Thursday, 22 November 2012

Bookbinding as a Handcraft by Manly Banister: A Book Review

Bookbinding as a Handcraft by Manly Banister

This is Dennis from Kleiner Eisbar, a bookbinder, paper crafter, and designer. You can find me and my wife, Krissy, on Etsy, Facebook and our blog.

If you're anything like me, you like to do things on your own time and at your own pace. I started bookbinding in 2011 because Krissy and I were getting married and needed a guestbook that wasn't boring and ugly. I'm not one to throw around words like "art" or "artist" and "fine art" practically forces me to roll my eyes whenever I hear it. But, I do quite favor the idea of being considered a creative or a maker and that is my relationship with bookbinding and essentially every other craft or art form that I pursue.

Manly Banister was a World War II Veteran and  science fiction writer before writing books about various crafts like bookbinding and printmaking. He was born with what can be considered one of the most amazing names on planet Earth and the photos in his book, Bookbinding as a Handcraft, showing his hairy paws prove that his name is no misnomer.

Manly Banister during World War II

I'm not the type of person who's going to go to school, so I had to learn bookbinding the only way I know how—books and a whole lot of trial and error. Bookbinding books come in two flavors: old and new. Old books are very comprehensive (for the most part) and may or may not have illustrations. New books are very pretty and offer plenty of photos, but just aren't the greatest tool for learning the craft of bookbinding—they're more about projects than core concepts and fundamentals.

Bookbinding as a Handcraft bridges the gap between these two classes providing a whole lot of illustrations and photos, as well as many of the basics and requisite techniques for bookbinding as opposed to "here's how you make this specific accordion-fold book."

But Manly's books are by no means perfect. Manly Banister was a consummate amateur with no formal training. And this is why his book appeals to me (and perhaps you as well). I've been meandering my way through bookbinding mostly through trial-and-error, figuring out what works and what doesn't and that's pretty much how I imagine Manly did it as well. Due to this, some of his techniques are not ideal, such as not using archival, reversible pastes in lieu of glue. But you will find plenty of older books that make no qualms over using Formaldehyde when binding books and I think we can all agree that that doesn't sound like such a great idea either.

Manly Banister the craftsman

One of the best aspects of this book is the illustrations for equipment. As I said, Manly was an amateur but he was also a craftsman. Rather than buying a plough, press, or leather stamping tools, he'd build them himself. And for many of these self-built tools he offers great directions and fantastic illustrations for building yourself one too. It should come as no surprise that bookbinding tools are not easy to find, and the ones you do find tend to be rather expensive. So having the plans to build them yourself should make this book worth getting alone.

Manly Banister, Sci-Fi writer and artist

—Dennis from Kleiner Eisbär


Büchertiger said...

Oh, I didn't know he was a self-taught amateur. Maybe that is indeed why it is appealing to me. I like it for the same reasons you do. I found his instructions so clear that reading it opened a new level of understanding for me. And I built my first press essentially according to his instructions.
Great book! And interesting photos and backstory. Thanks for posting!

Dennis said...

Yup. He had kind of an amazing life.

He founded and published his own Sci-fi zine, going so far as to carve his own linoleum blocks and print them himself.

I think it helps that he doesn't use bookbinding terminology for the sake of using it and sounding "professional."

Recto and verso are fantastic terms, just as head and tail are, but I think most people find "left hand" and "right hand" to be far more intuitive.

For the record, I find head and tail to be a bit more helpful when explaining directions because "top" and "bottom" can just as easily refer to the front and back covers. If you're not physically there teaching someone, it can lead to confusion.

I'd like to have added more photos showing the illustrations, but it was Thanksgiving and the photos I took just weren't that good. I'll probably build my own press at some point when space permits, but I think I'm going to build a bottle jack press, mostly because I will likely use it for more than just bookbinding.