To travel through chlorophyll tunnels: Bookart and poetry

July 30, 2013 § 5 Comments


The Arvon Foundation is an astounding and stimulating resource. Established over forty years ago, four historic houses run residential writing courses and create magic.

In the middle of July, with the prospect of perfect weather, the ideal co-tutor and a dream of a guest speaker, I arrived at Hebden Bridge train station laden like a true Travelling Bookbinder.

Jen Hadfield with flea market treasure.

It was the first time dear Shetland friend Jen Hadfield and I had taught together. What a treat. We were able to modify, respond, adapt and restructure our plans as we went along. A true collaboration. Made utterly enjoyable by the delightful reactions and productions of our group.


Abstracting letter forms.










There was word play and experimentation, the learning of folds and new book structures. And instructions to forage; to choose a thing to examine and describe.


Derek foraging.










Jen challenged us to see through unfamiliar lenses and to write what we saw.


Richard Long speaks of walking and making.












Landscape inveterate Richard Long flew in from Japan to show us what he considers to be his first artist’s book, created while travelling across South America with Hamish Fulton in 1972.

The next morning he woke at five to walk up the valley. He said the experience of being in this place – Arvon – and reading Jen’s poetry had opened up a door in him.

Inspiration was evident when students were asked to go and ‘texturise’ a sheet of thick cottony paper using pens, pencils and less conventional mark-making methods.


Flic’s studies in found inks and dyes.











Making art AND catching the rays!










They came back burnt, muddy, rubbed, embossed and trodden on (and that was just the students ha ha….)


Who know foxglove leaves and flower petals could give such deep colour marks? Roni did!












Frances channels Miro.










Once the paper had been covered with text, pigment….character, each was folded into a book form.

Arson by Lynette.

Arson by Lynette.


Jeremy demonstrates how there are two sides to any story….














Carefully berry-stained…













In between times we sat in the sun.










Friday night saw splendid recitations and presentations.


Jen’s Lenses produced and read by Fiona (Complete with props.)














Ela exploring prepositions.











Good listening.


Good looking.

Every morning looking out at the forest wall across the valley made me so happy. Making books makes me happy. Learning/Teaching more about words and books and place has been a pleasure.


Hard to leave this shifting mass of green.










Thank you Jen, Richard, sixteen special students and all at Lumb Bank.

Oh and thank you Hebden Bridge for Radiance, Ruby Shoesday and Snug too!

A Paperfest at Moo

June 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

Last month, much to my barely-contained excitement, not only did I get to visit my favourite print-on-demand company (and see the Moo ink drop reception carpet in real life,)

RH.Moo6we got to play with paper for a couple of hours of practical mind-expanding creativity.

RH.MooEverybody had a mini-goody-bag, with labels and envelopes….which included my cherished thick juicy Luxe business cards.

RH.Moo1We folded, tweaked and challenged our spatial awareness of paper. Soon a set of origami books had been nestled into a custom-made envelope. And some paper was engineered into pop-ups.

RH.Moo3Fortunately, bowls of sweeties and plates of biscuits were on hand to maintain momentum.It was a Monday evening after all.

RH.Moo5Whoah! Some folk from the American office joined in via video link (and patiently folded different shapes in between instructions. Brilliant.)RH.Moo2There was time for free-style experimentation with the folded book forms involving felt-tips and some revelations about the last office party. The evening was rounded-off with a slideshow of how paper has become a career for The Travelling Bookbinder.

This is the first corporate paperfest I’ve had the pleasure to run. If you or your company would like to host your very own, send a message. Yay.

RH.Moo4Thank you to Moo and Mr Matthew Grey.

Driftwood days

April 28, 2013 § 2 Comments

Bookbinders started to appear in twos and threes off the ferry from mid-afternoon on March 7th. John took care of the luggage while the rest of us ambled past the abbey along to the north end. The hostel was waiting, all welcoming and warm, with tea in the pot.



The following morning, having unpacked cutting mats, laid out pencil cases and started in on some preparatory folding, we bundled into coats and wellies and went outside. Our host, John showed us round the croft, sharing a wealth of knowledge about the age of rocks, Gaelic names and the Spring of Eternal Youth (amongst other things.)


