Monday, January 23, 2012

Accordion Bound Sketchbooks

Beginning of the planning and mock-up process.
Good notes and lots of measuring all lead to a smooth book binding project.
Last winter in the MCBA gallery there was a show of Moly_x sketchbooks on display.  At the time, I decided that an exchange in an accordion bound book was a perfect collaborative project for students and filed the information away until this school year.

Paper and cover boards all cut and ready for the next step.
In early December (or maybe even late November), I began planning and prepping to create twelve accordion style journals modeled after the Moleskine Japanese folded journal. I chose to create my own books for my students to use for two reasons.  Reason one: the Moleskine paper stinks for any type of media other than pen or pencil (it also actually stinks, a funny chemical smell - yuck).  I wanted my students to be able to use any art material they wanted and not to limit their choices to dry media the way the original journal paper would.  Reason two: as a teacher purchasing twelve of these journals at once to give away to students was not in my budget, especially considering reason one.
Binding a series of books that you want to all be the same requires some preparation.  First a dummy or mock-up has to be made, usually out of similar but not the final materials being used.  This mock-up process allows a book binder the opportunity to work out any kinks in the structure and to plan out all of the needed measurements and supply requirements for one book, so that when all the books are being bound the materials can all be prepped ahead of time with nothing forgotten or overlooked.

Attaching the spine and cover boards.
As I was making my mock-up I was also trying to decide which paper best suited the needs of my students and my budget.  I decided on the Mixed Media paper (400 series) being made by Strathmore.  I had some of the large pads (18x24) on hand in my classroom already,  and my students were loving it for all sorts of work they were doing.  It is also reasonably priced, so using an entire pad of it to make twelve books was not cost prohibitive, especially since I was planning on using recycled (matt scraps for cover boards) and on hand (my own marbled paper, tape, glue etc) materials for the rest of the project.  It also seemed like a good paper choice to hold up to the accordion structure itself, being it is heavier paper and wouldn't sag or tear at the folds with repeated folding and unfolding.
After making the mock-up and deciding that my measurements were good, it was time to go into production making the twelve books.  I measured and cut all the strips of Mixed Media paper.  I then measured and made tiny marks where all of the future folds would go for when I got to that stage.  I cut all of my covers and spines using old matt board scraps from my classroom.  After the cover supplies were cut, I made a template and taping station so I could quickly and easily attach all the covers to the spines using the same spacing for each book.
A comparison  of the Moleskine book and my mock-up
using the Strathmore mixed media paper
Once the covers were set to go they had to be covered with something decorative.  I decided to use some paper that I had marbled that was hanging around in my studio at home (I always seem to have extra sheets that I have no plans for).
Unfortunately, I did not think to take any photos of the papering stage (oops).  When I papered the outside, I also attached an elastic strap to keep the books closed (the heavy paper wanted to boing the book cover up and open) and a plain sheet of paper in the back as an end sheet.  The covers dried in a press for several hours to be sure that the matt board was not going to warp from the gluing process and then the accordion pages were ready to go into the book.  I folded the paper using my pre-measured marks and a bone folder, gluing in extensions as I worked.  Each book used one full sheet of 18 x 24 paper, cut into 6 x 24 strips, causing me to have to continue the accordion by gluing small tabs from one sheet section to the next.  At that point the folded pages were glued in and all twelve books were ready to go back to my classroom for the sketchbook exchange!
As I was folding the pages for the books I noticed one small problem, this paper wants to crack a little bit at the folded edge.  It is an irregular cracking, in some sheets it is more severe than others and at this point none of the pages have ripped or become so badly cracked that I a concerned about loosing sections of the book.  But, I do know that I will not use this paper again to bind accordion structure books because the paper does crack at the fold edge.  The cracking is especially frustrating while working in the books, as sometimes it will peel a bit as it is being painted or after the work is complete causing a small bare spot to emerge.

Three of the completed books, awaiting delivery
to the next student in the exchange.
My students were very excited to be getting a book that I made for them, as well as to be starting a collaborative project with each other.  Students each picked a book that became theirs, it is the one that they will keep at the end of the exchange, and for their book they came up with a theme and then created the first entry to get their sketchbook rolling, using about the first two folds or "pages".  Students exchange books once a week, with each student adding onto the drawing before theirs using about two pages or folds and the theme that the book owner chose for their sketchbook.  It has been fun to see what the students come up with each week and to see how excited they are to see everyone's books as they progress.