Autodidact: self-taught


Journals by Dragos Man

by V. L. Craven

In the age of ereaders (and I love mine) bookbinding is becoming a lost art, but Dragos Man has elevated something that can be a utilitarian way of attaching pieces of dead trees together into an art-form. His journals and albums appear to be antiques, as well they should since every element of them has been crafted by hand by someone who clearly knows (and loves) what he’s doing.

A Tale from Transylvania

A Tale from Transylvania

(See more photos of this journal here . On Etsy here .)

As soon as I saw Dragos’s journals on his Etsy site,  Dragosh , I had to have one. Then, when I started looking at his other, special order journals on his Facebook page in order to design my own I wanted to talk to the artist who makes them. Happily, he agreed to answer some questions.

I’ve never had a more difficult time choosing which photos to use with an interview, however, so be sure to check out all of the links provided–they open in other tabs so you won’t lose this page.

Per Dragos’ request I have edited some of his responses for clarity, as English is his second language.

The artist and his best mate, Igor

The artist and his best mate, Igor

Bookbinding is an art-form but you take it to the next level. How did you become interested in bookbinding? Did you study formally or are you self-taught?

I chose many paths in my life trying to find my real one and I worked in different fields just trying to find my way, like many others have. I always had the instinct to leave life to make choices for me and I just follow them–no matter how crazy that choice seems to be at that moment. And life just guided me here.

I started bookbinding 11 years ago without any knowledge about it because I needed to make some photo albums… and I started with some ugly albums, but I was so proud at that time.  In time I started to learn basics in bookbinding little by little and my products started to look acceptable, technically speaking.

For the “next level” my wandering through different fields of work in the past and the fact that I learned from my mistakes not from some school were my aces, because I didn’t have any prejudice about how I had to do things and I applied some unusual techniques from sculpture, metal working, wood working etc.

Two Journals by Dragos Man

Antique style journals

 (More photos of these journals here . Etsy listing here .)

Take me through the process of making a journal for your shop–not a special order, just a regular one. From having an idea for a new journal to putting the finishing touches on.

It starts with the idea, of course. After that I make a basic design–many times just in my mind–a design that I mostly don’t respect at all, because in time comes new ideas that usually add improvements. I don’t usually plan every detail at the beginning, it’s more interesting to leave your mind to wander all during the process. Sometimes I stay stuck on a small detail like a deer or a car headlight for days. This is frustrating but this is a part of the process. In this situation I put the work aside to wait its answer and start another one.

Hammer of Thor journal

Hammer of Thor journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

How many pieces are you working on at any given time?

Few, as I said before, sometimes I just have to wait for ideas and leave some work aside for a bit. The problem is with custom orders when you know that clients are waiting for news and I cannot provide any, this can put a little pressure on me, but fortunately all the clients that I’ve had till now were very patient and understand this without any explanation.

Sometimes the opposite happens and I do four week’s worth of work in one week… it’s all about the inspiration of the moment.

Steampunk Leather Journal

Steampunk Leather Journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

In many of your descriptions you say you hand colour the leather. How do you do that? 

The leather can be coloured industrially, like in tanneries, for example, on the entire surface. I use sponges, cloth, brushes or airbrushes, even my finger sometimes to apply the color in different shades or in different amounts for every place on the cover to create different effects.

Stone Journal

Stone Journal

(More photos of this album here .)

Wood-like Journal

Wood-like Journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

How long, in hours, do you think it takes to make an average journal? When you’re actually, physically working on it.

I really don’t know how to answer this, I don’t count only physical work. It depends on so many things: complexity of design, materials, how many items I make at the same time with similar basic characteristics. For example when I sew book blocks I sew more than one in same day; when I prepare cardboard or leather I do this for more journals at once. In this way I can save a lot of time.

La Marelle Couture album

La Marelle Couture album

(More photos of this piece from start to finish here and  here .)

Another La Marelle Couture album

Another La Marelle Couture album

(More photos of this piece here .)

Though your Etsy shop   has beautiful pieces, the special orders featured on your DeviantArt and Facebook sites are particularly incredible. What would you consider to be your most ornate piece?