John gives a tour of Lagandorain flora, fauna and geology in a very cold wind. The hat-wearers were glad.

Then back to folding and slitting, cutting large sheets of creamy cartridge down to size and into sections.


Collating pages

Fortunately the rigorous work schedule was regularly interrupted by a tall man bearing cake, caringly baked by Anja. Thank you Anja!


Our Daily Cake

Everybody had beach-combed for suitable bits of driftwood. There was much swapping and trading-in and assessing the grain. Once decisions about book proportion had been decided, the multi-skilled John jigsawed and drilled. I am not allowed to show the picture of how his tongue sticks out when he’s concentrating. Thank goodness for gloves. It was chilly in that barn.


Marking drill holes

From the way Kate’s wooden bits overlap in a double layer, you can tell it is from a naval boat. Cross-planking. Apparently.


A custom cover

Back to the dining table come studio bench, it was time to start compiling content, prompted by a list of sixteen triggers. Each could be very loosely interpreted or combined with another or quietly ignored. I just didn’t want anyone to feel stuck.


Collage cunning

In between bouts of intensive attentive tuition there was opportunity to read the first International edition of Flow magazine. Full of mindfulness and merriment.


Taking over the table

Ah! Cake o’ Clock….


With glitter!

Since Iona Abbey is believed to have been where the Book of Kells was created by monks, we arranged a special visit to the tiny cabin-like library. John had brought a facsimile to show us, as the original is safe in Dublin. Isn’t it an artist’s book?! I love thinking about how the manuscript was illuminated in a special scriptorium.

Inside the abbey

Inside the abbey, among the cloisters

We sat on these beautifully tapestried chairs and listened to poetry in quiet contemplation.


Missoni-like seating in the Abbey Library

The paper cutting continued, as did painting, writing, rubbing, story-telling and mapping….

Jo's fictional phases of the moon

Jo’s fictional phases of the moon

Then it was time to sew, which is tricky with rough driftwood covers, and coptic stitch challenges anyone’s tension. These binders remained calm throughout. Must have been the spiritual surroundings. And the carbohydrates.


Binding undaunted by curious shaped covers

What Kate Did.


Island words

What Kate Did Next.


Inspired by film night: I know where i’m going!

A fine spine from Jo:


Chunky coptic

Everyone kept a ‘thoughts-in-progress’ book. Handbound, natch.


Jill’s notebook

Emma’s book is EPIC!


Chunkier coptic

Calligraphic wonderfulness from the pen of Jill Calder;


Words from the zen stone carving outside the hostel set down on the page

Too soon the day of departure is upon us, clear and bright.


Pier silhouettes

Weighed down with pebbles, good memories and bespoke bindings….




Farewell fair Iona!


Kate’s collage

Thank you kind John at Iona Hostel. Please can we come again?

Paris yet not Paris: Maison + Objet 2013

January 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

The vast halls at the Parc des Expositions near Charles De Gaulle airport are hung with lengths of plastic which shimmer like chandeliers. I think they actually serve to insulate the cliff-height walls from the snowy wastes without.


Queuing for a ticket could be for some sort of mega-night-club; glam and noir, with a hint of citrus neon.


M+O132Then pick up a lanyard for your access ticket. Mine says “Specifier”, which sounds important. Really I am here to ‘assist’ the indomitable Barbara Colvin; to shadow an expert who has walked these avenues many times before.

M+O135In between ordering fabric/garden furniture/lamps/sofas/cushions/cabinets and discussing worldwide freight, she points out what works, what’s new. And asks questions. Demands an opinion. Every few hours there is a pit stop for re-hydration and review. Each day we cover less than one exhibition space. It is magnificent and overwhelming. I learn a lot.


Can you see me, reflected in the mirror?

On the last night we eat at Alcazar, which has big brass letters as door handles and very fine food.


This was fitting, as Barbara and I met in London, at Few and Far, where an exhibition about the lady who created the A-Z map adorned the walls….


January 25, 2013 § 2 Comments

thiswayA small platter by Vivien Moir was one of the best parcels in my stocking on Christmas morning.

It serves as a daily reminder of this year’s changes in direction; writing rather than travelling so much,  tightening up, developing new pathways and the determination to MAKE more!

“I am going this way.”

