A Discussion Defining Book Binding Styles: Traditional, Craft, and Artist.

In past centuries a book binder was well defined by what he/she did.  Now days, a book binder might be a technician, a crafter, an artist, a combination of these, or-sadly-none of the above.  We want to discuss and better define the different kinds of book binding styles we see around the internet.  Is one book binder the same as another?  Should the title book binder be used in general terms?  Do all book binders have the same skills or even knowledge of binding styles?  When talking about defining binding styles we're not specifically talking about "how-to", we're defining the intent behind different approaches to binding, and the stylistic approaches that make those choices evident.  


Traditional Binding

Traditional book binding relies on historic time honored techniques and materials; it is designed to be functional, and long lasting.  Traditional binding can't be separated from the root purpose of binding, which is to preserve and present text.  Simply described; a traditional bound book is complete; there are no exposed spines, there are no funky threads or cords hanging off of the book, it has completely gone through the forwarding (everything up through rounding and backing) and finishing (everything from the attaching the cover and decorative titling) process of book binding.  

Traditional binding is governed by tradition; a set of rules that have been passed down from master to student, and they're methods that have been proven to last over centuries.  Traditional binding can run the gamut from purely functional (cloth or leather, no aesthetics considered) to the finest of fine binding (combining functionality with aesthetics).


Craft Binding

Craft binding relies on a novice book binder's skills or abilities; they're designed to be made in a way that negates the need to learn trade specific techniques such as paring leather and using traditional adhesives (This isn't just our opinion, we've actually seen this explanation written in how-to-books).  Examples of popular craft bindings today are the Coptic stitch binding with an exposed spine, long stitch binding, and pamphlet stitch binding, which are basically stripped down versions of more elaborate but complete bindings.  For example:  The Coptic stitch was traditionally covered in leather on wooden boards with elaborate structural end-bands, the long stitch binding was done in the Medieval period on reinforced parchment bindings, and the pamphlet binding was originally never meant to be anything permanent, it was used for ephemera - printed text not meant to last like playbills or an advertisement booklet.  

Craft binding seems to be ruled by current trends; the kinds of papers, the colors of the thread and cords used, etc., and these design decisions are more important than the structure itself.  Craft binding seems to be more about the experience of making the books, because functionality isn't always addressed, and so you rarely find a craft binding in use without it quickly showing significant damage caused by normal use.  They're not made to last because they're simply not finished, from a structural design standpoint. 


Artist Binding

Artist bindings are the book as sculpture; they're entirely made based on aesthetic considerations.  It's quite obvious when looking at an artist binding, they're not made for functionality or use at all.  They are books that are made as sculpture or they are traditional books that are modified and made into sculpture.  A beautifully made craft binding is not the same as an artist binding, although we frequently see them described as such.  The intent of book artists is to use the book form to communicate in ways outside of the traditional flow of communication in the book/reader relationship.  Artist bindings are purely conceptual and visual, such as when one admires a painting, or marble or bronze sculpture. 

All binding styles have a place in the book world; each style fulfills it's specific purpose, however problems arise when purpose and technique do not match.  For example:  It makes no historical sense to trust the personal writings of your journal to a craft binding that won't last to be passed on to future generations, or using a tight back binding as an artist sketch book, when the artist's demand of free space will lead to a broken spine.  Paramount to good binding style choice is the synthesis of technique and intended use.  

As a binder, what is your favorite style to work in, and why?

As a book lover, what binding style are you most attracted to, and why?  Do you consider functionality when buying a journal, sketch book, or literature?

What do you think about the cartoon illustrations depicting each binding style?  Joseph and I designed them together and Joseph drew them!  Love them!