Designer Bookbinders is one of the foremost societies devoted to the craft of contemporary bookbinding. Founded over fifty years ago it has, by means of exhibitions and publications, helped to establish the reputation of British bookbinding worldwide. Its membership includes some of the most highly regarded makers in the fields of contemporary bookbinding, book arts and artists’ books, each with a passion for presenting the bound text as a unique art object.
Exhibiting members come to the craft from a variety of disciplines. As the traditional routes into the profession via Art College or the trade binderies disappear with the closure of courses and apprenticeships, binders now come from a wider spread of subjects including printmaking, graphics and 3D design.
These influences have changed the work produced within the Society, with bindings moving away from the traditional decorative techniques of gold tooling and leather onlays, to more expressive styles. Although traditional materials such as leather and vellum still predominate, new and less obvious covering materials are now much more in evidence.
Wood and metal, originally used on mediaeval bindings, are being given a contemporary twist. New techniques and tools have made it possible to combine different materials in a binding, as shown in the work by Peter Jones.
Other historical styles are also getting an update, with bindings using fabric, embroidery and bead-work, so valued in mediaeval libraries, in evidence again.
Even the traditional decorative techniques are being adapted and updated. The rigid geometric styles of gold tooling from the 18th and 19th centuries are being replaced by more fluid, abstract designs and cold gold impressed work adds a new angle to gold leaf decoration.
The link between bookbinding and fine printing continues in Designer Bookbinders with binders producing their own texts, or working in collaboration with printers. Printmaker Sue Doggett produces and binds unique texts, while Eri Funazaki and Danny Flynn work together as the F&F imprint. The recent interest in alternative binding techniques has produced beautiful, inventive artists’ books and formed a connection to fine art printing. Binders Mark Cockram and Nicky Oliver use their training as printmakers in unconventional ways on their exuberant bindings.
Like many traditional crafts, hand bookbinding is facing an uncertain future and the closure of so many courses has reduced the opportunities for students to enter the field. The advent of the e-reader has not, as widely predicted, led to the death of the printed book, however the reduction in the number of collectors and current financial uncertainty means that bookbinding will need to adapt in future to find new audiences.