Tuesday, December 27, 2011

basic techniques for printing on goatskin

This post first appeared on the DBOA blog earlier this year, I am reposting it for the members of this blog.

Out of necessity in 2008-09, I worked hard on transforming the regular goatskin onlays I was using to decorate my boxes. I had already been working on the boxes for 3 years, and after completing a lot of regular tooled onlays, I needed to start using new techniques in order to keep the work fresh, and keep both myself and the client interested. I had done some stamped onlays, but limited the use of these for children's books, and other volumes that had distinct jacket designs. As in the set of C.S. Lewis, and boxes like the signed first edition of Camus' La Peste. However, I tend to avoid the use of plates where possible, for although they do save time and make the design process easier, they can give a box a generic machine made look. I had done lacunose on a box a few times, but that can be time consuming, and certainly not efficient when working on an edition. I needed a more inventive, artistic method to transfer an image onto goatskin, or to find new ways to work or transform the onlays.

It was with this in mind that I began printing on goatskin, by first carving images into blocks of wood. I took some fair goat, dyed it, inked up the blocks, and pressed them onto the pre-pared skins. The first question was, "should I pare the skins first or after printing?". The next issue to overcome was the exact method of pressing in the studio, without the use of either a table-top adana, or any other hand-cranked letterpress machine, which I would later employ to great effect.

I experimented at first with hand techniques similar to those used in Japanese wood-block printing, but found it difficult to get enough pressure. Lastly, resorting to the use of a nipping press. You can get good results using a nipping press, but it requires a deft touch. The problem with using a nipping press is that all the pressure is exerted on all points of the block at the same time, which can lead to bad bleeding. Using a cylinder is much more preferable for this reason, although even with a cylinder press its possible to bleed an image with either too much ink, or too much pressure. If you are going to try this yourself, care must be taken not to smudge away the image while pasting onto the surface. The method of pressing, and the fact that the onlay is already pared to 0.10 microns, means that the image tends to be more delicate.

I used this method quite well in Cormac Mcarthy's "Child Of God, and Budd Schulberg's"Waterfront", and some others, however having had some success with rudimentary printing on goat, decided it warranted using more complex methods.

In the next development, I made regular polymer plates (Box-Car Press), for use on a hand-cranked Vandercook cylinder press. By"regular", I mean a plate that has a positive and negative printable area. Images from distinctive jacket designs were relayed to the plate maker. With the help of friend and print artist Mindy Beloff (Intima Press)we set them up on her Vandercook. I brought both pared fair goat, and un-pared goat, and it became clear right away that we were going to get much better results more easily with the unpared goat. I need not have been concerned about the paring, as with enough skill and enough sharp blades, onlays could be comfortably pared down to .10 - 0.12 microns on the scharfix without stretching and distorting the images...mind you, it doesnt hurt to have a few spares!!!

The next step was to see if the half-tone polymer plates I had used in the reproduction of some famous civil war photography for the endpapers of a binding of Walt Whitman's "Wrenching Times", which I was working on in 2009, would print well enough on goatskin. They did, heres a tip - ink up the plate 5-6 times before rolling over the with the goat. The results were very impressive, and a long way from the rudimentary wood block printed onlays. The half-tone plate works using a seires of small dots allowing for a variety of tones in the image, much the way older printing technologies have worked. What about running the skins throught the scharfix. No problem!, again no stretch, but always advisable to have spares. It is still possible to rub the ink off by over pasting the onlays, and if the onlay is too thin, so caution must always be heeded, but the onlays were much more stable than the wood block printed onlays of before.

This technique provided me with opportunity to transform the images, whether by dyeing, distorting, tooling. Its a good way to add an element to a design without too much hand tooling, but using photography printed by half-tone on goatskin can get old very quickly, if its over used , or not used in combination with other techniques, or it is not essential to the overall atmosphere of the design. In the case of the binding of "Wrencing Times", the images used not only are some of the first ever photographs to be taken in history, and some of the most expressive and famous images of the civil war era, they go well with gaylord's wood engravings inside the book. The images though, have not been used without some element of transformation, ie , they have been deliberated distorted by colouring over them, in the hope of giving them more subtlety, and have been surrounded by broken surfaces of gold leaf, to give an atmosphere of a faded, empty, and perhaps forgotten glory.

The Latest method for printing on goatskin I have used (october 2011), is quick, easy, and very effective.

