Artist of the Month: Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press

by Dr. Jessie Voigts / Aug 02, 2018 /
Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

There is nothing more intriguing - and beautiful - than a handmade book. Created with care and skill, it invites endless possibilities...poems, stories, musings, sketches, watercolors - things that capture a moment. 

Imagine my pure delight at finding a bookbinding artist, Crystal Shaulis, here in Kalamazoo - through Instagram! I immediately fell in love with her work, vision, and dedication to her art.

Crystal Shaulis graduated summa cum laude with a BFA in painting from Western Michigan University in 2014. She has been with the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center since that time as Intern Manager; there she trains interns in papermaking, bookbinding, marbling, letterpress and much more. In 2015, she opened Lake Michigan Book Press — a small bindery that specializes in sketchbooks. Her artist books have been exhibited at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, University of Nebraska, and the Muskegon Museum of Art. 

Posing with 3 of my 5 babies… Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Posing with 3 of my 5 babies…

Take a look - and fall in love with her art, too. What will you fill your book with?

A recent commission for painter David Kassan. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
A recent commission for painter David Kassan 

How did you get into the book arts?
I took to book arts like a fish to water, but it was an unexpected path. I was pursuing my BFA at Western Michigan University’s Gwen Frostic School of Art and was interested in studying abroad. It really didn’t matter where or for what, I just knew I wanted to go somewhere. After originally looking at several semester-long programs ($$$), my advisor mentioned the Book Arts in Venice program as an alternative. It was shorter and would take us to Venice, Florence, and many small towns in between. I didn’t know a single thing about books, aside from reading them, and the fact that we were there to study the art of them was only a side matter. 

Before the trip, our group met with our instructor and director of the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, Jeff Abshear, to bind our own travel journals from start-to-finish. I was fascinated with the whole process, taking photos of every step and material. At the end of the workshop, I had some bad separation anxiety as our books needed to be left in their presses overnight. I wanted to take it home right then! As soon as I got home, I went to YouTube and started watching bookbinding tutorials. When Monday morning came, I was there the moment the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center opened. Holding this newly bound book, I marveled that my hands could create such a thing.

After returning from Italy, I became an intern at KBAC and gained more in-depth experience in bookbinding, papermaking, letterpress, and setting type. Upon graduating, I was offered the position as Intern Manager as well as an instructor.

In the process of Suminagashi marbling paper for book covers. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
In the process of Suminagashi marbling paper for book covers

A recent custom marbled sketchbook. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
A recent custom marbled sketchbook

What made you decide to open Lake Michigan Book Press?
One was that I felt this big urge to keep binding, but it was hard to justify using and purchasing materials when these books would lay around collecting dust. I love to journal, but never at a pace that would keep up with production of these books. 

Then, a friend approached me about binding a book for his girlfriend, I decided to give it a go. I felt guilty charging someone for a journal I would have happily made for free, but he insisted I charge him a price that would be fair for my time. Then another friend purchased a book and I quickly realized people weren’t just being ‘nice’, they really appreciated the work I was doing.

I remember the first time I threw down $200 for materials; my heart was racing. This was real. The money was spent and now it was do or die. I had to prove to myself that this wasn’t just an extravagant purchase, but an investment in a business.

Suminagashi marbled sketchbook in size HUGE! Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Suminagashi marbled sketchbook in size HUGE!

Faux leatherette sketchbook in size HUGE! No animals harmed in the making of this book (=^・ω・^=). Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Faux leatherette sketchbook in size HUGE! No animals harmed in the making of this book (=^・ω・^=)

What is your creative process like?
I have always leaned more toward the craft side of art. My favorite part of learning a new skill was working over and over to perfect my technique — much to my professors’ annoyance. They encouraged me to be more adventurous and experimental in these new mediums, but I felt that was impossible without having built a solid foundation first. Creativity naturally evolves out of the proficiency of a skill; I had no interest in circumventing this important step.

What I love about binding sketchbooks for LMBP is that doesn’t feel like a creative process. There is a right way and a wrong way to binding a book — the finished product can’t hide its imperfections. Almost every element is visible, and the sketchbook will quickly divulge whether the bookbinder cared about every step in the process, or was more concerned with simply having finished it. 

Buyers also have a lot of say about what direction LMBP takes. When a potential client asks about adding an unusual customization to their book, it gives me the incentive to not only learn something new, but to incorporate this customization as an option for future books. The most recent example is a custom sketchbook made for painter David Kassan - because of him, toned papers are now regularly stocked for any sketchbook.

