Nadine Werner is a Master Bookbinder and Papercrafter. In an increasingly digital age, these tactile practices might seem as if they will become extinct, but Nadine’s unique techniques and beautiful creations prove that if one puts their heart and soul into their craft, it is always vital, relevant and important. We feel that this is when craft becomes art. One key point of interest about Nadine’s art is the fact that her creations are what other artists put their creations into. This is in a way sonorous with what we provide – a tangible vehicle for self-expression. A platform that entices creative ideas to jump off from. Let’s find out more about the woman behind those beautiful boutique notebooks and Masks that we’ve been showcasing for the last year or so.
"When I was six, at my Grandma’s, I discovered my first origami book and I remember how fascinated I was."
Fletch: Nadine, thank you for your time and for continually sharing your amazing creations with us. Let’s go back for a moment. When was it that you first started becoming interested in paper? I imagine while most kids were paying attention to what was in the books, you were paying attention to how they were made?
Nadine: Well, like most kids I was also interested in what was in the books. But, in my case what the books contained was not only text, but mainly origami diagrams. When I was six, at my Grandma’s, I discovered my first origami book and I remember precisely how fascinated I was. I could understand those diagrams and was able fold as shown. I didn’t need to read any text and I loved that. At the time, I also started to play the piano. For every lesson, I folded a new animal for my teacher and hid it under the piano lid. I think I looked forward to the moment she would find it more than the actual lesson. Today, I still feel the same fascination for origami and papercraft. My passion for bookbinding and my specialisation in glue-free bindings developed from there.
"I had the privilege to attend classes at the Centro del Bel Libro in Ascona, Switzerland, where I offer workshops today."
Fletch: Was there a certain book that you picked up and thought, “this is a work of art, I want to make one of these?”
Nadine: No, there wasn’t an awakening or THE book that I absolutely had to recreate. To be honest, my passion for bookbinding resulted from boredom. I grew up in a village and my school was in the next town a few kilometers away. The school bus only ran once in the morning and once in the afternoon, so I had to spend a lot of free periods in the school. When I was twelve, I made by first book in a bookbinding class. After that class we could use the workshop on our own and that’s where I went whenever I didn’t have class or had to wait for the bus. During these many hours, I designed and made my first books, portfolios and boxes. I have always loved the experimental side of the craft, and that’s why, during my studies with Karen Begemann in Hamburg, the biggest challenge was when we could work together with creative people. For instance, for the thesis of fashion designers, we designed book covers with the same cloth they used for their dresses.
So if there wasn't THE book, of course I discovered many books with binding techniques I wanted to learn. Right after my apprenticeship, I had the privilege to attend classes at the Centro del Bel Libro in Ascona, Switzerland, where I offer workshops today. It was there that I learned new techniques and skills from many inspiring bookbinders. Suddenly, I had the skills and techniques at hand that I needed to realise the ideas that kept popping up in my head. I am very grateful that I got to know Hedi Kyle and many of her wonderful glue-free bindings, and that she invited me to the workshop she had in Philadelphia. This exchange plays an important role in my work.
The only tools I need for this are my hands. I can start right away and work with the material, no need to make a draft.
Fletch: I can see from the photos of your beautiful workshop that you have a vast and varied collection of paper and materials. What fascinated you initially about something that so many people think of as plain or even disposable?
Nadine: I am fascinated by the diversity of paper which goes from delicate, transparent, textured sheets, to cardboard that you can use to build sturdy objects. No other material has got so many different characteristics, and by means of its tactual texture, paper can develop a proper message over and above the text. We are almost always surrounded by paper. As I am often out and about, many of my ideas don‘t emerge in the organised atmosphere of my workshop, but while I am travelling and most of the time I don‘t have the appropriate material with me. But, there is always a piece of paper somewhere that I can use to try out my ideas. In the train I can use the timetable or the daily newspaper, and I like to fold models with a napkin.
The only tools I need for this are my hands. I can start right away and work with the material, no need to make a draft. This immediacy has always fascinated me and is probably one of the reasons why I like to work without glue. You can see this in my glue-free bindings and my passion for origami. Did you know that paper has a memory? Every fold needs a precise planning, because it is irreversible, the paper remembers every single fold. And when you write on it, it also serves the purpose of memory. This kind of dual memory capacity is what makes paper really special to me. At the moment I love to work with thin, transparent handmade papers that allow insights and reveal the structure of the models.
"What I especially like in our Ondulo notebook with corrugated cardboard is that imprints stay visible on the cover and leave their creative marks."
Fletch: To me, the notebooks you design for Paper-Oh are beautiful vessels that evoke one’s best work. I have written lyrics in mine and I’d feel bad if I crossed something out or somehow defaced the attractive little world they open to. In fact, my horrible chicken scratch doesn’t feel worthy to put in your books, so using them improves my penmanship! Steve's are full of numbers, doodles and ideas for stories. This is interesting to me – when the notebook is so beautiful, one will consider more carefully what they put into it. Was this part of the idea?
Nadine: I’ve been hearing the remark “these books are too beautiful to write in them” since I started with bookbinding. Like most people, I know this moment when you sit in front of a blank first page and have no idea how to start, so at one point I started to leave the first page blank and to start on the second page. But this sentence is actually what we intend with our Paper-Oh books: To go beyond the boundaries of what people normally expect from a notebook. We want people to enjoy writing in them, we want to bring the practical and the aesthetical aspect together.
For me, the worst would be if the books remained unused and blank. We've paid attention to small details in order to make writing easier. For instance, the books stay open when you leave them and don‘t close by themselves. The design and the quality of the paper are meant to inspire people to fill the books with thoughts, to let ideas, words and drawings run free and to give them space in our books. What I especially like in our Ondulo notebook with corrugated cardboard is that imprints stay visible on the cover and leave their creative marks. We wish that our users‘ creativity doesn't stay inside the notebook but reaches the cover as well, and we are happy when they share pictures of their creations on social networks.