Photo-transfer, or off-set printing on animal skins for bookbinding is nothing new, but the methods I have used before in combination with acetone were in no way as effective as this last method. You do not need plates, a vandercook or proofing press, inks, or any other solvents. It is a very basic method, rudimentary, and possibly not the most tidy, or elegant method out there.....but it does work, and work well. Take an image, remembering to reverse it before printing on a high quality printer, or make a xerox copy - colour or black+white. Cover the image to be transfered with a layer of liquitex matte medium and press. If you are carfeull enough you should be able to remove the paper after drying using water and a piece of cotton. If you are too aggressive you can break the polymer bond, leaving craters, so take your time and do it in stages. This method is good for inlays or for parts of the cover that do not require movement...such as the joints and turn-ins.....as the surface will break, and so too the image....The images used for a box made for Woody Guthrie's own copy of "American Folksong", are over 12"x9" large, and the transfer is of a very good quality black and white, managing to capture all tones light to dark.

This last technique has great potential for making endpapers, doublures, or for use in covers as part of more complex collage work.

My experiments with printing on goatskin, and transforming goatskin in general will continue, and I'm sure there are many more techniques out there I could put to good use.

Monday, December 26, 2011

2012 - the year of the dragon

celebrating the coming year of the dragon with a new web site

all the best for 2012

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Box Challenge - Woody Guthrie

It seems appropriate timing given the current climate, that the last two of my designs dealt with Huey Long, the populist politician, and now Woody Guthrie, who once said famously when accused of being a red..."I dont know about any reds, but I been in the red all my life..."

Politics aside, it is becoming clear the last few years that the most valuable tool in the bindery, apart from the scharfix, has been the large lightbox, found on the street some years ago, close to our first shop in Chelsea. An unbelievable find thanks to PDB CEO Denise Dovey.

I use it to trace patterns and images to make stencils for airbrushing, patterns for tooling and onlaying, to prepare designs using printed goatskins, tracing designs onto templates, and also now, in the production of off-set printed goatskin, and photo-transfer.

Now photo-transfer is nothing new, I first did some at LCP a decade ago, using acetone - but I never got results like this. The latest discovery in printing on goatskin, is quick, easy, and effective...and you dont need to use any plates, you dont need a vandercook, or any toxic chemicals. Its not a new technique, but it works well for goatskin, and has unlimited possibilities when it comes to constructing a cover design based on collage and used with other techniques.

The photo on the front board is from the LOC digital archive, and a famous picture taken possibly by Dorothea Lange(not sure), blown up, cropped, and manipulated in photoshop - sharpening contrast and exposure will ensure a good print. The photo on the back is taken from the opening shot of Steinbeck's "Grapes of Wrath" which I found fitting to use considering Woody's song about Tom Joad, included in the book "American Folksong", the box for which houses Guthrie's own copy.(that's tom in the distance)When I think of American Folk in that era, I see baptists, hobos, blue jeans, riding the rails, windmills, dirt crossroads, and yes, clearly telegraph poles.

If I had been making this design for myself, I would have completed the design with rows of stormtrooper police, and sprayed anarchist signs all over it, giving it a topical and menacing look, a nod to Guthrie's own politics - "This machine kills fascists"....but its not, and I think using the pictures evokes Guthrie's era, and a sense of american folk, with a much more subtle flavour.

The box was finished with tooled outlines of images of Guthrie, which i decided to keep to the side, so as not to distract from the image. I also decided to just leave it there. It is lettered down the spine as it is a rather large and narrow box.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Boston GBW Standards

Denise and I are in Boston this weekend, with the rest of the bookbinding community.  Boston is hosting the Annual, Standards Seminar for the Guild of Bookworkers.   Various seminars, bindery tours, and  all our favorite bookbinding vendors in one city.  Registration is closed, but the vendor room is open to the public....see you at the

Boston Park Plaza hotel
50 Park Plaza,
Arlington st.

We shall be making a first visit to bBromer's Booksellers around the corner too

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A quick method for surface gilding

for the bookbinders out there written up one method I have been usuing since 2010 for surface gilding leather......you will find it on the new DBOA blog


Friday, September 23, 2011

The box challenge - more surface gilding

more adventures in surface gilding...I will be posting a how 2 soon...stay tuned

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Box Challenge - latest


...long time between reports....what can I tell you.....I been busy ......more later...

clockwork orange, and garcia marquez....
back pared, and tooled onlays, stencilling, and surface gilding...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Designer Bookbinders of America

..has a new website
a slideshow will be added for each of the members in 2 weeks...
demos on the blog page too..although most of you guys have seen mine!
stay tuned for more serious boxes coming your way!!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The facebook group established by myself and some others last month, to promote the work of designer bookbinders working within north central, and south america, has grown to a modest but firm 300 followers. A website will be launched sometime next week, and our non-profit status is pending..
The work on display is really great, from toronto, to buenos aires..

