 17th this summer - fingers crossed!

Ive got a few more things in the pipeline, so will endeavour to document and post the progress of those.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

NOTES FROM THE WILDERNESS - Thomas Pynchon, and lettering in circle onlays

Since 2014 and before I have designed several covers for Thomas Pynchon titles  - always a fun prospect as a lot of his work is zany and yet rooted in a contemporary landscape, which means they can be quite fun.


Lots of Photo-transfer , lots of Pop images , lots of colour , lots of airbrushing - sometimes acryllic direct onto the skin.


Having done a lot of Photo-transfer on goatskin, I have yet to find a suitable and flexible enough technique that does not involve making photopolymer plates, printing presses, or xylene.

Using acryllic stiffens the skin, the image can crack, and it of course makes hand-lettering a problem.....


So, until i manage to sort that problem out - a short-term design solution has worked quite well - lettering in circle onlays 


More next week, including a look at some tradtional work completed in the last 2 years, aswell as some design binding. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

NOTES FROM THE WILDERNESS - sundry boxes and such

Throughout my years in relative seclusion the box project has trundled along with the persistence of a squeaky wheel.....with some good work , and the usual barrage of pen tooling, dye work, back pared onlays.

Ive included here some more highlights from the last 2 years, though there are more to follow.

Above was a fun day prepping a cover for Cormac Macarthy's "Blood Meridian" in 2014 - nothing like flicking red ink everywhere....

The tooling on the front board of  J.P.Doneleavey's "Ginger Man", in 2015, was - lets just say - a happy accident.

Had fun making pink eyes for James
Joyce's "dubliners - trippy

Simple line and dot tooling made a quick and effective design for Isaac Asimov's "I,Robot" - whilst a good way to recreate the artwork from Graham Greene's "The Quiet American" dust jacket was to make blocks using white erasers.

Making do with less is a good way to pare down your aesthetic. Less time, money, and effort....

Less colour, less design....

A well placed dot....etc....etc.....

one technique I might explore more of is cut outs and reveals - quite effective

and so it goes....

I hope it never ends.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

NOTES FROM THE WILDERNESS - back pared onlays

 So the Box job continues as it has done over the years - using as shown here for The Shining, Black Mischief, and King's Thinner - the by-now standard technique of back-pared onlays.
For those who are interested - leaving the backing paper on the onlay while pressing and paring and indeed glueing the boards and spine on - makes for a better finish.
 What you don't want is for the onlay to be proud.

 Using this method, you can get a smooth finish, ideally with a slightly indented surface, which I've found preferable.
A bientot.....

Saturday, July 30, 2016


Bless me father for I have sinned - its been over 2 years since my last confession and,  I must admit , I'm decidedly rusty and have no idea where to start.

A lot has happened since leaving New York, most of which I'll cover over the course of these notes from the wilderness.

I'm out of practise with writing so I'll be terse.

I completed this set of first edition Bond's in the summer of 2014 at the time of the move to California.

 Finished them all in the new place with the customary Airbrushing, surface gilding, back-pared onlays, tooling, and Photo-transfer
In the coming weeks I'll be writing about some Pynchon Design work, the use of hand letters in circle onlays on spines, a bit of design binding and whatever else comes my way.
PDB has also joined Instagram - you can find that on the right > and I am currently engaged in building my 5th and last Bindery in Pound Ridge, New York.

But I suppose the big news is - Im watch out!