It is not as important what piece was most ornate as much as what piece was most difficult to make. And for this La Marelle Couture albums, both of them, are on top. It all started from a few scrap vintage pieces that Marelle sent to me and a logo. All the rest was: “do what you think” and I had to make the albums to be similar to her style. Fortunately she is a wonderful woman and we had good communication in the process and the result is visible. We are good friends now and this says everything.

Other difficult orders were ” The Red Devil’s Flight Log ” and the ” Sleeping Beauty “, you can see them on my Facebook page.

"Called and Chosen" journal

“Called and Chosen” journal

(More photos of this journal here .)

You’ve also done an impressive, and quite large,  violin display case . How different was that process from making journals and albums?

It is not a big difference. The principles are the same: first you have to think about the functional part, second about strength and third about design. The rest is just work.

Vintage Violin Journal with  violin peg as closure

Vintage Violin Journal with violin peg as closure

(More of this journal here .)

Speaking of violins–they feature on several of your journals. As do ships and the death’s head. Can you talk a little about what each of those symbols mean to you–why you keep coming back to them?

Well, here you touched my sensitive chords. About the violin, as shape it is the most feminine instrument in the world. As sound it is the same, can be very tender or very hysterical, depending on the hands that touch it. And as women, she cannot develop her beauty alone, she needs a pair, the arch. You can say I never put the arch on the covers of journals… I make the violins, the arches are the responsibility of writers.

About the ships and skulls… we are what we used to read or listen to in our childhood and I was in love with the books of Jules Verne, Jean Bart, Herman Melville, Jack London etc and as teenager I loved rock music. And I still love those books and that kind of music.

Pirate Journal with Slipcase

Pirate Journal with Slipcase

(More photos here . Etsy listing here .)

You mentioned liking rock music–do you listen to music when you’re making journals?

Yes, often, and I choose the music regarding the kind of work that I’m doing at the moment, it is a good source of inspiration.

My Fair Lady Journal

My Fair Lady Journal

(See more photos of this journal here .)

Your pieces have an old world feel about them–as though they were meant to be used by people who’d never heard of the internet or even electricity. You don’t use modern methods, either, why did you make that decision?

Most of my tools are hand tools, but for some of them I use a modern advantage, like electricity, for generating heat. I also use a computer for some calculations, for choosing fonts or even for some design parts. I use that little help from technology for saving time and energy. It is the same reason like why you don’t use a hot coal heating system when you’re ironing shirts–you use electricity.

Sapphire Green Journal

Sapphire Green Journal

(More photos of this journal here . Perfect for the Slytherin in your life.)

Do you have a favourite type of tool to use or journal to make? In terms of steampunk or Victorian or Medieval, etc?

I like any hand tool, I cannot choose a favorite one or another. My favorite is the one that I need now. My favorite kind of journals are those that have a story behind, at least in my mind. In terms of Steampunk, Medieval etc, I like them all equally, it really depends on my state of mind.

The largest photo album.

The largest photo album. Ever.

(More photos of this massive beauty here .)

What part of the journal-making process do you enjoy most?

Every part. When I feel inspired I enjoy the documenting and designing part and experimenting with new things, methods of work etc. And sometimes I am too lazy to think about new things so I prefer the routine part of work like sewing, preparing materials etc. And this is what I consider a healthy way to work: not to adapt my mood to the work I have to do, but to make the work that I feel right for the moment. In this way I enjoy every moment at work.

Well it certainly shows that you enjoy every second. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

For more of Dragos’ work check out:

Dragos Man’s Facebook Page

His DeviantArt Site: The Book Whisperer

Most importantly you can place an order on his Etsy shop: Dragosh

You can also follow him on Twitter: @Dragosh_Man

He also has a personal blog if you’d like to see more of his work and learn stories behind some of the journals.

One Response to “Journals by Dragos Man”

  1. Writing from June to August 2014 - V. L. Craven Says:

    […] I interviewed bookbinder Dragos Man. And wound up ordering a notebook for myself. […]

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