What motivated you to start book binding?
It started off as an elective I did when I was in art college, during the second year of my degree doing Visual Communication specialising in Illustration. I was glad I chose to do that elective despite peer pressure from my college friends not to – as they didn’t like the lecturer who ran it. The name intrigued me, Book Arts / Artist Books. It was about exploring and cultivating contemporary aesthetic interpretations of the book as an art object, and we also learned a few bindings as well. I did my final year work all based on book arts, and applied to the only Masters programme in the field.
When I came back from the UK, I noticed that scrapbooking was the ‘in thing’ in Brunei, it was the rage. Initially I thought it was a nice way to get people to be creative but I was taken aback how expensive an interest it was to have. I wanted to show how you can be creative, be skilful, with minimal tools and using the things around us, which was why I started running workshops.
When I ran my first few workshops eight years ago, I needed an assistant to help me out, and that’s how I got my cousin Wina Hafiza on board. Wina, not one to waste, started making mini books out of the offcuts from my book projects, and making mini books is another skill, and she has gotten really good at it. Last year we decided to make ourselves ‘official’ and called ourselves ‘Make A Book’.
Can you tell us about your favourite style of binding?
At the moment, it is the Coptic binding, I used to hate it before. I could not get the tension right – finished books were always yawning. It took me 15 years before I could say that I now truly enjoy doing this binding, by improving the techniques and the sitting posture.
I like this binding as it’s not complicated. Just by angling the sewing stations you can create interesting patterns on the exposed spine. You can tell a Coptic binding when you see the chain / braid pattern on the spine. This is a binding that dates back over two thousand years ago, when the Bible was first printed. The Egyptian Coptic Christians were the ones who bound the books, hence the name Coptic binding, and it is the oldest European binding from that side of the world – it allows the book to be opened 180 degrees or flat.
The book entitled, “The Beauties of Bookbinding” by renowned author Oscar Wilde begins, “The beginning of art,’ said Mr. Cobden-Sanderson last night in his charming lecture on Bookbinding, ‘is man thinking about the universe.’ He desires to give expression to the joy and wonder that he feels at the marvels that surround him, and invents a form of beauty through which he utters the thought or feeling that is in him. And bookbinding ranks amongst the arts:‘through it a man expresses himself.’” To find out more about this unique art that can be used to create exquisite gifts and miniature decorative pieces – we spoke to local artist and book binding expert Rozi Yunos.
Which other craft do you enjoy besides book binding and why?
I make artist books, customised folders, and customised books. I am on my mac a lot for graphic designs and layouts. I customise prints for covers and contents, recently I used the flag book structure for the report to the Trade Department of MOFAT on our participation in the 81st Tokyo International Gift Show. I also enjoy origami, I did my final year dissertation on that. As you can see it’s still mainly paper based. I think it’s just magical how something as mundane as paper, with the right skills and imagination, could turn something ordinary into something extraordinary. When I’m in the mood I paint, the usual subject is roses. I make charabens, food in a box with pictures made out from food, but not as often as before. I tried to do gardening but I just don’t have that green thumb yet.
Do you believe that “creativity” can be taught?
Skills can be taught, anybody can learn a skill. Some may take a long time, some can catch it real quick. Creativity, on the other hand, is a collection of experiences and looking at a lot of things over the years. And by things that covers art galleries, exhibitions, crafts, innovations, inventions, what you are reading, learning various skills and the list goes on. How creative you are is how much you have exposed yourself to these things, and the next challenge is how you can apply it to your work. And if it is something totally new, start learning all about it. Build up the data bank, some may be useful, others may not at the moment.
How can creativity help to improve productivity at work?
You’ve heard that adage, ‘think outside the box?’ – that if you aren’t creative, you’ll always think like a horse with blinkers – you’ll only see what’s in front of you, you’ll see an obstacle and you’ll stop because you can’t see what’s around you. You’ll believe there is only one solution. Creativity will help you reach the objective. The how can be varied. And when it comes to problem solving, that’s what you want.
What projects are you currently working on and what plans do you have for the future?
Currently we are running workshops regularly, this year we are trying out once a month, to see how that goes. Our ‘Season 4 Make A Book Retreat’ is coming up, that’s always something to look forward to. The feedback that we get from participants is usually that it was more than they expected and that they enjoyed themselves tremendously. We like to be in more events so we can reach out to the public, create appreciation of handmade and customised books, and support local artisans. And also through events from the sales of our books we can donate to a charity.
Last year we were involved with the Breast Cancer Awareness Charity Fair with RBRC, and from our book sales alone, we were able to raise almost a thousand dollars in that one afternoon. We made books specifically to raise money and 100% of the proceeds went to the Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation. We also got invited by a teacher who worked in one of the secondary schools in Tutong, asking if we could do something with her class. Her class collected donations which we gave to the local animal charity in exchange for an interactive and collaborative workshop. We look forward to participating in other shows overseas, after our experience in Japan, we now have a better feel and idea how to market ourselves internationally. It is an exciting thought, that from humble books, we could create trade relations. One of the remarks we heard when we were in the Tokyo Gift Show was, “Good to know Brunei can export things other than oil and gas.” And that was just ironic because here we are in the ‘arts’ – it field that the country never really bothered about but we are now the hope for the country. Especially now with the establishment of DARe, it took them so long to finally figure that out. I’m hopeful. We can only be positive.
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