Q: What's so great about hand made books? A: Time travel & immortality!

1305 letter from the Ilkhan Mongol Öljaitü to King Philip IV of France, suggesting military collaboration.

"A handmade book costs how much?  Why aren't your books priced like the ones I see on Etsy?  Over [$ xx.xx] is ludicrous!"  This could be asked of any similar crafted object and there is nothing wrong with these questions.  I've asked the same ones myself of other items I've found desirable. 

It's a fair question.  It's a great question, in fact.  What are you paying for?  We all ask that because we all are, at heart, selective people of taste.  We want the best value and that's one sign of good character.  But, I ask in return, how do you interpret the phrase, "You get what you pay for"?  That's what's at the center of it all.

Let's take my books.  Hand made?  Check.  Archival quality?  Check.  Cruelty free?  Check.  Fair trade materials whenever possible?  Check.  Ample & generous?  Double check.  Well engineered and comfortable to use at a price that takes my labor & materials into serious consideration?  Triple check.  

But what does all that mean?  Archival quality is what you should focus on.  It means that my book and its materials are selected and assembled in such a way, that when not physically abused and protected from UV, fire and liquids, will last somewhere between 100 and 600 years.  Longer possibly.  This means if you record your thoughts and notions, your observations, hopes & dreams into one of my books, or any other finely made book, your ancestors will know who you were exactly.  What you were about.  What life was like in another time.  A book becomes the ultimate personal legacy.  They are the only known physical containers of human thoughts that have had a lot of field testing.  Time tested, too, so you can be absolutely sure of them.  

Did you know that there are letters, written by Mongol Khans, sent to ancient French king Phillip IV, nearly 1,000 years old that are still on display that have undergone almost no conservation?  The secret is the paper and the ink.  As long as they are kept dry and out of direct sun, the Lokta paper these letters are written on and the clay & soot based ink they are written with will continue to travel time with us.  Telling us, unambiguously, what happened back then.   But that fine paper and ink came at a cost.  A reasonable cost to achieve legacy status.  There's a reason why literacy was the hallmark of elites back then.  

1289 letter of Arghun to Philip IV of France, in the Mongolian script, with detail of the introduction. The letter was conveyed to the French king by Buscarel of Gisolfe.

So, for a little more money than you would expect to spend on a mass market quality journal, your mind can be a time traveler.  Visiting the future and serving as a bridge for future folk to visit the past.  I can guarantee you will not be misunderstood and that you will be, in that state at that time, as mysterious, exotic and interesting to folks as any celebrity or historical figure.  Maybe even controversial.  You will be a historical figure by merit of the nature of Time/Space, Biology and the Universe itself.  But you have to start writing in your book, your finer quality book that you paid the correct amount of money for, in order for that to happen.  Your thoughts on fine paper in a well made book will turn your very brain into an important historical artifact.  

Suddenly, a few hundred dollars in exchange for lexical  immortality seems like a great value, yes?

Facsimile of the diary of Anne Frank on display at the Anne Frank Zentrum in Berlin, Germany.

Bear Hermit Park Service Discovers 3 New Wood Books

Well the last week was productive and here is what I came up with.  Form left to right of this handsome trio is Bird's Eye Maple, Red Cedar and Walnut.  I learned so much with these fine books.  Like last time, the real stars are the elegantly engineered canvas spines & hinges.  Click on those links to see some of my own marble paper lining the insides of these arboreal ambassadors of awesomeness.  

Take note, I am not stopping here.  In veneer veritas!  ...Or something.  

Anyway, back to work!

Duck Cloth and The Fertile Crescent

It's fun discovering new uses for materials you once took for granted.  Duck cloth, or in more common parlance, canvas, was one of those, "I could have had a V8!" moments for me.  Just about everyone has a bag or some durable work gloves or even work clothes made out of the stuff.  What about those giant parasols giving shade to your patio?  Duck cloth.  Good ole durable duck cloth.  Besides making books of wood possible, books in general look and feel great made from it.  It's especially cool when you can get it with nice colors or patterns.  This example here was given as a gift to a friend.