Get behind us and support your pan-american bookbinder

Friday, June 10, 2011

Designer Bookbinders of America

are you american ??
do you like design binding ??
I am starting a group that in the short term will work towards gathering the work from the most skilled design bookbinders working in america, obtaining a venue and having a show.There is wide and growing support for design bookbinding in America, and many feel that talented book artists do not have enough venues to display and hopefully sell their work.
This in turn leads to a vacuum, a vacuum in which talent is not encouraged or fostered, to the same level as in many other communities.
The long term goal i will not too ostentatiously postulate would be to fill this vacuum with talented binders, regular mentorring and teaching programs, regular exhibits
right now i will settle for coralling a group of agreeable binders together for a show in a great venue, somewhere on the east coast.
I hope that the many of you out there who have voiced concern on these issues and more can get behind this effort and lend us your much needed skills , ideas , and advice.

You can show this support by visiting our new FB page and simply liking us...


I hope all of us in the bookbinding community can get behind this effort, as it serves us all

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

100 years at the NYPL.

Delivering the book today..... 600 or so pages folded, sewn on 3 alum tawed cords, laced into 1/4 sawn oak boards, with dado(recessed) joint, covered in alum tawed calf skin, with calf joint pasted to a recess on the inside boards....with clasps I bought from TALAS , made by Sean Richards .....recessed and mounted onto the boards..

I had a week to make a simple box for the library.....so i didnt use any organic materials(no skin), just a heavy duty buckram, lined in laval, but i did include the new lip style, making for a seriously durable clamshell.

Monday, May 23, 2011

100 years at the NYPL, New York City

About a month ago, I got a call from a guy out in California(kiyash monsef), who told me that both himself, and game designer Jane Mcgonical had been asked by the NYPL, to organise an event at the library to celebrate their 100 year birthday reviewed here in the times

Jane and her team designed an interactive game, in which 500 participants would spend the night in the library, and use various new technologies, such as the web and smart phones, to create and write a book inspired by the libraries 100 or so objects on display....ie one of the gutenberg they have, malcolm "X"'s briefcase, various bits and bobs from kerouac.
This project was called FIND THE FUTURE

Aswell as writing the book overnight, kiyash had asked me if it was possible to create a book there and then, that would be available for reference as part of the nypl's permanent collection.
I was intrigued, but originally dismissive, as it seemed too bizarre to work...of course had i known more about jane and her work, i would have thought otherwise.
After some intial emailsback and forth i agreed to be involved, and spend the night.

The project had some major initial problems to overcome...
1.No glue could be used....it had to be completed there and then , and look and function relatively like a book
2.No idea how thick it was going to be
3.Size not known until 2 days before

I decided on a wooden-boarded binding, with exposed sewing. After they were able to give me some idea of the no.pages(600) I was able then to advise them to use a thin 24lb paper, and to print in sections.
The approximate no. pages, and resulting thickness, presented a further problem....the fact that it had to last through continued use.....so I settled on a medieval structure similar to the one used by cockerell in his rebinding of the codex sinaiticus......It would look relatively bookish on the night...the boards could be prepped in advance, when they would give me the size, it would be covered later, so it would be strong and durable , and the style worked well with the historical theme of the project.

The night at the library was great, although the glut of material presented printing problems, so the book didn't get done, but I was able to explain as much as I could about the historical nature of the binding, and techniques used, and do some demos, so i was still happy to be there...After all , how many of us can say we spent the night in one of the worlds most important institutions

I am including a link to an article, written by my new favourite journalist and writer!!!
Elizabeth Kiem, is sharp and funny...

There is also a video recap of the event , if you blink you will miss me at the end!

you will find more photos on our facebook page

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Box Challenge - Alotta lip

     I started this project in 2006, and since then have made a lot of boxes. I was aware of the limitations of my skill when I started, and consequently tried to play it safe. The problem with that is first...you don't learn anything, and second, the work can't improve. After the first 30-60 in the first year, it became clear I would have to take risks. There are many examples of improvements I have sought to make over the years, such as learning to hand-letter to an acceptably professional level, and gold tooling in general.
     A full account of all the things I've learned and used, and the others that  I have discovered myself, such as printing from half tones on leather, I hope to offer up in an article for The Bonefolder online journal later this year. Today I wish to bring to your attention one development which may completely change the way the remaining boxes are made.

