Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In Print in IMPRINT

I am lucky that the Brisbane City Council library subscribes to Imprint, the quarterly journal of the Print Council of Australia. It saves me some money, but it does mean that I am often a month or so behind in getting my hands on the latest issue.

Over the week-end I picked up the summer 09 edition and was interested when I stumbled across an article by Doug Spowart on the SCU Acquisitive Artists' Book Award. You may remember my surprise and delight when I discovered that Like Weather had been acquired for the SCU collection. So, despite the mis-spelling of my name (dig!dig!) I was absolutely thrilled to see that a good-sized photo of my book appeared with the write-up. It was completely unexpected and the first time I can remember unexpectedly stumbling across my own work.

I found the discussion of the award and the acquisitions made most enlightening too. This is an area in which I am a complete novice, so the mention of the impact of the budget, the dreaded bottom-line, created somewhat of an "ah-ha" moment for me. In a pool of "name" book artists, I can now understand how my humble flag book made it past the post. Spowart points out that fine press and large scale books are necessarily overlooked, in order not to blow the whole budget on a single work.

I'm not saying my book should not have been acquired - clearly it had to meet certain criteria of conceptual integrity and craftsmanship to gain selection, but obviously "the price was right" too. As an artist submitting work for future awards, this is worth understanding. It's a wonderful forum in which to attain some recognition if your work falls in this category.

In addition, I don't think this will necessarily impact negatively on the SCU collection in the long term. The direction of the collection will reflect the budget certainly, but the acquisition of works by artists early in their careers, or artists who produce works by means other than fine press, can still result in the selection of high quality artist books.

I was not able to attend the announcement of the selections, so I was very interested in the reportage of the commentary made by the judge, Tara O'Brien. In particular, O'Brien had issue with the use of stab stitch, or perhaps more accurately, what she viewed as "over-use" of the binding. Practical difficulties in opening the book fully combine with the historical connection to Oriental book forms, leading O'Brien to conclude that the stab binding is often employed in Western bookmaking when another binding would be a better choice.

This comment has set me thinking ever since I read it. Yes, you guessed it - I've been planning to bind my next book using a stab stitch. I've thought about the "opening fully" issue quite a bit. The comment took me by surprise really, because I have been taught that only the coptic actually opens fully, but maybe I've got that wrong. [Certainly, a perfect binding with a soft cover does not open fully either (e.g. a paperback) not that this stops an awful lot of people from doing precisely that, but don't get me started on that!]

Being able to open a spread fully is often extremely important to a book. Certainly any sort of journal or workbook needs to open fully; also very often a book with a lot of imagery, and I think very small books and larger books can be difficult to handle and really "see", if the spread cannot be opened out flat.

While mulling this over, I came across this picture of an eighteenth century guide to Kyoto by Rito Akisato (you can pick this up for a mere US$38,500 if you feel inclined). On the right you see one of numerous open spreads depicted on the website where it is for sale. And yes, the spreads lie open beautifully. From looking at this picture, the trick seems mostly to lie in the soft thin oriental paper, which almost "drapes" over the mound of the spine. I think, also, looking at the picture of the outside of this lovely old book, that the stitching looks quite close to the spine, around only 1 cm in. From a quick look around the internet with google images, I noticed that more often the stitching is placed further in, probably around 1.5 - 2cms from the edge. This would create a much larger ridge, resulting in the book being more difficult to lie in the open position. A quick check with my Keith Smith reveals his direction that the "sewing stations are 3/8" from the spine edge"1, and 3/8" is almost exactly 1cm!

So I've decided to test this theory and go ahead and bind the first copy of my book with a stab binding. Most of the pages are vellum, and given the relationship of this book to the Japanese theme of seasons, I am hoping the binding will "work" in a practical sense. With a bit of luck, I may have this first binding ready to show you next week.

If you have thoughts about the use of stab stitch or some of the other points raised by Tara O'Brien last year, you might like to hop over to Book*Art*Object for some more discussion there.

1. Smith, Keith A. 1999. Vol1 Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Paste or Glue. New York: Keith Smith Books, p. 110.


