Sunday, May 22, 2016

Thicker Signatures

My April - May sketchbook has thicker signatures than usual.
My April – May sketchbook is bound. On the covers are the Vespa in memory of Florian Afflerbach and one of the student cooks in the FareStart program.

A notable difference with this book is the one I mentioned last time: I stitched each signature with four sheets instead of three. A four-sheet signature has the benefit of giving me one additional full-page spread (which I use frequently). It’s also significantly stiffer and therefore stronger. I can carry and sketch in (standing) a signature without my leather Stefano cover for support, and it’s still as stable as a commercial softcover sketchbook. This last point is a huge deal for me because I’ve reduced the bulk in my bag significantly. In fact, a single signature without the cover is so thin and light that I usually just leave it in my bag day to day instead of having to remember to grab it when I’m going out to sketch. My already mostly brainless portable sketch kit requires even less brains now (If, like me, you are “of a certain age,” you know why this is such a benefit)!

I was concerned that the heavier, thicker signatures would make the Coptic binding less stable – a problem I encountered when I tried the same experiment a couple of years ago. But I think my Coptic stitching technique has improved sufficiently that it wasn’t a problem this time. I doubt that I could push it to five sheets per signature, though – the fore edge (parallel to the spine) is already pretty ragged (and my bookbinding process is lengthy enough; I won’t trim the edges!). I think four sheets per signature is an acceptable tradeoff: 96 pages instead of my usual 72 per book; each signature sturdy enough to use on its own; the book is still securely bound.

Sketching in my red Field Notes has renewed my interest
in giving toned paper a try.
In other bookbinding news: I’ve been having so much fun using little red Field Notes in the same way as toned paper would be used – black ink and white ink or pencil for shadows and highlights – that I decided to try using tan toned paper in my full-size sketchbook. At first I thought I’d stitch a whole signature of tan paper to use as determined by whim, but then I’d have to always carry two signatures (one regular, one toned). Instead, in the batch of signatures I just stitched up, I included one sheet of tan paper per signature. I can skip the page if I don’t feel like using toned paper when it comes up, but having it there will remind me to try it.

For the past several sketchbooks, I’d been feeling a bit belabored by my own bookbinding process. I enjoy it, and I want it to remain enjoyable and not become a chore. (I can tell when it’s feeling like a chore: I start fantasizing about finding the ideal store-bought sketchbook again.) But the versatility of being able to use any kind of paper I want, even occasional toned pages, without hauling multiple sketchbooks, is one of the primary benefits of binding my own. It gives me pure joy when I rediscover such a benefit. I felt that same spark of joy last year when I had the need for a single sheet of dark paper, and I was able to simply bind it in along with the regular signatures.

I was thinking about all of this as I stitched my April – May sketchbook, and it gave me renewed enthusiasm for bookbinding. 


  1. Nice job on your bound sketchbook! So, if I understand correctly, you bind your sketchbook after you have done your sketches in all of the signatures? This would definitely help to reduce weight in your bag...good idea. I also like the toned paper...quite striking with the black and white drawings.

    1. Thanks, Serena! Yes, exactly -- I carry around and sketch in the unbound signatures (the pages are stitched temporarily), and when I have filled six or seven of them, I bind them together permanently.

  2. I think the toned paper works well for you. I like the highlights and the darks against the red has really grown on me. :) I think it is great to be able to have a few choices of paper when you go out to sketch.

    1. Thank you, Joan -- I'm looking forward to doing more sketches on toned paper!


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