      I had been making these boxes using a style of full-leather clamshell I picked up working with my friend and trade-binder Ramon Perdomo-a style which uses the structure published by Scott kellar in '99, and which he attributes to Bill Anthony. It is similar, but with some key differences, which I have detailed in earlier posts, and which you can see in video on the right.
     3 months in, I was lucky enough to get some studio time with my first teacher Mark Cockram, when he visited the CBA in NYC that same year. After looking over the boxes, Mark made several helpful suggestions as to how to improve both the structure, and the finishing of the boxes, advice that I would not put into practice until
3 years later.
     One of these tips was an off-the-cuff 5 minute demo of how to improve the initial structure of the box. Mark suggested a strip of board be glued to the edges of the inside of both boards, providing for a similar turn-in to that of the spine, where the leather is turned overed a square vellum core. The resulting "lip", provides these benefits..

1.The extra thickness at both edges,make a tidy recess for the top trays to sit, making sure that they are attached in the correct position, and thereby further ensuring that the box close properly and stand up straight...this is particularly useful on tall slender boxes...please note,that differences of a millimeter in the position of the trays can result in the twisting of the case as it is closed, which will result in a box that leans.
2. The lip in the same position on the back board of the case, provides for an extra "locking"of the box. This further ensures the box stays straight and adds to dust-proofing the structure, which is always good....
3.As this style of box that I have been using is made with "squares", the lip also helps to ensure against possible sagging of the walls and de-laminating of the trays from the case, also enabling you to keep the fabric of the walls away from the bottom of the shelf.
This development, and the different way I make and use the form and joints, make for a very different box...building an existing structure into something different....It is, and it isn't a solander...its a small difference, and a big one...it may not be new, but I've never seen it before.

Mark has recently taught a workshop on the box in the past months and is calling it the "2 tray lipped clamshell"

As I have said, working at the edge of your skill requires that in order to improve you must take risks. Making changes in the production and design of the boxes, when they had been keeping the client happy, has been like jumping from a modest cliff, in that you never know what kind of landing you are going to get...or if you're going to get paid at the end of it.
In most cases, but not all, these improvements have resulted in longer production time, and harder work, but I have managed for the time being to balance this with the client by a marked improvement in areas such as finishing.
I learned a lot from Mark, most of which I am only beginning to understand.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Box Challenge - The Postman always rings twice

...more airbrushing...

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Box Challenge - Call it sleep

..more fun with an airbrush. Airbrush = more freedom/less tooling.......

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Box Challenge - HST part II

...so brief interlude tying up loose ends...back to the boxes
HST book and letter, airbrushed and inked leather and onlays, stamped and tooled  onlays.

The first was a lot of fun, especially hand lettering down the spine...satisfying because you get to tool the letter smack in the middle of the spine , which is the easiest part of the spine to work on

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Box challenge - hunter s. thompson

hand drawn stencils, hand cut, air brushed dyes,
and flicked ink......

i have crossed a threshold....

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

First class of the year

class time
1st of a few I hope to be running this year,

1.Making professional grade Eggshell panels...7th and 8th May
students will learn the method and materials involved in making eggshell panels to a professional standard, over a weekend.
cost $300
please email info@paperdragonbooks.com for further details.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Box Challenge - down so long

it looks like up to me

crushed inlays, dyed goat, onlays.....
doodling with brass tools

Monday, February 14, 2011

teaching and bench space

hi all
...PDB is opening studio to bench rental and on hand teaching...students encouraged to bring own projects to work.....also offering some prelim.classes, and 1 week intensive on a new method for clamshells...watch out...... may onwards
There is also an opportunity available for a student to work alongside me for 1 year ....applicant must be 100% committed to having a career as a bookbinder.Must have some aptitude, though not necessarily be experienced.
please send us a message if you are interested.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Box challenge - Key Largo

Just under the flap of the dust jacket on the front board..

