I've been thinking intensely about different kinds of handbound books lately and browsed both Pinterest and Etsy what feels like endlessly. Last night I said aloud something that really made sense - if I had a super power it would be understanding what works and what doesn't structure-wise, especially in books but also in other things. Not the greatest super power to have but it's still something. It does lead to focusing on the things that are wrong much more than I'd hope. I'm now going to tell you about my thoughts when facing the small horrors I saw while venturing out to the wild that I generally try to avoid, also called "books bound by others". Naturally I saw things great and wonderful, too, but they were unfortunately scarce, and there definitely is a need for more attention on the fine work available.
Like some of you know, I live in a fairly black-and-white world and I have this problem that I care, too much, about things being just right (still, I can't imagine my home not being a bit messy at all times) and it frustrates me to see books for sale that are poorly made. It makes me want to bang my head against the wall when I see some basic mistakes and bad constructions over and over again*. Of course we all start somewhere and it takes time to learn - it is people who seem to stop wanting to learn that I frown upon. My post may read a little harsh, that's not my true intention, but I want to be straight with you guys and that starts with me being myself and not going around the subject matter in far too large circles. I'm starving for some proper conversation and facing the reality. The blog world often gets way too pretty.
Some time ago I exchanged long e-mails with my Chinese friend Huhu, whom I met through this blog and who just opened a store on Etsy for her international customers, about becoming a real bookbinder and what it takes to get there (for those who are not familiar with my background: I'm a master bookbinder, still on my way to the real part). I wrote to her that it's not necessary to travel abroad to study bookbinding but to keep on learning new things and to feed creativity in your everyday life. It is also my message to my readers: you learn by observing and working. It is by observing that you realize you still probably have a long way to go wherever you want to go, and also that it is possible to get there by working. I wish people wouldn't give up on learning more. It is important to look at your own creations with a critical eye and always aim to make it better. After you've learned how to make nice corners for you book covers, learn how to make corners that are actually really awesome. Also, pay attention to the materials you're using and work accordingly (leather, it can be pared down to avoid bulky corners and if that isn't your thing, find another way). Just because there are buyers for books of all sorts of quality standards doesn't mean you shouldn't aim for better. Naturally all this applies to other work too, not just books, not just creative work. When you're better, raise your prices to match the quality of your work. When you're not that good yet, try to not pretend you are, and that most definitely doesn't mean practically giving away your work for nothing on Etsy. Know where you stand in the market and always aim for better quality. Not for the sake of money but for the sake of self worth.
How about you try to do better? Would it make you feel lousy to put in a little more effort? Do you think it would be time wasted if you acquired a new skill? (As a burnout person I'm not suggesting you to work at your absolute limits, I'm just saying it could help you keep motivated and moving along your creative path if you did push your limits a bit)
*bulky corners, coptic bindings with covers extending past the spine of the book block, covers so 3D that it impairs the functionality, books that look floppy in a bad way due to poor understanding of materials, copyright infringement, bad choice of materials in terms of usability and durability
Please note: None of the above are necessarily bad things (oh, actually the copyright infringement is) as long as the binder knows what she/he is doing. I'm with the team that says it's fine to break rules as long as you know what the rules are. It is crucial to understand causality so that you don't end up selling a book that gets damaged in use due to your thoughtlessness. Experiment and test drive all your book structures before you begin to make items for sale.
Also: this post wast not inspired by any particular person nor book. Mere random observations. And I'm sure you make wonderful books since you're reading this and all, but you know, you too could probably do better still.