“The best accessory is a book.”
- Vivienne Westwood
Our April 2010 featured maker is Laura West, who creates beautiful and unique books from her studio, The Isle of Skye Bindery. Coming from a family of makers, Laura was attracted to a career in craft.
“Growing up, Mom was either in the kitchen making typical 1950’s meals and desserts or in her sewing room making all our clothes. Dad was in the basement doing joinery and cabinet making (absolute passions for him). My fondest childhood memories are of being allowed to join him in the basement or Mom in the sewing room to make things. Three-dimensional construction + sewing = bookbinding!”
Laura studied Bookbinding as a BA Honours Degree at Roehamption Institute, part of Surrey University, simultaneously attending nightclasses at the London College of Printing to learn more about ‘trade’ bookbinding. In 2000, Laura was awarded a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship, which enabled her to study with different bookbinders.
She typically designs books which are sympathetic to the materials that she uses, and are contemporary but with a nod to the past. She teaches contemporary bookbinding in Skye and was recently selected for the new HI-Arts Making Progress mentoring scheme. As part of Making Progress, Laura is working on a new range of designs.
“Now that I am experimenting with new materials and colours, my designs are also changing. I have to invent new book forms and vary old ones. This is where the background of the experience and research gained during the years of study for my degree and scholarship come in very handy. I have confidence in my ability to draw on a variety of historic solutions to book structure conundrums.”
“Stepping aside from commission work and creating new work through experimentation with new materials and processes is exciting, scary, sometimes demoralising and often feels like a guilty pleasure. New work is not something that can be created in spare hours or at weekends but requires day in, day out work. The term bludgeoning comes to mind. Some days it all comes together though many days feel like time wasted when things just don’t work.”
"This is what it feels like trying to develop ‘new work’ that will then become a real and marketable product.”
With the help of her Making progress mentor, jeweller Gilly Langton, Laura plans to launch her new work at the same time as the ‘Made It’ exhibition, opening on 4th June 2010.
“My side gallery show will feature ‘The Haute Couture Book’– the personal book as fashion accessory – easy to hold, wear and use, made in fashionable colours and unique designs but still very much recognisable as a book. I am planning the exhibition space accordingly, to create an environment that flatters both the books and the visitors alike.”
Read Laura’s Making Progress blog on the Northings Crafts blog.
The availability of cheap, mass-produced stationary books and the cost of materials often needed to make unique hand crafted books can be a concern. “The equation of product cost and product price does not always balance and the maker is the loser - certainly in developed economies like ours. Public awareness of ‘craft’ process needs to be changed.”
Fortunately, Laura remains optimistic about the future of craft. “Perhaps television programmes like Master Crafts, websites such as Disappearing Acts, and even a craftsperson appearing on Dragons Den will help the public’s perception of what it takes to learn and become properly expert in a craft. Maybe these will even help to turn the tide in the rush to spend more and more money on new technology which offers ‘virtual’ experiences, rather than real ones. I hope so and am encouraged by the efforts of craftscotland towards audience development.”