Just Shelley

The Art of Books: The cut and what you can afford to lose

I use an Exacta knife when cutting paper or dense cloth, but this won’t work with thicker materials such as gray or book board. This board is very thick and dense for strength, and normally you would use a special paper cutter or have the art shop cut the board into pieces for you. However, both techniques require money, so I buy my board either as scrap or in whole sheets, and then attempt to cut it with a box cutter knife.

I do okay with the larger pieces (they are covered, after all), but can’t seem to get the small cuts down. For instance, the Japanese stab binding requires that you cut a thin strip 1/8 inch wide off of one of the pieces for the cover, to allow for the book fold (you don’t fold the book at the spine with this type of binding). Cutting a strip 1/8 inch wide sounds easy–but it isn’t. I’ve ruined four cuttings already this weekend, and have accomplished little other than creating some nice scrap for small case bound journals.

Among the lessons I’ve learned is that when cutting, commit to the cut. You can’t stop every centimeter or so to check your progress when cutting thick board. If you do, instead of one straight line and two cleanly divided boards, you end up with several short, hesitant stabs and the resulting separation looks more like an act of luck than an act of precision.

In some ways, it’s rather like posting your writing or poetry or photos–if you don’t have confidence in your work before putting it online, you’re not going to find it, incrementally, from your readers’ reactions. Base your joy in your work on the approval of others, and your art will soon reflect the cut I just mentioned.

What a seemingly odd analogy, but it came to mind this morning during ruminations while I created yet another potential case book board. I realized that there is much of a sameness between the commonsense ‘rules’ of bookbinding and the commonsense ‘rules’ of our online efforts. Don’t cut what you can’t afford to lose can easily be rephrased to don’t post what you can’t afford to lose.

For instance, I don’t go into the art supply place and grab any old board and just start hacking away because the boards aren’t mine to hack. The same can be said of the personal lives of others, and you don’t post about friends and family, especially their private lives, without their concurrence–not unless you’re willing to lose them. I would think this goes without saying, and no one ever said free speech was free as in lunch or beer and not without cost.

This medium inspires a false intimacy, but you’re not going to want to post about your deepest thoughts and fears, or your innermost secrets because once they’re out there, everybody, and I mean everybody is going to know about them and probably even giggle about them over Big Macs at a WIFI enabled McDonald’s somewhere. This world is about six degrees of separation and there are six degrees of separation between the importance you attach to your thoughts and what a reader attaches to your ramblings; you’re cutting a single piece of board, they’re cutting six at a time, and the results will vary.

You’ll also want to be sparing with your rants, as well as cautious about posting your strongly held beliefs or opinions online–not unless you can afford to lose the right to change your mind. We all know that circumstances and experience can lead to growth and growth can lead to change, but reflect this change online and you’ll be hit with a chorus of, “But you said…you said…you said…but you said…you said…you said…”

It reminds me of the glues I use when creating a book: PVA glue bonds quickly and permanently and is intolerant to change, while slow bonding organics such as wheat starch paste give you the flexibility of being able to reposition the papers or boards if you find you made a mistake.

Life may be wheat starch paste, but webloggers are PVA.

Glue and cuts. Ultimately, the quality of the book transcends the cut and the glue, and reflects the materials used. All things have a purpose, and you can’t always use one thing as substitute for another not without risk. In bookbinding, you don’t use spit for glue, tooth floss for thread, and gray board works great as a hardcover material for a book, but I wouldn’t want to build a bridge of it.

Weblogging is the same; you can record your life in these pages, but you can’t find it here.

Speaking of which, both life and book board beckon.

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