Making Books with Teenagers, Post #2

May 16, 2011

sewing a book

Last Friday I was so  impressed with  the book making that I saw being done by high school students that I wanted to put up a post immediately. So I did. But I knew that I would continue thinking about these students and their work (after driving 100 miles each way – and teaching – I was a bit comatose when I composed that post) and would want to write more. So I saved some photos for this post #2.

red fingernails, book turn-in

Part of what was beguiling about watching these students work was seeing their year 2011 hands doing these centuries old techniques.

beads, punches, glue, and books

What stays with me the most, though, is how students gravitated towards making the most straightforward structures. Even though I brought classic materials such as wooden slabs to use as book covers, book board and silk book cloth, and white glue mixed with cooked paste,what these young adults were most drawn to were making books out of cover weight paper then sewing the pages in with a simple pamphlet stitch. Even though the students were successful with some of the  more complex sewing patterns , and even though they manipulated the traditional materials well, they seemed most captivated by the more basic methods of bookbinding.

line up of books

Noticing this I am reminded of a fact about teaching book arts that I often forget, and that is important to remember: the more complicated the book structure, the less likely it is that the novice book binder will personalize the book. The students seemed to feel freer to decorate and experiment with ideas on the books that we made using paper covers than the more complicated books. This totally makes sense as I continue to think about it. For instance, I showed three of the students how to use wooden boards and an exposed-link binding technique to create books. Each of these books looked exactly alike. No big fun in that for these kids.

paste paper book

The fact is that some of my most successful moments in teaching bookbinding have been when I have asked students to fold three or four pieces of paper together, then wrap a rubber band around the spine and we’re done. The students then dive right in to create, draw pictures, cut shapes in the papers, decorate and create. Students find great joy in transforming papers into pages then making then making the books their own. Sometimes I become so enamored by the architecture of the book that I forget about the pleasure of creating content and individualizing.

after work rush hour in the Adirondacks

At the end of this day my own individual joy was the beautiful ride home. Here’s what the after-work rush hour looked like last Friday as I headed out of the Adirondacks.

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