I’m bookbinder Gillian Stewart, and I run Juju Books creative bookbinding studio from the east end of Glasgow. I’m currently exhibiting work in the Review Gallery of The Lighthouse and am excited to share with you a bit about the process, bookbinding and my work!
Bookbinding has been around in various forms for thousands of years. It’s developed a lot but many of the techniques that we use today haven’t changed in a very long time, being taught from master to apprentice. I’ve been learning bookbinding from several of Europe’s best master (and mistress) bookbinders, and this exhibition brings together several methods, techniques and materials I’ve been playing with over the last year. There are some really interesting things happening with bookbinding in Europe right now, using traditional and innovative structures and new and unusual materials, particularly with organisations like Designer Bookbinders, Professione Libro and Buch und Form.
Bookbinding is a craft that borrows skills and tools from a wide range of trades. In my tool kit I have a carpenter's square, saddle maker's groove cutter, a cobbler's knife, dentist's tools, a wheel maker's spokeshave, metal worker's files and engineer's blocks. All of these come in handy at different times when making a book – sometimes we have to be pretty rough with the books, and other times incredibly delicate. It’s always a treat to get my hands on a lovely new tool!
I work mostly to commission, making books and boxes by hand for artists, designers and book lovers. I especially enjoy the collaborative process of working with a client, finding the best structure and material to house their project. I always prefer my books to be section sewn so that the pages open flat, letting the content breathe, and when possible I use sustainable materials sourced from Scotland.
As well as working to commissions, I also make fine bindings of my own design. These books can take up to eight weeks to bind, with fine bindings being the highest standard of bookbinding available. This process starts by sitting with a text block and sketching and contemplating how I want to respond to it. This happens alongside a fair amount of material experimentation, which creates restrictions and limitations to work within. I always enjoy this part of the project especially – when my bench is covered in sketches, leather dye, gold tooling samples and paper experiments, and I need to treat my idea like a living thing that must change and adapt to the limitations of the materials before me.
As I learn more, my standards get higher, my horizons of what’s possible widen, and my ambitions grow. With so many skills and techniques involved in bookbinding, no one can ever be an expert on every aspect, and I love that I’ll always be learning.