Stars and Celebrations in Paris

December 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

In January, The Travelling Bookbinder embarked on a journey; to teach a different workshop in an inspiring place each month of 2012. A short film outlining the mission can be seen here. It’s strange and gratifying to be unpacking now – scattering star-shaped sequins – after the final event.

Iced stars in the window of the fanciest bakery on rue Montorgueil - Stohler

Iced stars in the window of the fanciest bakery on rue Montorgueil – Stohler

Our course took place in an elegant apartment whose entrance hall was lined with guidebooks, literature and compartments containing spare umbrellas, scarves and a beautiful hat the owner had left behind on his last visit.

After the rain, high up, just before an early evening drink at George V

After the rain, high up, just before an early evening drink at George V

The city was chilly, mostly crisp and pale blue. We dived in by venturing out to the Marché aux Vieux Papiers de Saint-Mandé, where we rifled through every possible category of postcard in search of the quirky and obscure. My treasure was a job-lot of old stamps, some in grubby glassine envelopes – very heaven.

Punching stars out of a flea market find.

Punching stars out of a flea market find.

To warm up the fingers; a garland of stars!

Theresa with a star in her eye

Theresa with a star in her eye.

Followed by a ten-pointer:

An interlocking origami star illuminated.

An interlocking origami star illuminated.

And a cluster of different bindings…small enough to hang on a tree.

Featuring the one and only Japanese Screw Punch!

Featuring the one and only Japanese Screw Punch!

All this making punctuated by many cups of tea and forays to the paperiest corners of the most specialist and wonderful shops for essential components and visual inspiration. A number of patisserie items may have been consumed.

One morning we wrote down the twelve best moments of this year, and our wishes for the next. They were funny and poignant and full of hope.

The main project was a book with twelve pockets.

A constellation of observation.

A constellation of observation (with a soft spot for rats.)

Kit's collage.

Kit’s collage.

A comment which warms my heart –

“Thank you for every minute of these fantastic five days! It was like five day-trips to another continent.”

Thanks to every single one of you, in every month, who made this journey of the Travelling Bookbinder possible: Next year it will turn into a book. Abientot.


November 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Travelling Bookbinder is delighted to announce that her sculpture has a new home.

Shadow strata

Many thanks to British Geological Survey, who have welcomed Rockface into the foyer of their Edinburgh offices with such enthusiasm.

The book sculpture is designed to be touched. A watercolour seam runs through every page, with a word that could be interpreted as geographical or emotional. The profile of a face, cut out of the paper, was inspired by a Joy Division album cover – Unknown Pleasures. The base has screen-printed contour lines abstracted from Edinburgh maps. I like to imagine visitors running a hand along its edges; a geo-scientist pausing to ponder the poetry; an engineer considering its construction….

This work followed the creation of a two metre high book for The Helen Storey Foundation and preceded sculptures which draw on the experience of working in Antarctica.

I love sculpture but it’s taking up the living room…

Much gratitude to the Edinburgh Bookshop, where it perched atop the bookshelves, out of reach, observing the comings and goings, perusings and purchasing.

Thank you to all who encourage ideas small and large, and help them happen.

Thoughts Library: Skye Time

November 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

Once a year I drive to Skye, usually through the spectrum of Highland autumn.

Timber House is the creation of dynamic design duo Moleta Monro and I am lucky to own a small share. The pure-lined minimalism allows me to imagine an uncluttered reality….

Timber House

It is a good place to stop, and look and re-calibrate. Last year Hannah Nunn wrote this about her stay.

Stopping. As caught by Hannah Nunn

After a reasonable interval, my thoughts turned to Thoughts Library – workshop number eleven in the Diary of a Travelling Bookbinder. The six-foot-folding-party-table was erected, parcels of thick cartridge paper unwrapped (John Purcell has posted paper to nearly every island workshop I have ever taught.) And workshop participants arrived from Edinburgh, Switzerland and Iona.

Thoughts Libraries under construction

We stitched together books for collections of quotes. We bound personal wisdoms. There were books on how we look at home and at work, island histories, elements of a creative life, Chakra colours and literary anecdotes.

The course coincided with fireworks at Dunvegan Castle, undaunted by sweeping rain.

