A spread from my own handbound journal.
What I constantly hear from other bookbinders seems to be the thought of wanting to do something inspiring and eclectic but not being able to, because of money and time. Needless to say these binders have all different styles, different situations in life. Many of them are doing much better than me, money-wise and life-wise. However, it has made me re-think of some possibilities in bookbinding and creative work. I have given a good thought or two for my own work and where I draw the line: Do I want to restrict my creativity in order to make a living out of it? Also, in the end, do I choose money over quality? Can one balance somewhere in between these two things that are seemingly opposites or does it eventually only cause frustration and trouble?
I have come to think that in my work I’ve always been a spender, but never a waster. I often happen to like expensive materials, not because they are expensive but because of their adaptability, feel, look and other qualities. I’m always looking for affordable materials that would suit me but even with some knowledge on leather and paper it’s surprisingly hard. It’s an ongoing process, and sometimes one makes good finds and finds the pearl in the sand, or whatever. Often second hand! Sometimes I just economically shoot myself in the ankle but at least it has tickled my inspiration.
A recent chat I had made me ponder on my approach to this whole material issue. How can one make something as efficiently (read: cheap) as possible, without damaging the quality of the finished product? For example, in my opinion it is completely useless to bind a book with paper that can’t be used for anything. As a bookbinder I actually see this a lot. I browse some nice book thinking to myself “oh, what a beautiful and well-made book”, only to find it filled with thin, soft paper that perhaps I can write on with a ballpoint pen but not with a fineliner, and certainly not sketch or draw. I initially began making my small cloth-covered sketchbooks because of this. These are books meant for drawing and painting; Their insides are of 160gsm archival paper which I have found to be the most versatile of all the papers I have come across, and still thin enough to bind in a book. The paper is slightly more expensive, but in a reasonable scale, and then again would the book be the same if bound in less useable paper and cheaper bookcloth? The feel and quality of these materials also defines the book.
If I wanted to make a cheap book as quickly as possible I think it would lessen the integrity of the finished product and limit its possibilities. This matter is something I am aware of and sometimes struggle with. To gently side with Pirsig, I would say that the quality of the finished book consists not only of the quality of the materials, but of the quality of my time and attention that I have chosen to spend on it - the pleasure I get from doing my work. This to me is far more important than just the money itself that I make from the book. It is something I have deliberately chosen in order to make life more meaningful.