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!

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Rose Family Seder - 2004 to 2014

Well.....what can I say, but if you read the first thought this would take a couple of weeks - I was wrong.

However, the book I was dreading is finally done. I say dreading because of the state of the pages i was given.

The previous temporary Rose Seder binding had been stuffed with pages, all glued in in-properly cockled, boards glued to pages, all of the margins ignored!, and just a bit of mess really.

First it had to be broken up, and those folds that could were sewn on stubbs. Pages that were not folds were gaurded, the boards were removed and some beautiful caligraphy was reframed using more appropriate paper and japanese tissue. Pages were joined into folds, and sewn onto stubbs, and some artwork that had been very poorly glued in were removed, carefully seperated and remounted on the appropriate paper.

All of this was rather nerve racking because all the artwork inside is completely original and irreplaceable, so...slowly slowly.

The signatures had to be individually gilded as there were many parts that needed gaurding compensation , were of different sizes, thickness, and as I mentioned before, some leaves were laminated to museum board , so doing it all at once was not an option....bad news for me, and for my gold.

We haven't even got to the binding yet.....a stubb binding, so all stubbs are sewn using an unsupported french link. Because of the size of the book(15x12x2) I knew I was probably going to have to split the binding up into 3 parts, as I wanted to use goat, and there aren't many skins about in a 1st quality large enough to do the whole thing in one go. Besides, I think it worked better that way.

Its backed in the normal way, lined,  it got a 3/4 hollow, a cartonnage spine, finished with a paper cape which runs along the spine and over each edge about 2 inches which I will use along with the leather to attach the boards.

 The spine was covered and head caps made in the normal manner, the boards made up, lined and covered , and only turned-in along the spine edge.

I made several designs on paper, all were variations on circular straight line tooled patterns, chose the simplest( and best i think!). Have it on hand and ready to go before you cover, that way your blind tooled lines will go a lot better.

The gold work took 2 days, 1 board a day, then they were attached and turned-in.

As you can see a leather joint was put in, in the french manner, and doublure of white calfskin could be inlaid.

Further tooling around the edges of the doublure was completed, and finally a goatskin suede laid down on the fly and trimmed.

After some simple tooling on the spine, a box was constructed with one my favorite additions of an outer wall along the trays.

The Rose Seder books will be on display at the NYPL from April 3rd to the 22nd for Passover, although possibly not this one, but they are worth a look - this is the forth.

All said and done....I like was very hard to make ....took way too long, and came at a bad time .

But I'm back.......and badder than ever!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Lens of Crystal

The first of many proper bookbindings, I hope, for 2014,

Ombre dyed Goat

Monoprinted ends with onlays


Monday, September 16, 2013

Artist comission for Chris Ofili

Chris Ofili is a well known and internationally exhibited turner prize winning british artist, born in Manchester England. He might better be known  as... "that guy who paints with elephant dung", but more accurately he is well known for his intricately designed canvases infused with african motifs.....and his painting of the black Madonna.

I was honored to meet Chris and his family when they stopped by the bindery a couple of years ago, as I've long been a fan of his work, and of the fact that he manged to rattle Mayor Guilliani's cage all those years ago with his Madonna!
He was meeting to discuss the re-production of smaller artworks that he had created on a much larger scale and in goatskin. He had had some done before and I had seen them so I knew it was feasable, there were only two things that really concerened me.....the size of the skins(what animals), and the nature of the framing and base (warping etc.....)

Well, we shook hands said goodbye and I forgot about the whole thing until I got the call earlier in
april of this year - "'s going ahead, and we need it by the beginning of june..." - nuts!!!

Then began a frantic set of calls to all known and unknown associates to research a warp free base that wouldn't be to heavy (MDF was out)....and some animals large enough to do the job. Also, this is not a one man job, I knew I was going to have to call on someone highly skilled to help me, or hold my hand, either who?

I called Nicky Oliver (Black Fox Bindery, London) or mentioned on facebook, would she want to come to New York to help me,  she stupidly agreed and was a little stunned when she arrived, as was I. I had known Nicky briefly when we past each other in the old binderies of LCP back in '99 to 2000, and we were I think aware of each other. To think that a decade or more later we'd be collaborating on a project in New york city as proprietors of our own binderies would have been ridiculous. We were to spend the next 30 or so days in each other's company
for most hours of the day. I also called Nicky not just because I thought we'd get along and work well together, but because of her prodigious skill as a colourist and dyer of animal skins, which will become apparent later.

So, Nicky's on the way, I got 2 weeks to get everything ready...the base, the skins, the dyes etc...and all the rest of it. I had been sent a scaled up version of the small A4 original artwork, which had been printed to 6ft high by 4 ft across, which would make dissecting the artwork into more manageable pieces a lot easier. Pinned to the wall I marked it up the distance on either side.

