Interview with Glenn Malkin, Winner of the Folio Society Prize for the Set Book

Right after the Designer Bookbinders awards were announced last Friday we were able to ask winner of the 1st prize of the Folio Society Prize for the Set Book Glenn Malkin a few questions.

Glenn has received a Highly Commended Certificate given by Antiquarian Booksellers Association last year. Now he is a winner with his set book of “La Vita Nouva” by Dante.

Read about other winners in our previous post. I love the use of simple elements that together create a striking design. But what the 9 lines (and 9 squares) symbolize? Nine years? Or that’s a reference to the Commedia?

Glenn Malkin: The design has sets of nine squares, each made up of nine lines. This reflects the repeated reference to the ‘perfect’ number nine which appears throughout the book – the root of nine being three, representing the Holy Trinity, and emphasising the perceived perfection of Beatrice. The black lines at the edge represent the encroaching presence of death, and the red background reflects Beatrice’s crimson coloured dress.

iBB: Were there any special challenges during the bookbinding work? Or from the technical side that’s just another French binding? Not that a French binding is a simple thing.
GM: The binding is a reasonably standard construction, sewn onto four linen tapes which are then laced onto the boards. There is no groove in this construction leading to the desired smooth appearance around the spine and joint areas. However, in order for the boards to open smoothly, the use of a spacer is important to ensure a small gap is maintained between the board and the shoulder when the leather is applied.

iBB: Do you think that a bookbinder needs to have some special connection with a book to create an outstanding book design?
GM: I have to be honest and say I didn’t really like this book, though the Folio Society edition is a beautiful edition, well presented and with lovely illustrations, but the story itself was not really my sort of thing. Nevertheless, I feel it is really important to read the books I bind because that is where the inspiration for the design comes from. Of course if you particularly enjoy a book, the inspiration can come much more easily.

iBB: How are the black lines made? Is that hot tooling with black foil or something else? How the edge decoration is made?
GM: The black lines in this case were produced by carbon tooling, that is using a series of different sized single line heated pallets and old-style carbon paper. I initially tried black foil

iBB: You are not only a practicing bookbinder, you also teach the book craft. What you like the best?
GM: My time is split between routine book repairs and bindings, design bindings and a limited amount of teaching. I enjoy each aspect equally and it is nice to have the balance between the different elements to my business. The teaching is fun to do and I think we have a responsibility to pass on our skills and our enthusiasm for bookbinding to as many people as we can if our craft is to survive long term.

iBB: Every competition is a chance to look what your colleagues are doing. Which other contestants’ bindings you liked? Are there any new ideas you’d like to try after the competition?
GM: I am always inspired by other binders’ work and love to see the exhibitions associated with competitions. There are always bindings which demonstrate unfamiliar techniques I would like to try. I loved the three-dimensional textured effect of the flowers on Kaori Maki’s binding and the cold gold de-bossing of leaves on the binding by Kaitlin Barber. There are always new techniques to learn in bookbinding and design and that is one of the things I love so much about this work!

iBB: What are your favorite covering materials? Is that leather or you like to experiment with something else?
GM: I almost always use leather for my design bindings, though I have seen many wonderful bindings using other materials. I like to create edge to edge leather doublures on my bindings and often use goat suede to make the first endpaper. The leather I use comes from all of the main UK suppliers as they each have there own characteristics, though I often use fair goat and dye/decorate the leather myself.

iBB: If there were one piece of advice you would have to tell to a less experienced bookbinder who wanted to enter a competition like Designer Bookbinders what would it be?
GM: Attention to detail! I am very self critical and am rarely entirely satisfied with my work – there is always something I wish I had done differently. But whatever you do, it needs to be as perfect as it can be – from the sewing, backing, ploughing, endbands and board attachment to the leather paring, decorating, caps and doublures. Every detail will be looked at by competition judges, so you have to be very self critical in order to improve. And the best way to improve is to ask for help. Talk to other binders, get a mentor and explore alternative ways of doing things.

Glenn Malkin is creating design bindings since 2008 in his own bindery in East Yorkshire, England. You can also find him on Facebook.

Stay tuned for some more interviews with other winners of the Designer Bookbinders Competition later this week!

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