  1. your reporducted work looks LOVELY amanda - but you must have found it really unnerving to just stumble over it (I know that when we enter awards/exhibitions we often need to sign those clauses that allow for the reproduction of works - but at the very least I think it might have been nice to let you know that your piece was getting a turn in IMPRINT.... hmmmmm)

    and I love that you are throwing a few questions into the ring for us all to mull over - and mull over them I shall - and hopefully I'll add my two cents worth over at your BOA post: http://bookartobject.blogspot.com/2010/02/stirring-possum-with-due-credit-to-doug_03.html

    when I find my brain.....

  2. How wonderful to come across your work so unexpectedly! Nice big photo too. I think you've now thought a great deal about your stab-stitch and can see the problems so you'll be able to work around them. Definitely most people seem to sew way too far in, and the paper used is rarely suitable. What you said about the paper draping in the Japanese example is exactly right. I often buy examples of bad binding just to remind myself and they are invariably those cheap Asian or Nepalese bindings that have beautiful papers but are totally unuseable. I'm sure your binding will be beautiful and sensitive and I look forward to its unveiling.

  3. You sound so disappointed about learning that the acquisition of your book included monetary considerations. But the ways of how this decision was made does not change the accomplishment that an institution bought one of you books. And Institutions *always* have to mind their budget!

    About stab stitch for books I will hop over to Book*Art*Object as suggested.
    Miyako Meisho Zue's book is beautiful, thanks for the link.

  4. Congratulations Amanda on having an image of your book published. It's great to "stumble" across something you've done and a wonderful outlet for others to see your work. Your book looks great and is prominently displayed on the page.

    I know how exciting this is. A few years back when Keith Howard published his first "Non-Toxic Intaglio Printmaking" book I found that one of my images had been included. Needless to say, I was pretty excited.

  5. Thanks to you all for commenting!
    Ronnie: Glad you like the questions. I don't know whether they "should" have spoken to me first. Not legally, I'm sure, but maybe it would be courteous. At least it's an academic journal, not a "glossy", so I can't say I begrudge them. After all, I doubt Imprint has a huge staff or budget. Initially I was just stunned to see my work there on the page. Then I thought about the fact that the photo was taken by Doug Spowart without my knowledge, and it felt a bit "out of my control" but really I am thrilled to have it included.
    Wow Carol! I am so impressed that you buy bad bindings for reference! That's dedication to the cause!
    Buechertiger: I tried so hard not to sound disappointed when I wrote about the budgetary limitations, but obviously I couldn't keep it out of my "voice". It's true! I am an idealist! I would like to think that my book would have been purchased regardless of all the other books and the budget, but of course that's a bit crazy - because everything is completely interdependent and it is not possible to ever know!
    Hi Melody! Thank-you! Ah, yes, it is quite a special feeling. Keith Howard's book is on my wishlist, so I'll keep a look out for your work when I eventually buy it.

  6. This post is very timely for me Amanda. I have always been a big fan of stab binding but like you, and most of the people commenting, I am concerned with how stab b ound books sit and open. Because of this I ordered a book called Japanese Book-Binding through Abe Books. I was starting to get a bit anxious about the length of time it was taking to arrive but today when I got home from work my hubbie had collected it from the post office. Timing aye. I have only just unpacked it but when I get around to reading it I'll post a review over at mine.
    But I do love stab binding and think there is a definite place for it in contemporary practice. Maybe we have to shift our thinking position - why do books have to open flat?

  7. Anonymous9:04 PM

    I certainly wondered how my book sxraped past the big names to be acquired also, and had come to the conclusion that price might be an issue. However also variety should be an issue. Imprint is about print-making but artist's books aren't necessarily prints. Mine was acrylics, stencils,decorated papers, collage, inkjet transfers etc etc. Definitely unique, not an edition. While I also make prints, only my first book was of prints. I have done some prints for another book, but have abandoned the idea because of the stab-bound/display issue. My book was exposed spine stitching, and that structure opens completely.

  8. I haven't done any book making for such a long time. Your post really makes me want to get back to it Amanda! The things you're doing these days are really gorgeous.