Designer Bookbinders

About the exhibition

Designer Bookbinders, one of the world’s foremost bookbinding societies devoted to the art and craft of the handbound book, again collaborates with Mark Getty and the Bodleian Library to attract top binders from all over the world.

This exhibition showcased the 28 prize winners, and a further 48 selected entries with the theme Plants, Flora and Gardens. The two prestigious top prizes are in memory of Sir Paul Getty, collector, sponsor and advocate of the craft of bookbinding. A further 25 silver prizes were awarded for the most distinguished bindings in the competition, alongside the oxford University Students’ Prize.

Plants play a central role to life on Earth. They have provided food, clothing, shelter & medicines for many centuries. Plants have many symbolic uses in art, mythology and literature and gardens have provided employment, leisure and enjoyment throughout history. The chosen theme of plants, gardens and anything connected with flora helped celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the founding of the Oxford Botanic Gardens, the oldest Botanic Garden in Great Britain and one of the oldest scientific gardens in the world.

Audio highlights

Listen to judge and Designer Bookbinders' President, Lester Capon, plus five designers discuss their work in this digital audio highlights tour from the exhibition.

There are transcripts to accompany each track.


This audio experience was developed in collaboration with Designer Bookbinders.

Audio transcripts

Hello my name is Lester Capon and I'm the president at the moment of designer bookbinders and my main role in the exhibition and the competition was that I was one of the judges.

Yes the competition and the exhibition, this is our fourth international competition that we've done in conjunction with the Bodleian And the first three, I was co-curator and this one I'm a judge, which is a great privilege. And we've had entries from 29 different countries. I think in all there were 153 entrants and we managed to, as you'll see, exhibit 76 of them.

It's impossible to exhibit all of them, but they are photographed and included in the catalogue. And there's a first and second prize. And then after that there are 25 what we usually call silver prizes and there's also one other prize which is judged by a small group of students at Oxford University, which throws a different light on things. It's interesting to see what they choose.

Previously we've had a set book. On this occasion, we decided to make it a set theme, which allows much more scope for the potential bookbinder. And the theme this year is botany, a very very wide area. The main aim of the exhibition is really to educate the public about contemporary bookbinding.

If people think about a handbound book, if they ever do think about such a thing, they probably think of a traditional, very beautiful gold tooled spine, gold decorated sides - many examples of course at the Bodleian.

My name is Angela James and the title of the book is a gathering of plants in a Yorkshire garden.

The binding is covered in dark grey goatskin and there are panels on both the front and the back boards are made up of calf printed from etchings and then inlaid into the grey goatskin. And then beyond that there are multiple onlays of different shades of green which extend the image on the etching. And there are leaves, and I think, if I remember, there's some tooling in there as well.

I live in an area of rural North Yorkshire and I work in a studio which looks out onto our garden, which is enormous. And apart from bookbinding, my great passion is gardening so it seemed very obvious to me given the subject matter of the competition that I would choose to concentrate on the plants that are growing all around me.

I've tried to slightly work through the seasons. I've certainly put them in the order of winter, spring, summer, autumn. I think the opening page has got blackthorn on it, which is of course one of the earliest flowers in the spring / late winter. And then it moves through to primulas.

But then it will move into summer flowers so there are yellow poppies, there's mock orange, hydrangea and then it moves into the autumn with maple leaves and so yes, you would be able to see them all. I mean that's not a comprehensive description of all the flowers in the garden, but it is the ones I enjoyed working on.

My name is Sol Rébora and I have entered the book, Flowers of August by William Carlos Williams.

I live and work in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in my own studio in the middle of the city. This is a book bounded in full leather with a mosaic on relief. And the structure is a laced-in board structure. It has also bora bora leather and a flower relief in leather.

So, this binding has two flowers on relief, and these flowers come from the inside of the leather. I was also inspired along the process of the design with the relation between my August and the August of William Carlos Williams that could be summer for him, but winter for me.

So, the colour finds kind of a link between both summer in August for him and for me. When I finished the binding, I asked myself what about the space that I left. I have the feeling that it could be a little bit empty, but I needed that space so when I show to my sister to my husband to my friend to see what they feel.

