Volume 12 - Autumn 2001


Tales from Ovid by Ted Hughes

A Binding by Richard Smart

This book was given to me in order to produce a fine binding in leather. The book itself is a paperback signed by Ted Hughes, in orange terracotta with a very intricate illustration on the front cover. The illustration is (Narcissus at the Source) a book illumination for Roman de la Rose by Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meung, courtesy of Bibliotheque Nationale de Paris & AKG Photo, London.

The Book was firstly dis-bound and pulled for sewing, it was then gilded on all edges. It was then rounded & backed and boards were cut and laced on. Headbands were then sewn using gold, terracotta and blue silks.

Finding the correct colour leather was easy. Firstly, I tried going through the different leather swatches of the various leather suppliers, whilst, at the same time, working out how to stain a skin myself to the required colour, if the need were to arise. One of our suppliers did have a colour match close to what I wanted but not close enough. As luck would have it when I rang them and explained exactly what I wanted, they said they had one skin that went 'wrong' in the dying stage and that it may be suitable. They posted it to me and on arrival, it was a perfect match.

The book was then bound in full 'terracotta' morocco and then put in a press to dry and settle.

I then started the illustration that was to use over 120 individual pieces of leather to make up the picture. I began by paring down the different colour leathers to the same thickness. Starting with the corners and four edge pieces (which were cut out to the exact size as the original illustration), I pasted them to a thin paper mounted by it's edges to a piece of board. Each square was cut out making sure every piece was the same in every way, it took 18 hours just to get to this point. Once all the background was in place I was then left with the shape of the figure of Narcissus, the grass and the tree to complete. I cut-out the shape of the tree and the grassy area as one piece. This was then carefully inlaid. I then cut out the area of the reflection and inserted a piece of fair calf pared to the same thickness as the morocco leather; this was then inlaid. The next pieces to be cut and inlaid were were the cuffs and finally the shoes and the hands of the figure were inlaid separately.

The figure of Narcissus was achieved by paring a piece of fair calf and mounting it on tissue paper. The face of the figure and the clothing were drawn in with Indian ink . The face on the reflection was also drawn in with ink. The figure was then cut out carefully and inlaid. This completed the picture.

The black lines on the inside of the picture were drawn in and the tree and grass were also outlined with black ink. The book was now ready for the gold finishing of the background. To create the desired effect I used three finishing tools that I had specifically shaped, to achieve the fine detail required; a short line, a dot and a slightly longer line to join the squares together. It took many hours putting each individual impression in place.

With a very fine fillet I put in the inner lines on the edge of the border. The only brass decorative strip I could find with a wavy line that was the same as the original picture, did not have the dots on either side of it. I had a decorative strip specially made that I was going to use in a type holder. I then cut the strip to the exact size for each side. After the line had been put in place I tooled in the dot's to complete the tooling of the border.

The picture was cut away from its mount, and the exact size was copied across to the book, which had been marked out carefully. I then cut out both the edge of the picture and the joining edge of the cut out in the front cover. This was done at a slight angle to allow tooling directly on the joint, thus giving a more stable join. The book was then placed in the press for a few days to consolidate the picture and cover.

Using a thick single gold line I put in the gold border of the picture carefully along the join where the picture was inlaid. Black lines were drawn in on the inside and outside of the gold tooling. Once in place the book was placed back in the press for the rest of the day. The book was now ready to be labelled, single gold lines were added to the edges and inner edge of the boards. The end papers were laid down and the leather was dressed and varnished. In 1988 Richard Smart decided follow in his father and grandfathers footsteps and learn the trade of antique book restoration. At this point there were no full time courses available on restoration apart from workshops and evening classes. It was therefore decided that Richard's father, John would teach Richard to a proficient standard .

With ten years experience working along side his father, Richard has developed skills in the restoration and conservation of paper and documents and the undertaking of new & fine bindings. Richard now lives in Vancouver, Canada where he runs his own business, The Old English Bindery.


Skin Deep - Volume 12 - Autumn 2001

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