Handmade Book Artist Spotlight: Judy Folkenberg

Judy Folkenberg | Book Artist Spotlight | Vintage Page Designs

I’m excited to introduce you to the work of Judy Folkenberg. Judy lives in Kensington, Maryland with three feline fur babies, TeddyBoy, Tabitha, and Zoey. After 20-years at the National Library of Medicine, Judy now pursues writing and bookmaking. She is a published author and an active blogger at This & That By Judy and Teddy Boy Sinclair. Before making books, Judy made baskets for 15 years, but then the book bug bit! Over to Judy:

Judy Folkenberg | Book Artist Spotlight | Vintage Page Designs

What made you start making books and how did you learn?

Over 25 years ago, I attended an art exhibit in a neighboring town and an artist had her blank journals there. I was mesmerized and asked if I could apprentice with, and help her. She said yes. Once a week I would drive to her house, in Virginia, and then take unfinished books home and sew on them. I then started taking periodic courses at Pyramid Atlantic, a local book binding and print making studio here, in the area, and periodic courses sponsored by the Guild of Book Workers.

Can you think of a challenge you’ve faced in your bookmaking journey and how did you solve it?

I try and remember Neil Gaiman’s words: “And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.” I don’t always succeed, but another “trick” I revert to when things get tough or I’m stumped, is doing something that’s quite simple, because then I can relax more and just get into the process. I don’t have to prove anything. After I do this, I find that I can get back to new challenges. I’ve also become much more forgiving of my mistakes…hey its part of the process and you’ve got to laugh about it. At least I’m doing something…even when I make a mistake.

Judy Folkenberg | Book Artist Spotlight | Vintage Page Designs

What do handmade books mean to you?

I’m not sure why I make books, but I actually started when I was six years old. I can remember lugging home those huge sample books of wallpaper and making cards out of the wallpaper samples in the book and giving them to classmates. I was an intense reader and as a child my mom took my brother and I on weekly trips to the local public library.

Judy Folkenberg| Book Artist Interview| Vintage Page Designs

I still don’t read books on kindle, but buy the actual book…because I like to hold it and turn the pages. (Full confession: I do read newspapers online.) That brings me such great pleasure. And every time I make a book, I hold it in my hand multiple times and flip through the pages. Making books by hand adds such a dimension to my life that I can’t imagine a life without them…nor would I want a life without handmade books.

I think Neil Gaiman says it best: “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.”

How do you use the books you make?

I also like photographs, especially vintage ones.  I went through four generations of family photos and handmade photo albums for all of them.  I probably have close to 20 photo albums.  I worry that in this day and age of phone cameras that all those photos will end up somewhere in the sky (iCloud) and never see the light of day again.  And that’s a pity.  I still print out my best photos and put them in a photo album.  

In addition to hand making books, I also make “art in boxes.” Often those pieces include book-related themes, but I also use found objects that have no relation to things bookish.

Judy Folkenberg | Book Artist Spotlight | Vintage Page Designs

What are your favorite kinds of books or bindings to make?

A bit difficult to answer, but right this minute, I am really liking the accordion and flag binding methods.  They are so versatile!  I also like drum leaf binding.  

Tell us about a favorite tool you reach for all the time

Well, let’s make that two tools! I love my Teflon bone folders. And I don’t know why I’m obsessed with my book weights. A friend’s mother covered some bricks with tapestry remnants and they are fantastic. I have four tapestry covered bricks.

Judy Folkenberg | Book Artist Spotlight | Vintage Page Designs

Do you have a favorite bookbinding book or resource to recommend?

I found the book binding books by Alisa Golden (Making HandMade Books and Unique Handmade Books) and Shereen LaPlanz (Cover to Cover, and The Art and Craft of Handmade Books), very, very helpful and still use them.

I make this next suggestion with mixed and love/hate feelings: Pinterest. I don’t use it to post (can’t remember if I have a page), but once Pinterest found out I liked handmade books I get about 3 emails a week with book ideas. And I look at many of the jpg’s. And loathe as I am to admit it, I have gotten quite a few good ideas that worked out very well. You have slosh through a lot to get that one idea that really appeals to you, but it has been worth it for me.

Tell us about a favorite supply that you can’t live without and where to find it?

I really like Khadi Papers. They are handmade cotton rag papers from India/Nepal/Bhutan in text and cover weights. I get mine at Talas and in the UK you can buy them from Khadi. This latter site has more colors and gives you a history. They try and do things in an environmentally sound manner too.

Another paper I like and haven’t used for ages (the book artist, Dan Essig, used this paper), but have started using again is called Gutenberg paper. It comes in three weights from Renaissance Graphic Arts.

Judy Folkenberg | Book Artist Spotlight | Vintage Page Designs

A big thank you to Judy for taking the time to answer my questions and allowing us a look into her creative life. You can see more of Judy’s work at JudyFolkenberg.com and on Instagram @judyfolkenbergart, Read TeddyBoy’s reviews at TeddyBoySinclair.com and follow him on Instagram @teddyboysinclair.

2 Thoughts on “Handmade Book Artist Spotlight: Judy Folkenberg

  1. What an interesting book history! The best advice I drew from this is that when you are stumped or things are tough you go back to something familiar. When I worked with children with autism we had an 80/20 rule. 80% familiar info and 20% new. I never thought to apply that rule when trying to learn a new book form or art technique. Thank you for bringing that to mind and for your resource recommendations.

  2. Sharon…I really like the 80/20 rule, and it makes a whole lot of sense to me. Thanks for posting this…

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