A recent commission for painter David Kassan, the book that inspired toned paper as a new option. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
A recent commission for painter David Kassan, the book that inspired toned paper as a new option.

This mini is named ‘Coffee Shot’ mmmmm….  Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
This mini is named ‘Coffee Shot’ mmmmm…

What does a typical day look like? Is there a typical day?
Ahh, a typical day at LMBP is studiously spent sitting at my desk refreshing Instagram over and over again. Just kidding…? One day is usually dedicated to doing prep work, cutting raw materials down to size, sanding book board, folding sheets of paper, punching holes, etc. and the second is for sewing all of these elements together. In between these activities, I try return customer messages, take ‘artful’ WIP shots, and create social media posts that tag customers with updates on the progress of their sketchbooks. 

There are often days where I spend 12+ hours in the studio. Just today it was a 10+ hour day and now I’m at Water Street Coffee Joint putting the final touches on this interview. Sure, some days can be exhausting, or I feel so frustrated that I want to cry — but LMBP is something that’s completely mine; there’s never any red tape or hoops to jump through when a change is needed. A snap judgement can be made suddenly and implemented immediately. I love that.

My favorite bag, used to carry all your books to the post office <3. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
My favorite bag, used to carry all your books to the post office <3

The Lake Michigan Book Press studio is located inside the Park Trades Center in downtown Kalamazoo. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
The Lake Michigan Book Press studio is located inside the Park Trades Center in downtown Kalamazoo

What materials do you prefer?
High quality! And not because I’m a snob (I think…) — when you shop online, only so much can be communicated through photos, and I never want someone to receive their sketchbook and feel it wasn’t worth the price paid. Sometimes flimsy items can be posed and photographed to look high quality and there’s nothing more disappointing than receiving a much-anticipated item that falls short of reasonable expectations. I don’t subscribe to the sunk-cost fallacy; sometimes a new type of material comes in that doesn’t meet these standards, so it’s instead donated to other artists in the building who might find them useful.

Nice stack of books ready to head to their new owners, except the one on top - that one’s mine. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Nice stack of books ready to head to their new owners, except the one on top - that one’s mine

A more minimalistic sketchbook for those who like to keep things simple. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
A more minimalistic sketchbook for those who like to keep things simple

How are you inspired?
By other bookbinders! Oh my goodness, there are so many talented people out there. What I love about Instagram is being able to peek into the creative lives of fellow binders and their current projects. There’s nothing I love more than seeing a new or interesting book structure and wondering “how did they do that??”.

Faux leatherette sketchbook, sized HUGE! No animals harmed in the making of this book (=^・ω・^=). Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Faux leatherette sketchbook, sized HUGE! No animals harmed in the making of this book (=^・ω・^=)

Almost finished binding…this one has watercolor paper :D. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Almost finished binding…this one has watercolor paper :D

If you were not a bookbinder, what would you do?
Believe it or not, I would have probably gone into coding (not saying I know coding!) but my brain is definitely more wired toward numbers and logic. This is going to sound really boring, but one of my favorite jobs was working in a college admissions office doing data entry — basically entering in application information into BANNER system, which is an acronym for I don’t know what. But let’s just say this software isn’t for people who need visuals. Anyway, this is the part of the job I loved — figuring out every keyboard shortcut so you never had to once touch the mouse, I mean, that was a beautiful day. Also, in my free time I spend an inordinate amount of time online doing in-depth research on whatever inane topic that caught might’ve caught my attention that day. I think I get that from my mom.

Wow! Look how wide this one opens up! Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Wow! Look how wide this one opens up!

This press isn’t actually a book press, but it works just as well. And it’s pretty photogenic, sooo... Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
This press isn’t actually a book press, but it works just as well. And it’s pretty photogenic, sooo…

How can our readers find and purchase your journals and sketchbooks?
At lakemichiganbookpress.com! My studio is also open to visitors if anyone might like to stop by — here they can see and touch the actual materials before ordering their own book. The antique bookpresses are also pretty instagrammable. 

Would you like to share anything else with us? 
If anyone would like to see the whole process of binding a book, check my IG highlights @lakemichiganbookpress

Workin’ in the studio. Artist Crystal Shaulis, Lake Michigan Book Press
Workin’ in the studio 

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Crystal Shaulis 

 

 

 

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