Upcycling old books into trendy home decor offers both book lovers and book loathers a chance to attack novels and nonfiction in a whole new way. Bookbinder by trade and co-owner of Rag & Bone Bindery, Jason Thompson is dedicated to mending mismatched book parts into stylish albums. But at night, it's a different story. A Jekyll Jason emerges, and, like a fox in the hen house, pages floating down like plucked feathers (or so we like to imagine), he pulls apart vintage books for Frankenstein-like creations of jewelry and home decor. Pretty Frankenstein versions. After writing his comprehensive "Playing with Books: The Art of Upcycling, Deconstructing, and Reimagining the Book," Jason shares his extensive experience transforming old books into creative and chic creations.
Why books? What's the allure about upycling and repurposing books?
As a bookbinder, I'm drawn to books and bookish objects such as card files, book cases, book stores and so on. Working with books and paper every day, I have a respect and love for the form of the book. But at the same time, my vocation requires me to take books apart, and assemble them from scratch. I see books as their individual parts, paper and covers, which makes it easier to deconstruct a book for artistic and crafty purposes.
Books continue to retain their bookish essence, even when disassembled. For instance, adding book pages to a project in lieu of decorative paper adds an additional layer of information. Book pages are literary. They have meaning deeper than the paper they're printed on.
For beginners, what common tools are necessary for upycycling books? Any cheap alternatives?
Not many tools are necessary to disassemble—a book knife and pair of scissors will do. Reusing book pages and covers for projects requires mostly materials such as adhesives and glues. Advanced projects in "Playing With Books" require needle, thread, scalpel, spray adhesives and even a router to carve books.
What mistakes do crafters commonly make when book crafting? How can they overcome these mistakes?
I don't think there are any mistakes in crafting, whether working with books or any other medium. The only mistake would be to not start a project! It can be intimidating to take apart a book for the first time. They are, after all, containers of knowledge, and we've all been told, "Take care of your books." I write in my book that the publishing industry manufactured more than 3 billion books in 2010. I don't recommend taking apart a favorite book or any book with sentimental or monetary value. It's easy to find "dollar books" with beautiful pages or covers, books that have little value except to a crafter or artist.
In 2009, I visited our local branch of the Providence Public Library, and met with one of the friends of the library. I told him about the book I was writing. He smiled and lead me to a room in the basement, which was filled, floor to ceiling, with toppling boxes of unused and unwanted books removed from library circulation. I could take whatever I wanted. I have since learned that libraries discard hundreds if not thousands of books every year. Why not make use of those materials?
Which trends are you seeing for upcycled book crafts?
Fine art continues to draw artists from different mediums, for instance Mike Stilkey, Brian Dettmer, Guy Laramee and Robert The. I'm also seeing books used as architecture and furniture, such as wall partitions, desks, bed frames, even tables, chairs and lamps.
Do you consider upcycled books art or craft?
That depends on the execution and the artist or crafter. "Playing With Books" is divided into two sections—projects, which I consider crafts, and a gallery of artists who use books as their medium for fine art. Books can be both, just like any medium or material can be either, depending on the skill, imagination and execution of the crafter or artist.