Who are you/what do you do?
I'm Gillian Stewart and I run Juju Books, a creative bookbinding studio based in Glasgow. I make bespoke books and boxes by hand for artists, designers and book lovers.
Is there a story behind the name (if it's not your own?)
Coming up with a name was honestly one of the hardest parts of starting up and I tortured friends, family, and anyone who would listen with endless options for about 6 months! I wanted something memorable and fresh, that conveyed the fact that this isn't your traditional dusty bookbinders. In the end, Juju worked because it's unusual and playful. My little brother used to call me Juju, and I called my sketchbooks Juju books because of the energy that they contain.
How old is the business and how did you get started?
I started trading in September 2017, so I'm coming up for my third birthday which is pretty astonishing to me! I studied illustration at GSA, where I first started making little books of my work. After graduation, I travelled a bit, worked on farms, poured pints, illustrated a few children's books, and eventually got a traineeship in a trade bindery in Glasgow. I left to pursue creative bookbinding on my own and became a QEST Craft Scholar which helped me learn my skills in fine binding. The business kind of ended up as by-product of me wanting to learn as much as I could. I never ever thought I'd be a businesswoman, and I never thought I'd be able to do it. But I just found myself saving up for, and then buying, equipment. Then looking for a space. Then taking on clients. Then teaching. And it's become this organic, highly personal thing that I love.
Do you have a style? What are you known for?
As a business, the studio is known for working with artists and designers, finding creative ways to present their work in a way that elevates and works with the content. I'm happy to try new materials and my work is contemporary and experimental, underpinned by a high level of technical skills.
I'm yet to find a style in my design bindings, but when I'm interpreting a text I like to find a way to convey the themes that are inside it through mark making and colour choices, rather than a pictorial representation.
Who/what/where inspires you?
My Grampa has been a lifelong inspiration for me - he was a textile designer, ceramics designer, fashion designer, printmaker, painter and teacher. I've found little bits of his work creep into mine, but it's more his approach that inspires me. He was really generous with his knowledge and known as an inspiring educator, and worked across so many mediums.
Aside from him, I'm inspired by the many amazing bookbinders out there doing wonderful work, and those that have gone before - Louise Bescond, David Sellars, Kylin Lee, Cristina Balbiano D'Aramengo, Sybil Pie, Derek Hood. These are just a few binders who inspire me off the top of my head - there are so many more!
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be an architect - I loved technical drawing and accurate measurements. I'm glad I found bookbinding because it still offers a lot of that to me, but with a more immediate outcome.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You're allowed to give it a shot, don't wait for permission! And aim high from the beginning.
How did you learn your craft?
I did my traineeship in a trade binders in Glasgow. After this, I really honed my skills with my QEST scholarship, learning advanced techniques from one-to-one tuition with designer bookbinder Tom McEwan, as well a s series of masterclasses in Italy, Switzerland and Holland. I'll never know everything, and there will always be space to improve, so I'll be learning all my life!
What do you do on your days off?
I'm guilty of not taking enough days off, but when I do I love cooking for friends, switching my phone off and driving to the countryside, and working on personal creative projects.
Biggest highlight or achievement to date?
I've had a few high profile clients which has been very exciting, but I think my most meaningful and emotional achievement was my exhibition at The Lighthouse in Glasgow last year. I was given a gallery space to myself for 3 months and had a lot of fun creating bindings that show the diversity and innovation present in contemporary bookbinding. It's been fantastic to hear from folk that have been introduced to the variety of materials and structures that exist in the world of bookbinding.
My biggest struggle has always been my confidence and feeling like I'm welcome or allowed in the maker's community. I've worked really hard on my self-confidence over the last few years, but the only thing to do is to work through it even when it's uncomfortable, keep being brave and putting work out there, and being nice! On a practical level, I find structure and productivity can be tough sometimes. I'm not nearly as strict on myself as I could be!
What sparks joy in what you do?
I really love drawing out what the text is communicating - whether that's a fine binding I'm working on for myself or a client's bespoke book - and having conversations about what binding method and materials best support this. It becomes very collaborative. I also love the fact that bookbinding has so many tools and processes involved in it, keeping it fresh, varied and interesting for me.
At the moment I'm enjoying working on hand-sewn endbands, leather inlays, and airbrushed book edges.
Dream stockists/brand to collaborate with?
I always like working on books with other makers. Glasgow Press would be a dream collab, they're skills are incredible and they care a lot about keeping traditional skills relevant. And they're lovely folk!
Any lessons you'd pass on?
Don't ever be ashamed to ask for help at any point - whether that's for funding, advice, emotional support, a hand shifting heavy machinery. No one gets very far on their own, and especially in Glasgow we have a huge supportive community to draw on.
The other side of this is to just be nice. It will get you further than any skills will on their own, and you'll need to repay all the help you've had! And try to have fun with it all.
What's next for you and your business?
This year I'm focusing more on fine bindings and working on books for some national and international exhibitions.