Each person made a series, contained by a slipcase, a satisfying custom fit.

Jane’s variegated threads

At the end, after semi-force-feeding of doughnuts, several thoughtful, funny, exquisite libraries had been produced.

Slim tomes. Satisfying slipcases

The view:

See you there next year?



Venice: Personal Geographies.

November 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

Last October Monica Dengo ran a course in free-style expressive calligraphy (that’s not keeping to straight lines) at Ca’ Pesaro on the Grand Canal. Apart from being liberating in terms of inky mark making, it made me realise that Venice is the most wonderful place to take a workshop. So when selecting locations for this year’s world tour (see the two minute film about it here,) the water-bound city of light came top. And because its alleys and bridges and canals are notoriously confusing to navigate, a theme involving mapping seemed right.

San Marcuola

The view from our front door.

Five adventurers travelled across wide oceans, over high mountains, armed with cutting mats and determination, to chart their own personal geographies. Undaunted by the ninety-six steps up to our attic studio…

Onwards and upwards

Fueled by caffeine i think….

…to find deluxe goody bags filled with Hazell Designs Books treats, including tape, labels, stamps, envelopes, a propellor pencil, a note book and a map of Venice.

Hazell Designs Books goody bag contents

Preparing goody bags; a favourite job.

We quickly bound a couple of journeys (one sewn, one folded,) then started work on the main project: Measuring and scoring a spine-piece, collating sheaves of papers, mocking up a story-board. The view over terracotta rooftops and spires proved distracting:

Kate and Rachael. Windows and Apertures.

Fortunately there were incentives. Delicious!

Thanks to Monica!

Highlight of the week, apart from living out a dream, was visiting the Museo Correr Library’s Special Collections, where Monica Viero (this post is monopolised by Monicas; kisses to all of you) had selected some rare and wonderful books for us to pore over.

The smallest volume, gilt-edged.

Palpitations of awe, inspiration and overwhelmed camera batteries necessitated liquid refreshment at Harry’s Bar.

The obligatory Bellini, with olive stones.

The results of such charting and exploring were gratifying. I am proud of these Personal Geographers.

Mapping route from hotel to workshop: The legend.

The best binding: An Extraordinary Expandable Sketchbook Journal

Here is the testimonial of Monica Watson-Peck:

Midnight flight home after a molte fabulosa personal geographies workshop week in Venezia with the inspiring Rachel. So delighted with my book & mini books & superb origami envelopes…not to mention what books we should read, and restaurants to try and where to find the best gelati. A woman of many talents.

There are still a couple of places for Stars and Celebrations, in Paris, in December. Different city, different stationery emporium….

Sue Lewington

August 16, 2012 § 4 Comments

Some of this summer has been spent in Cornwall; teaching, festivalling (Port Eliot), reading, catching up on correspondence, making lists and working on a book proposal. Oh and a long slow week’s holiday on St Agnes, Isles of Scilly. Bliss.

The best bit? Time out from the internet. No wifi, no signal. Unplugged for the first time in months.

I met Sue, c.1996 at North Farm Gallery on St Martin’s, when I wandered in and mentioned out-of-season bookbinding workshops. We share a love of islands, cava, maps and BOOKS.

Her studio is full of inspiration, every drawer and surface spilling over with paper, print and paint. Text hangs from clothes pegs.

Swallows nest there, for goodness sake (with bubble wrap and bamboo shit protectors erected by Norman) and chirrup on the rafters. Snails leave silvery trails over artwork and have a penchant for ink. Shelves sway with boxes bursting with labels, envelopes, ripped edges. Books tustle and lean together, stacked and piled.

Baskets overflow.

A wooden chest is filled with rubber stamps and ink pads in each compartment. Somehow other people’s studios are always more appealing than one’s own. I got to play too, and talk through ideas. There are few places to be happier.

Sue is well-known and revered for her watercolour painting, capturing light and energy. People collect her books, calendars and framed works. Last week she started on three large pieces based on Admiralty charts of the Isles of Scilly. I was lucky to watch the process:

Once framed, the work will travel to St Martin’s by ship and boat, to join the current exhibition at North Farm Gallery.

Sue doesn’t really ‘do’ social media stuff, but there’s a glimpse of some work here and a home page (from 2003) here.