Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Art Studio Handbook

Stacie Dolin and Amy Lapidow. Book Art Studio Handbook.   Beverly, MA: Quarry Books, 2013. ISBN 78-1592538188. 160 pages. $18.74.

Reviewed by Laura Capp

As a soon-to-be graduate from an MFA program in Book Arts, I have officially begun to hoard reference books.  When the experienced binders, printers, papermakers, and calligraphers I’ve been privileged to learn from are no longer just down the hall, I suspect I will be relying much more heavily on my library for the guidance, advice and inspiration that anyone setting up their own studio will inevitably need.  This is chiefly why my heart leapt for joy at the title of one of the latest instructional manuals in the book arts world:  Stacie Dolin and Amy Lapidow’s Book Art Studio Handbook, published by Quarry Books.

This manual is organized into two parts.  The first, “Getting Started,” introduces the tools one will need to set up a home studio as well as the basic steps any bookbinding project will typically require, such as determining the grain and calculating the amount of paper necessary.  I was especially glad to see a technique covered for trimming textblocks since one of the major drawbacks of graduating, in my mind, is losing access to a board shear.  This section, totaling about one quarter of the book, is most useful for those new to bookbinding or new to working in a more modestly equipped studio.

Part Two, “Studio Projects,” speaks to a broader audience, offering step-by-step instructions for twelve different sample bindings, subdivided into sections on albums, books, enclosures, and advanced projects.  Each section opens with an attentive and intelligent list of questions that will help the user to make considered decisions about the binding and materials based on his or her intentions for the book, and every project is accompanied by thorough photo documentation as well as clear, concise step-by-step instructions.  A brief gallery of the projects presented in the handbook and variations on them concludes the manual.

I would call myself an intermediate binder, having taken three semester-long bookbinding classes, and most of the structures in Book Art Studio Handbook are happily either new to me or are significant enough variations on structures I’ve learned that I’m curious to try them.  Rather than treading on the familiar ground of pamphlets, accordions, basic case bindings, Coptics, and so forth, Dolin and Lapidow provide structures that offer different avenues of exploration, at least for someone with a few years’ experience, and that are accessible to a range of binders.

To test out the project instructions, I put together both the “5-Minute Slipcase” and the “Tacketed Book.”  I found the steps for both projects to be intelligibly described and the photos informative and ample in number – easier for me to make sense of, certainly, than the illustrations often accompanying bookbinding instructions.  The result for the 5-Minute Slipcase project is a sweet little case that is a cinch to put together.  However, while this particular project is meant to be more decorative than durable – as Dolin and Lapidow point out themselves – it is quite fragile, and I would have been glad to spend a few more minutes on the case in exchange for better sturdiness.  Or, given that the 5-Minute Slipcase is quite attractive as a concept, Dolin and Lapidow might also have offered some suggestions on modifications that would achieve other effects or objectives.  The project, for instance, calls for decorative paper; using stiffer paper that still scores and folds well would be an easy way to make the case sturdier.  Having used decorative paper for my version, I opted to slip some 10-point card into the sides of the case and add double-stick tape at the seams for a slightly stronger, crisper product that feels, to me, like it has better longevity.

The "Tacketed Book" is similar in construction to a long-stitch except that the sewing is not continuous; rather, it ties off at every pair of sewing stations, essentially creating staples out of thread.  For this project, there were some slight errors in the instructions that threw me off for a spell (it calls for five sections in the materials list and later refers to the model as having seven sections; it also says that one should “segment the width of the template by the number of sections minus one” [Page 74] when I believe it should be plus one), but I sifted through that and came out with a neat little structure I’m happy to have made.

Book Art Studio Handbook ultimately offers a nice range of bookbinding projects with strong visual and written instructions, but I do confess that the title itself feels imprecise for what the book sets out to do.  “Book art” is no doubt an umbrella term for a wide variety of material objects that utilize hand-sewn bindings, handmade paper, letterpress printing, calligraphy / handlettering, or any combination thereof.  As such, “book art” is not misused in this title, but given the wide-ranging meaning of the phrase and given the fact that the manual focuses exclusively on binding structures, Book Structures Handbook or Bindings for the Home Studio would, perhaps, offer a slightly more circumscribed description of the contents.  I had hoped that Book Art Studio Handbook might also be more focused on the “studio” part of that equation than it ultimately is.  While it does catalog the tools needed to set up a home studio, the title had me dreaming of photographs of actual binders’ studios. Dolin and Lapidow state, at one point, that they “know bookbinders who work in large studios and bookbinders who work in a dedicated corner of their kitchen” [Page 12].  I would have loved to see some examples, even briefly, of this range, but the details are regrettably left up to the imagination.  The first section of the book, “Getting Started,” might have been more beneficial to intermediate and advanced binders by going beyond an introduction to tools and techniques and delving into greater specificity about methods of storage and the organizational logic of experienced binders’ studios.

That said, what is offered up in the pages of Dolin and Lapidow’s Book Art Studio Handbook is well worth the time and exploration.  Offering instruction on the page rather than in a classroom no doubt puts teachers at some disadvantage, and yet Dolin and Lapidow manage to convey the expertise, enthusiasm, inspiration, and encouragement that students are always hungry for.  It is a manual I am grateful to have in my library, and when the impulse to hoard reference books becomes its own storage problem (as it soon will), Stacie Dolin and Amy Lapidow’s Book Art Studio Handbook is one that I will be hanging onto.

[The New England Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers held a virtual exhibition of bindings on or inspired by Book Art Studio Handbook. Click here to view.]

Laura Capp holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa with an emphasis in Victorian and modernist British literature and is currently an MFA candidate at the Center for the Book, specializing in calligraphy and letterpress printing. She is the recipient of the University of Iowa’s Presidential and Grant Wood Fellowships and has had her work featured in Letter Arts Review. Laura also has over ten years of experience teaching literature and calligraphy courses. For more information and images of her work, visit her online at