Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Hundreds of years of bookbinding in an hour can make your head spin

... but luckily the students at Warner Pacific College could handle it. 
After a presentation on Chinese bookbinding this month, Warner Pacific students take a look/feel of my book-model petting zoo.

As part of Pamela Plimpton's Global Literature class, students read Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, a book about the influence of books on two teenagers undergoing "re-education" during the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s. I follow up with my summary of inventions leading to the book, basically all the Chinese innovations that made Dai's sweet breezy tome possible.

Four books and a box: the xian, baobei, hudie, and jingzhe
books show how one of the world's most
important cultural tools came to be.
Speaking of possibilities, it occurs to me I did not post an official reveal of the project that is central to my forthcoming Chinese-bookbinding book. By the way, any publishers reading this: Grab the manuscript fast, because I and my incredible layout master and illustrator are headed toward self-publication. Along with travel stories, cross-cultural shenanigans, language lessons, and romance, readers will learn how to make four of the oldest book forms in paper (except the scroll) and a shutao hard-bound case to hold them.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Making a case for Chinese books

Chinese books, usually softcover, often have a hardbound case for protection.

Folios folded and pressed will make up four books.

Folios divided and collated.

Two books, the xian and the baobei zhuang, feature "paper nails."

The books are covered in the traditional indigo-colored paper.

Finally, the last image/project for the book is done—models of the four earliest bindings aside from the scroll, along with a hardbound case in which to house them. Along the way, I have checked, rechecked, and triple-checked measurements, hoping I avoid any angst or wrath from newbie bookbinders looking to learn the age-old techniques.

The books try the case on for size; measurements are taken
at 32nds of an inch for a perfect fit.

Speaking of the book, I received my first rejection letter! This puts me in the company of so many other authors I admire, and hey at least it is a response. A response from a query sent five months ago, but a response. My first job in publishing involved writing hundreds, maybe thousands, of rejection letters, so it's probably my turn.

Since I submitted to other publishers and agents, I expect to receive more, and also am pushing forward on self-publishing if it comes to that. One author I met recently described his experience working two times with a publisher, and then self-publishing his third book. The latter is the only one that's turned a profit, so I'm heartened. He says, too, that you can no longer count on the marketing muscle that used to be the chief reason to be publish with one of the bigs; many publishers leave it all to the authors now. So I don't feel so timid about taking this path more independently traveled.
Two ties and a couple of biezi clasps, and we're done.

Come to think of it, that's how the book came about in the first place. The foundation that funded my project to learn bookbinding in China stipulated that the learning couldn't come about as a class or through some academic route; it had to be a person-to-person exchange. Pre-Internet, I worked hard through the mails and networking to get a toe in the door at the National Library of China. I twisted that toe until my foot fit, and once I was in there, I smiled big and never let on that I was desperate for a chance to work elbow-to-elbow with master conservator Zhang Ping.

It worked. This many years on, I'm still amazed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Books start simply

Hard-copy markup and measuring paper
make up some of the final stages
of manuscript prep.
At last, we are on the home stretch in compiling the art for the Chinese bookbinding book; in fact, we are one image away from layout. As I create the final project—models of four of the oldest forms of books on paper following the scroll—plus a hardbound case to house them, I'm reminded of the relatively small number of materials required to make books, and the centuries that went into fine-tuning their forms.

More than anything, the creation of books takes time and care. Hopefully, my how-to manual and ode to the roots of bookbinding will give readers a chance to slow down, appreciate, and take history into their hands. 

You can read more about bookbinding tools in the next post, and see many more at this site created by photographer (and Portland tanguero) Dale Bennett, who focuses on artisans and their equipment. I am honored to be included.

Silk cloth from the legendary Aiko's of Chicago will cover the case. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tools rule

I never thought that one of my most important tools might be the one I can't even properly name. Having surveyed tool sellers, users, and the google, it's clear this tool is far from a punch. But what is it? "Cold chisel" is about as close as I can get to a specific description of this fetching piece of metalware, but other than that, it's almost a free-for-all of description. Is my chisel—which I use for whacking narrow slots in bookboard—"flat," "diamond point," or what?

Left: What a chisel makes possible in bookbinding. Above: Note no bevel at the cutting edge, as with many other chisels.

The online photographs and illustrations can be the worst, labeled something different from the text and then entirely contradictory to other sites'. Get your illos right, people!

That's exactly what we're trying to do—and even the reason for this rant on chisel identification—for the final push on art for the Chinese bookbinding book that seems to have no end (in production work anyway; why did I think writing it would be the hardest part?). It should be bound in some form or another in the coming Year of the Sheep. 

If you know how to better specify the tool I use to make the simple, elegant Chinese shutao ("book clothes") case, please dish it.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

This is late notice, but I'll have my wares for show and sale at the German American Society of Portland from 2 to 5 p.m. this Sunday, Dec. 21, at the new clubhouse, 5626 N.E. Alameda.

You will be amazed by the renovation done to the old Masonic Lodge there at the intersection of Northeast 57th, Alameda, and Sandy, and hopefully just as amazed by the incredible quality (and modesty) of the vendors assembled for the Christmas Market.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

School book fair shows books far from dead

Here's the shoulder-to-shoulder scene at the recent sale in our neighborhood school. The kids came in jostling and shouting, then settled in to flip and browse pages even while they were buffeted by the book-loving crowd. Long live book lovers, long live books.

The sale last week at the Northeast Community Center also went well. I love watching people meet Japanese chiyogami paper for the first time and experience the tactile joy that comes from making contact with something—say, a handbound portfolio or archival clamshell box—made to last so long it easily becomes an heirloom. One customer explained his purchase thus: "I have to get this because every time I see it it'll make me smile." It makes me smile, too, thinking how the happiness multiplies.

This week I delivered a long-planned commission, which commemorates a life cut short. Hopefully the stories inside—wrapped in life-affirming colors—offer solace and enduring memories.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Smart Santas save the date

Early next month the Northeast Community Center rounds up local artisans for its annual wide-ranging craft fair featuring goods of all kinds. My chiyogami-covered boxes (bottom left) even made the promo postcard!

The event runs 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7, with wine, cheese, and music, and continues 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8.

See you there.