I have Virginia Woolf and a rural childhood to thank for the idea that a handsome book was something that could be made swiftly, as needed. Reading her diaries at a young age, with no worldly experience to attach to what I was reading, I doggedly ploughed through rather than savoured them. And I became fixated on those moments when, running out of pages in her diary, she went into the Hogarth Press workshop and made herself a new one. She didn’t describe the process. So I invented it out of the wondrous properties of the machines from the Westinghouse “World of Tomorrow” section on the New York World’s Fairs of 1939 and 1940 in a set of encyclopaedias I’d had. All wrong then, of course, but very close to the process I’ve devised and use today. Bookbinding has always been an industrial process for me. My books are “machine made by hand” says my friend, robotics engineer Ken Goldberg.
This means precisely cut and assembled. Architecture rather than craft, if we adhere to the general definition of the word: “the complex or carefully designed structure of something”.
And it means finding or engineering the tools and machines that will allow me to build the book I’ve devised, not starting with what machines can generally do and adapt my books to the industry standard.
A knuckle-headed approach, probably, and I’ve suffered my share of Wile E. Coyote moments when everything backfires, but I’ve arrived at the point where I can take my process to the next industrial level, producing up to 500 of something. Any more than that it makes sense to re-engineer the books and give them over to a commercial process … but that’s for someone else to do.
Printing has been the major headache. The option I’ve arrived at is to take a high quality but essentially simple small office computer printer. One where the paper doesn’t have to be twisted through a set of internal rollers, so that I print on boxboard and manila folders, or anything I can run through it, and that ink or laser dust will adhere to. But not the ridiculous photocopiers of today that have too many design functions (resizing images, collating in several styles) as that can be done in a computer now. So I’m looking for a next generation home printer that embraces the ‘back to analog’ aesthetic that’s already infused music & photography, while keeping the most useful aspects of digital. Elon Musk’s idea of what a printer would be on Mars probably. And a brilliant 1990s Xerox colour copier, from before the digital interfaces that larded them up with complex features.