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Arts & Environment: Making things out of rubbish

Updated: Jun 13

Since I can remember I have been making books. Folding pieces of paper up to make a structure. Whilst on my photography degree, I started to make books with my photographs, learning how to construct covers out of grey board and cover with book cloth. I was taught at the house of one of my lecturers. on the kitchen table where a vase of tulips cast their shadows. These were beautiful books that were filled with original handprints.

After graduation I started to find my way in photography. For a few years, I made handmade wedding albums, teaching myself a variety of constructions. 

Then 10 years ago, I saw someone advertising a series of bookmaking classes in a local town. The classes were on my morning off, so I signed up. During the series of six weeks, I learnt the principles of formal bookmaking. The importance of grain and card stock, how to fold in corners neatly on covers and how to construct perfectly folded signatures of paper for sewing.

The books we made were beautiful, too beautiful often to use. I would make them as gifts for people. Then to see them forever sitting on shelves. No one it would seem would want to spoil the pages or crack the cover open. They were the equivalent of the tea service that my grandma saved for ‘best’ – no guest ever quite worthy of that honour.

As an aside one day, the tutor commented that you couldn’t use normal cardboard – you know the type from cardboard boxes. A lightbulb flashed up – I wonder if you can?

So, I experimented, and the result was the envelope book, using a Coptic binding. 

I began experimenting with other paper, the type that comes as packaging in parcels. Making different styles of books. Despite the rough and ready appearance, these books are surprisingly tactile and want to be used.

Last summer I demonstrated two styles of books as part of the Summer of Sustainability season. One was a simple concertina fold using a cardboard box for the cover and packaging paper from a parcel for the pages. I also made some pamphlet books out of envelopes and other found or discarded paper.

I wanted to show a book in use, the concertina fold had 30 sides, so it was perfect to use as part of the #sustainableseptember hashtag challenge. 

In the Autumn, OCA hosted a Big Draw session, so I put one of the pamphlet books to use for this. I didn’t finish the book and it has been sitting there idle on my work desk since. A friend started a doodle a day challenge for May – so I pulled the book out to finish up the pages.

These books are both simple to make and use materials that we would normally throw away or at best recycle. I’ve found the paper to be very resilient to all types of media – even holding watercolour. The scrappy nature of the paper means that I don’t get confronted by the ‘blank page’ fright that many of us get when staring at a blank sketchbook page.

This summer I am hosting two sessions, showing how to make books that can use scrap work, or can be used to store work in progress, both are simple structures using what you have to hand.


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