My chum in Athens, Greece, Marialena Sarris, sent me a superb leather cover for a sketchbook. The cover is lined in Alcantara suede, which I remember being the seat covering in Maserati of the 1960’s.
The cover Marialena made for me is finely calculated to use one imperial sheet of paper, with zero waste. This is important because good quality, and even most trashy, art papers are expensive. An imperial sheet is 22×30 inches or 56x76cm. It is called “imperial” because it is a British measure from the time when the sun never set on the British Empire. You may imagine good Queen Vicky, Empress of India, etc, cutting up a sheet of her Imperial paper and putting the paper into a leather cover that the Keeper of Her Majesty’s Tack stiched for her. If you don’t know who Queen Victoria was, she was the one for whom the colourmen Winsor & Newton made the first of their No 7 sable brushes.
This is the cover Marialena made for me from reclaimed leather, lined with Alcantara synthetic suede. Bottom right is a couple of new watercolours she handmade and included with the gift. (I have a whole large palette of Ercolano — Herculaneum — colours she handmade for another gift. It’s great to have friends.) Below that is the math of cutting and folding an imperial sheet for zero waste.
This is the same sheet of paper on which I’ve drawn a rough sketch of the imperial sheet to be absolutely certain that I know in which direction the cuts and fold go, a useful aide memoire.
This is the imperial sheet of paper I will cut up and fold to make the pages of the sketchbook. It is a French paper, Arches, pronounced “arsh”, made of 100% cotton, hot pressed to give it a smooth surface, sized both internally and externally to make a topclass watercolour paper. Common watercolour paper is cold pressed to give it a somewhat rougher surface, but I have a big palette of pigmented ink which I will use in this sketchbook, and a smooth surface generally goes better with ink than cold press or especially rough paper.
The tape measure is security blanket used merely to confirm measurements, most after cutting and folding. Why? Because the paper is its own measure in any zero-loss scheme for an even number of units, and we will use that by making all folds and cuts divide precisely in half the piece of paper to hand at that stage of making the book.
The bread knife I bought for two euro at a charity shop after I spotted its saw tooth. I call it my “faux deckle-edge knife”. The deckle is the edge on high-class art papers that looks torn, not guillotine-cut.
First fold the entire imperial sheet in half perpendicular to its longest edge. Where the short sides of the sheet kiss, be sure to align the corners. Above I’m using the rounded handle of my knife to smoothe down the fold hard enough to make a defined edge. Rip it with the knife, going slowly, and being sure not to stick the point of the knife into the surface of the paper. You will now have two pieces of paper each 22x15in/56 x38cm.
Next fold each of your two pieces of paper in half perpendicular to its shortest edge, flatten the fold hard enough for a defined edge, and rip so that you get four pieces of paper each 22×7.5in/56x19cm.
There will be no further cutting because at this stage we assume that you will use only one side of the paper so in each signature we will leave the boundary between two pages uncut as you can see above,
To achieve that, fold each of the four pieces of paper you have perpendicular to the long side and then fold the doubled up paper in half again. Don’t smoothe these folds down, or not too hard if you do, because they will help keep the book a constant thickness when closed. The result should look from above like the preceding photograph.
Why are we not making the final cut? There are several advantages. Normally I put in interleaves of wax or cartridge paper, but here they would make the book too thick and cumbersome and heavy, and they would be a nuisance in some of the ways I want to use the book. So two page thicknesses are a useful barrier to bleedthrough, and the two folios being linked at one edge is a useful way to maintain the barrier. Also, it stiffens up the whole book when two of the pages in each signature (two sheets, four spreads, eight pages above is an unsewn signature in bookmaking jargon) can’t bend because they are attached to each other along one whole edge. It also enhances the experience when you want to paint on a spread, in which case you can put the bottom spread under the elastic and see no divider on the top spread. Finally, the stiffening added by the uncut page edges will allow the whole book to rest on a forearm and offer adequate stiffening to painting standing up, brush in one hand, palette held by a couple of fingers of the other hand, and the sketchbook on the forearm.
There is one further advantage under special circumstances. Suppose you’re sitting at a cafe or picnic spot table, and you’re thinking, Oh, if only I lugged along 35 kilos of gear, I could have painted this panorama. Well, with this sketchbook with its uncut pages, you have the possibility to take a signature out of the sketchbook altogether, open it up, flatten it on the table (another reason not to flatten the folds all that hard), and have paper 22in/56cm wide to paint your panorama.
If at a later stage all the pages are full and you decide to paint on the back of the pages as well — I advise against it but I do it all the time — you can slit the ends of the four signatures where the pages are attached with any knife or other instrument like a nail file.
The cover Marialena sent me already had four elastic runs installed to hold in the signatures. Here I have fitted two signatures to the outside elastics with the uncut pages on the inside of the sketchbook. The other two signatures should be fitted the same way and this ensures that the four stiffest pages in the sketchbook face each in the centre of the book, and the small amount of texture to the Arches HP causes enough friction for the book to be pretty stiff.
My sketchbook with all four signatures installed. Cover of reclaimed leather with Alcantara liner designed and stitched by Marialena Sarris. Paper Arches all-cotton hot press 300gsm. Singlesided use offers four signatures, four panoramas, eight spreads, 16 pages. Doublesided use offers eight panoramas, 16 spreads, 32 pages. The book is pretty lightweight for so much space: I resisted cramming in a second imperial page because I might want to work in the garden or out in the West Cork countryside, where I live.
An obviously exclusive, expensive, aspirational sketchbook; well, actually one you can’t buy. I have other many other sketchbook covers by leading designers and this one sits easily with them. Now all I have to do is make art that lives up to my sketchbook!
Copyright ©2022 Andre Jute