interviewklarathumb

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.

Photography by Jon Nordstrøm

Photography by Jon Nordstrøm

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.

Photography by Jon Norstrøm

Photography by Jon Norstrøm

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.

Photography by Jon Norstrøm

Photography by Jon Norstrøm

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.

Photography by Jon Norstrøm

Photography by Jon Norstrøm

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.

Menu cards for the Granola on Værnedamsvej. Photography by Jon Norstrøm

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.

Guest book and blotting pad for the Central Hotel and Café on Tullinsgade. Photography by Jon Norstrøm

Guest book and blotting pad for the Central Hotel and Café on Tullinsgade. Photography by Jon Norstrøm

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.”

jeppe dencker, leather projects copenhagen, cphmade, leather, camo ipad cover

Mr. Jeppe Dencker is the man and mind behind the company LEATHER PROJECTS.
As the name suggests, Mr. Dencker centers on projects made from leather.
In his recently opened combined shop and workshop, he crafts all sorts of leather accessories in the highest quality possible.
On a warm summer Tuesday in July, we met with Mr. Dencker in his charming workshop on Nansensgade for a chat about old military equipment, education and the lack of sketching skills.
Here’s the outcome.

What was your favorite subject in elementary school?

“History was definitely my great love in elementary school, and I believe that I’ve brought the love for this subject into my work. I’ve always had a thing for everything that happened in the past, and through my work I try to find my way back to the proud traditions that lie within my craftsmanship.”

What did you want to become while growing up?
“As a matter a fact, I’ve actually always believed that I was going to become an archeologist. I’ve always found this particular field very interesting, but somehow I got away from that thought. When I get to thinking, I actually never thought about becoming a craftsman of any kind, but I’ve always appreciated very much when people practiced something they were particular good at.”

Are you educated within your craftsmanship?

“No, I’m utterly and completely autodidact. I believe that my inner geek has led me to where I am today. I really love to dig deep, and I spend endless hours of finding just materials I want to work with. In the early beginning of Leather Projects i spent a vast number of hours deciding and defining my own way of sewing in leather. Everything down to every little detail is decided and defined by me. It was actually never my intention to create a company – I just wanted to create a great product.”

So, what made you found Leather Projects?

“Oh, that’s an easy one. Need.
The idea of Leather Projects actually took off when I needed a wallet for myself. I couldn’t really find a wallet out on the market that matched my needs and high expectations to quality, so I decided to start making my very own. The first results weren’t exactly a pleasure for the eye, so I kept on perfecting the wallet up until I reached a result I could find acceptable.
While perfecting this wallet, I developed a passion and an unlimited love for working with leather, which eventually culminated in the founding of Leather Projects.”

What was the last tool you’ve bought?

“Uhm, the last tool I bought was a pair of compasses to draw on leather, and I bought it on an antique market in Paris a couple of weeks ago. I actually already have three new ones, so I didn’t necessarily need another one in my tool selection, but I just fell hard for this particular one. It’s very beautiful, and the woman who sold it to me explained that it was from about the year 1890. Naturally it has a lot of history, and to continue working with such an old tool is just an honor for me. Honestly.”

Where do you mainly find your inspiration?

“Well, this might seem like a cliché for designers, but I find military equipment very inspiring. I especially find older military equipment very inspiring, and I buy up every old military bag I can get my hands on. Besides the minimalism in older military equipment, I like that everything has a function, and that a particular item serves just the purpose it was meant to.
I’m doing my best to incorporate this mindset in my products, where I seek elegance and simplicity. I’m not too happy about flashy details, no, I like that every little detail serves a purpose. If it’s not functional, it won’t be on my products.”

Which one of you own products are you proudest of?

“Oh, that’s a tough one, it’s hard to pick just one out, but I recently just came up with a travel wallet, which I’m quite fond of. The process of making this travel wallet was actually quite different from how I usually design my products. You see, normally, I don’t really put much thought into the design of a given product, I just start working with the material and then the design appears before me. However, this time was different and with a specific wish to design a travel wallet, I sought the combination of the wallet and the credit card holder in a new product. Though this process was quite unusual and rare for me, I found it great fun and definitely liked how it developed me as a craftsman and a designer.”

We’ve already talked a little about it, but could you shortly describe your creative work process – from idea to product?

“Yes…it might be slightly different from other designers, because I don’t master the art of sketching. But when I have an idea for a new product, I completely think out every little detail of the product. I know exactly how it should look and how every little detail should be presented. Then I need to work with the material right away to get a feeling of the possible new product. So if I were to craft a new wallet or an iPad cover, I know how it should look. Then I start to work with the material, get to the sewing process and first THEN I can start to see what works, and what doesn’t.
I guess you can say that my work process is a bit reversed if you compare it to other designers. My prototype is my sketch so to say.”

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Why handmake? The short answer is – I cannot help it!

I am probably not a typical craftsman. I loved going to school and it came easy to me, took high school and continued with a degree in business studies at an English university. Worked with administration, law and language, was super user for my colleagues on the PC. But I almost fell off my chair with fatigue even before lunchtime. The sedentary office life in front of a computer screen just did not work for me.

I had to do something productive. At school I always threw myself at the clay at every opportunity and now I started to look up different courses held by skilled people within the fields of sculpture, ceramics, drawing etc. One day I heard by chance about Technical College and the pottery course. I did not believe my own ears – you could go to clay school full time? I flew to the phone and called for an application form. Three long weeks later I started at pottery class. I pinched myself daily in the arm – it was the most amazing experience. When the year was over, I got an internship in the studio of one of my teachers at college, who in turn appreciated some of the unusual skills I could contribute with. After nine months’ studio practice, and based on my many years of playing and experimenting with the clay, I had developed my idiom and skills so much that I could start my own independent work. I sold my first piece of pottery 32 years after I had first shaped a lump of clay. Just over three years ago I established my own studio shop in Jægersborggade alongside many likeminded fellows.

I think that there are many people who like me are not designed to sit in front of a computer, but the development of our society is rocketing in that direction. Arts and Crafts Schools started off as schools for arts and crafts, then they became design schools and now universities of design with high school exams as the qualifying basis. Farther and farther away from the craft. The Potter’s School and several other craft schools have been closed recently. The vision must be that Danes are to sit behind computer screens with huge heads and small thin arms and design in virtual materials – and then some robots or people in distant countries to low wages will produce our brilliant ideas.

It is not healthy for us and we seem to forget that much of the world-renowned Danish design stem from the craftsmanship and the understanding of the material and texture this gives. And there is still demand for the genuine and unique products. I am often asked if I ought not have my work manufactured abroad. I can not see that happening. It is a conscious choice that I craft my own work – I like to use my head AND hands!