The base - after much conversation on the book-arts listserv(valuable resource), and with my friend and talented conservator working now in england Abigail Bainbridge,  I found that the notion of using Aluminum honey-comb core panels came up intriguingly a couple of times. The immediate advantage I was assured, by Abby especially was that the honey structure with an Aluminum skin on either side would prevent the expected warping produced by laminating skins and material on one side. It would also provide a solid base without unduly adding to the weight of the piece(20-40lbs max). The base was 1/2" thick, and the skins on either side of the honeycomb structure were approx 2mm thick.

Just one note - Abigail Bainbridge is an extremely knowledgeable conservator and part time instructor at Camberwell....I have long said that when she does end up running a major institution, that shes to give me a job...I am hoping that wont be too long.

The adhesive - what was I going to use to adhere the skins to the structure? Laminating the surface with a fabric using epoxy resin had been suggested, but upon discussion with a specialist art framer, I discovered that a piece of heavy watercolour paper could be successfully laminated the full length of the core using PVA. First I decided to laminate a layer of airplane linen to one side, and turning over the edges of the frame(which had been filled in with epoxy for a flush edge) so that the leather had a surface
to go over when being turned over the frame. The paper was laminated and cut flush...this then further provided a surface to draw the artwork over the frame, retrace then cut and paste the numerous inlays of goat and calf into place. The frame was filled in on the other side and left to dry on 1 of the 8ft by 4ft benches in the bindery with larger sized boards placed ontop with much labour, for pressing and to keep flat. This Nicky and I accomplished in the first half of the day.

Dissecting the Artwork - luckily for us denise
had found a massive light-box lying on the street in chelsea back in 2006, and its been with me ever since and vital to PDB operations. We were able to take the scaled-up print out and trace over it using sharpies...which in-turn enabled us to see the outlines when the print out was laid on the bench underneath an over-sized roll of tracing paper....job done.....The tracing then pressed onto the surface of the watercolour paper on the frame........
What we were left with was the artwork, broken up into pieces and outlines on the frame.

The skins - I had at our disposal several alum
tawed skins, and oversized un-dyed goat and calf skins big enough to tackle the larger pieces. The first problem was the size of the pieces needed. I did look into using buffalo skins, but they didn't prove adequate. I was able to secure large un-dyed goats up to 10ft sq and some even larger calf skins from stephen seigel of Seigel leathers USA, which proved ultimately very useful. We had to decide what skins we were going to use first. Here the genius of our division of labour served us very well.  Oversized templates were made from the seperate outlined pieces and labeled, then having worked out which skins were going where, the skins cut and Nicky's colouring could begin.

The colouring - an epic process mapped meticulously by Nicky, completed using tests colour charts, recipes, all posted on the wall, before the skins were cut. Nick decided to start
with the Pink, the loudest colour, and after some initial tests discovered that the neon of the pink yellow and oranges were best matched using the alum tawed goat, as it had a very bright white base and made the colour really thats that settled...the pinks were cut out oversized, and with enough room to turn over the fram at the edges. Once the colour had been acheived the skins were cut and dyed, then cut again and glued onto the surface of the frame.

In choosing a particular skin several things had to be considered; continuity (the same part of the same object had to be done using the same skin, ie the backround pink all alum tawed skin); the size needed and available in skin (the middle backround being the largest peice had to be cut out of the calf, then for continuity the other size was made in calf also), not least balancing these 2 with how the colour reacted to the different materials.....It was complicated.

So we were off, Nick was in the corner with her syringes like a mad scientist, and my job was to cut and paste it all together, sometimes bevelling on and off the board retracing and cutting.

Next we started on the figures, Nick dyeing an over sized piece of calf for the woman, then me re-cutting with the appropriate bevels and pasting it into place, and so it continued, with occasional breaks after major applications to stand it up and compare it to the print. Nick used this time to see what else she had to add by way of shading and colouring once the main pieces were on.

I think the hardest part for me was inlaying the large yellow and red calf backround in the middle between the figures, matching up the bevels etc...., just the size and awkwardnes of having to do it standing on the frame, insane!

If you had to ask, the hardest part for Nicky was the TROUSERS! such odd colours to match and capture in the right place that in the end she had to make a paper template for the colouring.

I think the most pleasing from a colour point of view and for how easy it went down are the pinks yellow and oranges of the alum tawed skins, there is a section there against the blue water and inset in a black backround that just looks like a massive candy sandwich....delicious! Nicky really surpassed any
reasonable expectation of matching the original.

In total there were approx 90-100 seperate pieces of calf goat and alum tawed goat all hand cut dyed and inlaid together.

The whole piece was finished a week early and we had time to take out pieces we weren't happy with and put them in again, turn the edges over the frame and touch it up at our leisure.

In the end the whole pieced was framed and hung.