Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Better and Better, Bit by Bit

The other day I was doing a bit of bog-standard backing when I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized something about the way I was working and what I was doing that drastically changed how I looked at the process. I figured out a new way to do it, one that works better for me.

No, I'm not going to tell you what it was, because that would only interest someone who works with exactly the same equipment setup I have and that's not the point anyway. The point is that I had done that job thousands of times, and then I realized something that made one small part of the job easier and better.

That's how learning a craft goes. You chunk along at a certain point, and then suddenly one day you take a step up, and then you chunk along at that level for a while. Or one day you recall that you used to have a problem you haven't had for a long time, and you can't remember what - if anything - you're doing differently, but you do know that what used to be a problem isn't any more. Bit by bit all these little epiphanies make for better and better books.

What does this mean for you? Well, it means that if you want to be good at making books you need to make a lot of them, regularly, over time. If you make two books in Bookbinding 101 and six months later you make two more in Bookbinding 201 and then a year after that you make two more in Bookbinding 301 you may be able to say you have been taught advanced levels of bookbinding, but your books probably still aren't very good.

And you need to make different books. Not wildly different - as in one flag book, one photo album, etc. But say you have learned to do a standard sewn, rounded & jointed book. Take that one style and make many, many more. Make them with different papers of different styles and thicknesses. Heavy, light, newsprint, text weight, cover weight. Make them all, just in that one style, and make many of each, and you will learn a lot about binding that isn't in any books. Head down to your local used book store and get some of the older books that are actually sewn. Pull them apart, resew them and rebind them. Bind your newspapers and your pizza flyers, and know that every book you make, no matter what it is, improves your skill.