The Joy of Bookbinding

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I have been doing quite a bit of bookbinding over the last few weeks and took a batch of hand made books to the Glentrool Winter Fair recently where they were very well received.

I bought some nice soft cartridge paper to make some blank books, and rigged up a home made sewing frame with one of my table easels which did the job pretty well. A traditional hard bound stitched book is usually sewn over tapes and with a sewing frame, it’s possible to sew several book at once.

I took bookbinding classes over several years with a retired master bookbinder in Newcastle and a refresher course at the Glasgow School of Art this summer has rekindled my passion for this wonderful craft.

Each book has been lovingly crafted the old fashioned way. Each individual sheet of paper has been smoothed and creased then nested into a group of pages called a signature. A sewn book is made up of multiple signatures, stitched together over tapes which give the book strength and flexibility. The spine is reinforced with cloth and the block is then glued into a cover to form a hardbound book.
There are other ways to make books of course.  A single signature can be sewn straight into a paper cover using a pamphlet stitch, or a pamphlet can have hard covers to make what is known as a ‘music binding’ – named because it will open flat (last thing a musician needs is for their sheet music to suddenly snap closed mid-concerto!).
 Then there’s a whole array of folded books, from a simple accordian (concertina fold) to more complex origami-like folding, including this Turkish map fold which I taught as a mini class at Glentrool.  Discovered it’s a wee bit complex for a 6 year old (though he got there with a little help)!
I was asked about book restoration at the fair, and although I did study it, it doesn’t make my heart sing the way crafting new books does.  The act of transforming paper, linen and board into a beautiful tactile book is very satisfying and rewarding and that’s before you even start to think about the possibilities for self expression with books.  Restoration and conservation of books is a specialised area that I shall leave to the experts.

I have enjoyed the process so much that we have added a section for Hand Bound Books to the Portpatrick Studios shop.  There are just a few books there that we had left from the fair, but I am also able to take commissions if you would like a specific size or colour combination.  If you are interested, you can get in touch and let me know what your requirements are.  It will take at least a week to make a commissioned book, maybe longer if you want specialist paper or other material.

I will be teaching more bookbinding classes next year and I’ve been asked about an online bookbinding class by a few people.  That’s something I would like to do and I have taught several online classes in the past so I’m quite excited at the prospect.  If you’re interested, do let me know in the comments below or drop me a line and let me know.

Craft Clearance Sale


You’ve probably looked at the Studio Tour page already and seen this huge massive space that I have the pleasure of working in?  Well it might surprise you to hear that even in a room this size, I have been feeling claustrophobic and hemmed in and the reason is because I simply have too much “stuff”.

I have been aware of a growing desire over the last year to simplify, declutter and focus so I’m having a clear out.  Not just a little clear out, but a major, life changing one.  It’s extending to the whole house actually, but for now, I think you might be interested in the fact I’m having a sale of craft stuff.

It’s a bit of a task getting everything listed, but so far the list of things to go includes the following:

  • Lots of Chocolate Baroque stamps (mounted on cling cushion and cut out)
  • Stamps from other companies, eg Julie Nutting, Chapel Road, Stampendous, Crafty Individuals, Magenta, etc
  • Over 60 cutting dies and die sets
  • Nearly 40 embossing folders
  • Miscellaneous lucky dip paper offcut packs – patterned, plain and hand decorated
  • The very last of my Artylicious printed paper designs
  • Bags full of ribbon
  • Stampbord
  • Odds and ends of things like crystals, Tim Holtz metal hardware, charms
  • Inkpads, markers, brushes
  • Books and magazines

When considering the best way to offer these items, I considered Ebay, a page here on the blog, a Facebook group and one or two other solutions, but in the end, we decided the simplest way for us was to set up a Craft Clearance department on our own website,

Before you dive straight in and start snaffling bargains, please, please, PLEASE read the Craft Clearance section of our updated Terms and Conditions page on the Portpatrick Studios website.  It explains the shipping/handling charges, the refund policy, VAT (doesn’t apply on second hand goods) and distance selling regulations.  You have to agree to these terms when you place an order and though most of us blithely tick the box without reading, it will save any misunderstandings if  you would actually read and absorb what we have written there – thanks!

Not everything is on the website yet – books, magazines, cardstock, markers and most inkpads are still to sort out, together with random storage and things.  However, I am going to be at Glentrool Winter Fair in a couple of weeks and have to focus on making some books for that, so I’m going to put the rest on hold and do another batch after the fair.

I confess, I got a bit teary at one point while going through this stuff.  Stamping has been my main creative outlet for the last fifteen years and I’m so grateful to Sue Page for all her gorgeous designs that have allowed me and many others to create things of beauty over those years.  Even though it’s been bittersweet, I know that the time is right for me to move on and let all these beautiful products go to a new home where they will be cherished and used, rather than sit in a box at the back of a shelf.  I have kept my favourites that I couldn’t bear to be parted from – stamping will always be part of my mixed media repetoire and I need a range of stuff for teaching of course.

