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Monday, January 2, 2012

Breaking in Your Stillman and Birn Alpha, Gamma or Epsilon Hardbound Sketchbook So It Lies Flat

For all of you kindred spirits who share my infatuation with Stillman & Birn Alpha, Gamma or Epsilon  hardbound sketchbooks, I have some great information to share with you! I was talking on the phone last week with Stillman and Birn co-owner Michael Kalman, and he told me that their hardbound books have been designed to open completely flat, and they have a flexible binding! Yep, that's right!

In order to achieve this, you have to break in the book before you use it by opening to the center of the book and bending the pages and covers back 360 degrees so they touch. Then go through the book and do that throughout the book, gently bending the pages and covers back.  I know you're thinking the whole book will fall apart. That's what I thought, and I would never in a million years have done it if he hadn't told me. But when I got off the phone with him, I went straight to the new S&B sketchbook I was about to start, and did exactly what he said. My husband walked in and was horrified --- he thought I was destroying the book until I explained it to him.

After bending the pages and covers gently all the way back from the middle of the book, I did the same thing from the center of each signature (where the stitching is). Then I again started from the middle, working toward the front, opening every page spread that way; then I did the same from the middle toward the back. Don't use every ounce of brute strength that you have, because if you try hard enough to pull the book apart, you will probably be able to do that!  When I was finished going through the whole book twice like that, every single page spread laid down flat. No deep gutters to cross! It was a miracle. I am sooooo excited about this! It works. Try it.

The reason why you want to do this before working in an S&B book is because if you paint across the two page spreads like I do, adding that flexibility to the binding reveals more of the white paper in the gutter area. If I were to do it to my almost-completed Alpha book, I'd have a white vertical stripe down the center of nearly every painting I've done in that book. I have noticed while working through the book that as it has broken in a little bit by itself, some of that white in the middle has been revealed on some of the page spreads. Not only will the books lie much flatter by breaking them in ahead of time, but it will also stop those white center areas from appearing later on as the binding gives with use.

The S&B hardbound books apparently have a triple binding process that involves three different types of adhesion. It is this triple process that enables them to undergo bending the binding and page spreads back that way without damage to the spine, and keeping all the pages intact. This is such wonderful news for those of us who work across the two-page spreads; I had to share!

16 comments:

  1. Very valuable information! I might start doing two page spreads once I have one of their journals.

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  2. Elva, the biggest advantage that I see to doing two page spreads, especially for those of us who like working out on location, is that I can carry a book half the size and get twice the work area. With just a 5.5x8.5" book, I can sketch up to 8.5x11, and if I carry the 8.5x11" book, I can go to 11x17"!

    Jamie

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  3. Wonderful, Jamie! I had noticed that about the delightful Epsilon, and it was my ONLY complaint. Good to know that they make them so well you can DO that. I remember when I was in high school (and pterodactyls still flew over from time to time) that my English teacher told us to do that to books! I was astounded, and LIBERATED.

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  4. Wow, that just goes against all my training, but, since I'm starting a new Gamma, I just did what you said. It hurt me more than the book...

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  5. Wow! Thank you for letting me know! This is awesome! I don't have any two page spreads so it's not too late to do mine by a long shot. Thank you for daring to do this and getting such good results!

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  6. Saki, I feel your pain! LOL

    Robert, I'm glad you find it helpful!

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  7. Kate, I've heard a few people say they were taught to do this with hardcover books in school, but I was always taught to treat them with extreme care! Doing something like that went against everything I know. It was hard for me to attack a book like that!

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    1. I have worked in libraries all my life (I saw those pterodactyls overhead). We always taught people to "break in" their books that way. I even do it with paperbacks.

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  8. Good tip! Thank you, Jamie! And thank you, Stillman & Birn! (Now, I go on waiting for the uber-outstanding Delta paper to be hardbound . . . )

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  9. Thanks so much - went down to The Rhinebeck Artist's Shop to pick up some Stillman & Birn Journals - Good thing I went today - they only had one left - Lovely book - I plan to get going on it in the morning....

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  10. Just received my first two Stillman & Birn sketchbooks and remembered about this posting. After being slightly traumatized with the first crackling noises, I stuck to it and proceeded with the bending back of the pages. It worked! So, thanks again for sharing this tip.

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  11. Very informative post, thank you

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  12. Thank you. Just brought my new Alpha home and was concerned about it not lying flat (everything turns into a two page spread with me.) You're a life saver.

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  13. thank you for this! I'm sitting here 'breaking' my book now ;)

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