Keith Smith published Non-Adhesive Binding in 1990. At the time there were few other bookbinding manuals in print (and in comparison with other crafts, there still aren’t many). Books by Arthur Johnson, Edith Diehl and Douglas Cockerell offered instruction according to specific craft tradition. These manuals told how to bind a book with very little room for creativity other than decorative choices (what color would you like the leather on the spine to be?). The books were hard to find and contained long lists of tools and desirable equipment that a bookbinder should have.
Keith Smith’s book is completely different. He illustrates basic techniques that can be used to create a wide variety of bindings. He encourages the binder to explore how books move, how structural variations influence that movement, and how both movement and structure can lead the binder to fully engage the creative intent of the author’s work. He is even more enthusiastic about the possibilities for binders who are the creators of content or those who we now call book artists.
I started bookbinding in 1991 and Keith Smith’s Non-Adhesive Bookbinding was the first manual I ever bought. As Smith required very few tools and almost no equipment, I was able immediately to start making dozens of books based on his instructions. His drawings of often complex sewing patterns sometimes confused me (and sometimes still do!), but after having now tried to illustrate bookbinding or repair techniques of my own, I’m amazed at how much he conveys so clearly.
It has become more apparent to me with time and experience that his book is a deeper resource than it may first appear. While his methods are simple and often result in astonishingly modern looking bindings, his book is profoundly informed by historical methods and models. Unlike a bookbinding manual that represents a defined tradition, he uses the knowledge of earlier binders to encourage new binders to create their own paths.
Smith’s Non-Adhesive Binding may be almost 20 years old, but it remains a vital resource for bookbinders, book artists, and anyone who wants to creatively understand the book form.
The book, constituted by everything in the pyramidal hierarchy, is always top and center, the totality and must dominate. Each decision on any element within is subordinate to the realized book. If the binding dominated, the book would be superficial. If conceptual, visual and physical organization were not considered, the content of text and/or pictures would be merely a compilation of islands, rather than an orchestrated totality.
It would appear that at one extreme, the content is quite separate from the process of binding. For me, nothing could be farther from ideal. I sometimes think about the physical object. There is concrete space between words and/or pictures. Movement is constructed through content, which determines the rate of turning pages.
A book can be created through a play upon the action of turning a page. Indeed, a lifetime’s work can have as one under-pinning the exploration of what physically transpires in turning the page. Becoming involved and excited about any aspect of the physical book can reveal potential which, once understod, can easily be expanded as theme…. A book grows out of an understanding of its inherent properties, rather than the inclusion of outside elements. Conception springs from the physical format, evolving into a realized book.