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Art & Design careers

Book Arts: Production & Papermaking

How are books made?

Books don’t grow on trees. Sure, they tend to be made from trees, but the raw materials need specialist attention from artists, designers and craftspeople to put them into a form that we can enjoy.

Do you get pleasure from books? Not just from their stories or information, but also from their look, their feel, their smell, and their composition? If you’re passionate about books, and you like nothing better than getting a whiff of a new hardback, then why not consider a career in book arts?

People do judge books by their covers. The look and feel of a book is incredibly important to lots of people and, therefore, book designers, bookbinders, and papermakers are essential for the production of books. Books can be mass produced or handmade; either way, highly-skilled craftsmen and designers are required to ensure that high-quality editions are produced.

Do I need to be qualified to pursue a career in book arts?

People who work in these careers tend to be passionate about books, are well trained in using specialist computer software or machinery, and have a great mix of design and practical skills. Bookbinders, book designers and papermakers don’t necessarily need specific academic qualifications, but many tend to learn their trade through specialist courses, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training.

What exactly does a book designer do?

A book designer’s job is to integrate the content, pictures and text of a book into a creative, cohesive, and well-laid out volume. These guys are effectively responsible for the style, design, layout, branding and overall look and feel of a book before it goes to print.

Book designers aim to create books which are consistent in terms of layout, typography, graphical style and tone. They often use specialist computer programmes, such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator to produce designs and layouts for covers and inner pages.

They may work independently, or for specific publishing houses, and it is their job to understand the overall objective of a book and employ their artistic, spatial and practical skills to help produce an effective visual impact on the manuscript’s readers.

What are some areas of specialisation in bookbinding?

Bookbinding is an ancient craft. These people physically bind pages and book covers together to make finished books. You might even encounter a bookbinder yourself if you write a dissertation and get it professionally bound.

This career can be pursued in different ways. Commercial print finishing and bookbinding is less artistic and tends to involve the use of specialist machinery to cut, fold, stitch and glue the paper and hardback covers together.

Craft bookbinders tend to be self-employed artists, who approach book-binding in a highly creative manner. They make fine bindings by hand for limited edition manuscripts. Their customers might include: university publications, small publishing houses and private clients.

Craft bookbinding careers require people with a fantastic eye for detail, patience, dexterous fingers and high levels of concentration. These people also need to be incredibly passionate about producing outstanding, original and beautiful books.

Some bookbinders may specialise in the restoration and conservation of old and damaged manuscripts. These careers also fall under the term art conservation and restoration. These specialists will repair and restore antiquarian tomes and books, which have suffered serious degradation, for libraries, museums and private collectors.

What is paper making?

Understandably, paper making is essential for book production. Paper can be produced en masse, or by hand for limited edition volumes. This is a practical, scientific and artistic process which involves mixing paper fibres and pulp with water, draining all the water out, flattening it into thin sheets and drying it out. It’s a tricky and convoluted process, but it can be a fantastically rewarding form of artistic production with tangible and exciting results.

Do you get an immense sense of satisfaction from the sight of an aesthetically pleasing book collection? Was being asked to cover your workbooks back in primary school the highlight of your entire school year? If so, a career in book arts could be the one for you!