Bound: A Review by Alex Musgrave

If you say the word ‘book’ to yourself, most of you will have a classic image or concept of a book in your mind, a bound collection of printed sections, words, fonts, illustrations perhaps, cover art. Bound will change that I think, binding you to paper for life; creating a craving for the textures of paper stock, and forging an addictive thrill of surfaces beneath tired fingers.  The utterly joyful Rachel Hazell has curated fifteen bookmaking and paper projects that while intricate and beautiful to make, examine how we consider the book unfolding in our minds.

As I immersed myself in Bound, I realised something I have perhaps always known, that books are really only defined by our imaginations.  Are books just paper and words gathered in a particular places? No, of course not, the variety is endless:  ceramic, metal and driftwood pages, leather, papyrus, skin and glass. I am covered in personal tattoos and read to private eyes as a kind of living book. So we must constantly rethink and review how we see the book and the page. Is the word vital or is it the blank ‘page’ that invites the word, memory or quite simply the mark?

These thoughts will follow you as you work through Rachel’s carefully chosen projects. Each one has been devised to permit minds and fingers to work through a collection of concepts that might seem odd and perhaps tricky at first but will connect you to something beautiful. Paper folds; this in itself is immensely satisfying; who doesn’t like the casual repetitive often unconscious origami of bus tickets and till receipts. The purpose of Bound is to allow you to make satisfying works of bookart, learn techniques that will remain in your brain and fingertips and teach you an inner sense of control and appreciation for your own skills.

Rachel’s heart beats for her home on Iona, the beautiful and feral, weather -marked isle in the Hebrides that requires two trains, two ferries and a car to reach.  This enviable sanctuary ebbs and flows through her work and in particular the projects she has assembled for us to try in Bound. There are photographs in the book of Rachel on Iona and these are echoes of the leitmotifs you will find in the textures and palette that Rachel uses throughout the work she shares. The paper is sand and beaches; the ink circles, links, lines and dots are the sea, rain and water on her Iona home windows. Even her elegant handwriting, repeated, looped and overlapped looks like messages left out in the rain or discovered face down in puddles, inks leached into the water. There is a very special course you can do – a short retreat on Iona creating a book bound with driftwood covers.

In the instructional part at the beginning Rachel says: ‘Bookbinders have a love of accuracy built into their personality.’ Now this I recognise as an appropriate truism for bookbinding, however…I am just not made like that, I like a certain amount of accuracy, it is necessary and as I’ve got older I find myself wanting it more and more as a means of grounding myself in my art. But once a bad-tempered rebel always one. Rachel herself would never expect a slavish devotion to rules, but what she is advocating and expecting at the very least is a following of basics and terminology, an immersion in the addictively repetitive cut, fold and adornment of paper.  From there you can move in your own direction if you wish, particularly in terms of decoration or the source paper. But the foundations are necessary and Bound asks that we read, practice and learn something that will raise beauty from paper, ephemera, pattern, card, thread and ink.

The photography by Susan Bell is lovely and unobtrusive, minimal, Japanese in leaning, showcasing Rachel’s elegant crafting hands demonstrating the folds, stitches and decoration involved in the variant book projects she shares. A lot of books, right across the crafting spectrum are guilty of either patronising or baffling makers; but Bound is a kind guide, yes challenging as you move through the projects but if you have listened and learned you should enjoy all the steps of the bookmaking processes.

Everything you might need is carefully explained by Rachel at the beginning of the book, sharing her knowledge of paper, the alluring tools of the trade, needles, measuring things, awls, inks and the techniques and finishes that she likes to use. You might find you already have some of these materials and things that can be substituted by more readily available, less specific tools. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m a sucker for crafting tools and the lure of slitting knives, Japanese screw punches, bone folders, glue brushes, awls, beeswax, linen thread, and bookbinding needles. I was fascinated how quickly I became accustomed to the lingo and navigating the weights of paper needed. I created little books using a lot of Rachel’s techniques and was so pleased with the results. I’m not interested in perfection, it’s not the way I work; I like accidental effect and what follows on from that, even if it mean the erosion and transformation of the original object. The book projects I have made to date have been self-weathered, rubbed, flexed and grasped. If edges rip and pages buckle, so be it. I’m toying with bleach, fire and water. I can only really do these things because the foundations laid and techniques learned though Bound have taught me so much.

©TSF AlexCMusgrave

February 2019

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