         "EX LIBRIS

..Rex Harrison's copy of Key Largo, by Maxwell Anderson
you don't see that everyday!

just a note too that PDB has a new Facebook page, so you can now follow us on there. The blog will be posted, but there will also be some different, hopefully more informal content published!
Also, there is a treat for anyone(almost anyone!!!), who are freinds of PDB

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Box challenge - Rangoli

...back to the boxes....
rangoli pattern,back-pared "Om" and 24 dots from the ashoka chakra.

more to follow

Monday, January 24, 2011

How do you get to Carnegie Hall ? - Intermission

...lets have a break from the boxes, umm, an intermission if you will....
Marylin Horne celebrated 50 years appearing on stage at Carnegie Hall, so we made this to celebrate....
The usual stuff, but i decided to make a slipcase for the last two books, with the plate stamped and recessed in a well.The book is all leaf, but the fabric is a great foil....
You could stamp directly on the cover by backing the fabric onto a card stock the size of the case, but i decided to do it this way, as the plate is difficult, and if you mess it up, you end up wasting a lot of asahi.
More boxes to come........

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Box challenge - "I can't imagine.."

Boxes for 2 Gracie Allen Murder Case's, written by Willard Wright, inscribed for Gracie Allen,  and George Burns.

The large yellow area is stamped with artwork from the cover, but I added the magnifying glass and manipulated it slightly.....the rest is hand-tooled...all me...right down to the fingerprints!!

I have also managed to get my freaky face somewhere in the collection too.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Box challenge - Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King's,"Stride Toward Freedom"1958, inscribed

"...To my first teacher, Mrs Rebecca Dickinson.."

, signed in a beautiful calligraphic hand.

It was the first of king's book, documenting Montgomery bus boycott, and violence, and threats faced down by King,  Abernathy,  and other civil rights leaders, in the wake of the Rosa Parks incident.It is a critical document, which chronicles the beginning of a movement that changed the world, and made a real difference in the lives of all black americans.

Stencils of iconic images of King from the library of congress, as back-pared onlays,  together with regular onlays of black circles.Four onlays have been printed from half-tones. The stencil made on the front is from famous photograph of king with LBJ in the backround, both men appearing visibly frustrated. The second image on the spine is, of course,  from the March on Washington, where he delivered his famous "I have a dream ..." speech.

The closing lines from the book...

"In a day when Sputniks and Explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, nobody can win a war.  Today the choice is no longer between violence and nonviolence.  It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.....
....The eternal appeal takes the form of a warning : "All who take the sword will perish by the sword.".."

I've always been struck by his prophetic words, delivered in what is now referred to as the Mountaintop speech, April 3rd 1968  "...I have seen the promise land,  I may not get there with you..."
The very day before he was assinated.

the speech

Happy birthday Martin Luther King.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Box challenge - fitzgerald , old and new ....

Fitzgerald's inscription to american actor

"....you have reached the end of the sequence..."

so, on that note i have included the latest aswell as one of the first....the rest you can find somewhere on here....

more to come....look out for the dot...

Monday, January 10, 2011

box challenge - the dot

...ordinary..... artwork form the dust jacket, stamped onlays with handtooling...but it is neat, clean, and does demonstrate the benefit of a well placed dot.

we should all expect to see much more of the dot...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Box challenge - La Peste

".....we have indeed drifted into the arena of the unwell...."

...no, not Camus, but Paul Mcgann in Withnail and I, just as existential an experience. Peppered with memorable lines such as... never mix your drinks... I want the finest wines available to humanity... I want something's flesh.... I mean to have you even if it's burglary....  it can utilise up to twelve skins.....a coward you are Withnail, an expert on bulls you are not.........

Onlays, stamped with  22 carat leaf...
Interestingly, Camus has inscribed the edition with as best as I can make out with my bad French......

"...to someone who also shares an interest in the plague of the soul"

Withnail's Hamlet is worth sticking to the end for.....

 "what a piece of work is man.....yet to me , what is this quintessence of dust.Man delights not me, no,
   nor women neither..."

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Box challenge - happy 1-1-11

I have not posted anything in december, as I have been busy with the boxes, which I hope will be evident in the steady stream of regular posts this month.

I start 2011 with  Lost Horizon.

The second picture shows the back-pared onlays in the process of being cut-out from an overlaid stencil for positioning.Sanskrit..
om mani padme hum
....tooled over with Eternal knots.

You will be seeing more boxes with back pared onlays. Planned correctly, they can save a lot of time.

James Hilton also took the time to inscribe one of the more memorable lines from the high lama of Shangri-la

"...When the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled and the meek shall inherit the earth."

Happy New Year everybody.....PDB wishes the best for all in 2011, but really I'm just biding my time waiting for 2012 ....the year of the dragon....