Tom Mcewan – Bookbinder
Each year, when the Booker Prize shortlist is published, the committee commissions a design bookbinding of each shortlisted book, writes Richard Bath. Only the finest bookbinders are employed, which includes Tom Mcewan, one of the best binders in the world and the only Design Bookbinder used by Booker in Scotland.
Design Bookbinders are the elite, artists who make elaborate, one-off bindings from the finest leather, often with detailed inlay and intricate gilding. From his studio in West Kilbride, the Glasgow Art School graduate makes books for everyone from wealthy collectors and bibliophiles to organisations such as the National Library. His latest work, a binding of poet Hugh Macdiarmid’s A Drunk Man Looks at The Thistle, won an award at a prestigious international competition and is in the Bodleian Library in Oxford before heading to Edinburgh University in November.
It costs between £2,500 and £4,000 to commission a Design Binding, which then takes four to six weeks to complete, using skills and tools that have barely changed for centuries. ‘If a Victorian bookbinder walked into my studio, they would immediately recognise my presses and tools,’ he laughs.
The Ayrshireman started collecting books as a teenager and soon enrolled in evening classes so he could repair his own library. ‘I fell in love, and things just led from there to where I am today,’ he says. ‘Design Bookbinding is the apex; a fusion of artisan practicality and artistic sensibility. There’s nothing more beautiful or satisfying than an unforgettable binding.’
‘If a Victorian bookbinder walked into my studio, he would immediately recognise my presses and tools’