March 26, 2013


Jean Potter: Bookbinder

Meet Jean Potter of Rockpile Bindery. We met at an afterschool art class in middle school and have watched Empire Records together at least a few hundred times. She let us peek into her cozy studio in Western Massachusetts and shared a few of her favorite bookbinding techniques. Jean is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and spent six years in the mountains of North Carolina where she founded Rockpile Bindery. Keep up with Jean on her blog and in her shop.  We hope you'll be inspired to create your own custom books. 

How did you start making books?

I went to school for printmaking, but when I graduated I didn't have any space or equipment to make prints. I had a tiny little sunroom for a studio, so I started making books because I needed to be making something, and I didn't have much space to make anything big. I'd learned the basics of bookbinding in a few of my printmaking classes, and over time I learned a lot through trial and error, asking other bookbinders for advice, and reading books about bookbinding.

Do the materials inform the process? How do you begin a book?

I generally get inspired by new or exciting materials- colorfully printed fabric, really nice paper, pretty bookbinding thread. A lot of my inspiration comes from experimenting with colors and seeing the work of other artists and crafters who do the same. One of the things that I love (and also sometimes hate) about the craft of bookbinding is that there are so many steps in the process that it's almost impossible to hurry through it. Most books start with a few minutes of folding paper, which always ends up feeling like a slow meditation before the more intensive work begins.

Could you introduce us to any of your favorite techniques?

In the past year or so I've become interested in the exposed spine sewings from Keith Smith's book 1, 2 and 3 Section Sewings. They are extremely pretty and decorative but also very practical for binding at home, because they don't require glue or book board. I always teach one or two of them in my bookbinding classes, and students are very impressed with their finished books! Another of my favorite bookbinding lessons to teach is the dos a dos- or back to back book. This is a technique where two books are bound together, sharing a back cover, so that you have a sort of double book that opens in two ways. McSweeney's recently published a hardcover dos a dos, Hang Glider and Mud Mask, which is a neat example. 

What is inspiring you right now- artists, materials, natural forms?

Lately my creative energy has been very dependent on the seasons, and it has been nice to see Western Massachusetts slowly emerging from this long, snowy winter. I've been getting a lot of inspiration from the cultural history of New England, which seems to have a lot to do with the long winters and a kind of understated hard work and perseverance. I've been working on a big quilt for the past few months, and I think I'll look back on this project as a reflection on my first New England winter.

What are the essential tools or materials you can’t live without?

I love that bookbinding doesn't require a lot of expensive equipment or a lot of space. Most of my tools fit in a little pencil case, and the ones that I use all the time are my bone folder, a simple metal awl, waxed linen thread, and a bookbinding needle.
I also like to experiment with making certain materials that are traditionally ready-made and can be expensive to buy, like book cloth. I make most of mine at home with cotton quilting fabric, Heat & Bond (fusible interfacing), and rice paper. 

When do you feel the most creative?

My most inspired moments usually come after long talks over coffee with creative friends. I love early coffee dates that leave plenty of daylight hours for making stacks of books.

Anything you’re looking forward to this spring or classes you’re teaching?

I'm excited to be offering a few spring bookbinding workshops at Flying Object- a Beginning Bookbinding Workshop, and also a Hardcover Bindings class. I also can't wait to plant this year's garden and walk in the dirt with no shoes on. The crocuses are finally coming up and I'm feeling encouraged about warmer days to come.