Tuesday, April 22, 2014

March – April 2014 Sketchbook Bound

March-April handbound sketchbook
With sketches dated from March 3 through April 15, my eighth handbound sketchbook is done. (One book is still in the Museum of History and Industry exhibit, but I count the two separately bound volumes from the Barcelona Urban Sketching symposium and my related travels as one sketchbook, so that’s why you can still see eight books on the shelf [below]. Not that you’re counting, but this blog serves as documentation for myself, so I feel compelled to account for everything accurately.) Featured on the covers this time are sketches of MOHAI’s beautiful clock and a maple finally showing signs of spring.

It’s probably not apparent in the photos, but instead of the black bookbinding thread I used on the previous volumes, I tried an olive green thread this time. I like the way the thread coordinates with the various shades of green in the cover sketches. It’s one of several thread colors I got recently from Oregon Art Supply. Although it’s 3-ply like my black thread, it feels a little thinner, so I wondered if it would make a difference in the binding, but it doesn’t seem to.

Stitching visible in the center of a page spread.
It does, however, bring up an issue I’ve considered occasionally in my bookbinding explorations: how the binding thread looks in the center page spread of each signature. More often than not, I enjoy sketching across the opened page spreads, so the thread ends up marching rather obtrusively down the center of the sketch (see image at left). Of course, I always scan the sketches while they are still in signatures that are temporarily stitched with white thread, so the stitching is less apparent in the digitized images (see the blog post in which this sketch initially appeared). I could do the final Coptic binding with white thread, but then I’d lose most of the visual impact of the exposed thread on the spines, which is the thing that appeals to me most about Coptic binding. I guess it’s an acceptable tradeoff: Slightly obtrusive thread in the center of each signature offset by beautiful spines.

Even after nine (not counting do-overs from errors and books made while learning) Coptic bindings, I still find consistent thread tension to be a challenge. But that, too, is something I’ve come to accept as part of the hand bookbinding process. Most of my sketches are wonky in some way; if the binding is too, then they are made for each other.

My handbound sketchbook collection (with an old fuzzy friend serving as a bookend).


  1. I've watched, with great interest, all of your experiments with sketchbook creation and your tests of various papers. Have you completely settled on whether you prefer the Canson XL or Strathmore watercolor paper?

    Also, when you get to the coptic binding stage, do you pull the 'temporary' stitching that holds your signatures together while you're sketching or just leave it in?

    Cheers --- Larry

    1. Hi Larry,

      The Strathmore 400 paper has a lovely cold press texture that I prefer with watercolor, but it's a little rough for fountain pens. The Canson XL is much smoother -- almost like hot press -- so it great for fountain pens. So it's a tradeoff, and I like both. If I ever get to the point where I can paint without using a pen first, the Strathmore would be my preference (I'll let you know if I ever get there! ;-) ).

      As for the temporary stitching: Yes, I just cut that off before doing the final binding. For the temporary stitching, I use the simple "pamphlet stitch," which you can find easy instructions for online. It's strong enough that it could be a permanent stitch, but it only works for a thin stack of paper.

    2. That's sort of what I gleaned from your previous posts. I've tried Strathmore 400 watercolor and Fabriano Artistico papers and while they're both nice for watercolors, like you I find them a bit bumpy for pen and ink work. As I'm more likely to give up watercolors than I am to give up my fountain pens, I'm leaning more towards Stillman & Birn Zeta, which is lots of fun with ink and pretty nice for watercolors as they sit 'high' on the paper and stay quite bright.


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