I discovered Mia Leijonstedt’s website early last year when I first became interested in book binding. I’d just completed a day course at Brignell Bookbinders in Cambridge where I had learned to use a whole array of large and expensive equipment: metre-long guillotines, book presses so wide you could stretch out and lie down on them, specialist hotplates for gold lettering, delicate alignment mechanisms, book sewing frames, and vats of unlabelled glues, to produce this:
A piece of work I’m really rather proud of. The course was brilliant, Barry was an attentive and helpful tutor, there was a constant supply of biscuits and tea, and the level of expertise and skill displayed by the bookbinders there was awe inspiring. There was only one catch: there was no way I could replicate the process at home without all that equipment. Barry kindly offered the course participants the use of the bookbinding studio for our future projects, but Cambridge is just too far away if I wanted to create books on a regular basis. I turned once again to the internet – seeking out shortcuts, DIY methods, and following bookbinding threads and links around the web. On one such day of research I chanced upon Mia Leijonstedt, and was instantly entranced by how beautiful her books were. Head over to http://leijonstedt.com/ to glance through her work, and you’ll see what I mean. Just seeing the way in which she turned bookbinding into an art form reinvigorated my attempts, and I spent a happy few weeks trying to combine the formal techniques I’d learned with new and exciting combinations of materials.
I’ll admit that it was some time later I wandered back to her site and looked at her blog, and there – in between the photos of books, beads and exotic locations – was something I recognised: a bronze flower embedded into a pavement, strikingly similar to ones I’d seen dotted around Cambridge… the very place I’d done my first bookbinding course earlier in the year. A short investigation proved it: Mia was based in Cambridge, and what’s more, she too did bookbinding courses! Surely this was meant to be! But if fate had arranged it, it also took it’s time in allowing all the pieces to come together. All the dates Mia advertised were days that I was working, and it was almost a full year later before I could make the journey and attend the very last course Mia was running before moving abroad.
An early morning drive from Ipswich got me to Cambridge well before the course start time, so I spent a happy few minutes camping in the sun outside the studio gates. Gradually other participants arrived, and between helping set up the workspace I discovered that despite the journey from Ipswich I was actually one of the most local attendees that day! Book artists had come from as far away as Germany, Australia and South Africa, all incredibly talented and bringing their own styles and inspirations with them. Being the organised person that I am, I managed to forget both pen and paper to make notes during the course, but Mia and Lizzie (a fellow student- see her lovely bookbinding blog here: http://lizziemade.blogspot.co.uk ) came to the rescue. Mia had produced course notes in the form of a tiny palm-leaf book, and no sooner had I noted out loud how daft I was to forget such essentials, than a speedily hand-bound notebook arrived in front of me thanks to Lizzie!
The aim of the course was to create a palm leaf book (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm-leaf_manuscript), a deceptively simple format which leaves plenty of room for creative variation. Unlike the Brignell course which followed strict steps to create a standard book, Mia’s teaching was very much focused on helping us draw on our natural creativity to create our own, highly individualised books. Between sanding the wooden covers and cutting pages to size over the course of the morning, she talked us through three creative exercises (which she herself uses) to get us in the right frame of mind for the bookbinding process.
In the first exercise we were shown five piles of assorted objects: buttons, threads, pieces of metal, odd stones and material scraps; and told to choose five items, one from each pile. I picked out a length of gold thread, scraps of leather and vellum, a metal ring, and a small slate. We then had to combine them to form an object which we felt expressed who we were, so I spent a good few minutes pushing the objects around and seeing how they might work together. Eventually I came up with this:
The last scrap of vellum already suggested a hare, I just refined the shape, honest! I really enjoyed this exercise, and it put me in mind of the charms I used to construct when I was little. On walks in the countryside I’d collect objects along the way that caught my eye: sticks, leaves, stones, and then see how they wanted to combine at the end to make a kind of physical memory of the walk. My parents used to get rather frustrated with all the random sticks and stones I’d bring home, so sufficed to say, the charms never stuck around for very long after they were made!
The other two exercises were equally as fascinating. The second was a session of intuitive drawing: Mia would read aloud a word, and we would immediately set pen to paper and create marks that channelled how that word made us feel. Sedate lines for peace, star-bursting lines for joy, tangled weaves for curiosity, and so on. The last exercise was a guided visualisation, read aloud by Mia, which was both a strange journey through places, symbols and imagery, and yet deeply relaxing.
After lunch all focus returned to constructing the book. Mia was ever on hand to answer questions about technique and guide us where necessary. She somehow achieved that perfect balance between instruction and freedom: not dictating every step, and equally not giving us the studio and then ignoring us until we needed something. She opened up her treasure-chests of objects, beads, beautiful papers, gems and other materials for us to use. I used pyrography sets to burn designs onto wood and leather, and a small stove to melt tin and create tiny sculptural forms. My first attempt created a lovely ring of metal, but unfortunately it was just a tad too wide to sit atop my book, so I picked it up and started to bend the rapidly-cooling metal to fit it back in the melting pan for a second try. At the moment when it had cooled to the point where I could no longer bend it, it had formed a rather lovely curved shape, and amazingly, sat steady and upright when I placed it on the book. I decided it was a happy accident, and went with it!
The whole day was a fantastic experience. It was wonderful to meet a select crowd of people who loved book binding, and to see the masterpieces they created. Unfortunately I forgot my camera on the day, so I only managed to capture our finished pieces with my phone. I hope you can see the quality of the work, if not of the photo!
And here is my finished book, complete with metal sculpture. On any other kind of book this would be a pain to open with such a delicate weight on top, but the nature of the palm-leaf book means you can set the cover aside and still look through the pages.
I had immense fun, and came away pleased with what I had created, impressed with everyone else’s work, and inspired to (finally) clear my craft table and set about experimenting with books. As soon as I get some spare time I’ll start posting updates and photos detailing my efforts! Many many thanks to Mia, and everyone else who made the day so special.
Mia’s website: http://leijonstedt.com/
Lizzie’s blog: http://lizziemade.blogspot.co.uk