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Nicky Oliver

professional bookbinder


Nicky has over 20 years of experience working as a bookbinder and design binder. She completed studies in Art and Design which led her to studies in Bookbinding at the London College of Printing. She has worked at several trade binderies in London before freelancing and establishing Black Fox Bindery, London, in 2009. Nicky became a Fellow of Designer Bookbinders, UK, in 2016.

Nicky has worked extensively using decorative leather dyeing techniques on various objects. This includes books, furniture and circus trapeze boots. She has lectured and demonstrated in the UK, Australia, Europe and the United States on topics in this area of specialised skill and knowledge.

The Tree House Illustrated by John Liddell
Incline Press, Autumn 2000 – Spring 2001
227 x 178 x 16 mm
Bound 2016

For Sale: £1440.00

Ultra flat back structure, full leather binding with a Fraynot hinge attachment. Foil tooled leather headbands and leather joints. Fly leaves and doublures have been painted and stencil printed. The alum tawed goatskin cover has been dyed with various leather dyes and stencilled in dull, black foil.

The design of this book was inspired by the beautiful pictorial narrative within. I wanted there to be a continuation from cover to content so I matched the colours and the printed texture of the lino cuts.

An Orchestra of Minorities By Chigozie Obioma
Published 2019 Little, Brown and Company
Man Booker Shortlist 2019
205 x 138.5 x 47 mm
Bound 2019

Chigozie Obioma - Orchestra of Minorities SQ

Bound in hand dyed fair calf. Bradel influenced structure. Foil tooled. Graphite and pigment edges. Multi-coloured hand sewn French double silk end bands. Leather joints. Suede fly leaves. Hand dyed calf doublures with a single feather motif blocked in clear foil, front and back.
The book is housed in a two-tray drop back box with suede pad linings.

Chinonso Solomon Olisa is a simple chicken farmer and the protagonist of this story. The story is narrated by Chinonso’s chi, his spiritual guardian and it is told in the form of three incantations. At the beginning of each incantation, Chinonso’s chi pleads to the Old Fathers of Bechukwu; the Heavenly Place, to spare his host’s soul, for he knows not what he has done.
There is a sense of foreboding from the very beginning of this tale – I wanted to capture the essence of that through colour, movement and stillness. I also wanted to include small details from within the text to decorate the piece.
The metallic blue, vertical bands represent Chinonso’s chi and the three incantations. Each of the bands has been decorated with hologram chicken feathers. The eleven arrows are a nod to the eleven processes of reincarnation. The black vertical bands on the front board are for the four years Chinonso spent in prison and the feather that has been blocked onto the calf doublures is a gosling feather – which can be seen on the suede flyleaves like a ghost.

Complete Nonsense by Edward Lear
Folio Society, 1996
230 x 167 x 35 mm
Bound 2011
Private Collection

Edward Lear - Book of Nonsense SQ

Full fair goatskin Bradel style binding, with a disappearing spine. Unsupported link stitch with a Fraynot hinge attachment.
Hand sewn silk endbands. Hand printed endpapers. Hand dyed with leather dyes. Acrylic wash edge decoration. Leather pictorial onlays to front and back boards.

The images within the text block are really bright and strong and I wanted to complement them. I used what was already there – the primary colour scheme was used for each element of the external structure: front and back boards, spine and the edges. I extracted a few of the illustrations and used these for the endpapers and the front and back pictorial leather onlays.

The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
Illustrated by Mark Smith
Introduced by Ian Thomson
Translated from the Italian by Raymond Rosenthal
Folio Society, 2011
230mm x 175mm x 25mm
Bound 2012
Friends of The John Rylands Library Prize for Finishing.
Private Collection

Periodic Table SQ

Unsupported link stitch with a Fraynot hinge attachment. Secondary sewing. Fair goat painted with aniline and spirit leather dyes. Foil stencil work. Black line and foil tooling. Onlays.
Painted and stencil printed flyleaves and doublures. Acrylic wash with foil tooling to the edges. Endbands are part tooled leather and silk sewn.