By the way, just because a book is covered in canvas doesn't mean you can treat it like lawn furniture.  It still needs a certain level of care.  

Wood Book Version 2.0 is Go!

I have done it.  My fever dreams have produced something unique and original.  A handsome cherry veneer book unlike any other in existence.  What makes it special and able to exist is the clever use of duck cloth to make the spine and hold the veneer and boards together.  I am very pleased with myself, needless to say.  While Asian stab bound books make for easy candidates for such an undertaking, figuring out how to case bind it was a challenge but the challenge was met and here for all of you is a fine book.  A unique book that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in the world.

It's been a great day for Bear Hermit R&D.

Bear Hermit R&D Department: Wood Book!

I have performed numerous unnatural acts to get brittle veneer to bend to my will and conversely, had my will bent to the veneer.  So yeah, I got bent.

Just a taste for now.  A simple cherry veneer book.  A prototype.  Not for sale or at least not yet, but as soon as the method is refined.  This little book is very rough but charming.  Mesmerizing even.  

I believe I can even do this for traditional western books.  We shall see.  In the meantime, I have splinters to pull out.

Bigger and Better

Two more additions just in for the Asian stab bound books.  I really can't help that these are my favorite because they are so boldly patterned and have dramatic colors yet they do tend toward the small size, don't they?  Well not anymore!

I've added two 144-page behemoths measuring in at 9.25 inches x 6.625 inches, one vertically bound in a lovely peach and the other horizontal with a striking black & gold theme.  Go to the shop and have a look.

I Found A Rich Vein in the Art Mines!

It's funny what happens when you go spelunking in that one hall closet.  The one that keeps all your ancient mysteries.  Some bringing delight, others bringing shame and still others that make you say, "What combination of drugs & alcohol was I on in the early 90's?"  You and I really don't want to explore that last question.

For me, it was wonder.  I ran into some pieces I did between 6 and 25 years ago.  One of them an acrylic which is a substance I rarely touch.  That was an earlier work.  A tree at dusk.  That was about 6 years ago.

What blew my mind was a series of sketches from when I was around 14-16.  It was a pencil drawing of my left hand.  It was an anatomical study and an exercise in high level technical illustration.  At first blush it looks like something you'd find adorning the walls of an Atlantean GP's biopsy.  But there's a method behind the madness.  I took time to assemble it into my very first triptych.  I don't know why I waited so long to get my T-card pulled but it's done!

As a series it demonstrates on old process.  One that I have refined to be more organic and less technical in my current creative process.  What I did is I covered a page in charcoal, pressed my wet hand into it then made a print on the second panel.  Using the hand print, I made various notes on dimensions, spacing and tissue depth.  Finally, I traced an outline of my left hand on the third panel and filled as appropriate using Gray's Anatomy as a reference.  

A few very short years later I suffered some major damage to both my hands requiring an X-ray and to my surprise, I got it exactly right, less some finer details like texture and angles of incidence.

If there are any doctors looking at this, please contact me about why my proximal phalanges are shortened.  It was never explained to me and I've always been curious about it.    Today, they appear to be normal length.

Two New Art Additions

I've added two of my largest works to date.  One is a portrait of Bodhidharma, the first teacher of Zen who brought Buddhism to China from India.  He was a fascinating man and a great teacher whose legacy continues.  Kudos to you if you can guess who my model is.

The other painting is my symbolic vision of the death of the Buddha, meant as a meditation on his last words.  I hope you enjoy them.  

Anatomy of A Successful Success

After spending nine intense days figuring out Islamic bookbinding on my own, I've made my first wholly acceptable book and it is only my 2nd attempt.  While age & experience are valuable, helpful things, I wouldn't mind getting back some of that youthful enthusiasm;  That's what let's you do all nighters and cramming sessions and still look & feel good the next day.  That was so long ago.  Sigh.

Here's a question:  Have you ever produced something, especially when you're trying something new, have it come out right and not be able to bear parting with it?  I know I should sell this on the shop but I can't stop touching it, admiring it.  I want to keep it for myself.  Desperately.  But I shouldn't.  It's even in my preferred color scheme.

I guess this is why most bookbinders' dens look like the store rooms of large public libraries, eh?

