Volume 11 - Spring 2001


Book Arts & The London College of Printing


The London College of Printing (LCP) emerged after the end of the First World War. In those early years the vast majority of students were indentured apprentices, attending usually one day a week over 5 or 6 years. Printing at that time was still primarily based on letterpress and litho sheet fed methods, and was labour intensive. The printing trade itself was a "closed shop" and without indentures and a union card working in the trade was almost impossible. In fact getting an apprenticeship , (as a young man) without the sponsorship of a friend or relative, was very difficult.

This situation remained almost unchanged until the late 1980's, the structure of the trade (e.g trade union legislation), new technology and new "speeded up" training schemes all combined to create a slimmed down modern printing industry.

The printed image may now be designed using the latest desktop computer software, digital technology means that a manuscript may be published and typeset in the UK, illustrated by a designer in the US and printed, via ISDN in Italy. The new information age means that publishers no longer rely on long print runs to make money, today relatively short runs are viable, this in turn creates even greater choice of titles to the reading public. Bookbinding technology within the trade has kept pace and "in line" binding units can produce thousands of hardback books, quickly and cheaply.

Running parallel to these developments is a section of the printing world based on traditional technology and techniques. Modern technology has its roots in the Industrial Revolution and the machine. The Arts & Crafts Movement (William Morris et al) was anti-machine and wanted to return to the days of craft making. Mass production was to Morris a soul-less activity, bad materials, poor design and cheap skimpy methods combined, in the 1880's , to produce some of the ugliest books ever produced. Morris set- up the Kelmscott Press , many of his friends set up private presses, the impact of their work not only improved book design in the trade, but influenced most of the teachers working in the new art & craft schools that were set up at the turn of the twentieth century, LCP included.

Traditional craft (trade) bookbinding was also greatly influenced by the Arts & Crafts Movement, however its greatest influence was in graphic design and modern design binding techniques.

In those early years of the last century craft bookbinding was taught in most of the London art and craft colleges, (Central School of Arts & Crafts, Camberwell College of Art , LCP etc..) craft bookbinding, that is binding books by hand usually in leather was still, in spite of the mass production book trade, a widespread occupation. Demand was healthy, before the days of television , playstations and PC's quality entertainment was a handbound book rather than a cloth binding.

Today, having a book bound in leather is akin to having one's suit or shoes made by hand, and rather expensive. The number of trade binderies in London capable of producing work of this standard are getting less and less as the years go by. However, the number of binderies run as sole traders is on the increase, there is no shortage of work. People will always want quality products and there are literally thousands of Victorian books that need the attention of skilled book repairers.

Mass produced books are produced for the consumer and by definition will fall apart after a few years, handbound books will last hundreds of years. Many people say that with the age of the computer the book has had its day. Can you imagine sitting in your garden, under a shady tree reading your computer? The book is not only a reading machine, look at the illustrations, turn the page, feel the paper, feel the leather, smell it. A book is also the defining cultural object, a copy of an Austin, Dickens or Hardy has the same kind of impact to an English person that the Koran has to the Moslem or the Old Testament to a Jew.

At the LCP you can have your fill of courses from basic to advanced in all the latest technologies and print media methods from publishing to selling. However, you may also enrol on a course that encapsulates all the values of the Arts and Crafts Movement, The BA(Hons) Book Arts & Crafts. A strong sense of design, taught using conventional visual study methods by practising artists and printmakers, typography using letterpress, craft bookbinding to advanced level, fine print production including screen processes and just in case you thought we had lost contact with the modern world, the latest computer aided design programmes, photography and digital technologies. The course also covers Cultural studies and Professional Development. Work Experience and a study Abroad programme complete the package.

Of course it would be impossible to deliver all of these areas to degree level over three years, the first year gives intensive skills training in all areas, in the second year you select certain areas and drop others, finally in year three you can focus on the area you wish to concentrate on for your Degree show (and occupation!). We also run a two year HND programme in Craft Bookbinding for those who wish to practice as a skilled craftsperson. This programme of study includes all major bookbinding structures, decorative techniques and restoration methods. This course runs over three days a week and is the most comprehensive of its kind available. Work placement is also available at major London libraries and binderies.

Finally, our resources at the college are second to none, fully equipped workshops and studios and dedicated highly experienced staff; this is born out by our retention rate of 96% (students just hate to leave), a HEFC score of 22 / 24 and students who not only win international prizes for Bookart and Bookbinding but have work exhibited throughout Europe and the US. Exit profiles show a take up of 80%, in fact graduates are working not only as bookbinders and bookartists, but (e.g) in libraries, publisher's art departments, product design, textile design, illustrators, graphic artists and some go on to post-graduate courses, MA Bookarts, Fine Art, Conservation, Publishing and PGCE.etc...

Need to know more?

Then contact Mike Brunwin or Ken Olney at:
London College of Printing, Elephant & Castle, London SE1 6SB
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7514 6500/6733 or e-mail runwin@lcp.linst.ac.uk


Skin Deep - Volume 11 - Spring 2001

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