And they like it, and they love it and they like the space or the calm on the design. I feel happy, of course, but this is something that maybe I ask myself what the people in general may think when they look to the design.

I'm Ted Bennett. I'm a licentiate of Designer Bookbinders.

I've been bookbinding for about four years and I currently work at Brockman Bookbinders.

The book I've bound for the competition is the little flowers of Saint Francis of Assisi. I thought the book fitted with the theme really well with the with the little flowers and the gathering of leaves.

I also visited Assisi and so that I kind of felt some sort of connection with the text and that led to me being able to come up with the design that I was really happy with. But related nicely to the text and the theme for the competition.

The concepts behind the design are guided by Assisi itself, the Basilica at Assisi has a really ornate front window with sort of three layers and that I use that shape and design in the centre of my book with the red onlays to then build out from and had a floral pattern but like it's going up the building. I think the influences of architecture on this binding are quite clear with this sort of window design.

But then I wanted to make it more organic to fit with the theme and therefore I came up with quite a natural flowing floral pattern but interlinked with the architecture side of things. So essentially it's a purple goatskin with vellum, four edges in vellum, a raised vellum onlay, red goatskin onlays with then hand tooled gold leaf and Indian inked lines.

How long did the book take me? I think I probably spent about 60 hours on it total. There were some new techniques that I had to practice and kind of learned as I went, but overall, I'm really happy with the binding and very pleased that it's got in the competition.

My name is Tarja Rajakangas and I'm a bookbinder from Finland. The book's title is Bildatlas öfver Växtriket. It's a Swedish for Picture Atlas of the Plant Kingdom.

The book is an illustrated catalogue of plants. Pages are filled with beautiful coloured images of flowers. It was printed in Finland 1893. I fell in love with all the coloured pictures of flowers and couldn't choose any one image to base my design upon. So I ended up with this rainbow of silk threads for the upper flowering part of the embroidery and all the shades of green I could find for the bottom part. I wanted to honour other multi coloured illustrations in the book and also the diversity of the real nature.

The spine piece of the book is green goatskin. And the embroidery is sewn with gold and silk threats. Endpapers are Japanese chiyogami paper, golden flowers on black base. The front and back covers are vellum finish. Reindeer parchment, which is my favourite material for more than 25 years. The sportiness of the volume is natural and is caused by a certain insect during the reindeer's life.

I find it really beautiful and thought it didn't need any added decoration. At first I took apart the original binding or what was left of it, for it was badly damaged. I repaired the torn pages with Japanese paper. The embroidery pattern for the spine had to be planned first, and a template made for the holes. Some leather pairing was followed by making lots of tiny holes with a Japanese screw punch.

Next up was the blind tooling of the title. The black colour of the letters is made with carbon from a candle flame. Then I prepared, cut and folded the front and back covers and attached them to the spine by sewing and close the spine piece with glue. The very last stage was to attach the pages to the covers with a chain stitch embroidery. The sewing actually took me several days to finish.

My name is Mark Cockram and the piece that we're looking at, my piece in the exhibition is called ‘Flora Imbre’. It's a complete or total book and what that basically means is that the work has been created by the single artist. That's the pages, the illustration, the printing, and of course the binding.

The binding of the book is, it's all been hand done with various materials including paper, hand dyed leather and using spray cans. What I've done is I've silhouetted plants that we find in the urban environment.

Captured in the graffiti artist’s glare as it were. So we've got a number of different layers of different silhouettes and different sprays and different colours all coming together to form this complete picture on the binding. For the binding, I've used a minimalist flat type back.

Now minimalist flat type back is a number of different techniques that are both historical and contemporary coming together, so it's a sort of conception work if you like. We're also looking at hand-coloured papers on the binding and the boards have all been edged with a hand dyed leather.

Sewing technique is unsupported with secondary sewing. It's very traditional with leather jointed endpapers to full edge to edge dubleurs. And a little bit of hand printing that's using a movable type in a very traditional way for the title page. This particular work has been inspired by my urban environment.

I walk past graffiti every day as I walk from home to the studio, and I notice that nature always involves itself with artists’ work, either intentionally or unintentionally. So for me where I live and my environment is always my inspiration.



In collaboration with Designer Bookbinders.



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