Remember that for 99% of these products I only have ONE of each item.  I’ve actually listed explicit stock quantities on each product so you will see if it is sold out or not and I will do my best to remove sold out items from the website as soon as I can.

So, here’s the link to the clearance department:  Have fun bargain hunting!


The good, the bad, the ugly and the harshest critic of all

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“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” (Andy Warhol)

When I was at secondary school, I was good at languages and the first time I got 100% in a French test,  I remember my “friends” at the time jeered and laughed at me for being a swot.  Over the next few years, I watched as another of my academically clever friends started deliberately sabotaging her schoolwork so she could stay in this clique of popular, but ever so bitchy, girls.  She left school at 16 and went to work in a butcher’s shop – I don’t know what happened to her after that.  The reason I’m telling you this is because when I first read Raw Art Journaling (by Quinn McDonald), I did the exercise she suggests at the start of the book and drew a picture of my inner critic.  Surprise, surprise, it turned out to be a group of bitchy, cliquey, gossipy teenage girls.

It’s very easy for me to be highly selective about what I put out there in the public domain and only show the pretty stuff that is finished, ready for sale or that I’m particularly pleased with.  When I do that, I get lovely comments, but I still hear voices whispering in my ear that it’s a fluke, that I got away with it this time, and boy, wouldn’t they think differently if they could see the rubbish in my sketchbooks.  I know that those voices will always be there and I’m guessing even the most successful artists would agree that there’s no critic as harsh as the one inside your own head.  So part of this new life of being an artist is learning how to deal with these whispering voices, how to be constructively critical of my own work, without letting my ego go into complete meltdown every time I fail to portray on paper or canvas the vision in my head.

Today I’m sharing some sketches that are not finished works, that are not always pretty but are part of the process and part of my never ending learning curve.  Like a musician practices scales or a dancer does stretches, I know that I need to just keep on practising if I ever want to get better.

I bought an A3 moleskine sketchbook earlier this year, thinking it had watercolour paper pages, but it turned out to be thin sketch paper that would just buckle if I put wet media on it.  So I’m using it to practise drawing big.  By big, I’m not referring to the size of the paper, but the way I approach the drawing, keeping it loose, moving my arm from the shoulder, holding the pencil or charcoal between the finger and thumb for sketching rather than sitting in the hand like you do when writing.

I remembered to take a few in progress shots of this first one that I drew.

And I keep on practising, sometimes changing media, but always trying to keep it quick and loose.  If you try to overwork charcoal, you quickly lose everything to a uniform grey blur, so if it isn’t working, you simply move on and do another.

Faces fascinate me, I have a Faces board on Pinterest where I collect images of faces, but as I’ve started using them as references for drawing, I’m finding that a lot of photographs of models are so over-lit and photoshopped that they lose the shadows and lines that give their faces character and definition.

I did some smaller studies from my Pinterest board while I was working in the Lifeboat shop earlier this summer, experimenting with working on coloured paper.

And the joy of art is when it all comes together on a canvas – this is Bellarosa which was painted over a vibrant and messy background with lots of texture.

So there you have it, the imperfect, the unfinished and the annoyingly close to how it was ‘supposed’ to look.  You can click on any of the gallery images above to see a larger view and scroll through the images.  Pressing escape or clicking the X will take you out of the close up view.

I’m going to end this post with a thank you to my french teacher Mrs Dennison who gave me the positive reinforcement I needed to rise above that awful teenage peer pressure to dumb down, and the encouragement to continue to shine at what I was good at. (For the record, I studied languages right through to degree level.) It’s a lesson I’m still taking heed of today – thanks Mrs D.

Flower Power


You may have seen this on Facebook already, but if not, meet Poppies & Lavender, recently purchased by a lovely lady as a gift for her Mum.


Poppies & Lavender came about from an online class I did recently with Pauline Agnew.  The class is called Flower Power: Mixed Media Magic and the source image for this painting, provided by Pauline, was from her time teaching in the South of France this summer.  I’ve tried to capture some of that mediterranean sunshine in this image.

Below are some progress shots of this one as it evolved, starting with a tonal painting on a cerulean blue/ultramarine blue base.

[Click on any image to enlarge and scroll through the gallery.  Press escape to exit the enlarged view.]

When making prints, I have the paintings professionally scanned to ensure all the detail is captured and I have to say, I have been thrilled with the prints I have had.  They are printed onto a really beautiful archival paper (Hahnemühle Etching) which gives the prints a gorgeous matte, velvety finish with the most accurate colour reproduction I’ve ever seen.

The close up below is from the print, not the original painting, which shows just how much detail the scan captures.  You can see the texture of the canvas and every brush stroke, as well as the underpainting just peeping through in places, giving real dimension and depth to the finished piece.


I have produced a limited print run of just 25 prints of Poppies & Lavender which you can find in our Portpatrick Studios shop.  The prints are individually signed and numbered and come in a sealed bag with white mount and backing board.  Selling them unframed keeps the price and shipping costs down, plus it gives you the chance to have it framed to suit your own decor.  Click here to see all our mounted prints.


Thanks for looking – let me know if you like seeing the work in progress shots and I’ll make an effort to take more in the future!