Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Open Horizons

This binding was done  on the book Open Horizons by Sigurd F. Olson. It is about his love affair with the wilderness in Wisconsin. It is in the Guild of Book Workers 2012-2014 Traveling Exhibition, Horizon.

The inspiration for the design came from one of the illustrations in the book. I photocopied it to a larger size and reversed the image so the front cover would have more of the image on it. Then I made a line drawing of the image and began to plan what portions would be onlays, tooled lines, and painted textures and where the spine of the book would cross the shapes.

I made a drawing on Mylar of the design. This helps me when placing the different pieces and helps me keep the design in mind.

The edges were sponged to create the look of fallen leaves. I used acrylic paint and applied it by crumpling paper and dipping it in the paint which was thinned with water.

For the onlays of the trees, I used the crackled paste technique to create the bark texture.  I took thinned pieces of calf leather and brushed the surface with a cooked starch paste. It was a thick layer that will act as a resist to the dye. After they dried, they curled up.

To create the texture I pulled the leather over the edge of my table. This caused small breaks in the paste layers.  By pulling one direction, most the cracks in the paste will line up. I rubbed the surface with a spirit-based dye to make the dye seep into the cracks.

There is a youtube video by Paper Dragon Books on this technique

Also, Trevor Jones wrote about this technique and others in the New Bookbinder Journal vol. 13, 1993, Extending the Options: the Use of Spirit Leather Dyes in Bookbinding Design.

After the dye dried, I rinsed off the paste. I used several different colors of leather and dye so I would have a variety of finished onlays.

Using the Mylar drawing I blocked out the shoreline area and began airbrushing the sky and lake refection. I could then check the airbrushing by laying the drawing over it. I built up the color in several light layers of white and blue acrylic paint.

I went through all my leather scraps looking for browns and greens. I started with the rocks along the shore and the tree line on the far side of the lake.  I trimmed out the shapes and pared the edges and then tried different arrangements.

In a previous post, The Dreamtime,  I explained how a use a Sharfix to make onlays,

I made a lot of small shapes with the green leathers for the leaf shapes using my knife.

Before I started gluing the onlays in place, I laid out all the pieces. I then went back and pared more leaf shapes.

I added some color to the shoreline with a brush and stared gluing on the pieces. I glued down the first layer and then when pieces overlapped, I trimmed out the area so I could keep the onlay at one or two layers.

Before gluing down the onlay I scrape the area with a curved knife blade to roughen the surface. This makes the surface more receptive to the paste and PVA  mixture and makes  a stronger bond.

After everything was glued in place I back pared the leather to even out the thickness of the leather.

I brushed on more color for the shadows around the rocks and trees. After looking it over for several days, I decided to get it on the book.

As I began tooling in some of the branches I realized the lake was too yellow. I had wanted some color reflecting from the sky but this didn't look right. I masked out the shoreline and sky using thin paper I wrapped around the book.  I did not want to use tape on the previously airbrushed areas and by keeping the book closed, I could keep the paper tight around the book. I added little more blue and then I was happier with the look.


  1. Thank you so much for this post. It's really interesting to know how you go about tackling this sort of decorative binding.

  2. Really beautiful work. Thanks for posting this, I've been wanting to try onlays, and now I have a better understanding of the process.

  3. Amazing inspiration! This gives me something to shoot for.