Anatomy of a Successful Failure

A very young but astonishingly wise Taiwanese man told me an old Chinese proverb, "Failure is the mother of success."  A number of other similarly wise westerners also mention the importance of failing often to achieve success.  Spelling it out, this is the road to wisdom and experience.  Iterating until we produce something satisfying.  Then building upon that and so on and so on.  It makes you wonder if perfection is a delusion the way we constantly adapt to each moment.

I recently tried my hand at Islamic bookbinding.  It's really fascinating.  The books are so simple to produce but beautiful and durable.  Here's my example.  And it is very rough.  Mind you it's pretty good as far as a first attempt goes, using rare information.  Thus it will serve as a model.  My only innovation was the addition of a thematically appropriate hasp.   Little steps. 

While a number of things are slightly off center, the crowning jewel of any case bound book, the end bands, are what I really struggled with.  I'm still learning this particular style of end band.  The end bands, frequently called head or foot bands, are solid cores wrapped with colorful thread.  They have a decorative quality but they exist to dissipate force when the spine is pulled off a shelf thus preventing the spine from blowing or cracking anytime soon.  They also offer some protection to the tops of the signatures, the individual folded sections of paper in the text block.  

Islamic end bands are flat rectangles, usually leather, sometimes wood, bone or thick compressed layers of glue soaked paper or linen.  They are held on by looping thread across the top and through the center of the signatures.  These support threads are what you weave two colored threads through to create a chevron pattern, thus obscuring the core and completing a traditional look.  It's hard physical and mental work to do these things well and just as much trouble to do them badly as you can plainly see in the last two photos.  But I pushed on.  I consider the cost in time and materials as tuition.  

What did I learn?  Numbered lists are helpful for retrospectives.

  1. I used a material that was too soft and flexible, hence the puckering.  I'm now going to use wood or heavy museum board.
  2. The core was too wide at a quarter inch.  An eighth is probably the perfect size.
  3. The supporting thread should have been waxed.  Unwaxed, I destroyed a lot of thread and hit many snags.
  4. The supporting threads need to be loose so that the needle can comfortably weave through them to make the alternating chevron pattern.
  5. Gluing on the core would have stabilized it and prevented the invention of new swear words.  
  6. When weaving the colored threads through, I shouldn't have pulled them tight but just gingerly straightened them out.
  7. Tight weaves have to be manhandled when being pulled down and gathered in rows and destroys the symmetry and also causes the support threads to pucker which creates the 3D "road to the horizon" effect.  It also lets the support threads peek through.
  8. Islamic end bands really need an even number of signatures, thus an even number of support loops for the weaving formula to be correct and end up looking right.

These are my lessons.  My informative failures.

Now what went right?  My measurements and cuts were well within my self imposed 1/16 of an inch tolerance.  My origami skills were critical when figuring out how to miter the cover material on the triangular flap so it would case in correctly.  The hinges are beastly strong!  I'm really proud of those.  The marbled paper for the doublures was well chosen but then it is one of my own designs so I would say that .  Thematically, it all matches very nicely and I love the scintillating grid illusion created by the pattern on the cover.  The text block opens flat!  And it isn't even a true Coptic stitch!

As I've said the simplicity and strength of this book is amazing.  The doublures, as you've noticed, are pressed into the hinge and then an excess glued right onto the first and last pages.  Then this section has stock paper glued over it with a cut pattern on it, usually triangles but it can be any pattern or even some decorative paper.  I used the back of my bone folder to make the spear tip pattern.  That was fun.  Overall, this is an impressive method to have in my bookbinding repertoire.  

Now, with all this in mind, I intend for the next one to come out better, and more improvements still with each successive attempt.  Failure, you are truly our greatest instructor.

I am open for business

Ladies & Gentleman, Friends & Family, Well Wishers, Colleagues, Acquaintances and folks in general, welcome to my dream come true.  I've talked about it and now I've finally done it.  This little online boutique represents a new adventure and y'all are cordially invited to share this exciting new experience with me.  Please browse the shop, ask me questions at ckb@bearhermit-toybindery.com and most importantly, enjoy.