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Monday, April 01, 2013

Russell Parry Sketchbooks

1 by Anita Davies
1, a photo by Anita Davies on Flickr.
I am currently trying out a sketchbook made by Russell Parry, he kindly sent me a couple to review. The one I am working in now is this little red number with old bus ticket end papers. It is filled with 48 pages of Schoellershammer 4G 250gsm smooth HP paper and 24 pages of Fabriano Artistico 200g NOT
Endpapers: Camden Colombia
Who is Russell Parry?
In his words.....
Russell Parry originally trained and worked as a food biochemist, from where he drifted into technical books, first as a publisher at Hodder & Stoughton (where he took far too much interest in cover designs), then as a freelancer. For the last eighteen years he has designed, edited and illustrated books from home whilst providing a dubious level of care to two growing children and an allotment. Always fascinated by art and driven by a need to create, Russell's main medium has been wood sculpture. He refuses to divulge any rational basis for this choice, recondite and uneconomic in equal measure. Russell's greatest regrets, he says, are that he never practiced drawing or the piano when much younger. He enjoys travel to unexceptional places and, despite being conspicuously popular with dogkind, lives an entirely pet-free existence in Shrewsbury*.
Why, in this age of cheaply manufactured goods, would anyone bother to bind empty books by hand?
In my case the motivation to start making sketch journals arose from dissatisfaction with what was available. My partner, Sue, had kept a sporadic sketch journal for over a decade, and about three years ago I joined her and began what has become a challenging climb towards drawing 'with spontaneity and freedom'. My work as a freelance provider of publishing services has moved increasingly towards illustration of technical books. But customers demand computer-based, vector drawings and diagrams. With no formal art background I felt a growing need to improve my practically non-existent 'hand-drawing' skills and a journal seemed the ideal way.
Maybe we're a bit too picky
...but most sketch books seem less than satisfactory. Soft, lightweight paper is a recurrent problem, along with flexible covers and spines that make it hard to work unsupported and suffer when stuffed repeatedly into a rucksack or bike pannier. We soldiered on with Moleskines for a time, but although the pages are nice and thick (and despite the handy pocket!) we felt an unfulfilled yearning for luminous highlights and shades of real blue, rather than the dirty green reality. A wider range of good papers is available ring-bound, but we had found that this type of binding travels badly, allowing pages to smudge even when in thick covers.
Finda binder
Perhaps a craft bookbinder would be the solution? I obtained a range of potential papers, double-sided and potentially thick enough to be used both sides. There followed furious activity with everything from pen and pencil to spirit marker and watercolour. We learned a lot about drawing papers, and I felt ready to talk to Christopher Rowlatt at the Presteigne Bindery. All I had meant to do was ascertain the likely cost of him making me a batch of journals. When we concluded, half an hour later, I found I had signed up to him teaching me how to make books for myself. I think the reasoning ran something like 'give a man a fish and you feed him for the day... teach a man to bind and he has sketchbooks for life' . Whatever, I was hooked and (as he had warned me) I found a curious satisfaction in the work.
Going public
Having obtained (or constructed) the necessary kit, I made a few books which we 'test drove' (but not to destruction!) Binding by hand and using top quality papers means there is no point at all in saving a few pence on materials. I made the decision early on to use archival board and glue, linen thread and tape, and choose attractive acid-free end-papers for each book. A few books were made for family or friends, but it soon occurred to me that if I had the equipment and materials in stock I could make books for sale. Might there be other, like-minded artists, looking for a superior type of sketch book or art-journal? Apart from offering a few standard formats, binding by hand means it is feasible to use an author's own choice of paper, or even a mixture of papers. It looks as if I may have set out looking for a bespoke book binding service, and ended up providing one.
Russell will happily send paper samples out to those interested, contact:

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