"I was deeply impressed by meeting the paper artist Yuko Nishimura during my trip to Japan in 2009."
Fletch: Your pursuit of new techniques has taken you all over the world and your book collections reflect your experience. If you were a notebook, which one would you be? I took the personality test on the Paper-Oh website and my personality says Ondulo, but if I’m honest, I was hoping for Yuko-Ori.
Nadine: Oh really, me too. I got the same result and I especially like Yuko-Ori. Maybe because I was deeply impressed by meeting the paper artist Yuko Nishimura during my trip to Japan in 2009. Originally, she was an architect and she used to build all her models with paper. What interested me most in her work was the way she creates three-dimensional sculptures from the two-dimensional material paper. When we designed the Yuko-Ori collection, our task was to transfer her sculptures, these three-dimensional objects, back into a two-dimensional cardboard, which renders the characteristics of the artwork in a visual and haptic way.
In general, I was very impressed by Japan and the important, natural role that esthetics play there in everyday life – be it the paper screens, the artfully designed wrappings or the elaborately served food. For me, it was a unique experience to immerse myself in the Japanese world of paper. I love folding handmade Japanese paper or using Chiyogami screen printing paper, for example for my ’steckalbums’.
"The Fox has always been my favourite mask in the Wintercroft collection. I like its delicate side, and as I've been interested in working with book pages and light."
Fletch: Let’s talk about your incredible Masks. We love your new Fox Trophy build. But, rather than using your unique, amazing paper materials, you opted for a plain old paper-back book for the components. Of course, the results are beautiful. Tell us a bit about this fantastic fox build.
Nadine: Many of my ideas emerge when I am travelling, new countries, foreign architecture, all that fascinates me. But there are also many designs that are born at home. We live in the countryside, and when I step out of my workshop, I am surrounded by nature and can go for endless walks. Very often nature is my source of inspiration, it has created incredible shapes and colours that I keep rediscovering on my walks. It is the same for light. In the city, we often don‘t notice the sky anymore, but here it takes so much space, that I could spend the whole day watching the patterns of light and shadow from the huge windows of my workshop. And finally, this is what inspired me to build the fox. The fox has always been my favourite mask in the Wintercroft collection. I like its delicate side, and as I've been interested in working with book pages and light for quite some time now, it appeared somehow logical to create a sly fox. There are many other Wintercroft masks that I like as well, but so far, I couldn't decide which one I wanted to build next. In the end I will see a certain kind of paper and think this goes perfectly with this or that mask. So the paper will lead me to the next mask. I am already very excited, especially to see your new designs.
"What I found especially interesting is how the two-dimensional cardboard gets turned into a three-dimensional paper sculpture."
Fletch: Your previous build was the Badger, which is an interesting choice. We loved the panels of patterned paper that ran through your build. What was your inspiration for choosing our Badger Mask?
Nadine: Like I said before, I love the simple design of the cardboard from our Yuko-Ori notebooks and I wanted to build a mask with it. This cardboard comes only in pearl white and metallic grey, and when I looked at the colours, I immediately had the idea of a badger and its fabulous coat pattern. What I found especially interesting is how the two-dimensional cardboard gets turned into a three-dimensional paper sculpture.
Fletch: We’ve recently received your incredible Waverunner creation. It is such a satisfying object to interact with and appeals to all the senses simultaneously – though I haven’t tasted it yet of course. Could you tell us a bit about the concept of this design? It is so beautiful.
Nadine: Oh, well, let me go back a bit then. During my professional development at the Academy for Design in Kassel, I worked on a sound project. We all had to close our eyes while our teacher stroked a singing bowl and said: In two months I want to see a product. I immediately thought of a rainmaker and wanted to create that sound when a book was opened. As a test, I put little balls in a box and let them roll around, but they were way too fast. So I came up with the idea to let them roll inside the wavy grooves of 3D corrugated cardboard, in order to reduce their speed. This looked so beautiful that I decided to cover the box with acrylic glass and add a visual experience to the fantastic sound. All of a sudden the book wasn't necessary anymore, the box itself was totally sufficient and I built several of them. Some time ago I found one of these boxes and my daughter and I love to play with it. I posted a video on Instagram and was surprised by the enormous feedback I got. I am especially happy about the request from a school for the blind, where they want to work with the Waverunner.
Fletch: Thanks for your time and for continuing to build our Masks with your unique skills and materials. Do you have any paper-art related pilgrimages on the horizon?
Nadine: Oh, I have many ideas and there are lots of destinations I would love to go to, I am thinking about New Zealand, Autralia and São Paulo. At the moment I have to see how I can organise all that and when I will go where. Of course I am often away on business, for example in the head office of Hartley and Marks in Vancouver. Even when I‘m on holiday with my family, these travels are always related to papercraft, because folding is a kind of meditation for me. And there are the classes I teach. I am especially excited about a class I will teach in September at the Centro del Bel Libro in Ascona: it is going to be my first workshop about the creative possibilities of tessellation. This folding technique is very special because the same geometrical shape is repeated over and over. With the participants, we will create 2D and 3D paper sculptures and I will show ways to bring this fascinating art form to the functional design of books and packaging. You are very welcome to join me for a trip to the beautiful Tessin and to discover the world of Tesselation!
We are proud to stand with PETA and AnimaNaturalis against the archaic act known as the running of the bulls, which is a tradition steeped in wanton cruelty. Check out our Bull Masks protesting in the streets of Pamplona and find out how you can help stop bullfighting.