|My February - March sketchbook|
On the covers of my latest bound sketchbook are the cherry tree I sketched in the Sunset Hill neighborhood and Greg on our hotel room balcony in Cannon Beach. As usual, they aren’t necessarily my best or favorite sketches – just ones emblematic of the period covered by the book.
I tried something different this time with the covers. Usually I collage the surface of the chipboard covers with reused, handwritten papers, apply a coat of diluted gesso to partially obscure the reused papers, then apply a couple of coats of acrylic paint over that before gluing on the sketch images (and the final step is two coats of acrylic varnish). This time I skipped the painting step, so the randomly collaged materials are more visible. I don’t mind the visibility of the materials, but I kind of miss the bright paint colors. It saves me a day in this multi-step, multi-day bookbinding process, though, so I might keep doing that for a few more books.
As mentioned last month, after giving 98-pound Canson XL Mix Media paper a fair shake, I’ve gone back to my tried-and-true 140-pound Canson XL. I regret that I’m giving up the major benefit of being able to bind more pages per book, but I got spoiled by the 140-pound’s heftiness, both in terms of holding up to washes and in being a stable sketching surface even when unsupported by a cover.
Intrepid bookbinder that I am, I haven’t given up on streamlining my process. I also still have the goal of taking up less shelf space. To that end, I’m again trying something I tried a couple of years ago: binding four sheets instead of three per signature. A four-sheet signature has the benefit of giving me one additional full-page spread, which I use frequently, and is significantly stiffer and therefore stronger. When I carry and use a signature without my leather Stefano cover, it’s as stable as any commercial softcover sketchbook.
The drawback of having thicker and heavier signatures, I learned last time, is that the stitched binding becomes less sturdy. In theory, hand bookbinding enables you to use any type of paper you want and create any type of book; in practice, the chosen binding technique has structural limitations. But after binding for nearly three years (this is my 25th volume), my Coptic stitching technique has improved. Perhaps the binding will be strong enough to support six signatures of four sheets, yielding a 96-page book. That would be a quite a bit more bang-for-the-binding-buck than my usual 72 pages (though less than the 120 pages I was striving for with 98-pound paper). Stay tuned in a couple of months.
(I’m still hoping that Stillman & Birn’s replacement books for the faulty softcover edition released last fall will become my grail sketchbook – lightweight, relatively slim yet containing excellent mixed media paper that I’ve already come to know and love. But so far, the replacement books are nowhere to be seen.)