NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

English | فارسی

Neshan 29


The Art of Bookbinding and the Reading Experience; A study on the works of Reg Beatty

Setareh Shamdani

Reg Beatty, an established Canadian book artist and bookbinder based in Toronto, Ontario, has had many of his works exhibited both across the country and internationally in Italy, France, Japan, Korea, Mexico and the United States. He is a book design professor at York University as well as a book arts professor at OCAD University. When his schedule permits, he also organizes independent bookbinding workshops, and if you are so fortunate to attend one of his classes, you can’t help but be mesmerized as he expertly demonstrates the process of bookbinding; with his infectious enthusiasm, taking you through the steps that after years of experience must have now become second nature.

Before delving into and establishing himself in this field however, Reg began his studies as a painter/photographer. Upon graduating with a Fine Arts degree from York University, he worked in many fields, beginning with early computer game design and animation; moving into carpentry; proofreading at an opera magazine; and assisting for a large format photographer. Eventually, it was through his neighbour, a rare book librarian, that Reg was introduced to the craft of bookbinding. Seeing that he enjoyed collecting books, his neighbour introduced him to workshops, where Reg quickly saw the potential of combining book making with his art.

As part of his profession, he has worked on unique and limited edition books for a variety of clients. These projects may range from a film production company needing a prop, an artist in need of advice to realize a project, or working on conservation of historical artifacts. He is interested in exploring and experimenting with different mediums and binding methods, and has often held workshops in Eastern and Western bookbinding. His interest in book culture and the intermingling of skills and knowledge from different countries and regions carries through to his classes. One of his most notable inspirations is a collection of haiku translations called Night Blooming Plums; a small press book, made by William Rueter after a year of meticulous editing, designing, hand-setting type and eventually, printing and binding. Covered in traditional printed papers, with a calligraphic label, the book opens from right to left, with its setting justified towards the gutter. It’s truly a beautiful piece to behold and Reg refers to this book as an example of what’s possible with the art of bookbinding and how the craft can engage and stage an intended reading experience.

Walking into one of his workshops or lectures, you can count on being exposed to numerous books and literature-related projects. The books can either add to your collection of great works of fiction, or to your shelves of beautifully designed books—permitted that they’re available for purchase. Some of Reg’s favourite books and designers include cover designs by Peter Mendelsund, which as Reg describes compel him to pick those off the shelves; book arts of Julie Chen at the Flying Fish Press; the poet Anne Carson’s Nox with it’s accordion-style, full-color reproduction of a notebook that encourages a very tactile reading experience; and Guy Laramee’s fantastically sculpted books. However, a project that Reg draws our attention to is Zweite Enzyklopädie von Tlön by artists Ines von Ketelhodt and Peter Malutzki. It’s an effort that “startles [Reg] with its audacity and makes [him] dream of all the books to come…Working from a text by Jorge Luis, printed in a variety of techniques in 50 volumes per set (40 sets in total), [and] taking almost ten years to complete, it is a tour de force of creative will power. [Reg hopes] that rather than a swan song for the book, it points to desires still untapped.”

Though his profession is extremely tactile, Reg doesn’t shy away from the digital realm, and delving into technology is something he does to connect with a younger version of himself when he was first working with computers. He is interested in the contemporary book culture and dismisses fears of the death of books; he believes that in keeping with trending technologies one must appreciate books as the digital objects they have now become. Consequently, designers must find new ways of contributing to this growing medium. When there’s a demand for an increase in availability, and the sharing of information has become instantaneous through the web, all industries are bound to adapt. Unfortunately in the publishing world, due to this demand, e-books are churned out without much consolidation on design and aesthetics; they rely on default settings instead of drawing on the pool of educated design practitioners. This dematerialization of the book has unfortunately meant the closing of libraries and smaller bookstores. This is a shame as these locations served more purpose than the simple act of exchanging books; they were places for people to convene artistically or socially, helping to build on their local community. Reg hopes that in the future, artists and writers can connect with one another to conceive of the book as an element in an “ecology” that includes events, mobile technologies, websites, and social media. When both designers and writers seem interested, we need to have more book artists adding digital media to their toolkit and establishing their path once more in this evolving industry.

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