Growing up in India, I remember my father making simple three-hole pamphlet-bound books for us to practice vocabulary exercises. Back then I did not know anything about handmade books beyond that simple utilitarian object. It was after I came to the U.S. a few years later that I was exposed to the amazing world of bookmaking that included hundreds of different ways to make books with a dazzling array of decorated covers and inside pages. I was hooked.
I am self-taught and learned bookmaking from excellent instructional books. It never occurred to me try online resources until I came upon two video workshops: Handmade Book Essentials: Learn to Make Folded, Side-Stitched, and Signature-Style Books with Dea Fischer, and Seth Apter’s The Altered Book: 10 Mixed Media Techniques. These were eye-openers for me and made me fall in love with bookmaking all over again. Each workshop is divided into multiple chapters, and each chapter is devoted to one topic. For example, Dea’s workshop has a chapter on the basic tools for bookmaking, another one on folded books, and so on. Similarly, Seth’s video workshop has chapters dedicated to creating layers, mark making, adding embellishments, and ways to unify various elements to tell a particular story.
I am a fairly experienced bookmaker, but I still learned a lot of new things; for example, did you know that dental floss can be used for stitching books? The workshops inspired me to make two handmade books that mixed and matched the formats and techniques from the two workshops, and I added my own touches and improvisations.
The first book I made is a side-stitched book using a Japanese stab binding. I do a lot of paper-cut work with botanical themes, and I had long wanted to showcase them together in an appropriate setting. A Japanese-style book was the perfect format for displaying art. My plan was to create covers that would provide hints to what was inside, and book pages that would make the black paper cuts pop. For covers, I used tea-dyed medium-weight watercolor paper. The tea suffused the paper with warm, earthy tones appropriate for a botanical themed book. I assembled all the tools and materials and set about making the book.
Since the tea unevenly coated the reverse side of the paper, I decided to cover it with a vintage book page that I had already colored with acrylic inks and stamped with leaf images For the book pages, I used pages from an old book that I sprayed and splattered with acrylic inks. Then I bound the covers and the pages using a 2-hole stab binding technique and twine. Dea shows you how to create this versatile binding in her video, and it’s great for making handmade books with single pages.
To decorate the cover, I used tips and techniques from Seth’s workshop video. One point that stayed with me was that a book cover, beyond being visually compelling, should tell a story. With that in mind, I added decorations and text that suggested that this was a book about plants. The leaf doodles, dried petals, part of a seed packet, and the word “botanica” clearly conveyed that message.
Here is a finished spread that features my cut paper art:
Accordion Album Book
The second book I made was an accordion-style book (also called a concertina) with pockets. This piece was for a practical purpose: I’ve collected many postcards in my travels, and I wanted to keep them in one place. A concertina book with pockets was an ideal fit, and the instructions are included in the video workshop Handmade Book Essentials. I kept the book plain and simple and focused on creating a distinctive cover, except for one detail: I lined the pockets with index pages from an old atlas. For the cover, I used heavyweight decorative cardstock paper with a travel theme and decided to alter it. The paper looked too bright and new, so I aged it with Ranger Tim Holtz Distress Inks. Then I collaged the surface with postage stamps and hand wrote “mail” on one of the collage pieces.
I added another collage layer on top for added interest:
I distressed all of the pieces to create a cohesive look. Once I was satisfied with the cover, I glued the accordion-folded pages book to the inside of the book.
Here are my finished handmade books. I hope you are inspired to make a book of your own!
Indira Govindan recently switched to become a full-time artist after a long career in higher education. You can find her in the following places: dharmakarmaarts.etsy.com, instagram.com/indiragovi, and dharmakarmaarts.blogspot.com.