Swedish born Klara Kölqvist is a young, successful bookbinder located on the cosy city area, Christianshavn.
From her charming workshop on cool Christianshavn, Klara K practices the art of bookbinding. Her approach to the proud craftsmanship is traditional, but she constantly seeks to bring the art of bookbinding into a modern world. Her approach to the proud and respected craftsmanship is “Classic – with a twist”, as she says. Her assignments and products range very wide, and despite her quite young age, Ms. Klara K has more than 10 years of experience within bookbinding.
On a late summer morning in September, we popped our heads into Klara’s workshop and met with Klara K for a chat about bookbinding in a modern world, unexpected turns in life and the Prince of Sweden.
Did you have a favourite subject in school?
“I was quite fond of woodwork in school. I have a sister who is 4 years older than me, so naturally woodwork was on her school timetable long before me. But after I finished my own classes on a regular school day, I went in to my sister’s woodwork class and participated in the subject of woodwork. That was probably my favourite subject. When I get to thinking, I also had a teacher in the third grade, who didn’t want to buy notebooks for her classes. We were instructed to make our own notebooks with covers made out of oilcloth, and I really loved making my own notebooks. It just felt right.”
With an appreciation of woodwork and making notebooks, did you have any idea of what you would like to become when you grew up?
“No, not at all. But when I was in high school I was quite certain that I would attend college to obtain a “real” education. At that given time, I had no idea that I would turn out to be a craftsman eventually.”
What developed your interest in the art of bookbinding?
“Well that’s actually quite a story. After graduating high school I felt like it was time to leave home. I was born and raised in Göteborg in Sweden, and I didn’t really feel like moving to Stockholm. I felt like I needed a more drastic change, so my cousin advised me to check out Copenhagen, which he thought was a quite cool city. It was close to my home city, so I thought I’d give a try.
I moved to Copenhagen at the age of 19, and the plan was to get a job in the city and save up some money so I could move to England and improve my English language skills. When I moved to Copenhagen in 1999, everything went according to plan; I quickly got a waiter-job at a restaurant I saved up some money to continue on my path, but something happened. I kind of fell for Copenhagen and didn’t feel like leaving the city right away. At that time, I had worked a very busy waiter-job for a year, and I actually missed school. I missed sitting on a chair, receiving information and education. Being a student. A friend of mine had just got in at the Copenhagen Technical College, and I was strongly recommended to check out the school. I quite liked it, and I decided to give it a go. At that time you needed to take two courses. I quickly decided to work on a course that centred on making art installations, but I was very much in doubt about my second choice. I visited all the different courses at the Copenhagen Technical College to make up my mind, and bookbinding really got my attention. I entered a class room, where an elderly male teacher was checking up on his pupils while listening to jazz music. It was very quiet, cosy and intriguing, and it seemed like the perfect contrast to my busy waiter-job. From that moment on, bookbinding definitely had my attention.”
In an increasingly digitalized world, physical bookbinding seems to be a craftsmanship living on borrowed time. What do you do to preserve your craftsmanship in a modern world?
“Well, what might come as a surprise to most people I actually don’t believe that bookbinding is going to be extinct in the near future. The profession is definitely undergoing some drastic changes, and the traditional bookbinding by hand struggles with big challenges when it comes to competing against machines and their efficiency. But I’m not particular worried about my craftsmanship’s ability to survive in the near future. Not even during the global financial crisis, where you’d expect people to cut down on luxurious services like bookbinding by hand. Actually, I believe that the global financial crisis have helped my business and me. For the last couple of years, I’ve experienced an increased interest in customers ordering goods to represent their professional career, i.e. portfolios and other commodities that would represent them well in a possible job-interview.”
What is good bookbindery to you – and do you have any examples?
“Wow, that’s a tough one. I can’t really think of any particular examples, but I’ve definitely seen some pieces of work I admire. But actually, my employee, Hasse, was mentored by a fantastic bookbinder, Hans Meyer, whose work I find very fascinating. Hans is now retired, but he sometimes helps me out if I have work to do during Sundays. Hans’ many years of experience within bookbinding makes him a huge knowledge capacity, and he practically knows everything about bookbinding.
It’s super nice to have the chance of following his every move and learn new techniques and ways to approach an assignment. Despite his age, his age he’s never afraid of trying new, unexplored techniques within a craftsmanship he’s been practicing his whole life. I really admire that.
I guess you could say that good bookbindery to me is, when it’s practiced with a thorough understanding and classic approach, but with a modern twist to it.”
Which tool in your workshop are you most fond of, and what purpose does it serve?
“Over all, it’s really difficult to point out one tool in particular. They’re all quite vital to my crafting process, but I’m really fond of my cardboard cutter. It is like a big scissors, and is very important in my work.”
Could you describe some of your most exciting assignments so far?
“Uhmm… quite early in my career I was asked by the Prince of Sweden, to craft 12 special boxes for a his graduation project. The Prince was at that time attending a school of design in Stockholm, and I felt very honoured and special being entrusted with this important and special assignment, even though I didn’t live in Sweden but in Copenhagen.
I was also asked to help out the illustrator Martin Mörck. Martin was about to hand in some of his fantastic illustrations to Louis Vuitton, and he needed an extraordinary way of presenting it to them. I crafted a clean portfolio that matched Martin’s illustrations well. Later on Martin was contacted by Louis Vuitton, and was acknowledged for his presentation and the way his illustrations was presented. I was very proud of that assignment, and to be acknowledged by such a big and respected company.
Another assignment I was very pleased to do, when I was kindly asked by the multi-entrepreneur Leif Thingtved to craft a guestbook and a blotting pad for an interesting project. Leif is the owner of one of Copenhagen’s most recognizable cafés, Granola. I previously crafted the menu cards for this café, and Leif Thingtved must have liked what I did, because when he was about to open up a the very charming “CENTRAL Hotel and Café” on only 12 square metres (!) he wanted me to craft the hotel’s guestbook and the blotting pad for the desk in the hotel room. I was very pleased with that assignment. I can’t really help feeling incredibly proud, when people I admire and respect enjoy my work. That gets me through the dark days.”
Where do you seek your inspiration for your work?
“Well, work occupies a lot of my time, so I don’t really have the time go see exhibitions with an inspirational purpose, but I do see some stuff around I find inspirational. But it’s not like I see a nice car driving around and think, “Oh, I need to transform that into a book cover”. On the other hand, I guess I’m quite motivated when I see products or solutions, where I believe I can do a better job. That definitely motivates me.”
Having lived here for more than 13 years, you must have a favourite place in the city?
“I like the water. I quite like just sitting by Christianhavn’s canals, enjoying the city and a nice meal.”