The flame appears quite frequently throughout the text either in its symbolic form as light and hope or as a prospector or chemist’s aid. I have taken the flame form and have simplified and abstracted it.
The flame will react and change colour depending on the chemical or metal that it is introduced to. These colours are represented within the design.

Tono Bungay by H.G. Wells
Illustrated by Stan Washburn
San Francisco, Arion Press, 2008
Size of book: 238mm x 162mm x 35mm
Bound 2014
Private Collection

simple book binding

Full leather linen board attachment. Hand dyed fair goat with impressed lace. Silk headbands. Edges have been decorated with graphite and pure pigment with a wax finish. Skull & crossbones design blocked using hologram and metallic red foil.
The leather jointed endpapers and doublures are etching press relief prints using the same patterned lace as the covering leather.

This story is a satire on the “power of advertising and the press”. It is a poke at the British class system and of Victorian society. Tono-Bungay is the name of a fake cure-all, a “quack elixir” that becomes incredibly successful.
When I was studying the text, all I could see in my mind’s eye were flocked Victorian wallpaper patterns and the restricting First Mourning dress. I found some appropriate lace to recreate this look. The skull and crossbones derives from 2 things within the text: “Quap” – a radioactive compound and from a linear drawing by the illustrator Stan Washburn.
I wanted a rich, deep repetitive design with a discrete menacing element.

Le Grande Meaulnes by Alain Fournier
Illustrated by Laura Carlin
Folio Society, 2008
155 x 225 x 36 mm
Bound 2009
John Rylands Library Collection, Manchester

Le Grandes Meaulnes SQ

Unsupported link stitch with a Fraynot hinge board attachments. Secondary sewing. Double, leather core silk end bands. Edges hand painted. Dyed natural goatskin with multiple onlays. Foil hand finishing. Dyed goatskin leather joints. Hand printed end papers and edge-to-edge doublures using Zerkall 145gsm.
Finished with a shellac based bookbinding varnish. Book comes with a full cloth drop back box lined with Suede. Leather label.

The design captures the briefest of moments within the story but one that I think is significant. The protagonist, Meaulnes, steals a horse and cart with the idea of picking up some people from the train station but he very soon realises that he is unable to control the horse and proceeds to lose control, galloping through the countryside and forests at great speeds until they eventually come to a stop, exhausted and lost. It’s at this point that Meaulnes’ life changes forever.
I wanted to encapsulate that transitional moment onto the cover; the blur of the forests and the fragmented landscape.

Pasiphae, A Poem by A. C. Swinburne
Copper engravings by John Buckland-Wright
Golden Cockerel Press, London, 1950
232 x 155 x 15 mm
Bound 2016

Pasiphae SQ

Full fair goat dyed with leather dyes using a miniature sponge to create a mosaic style pattern. Sewn on tapes. Acrylic wash and gold leaf top edge. Double silk endbands. Suede flyleaves. 22ct gold leaf to front and back boards. Black leather onlays

Pasiphae; the immortal daughter of the sun god Helios, wife of King Minos of Crete.
Legend has it that her husband displeased the god Poseidon. As an act of revenge, Poseidon cursed Pasiphae to fall madly in love with Minos’ prized white bull. To satisfy her lust for the creature, she employed the services of the great craftsman Daedalus to create a wooden cow – so that she could be “coupled” with the beast.The result of which was the birth of Asterion, better known as The Minotaur.
The book when opened reveals Pasiphae’s torso entwined with large golden bull horns. The recessed wooden veneers and vellum represent the cow.

The Collected Tales of Gogol by Nikolai Gogol Illustrated by Peter Stuart
Translated by Constance Garnett
Folio Society 2010
Bound 2010
Folio Society Prize for the Set Book – 1st Prize
The Mansfield Medal for the Best Book in the Annual Designer Bookbinders’ Competition
Private Collection

Gogol SQ

Unsupported link stitch with a Fraynot hinge attachment. Full alum tawed goatskin with recessed front and back boards. Inlaid into the boards; an old enamelled watch face, cogs and semi-precious stones. Foil tooling. Black Chieftain goat feathered onlays. Silk sewn headbands. Acrylic washed edges with foil tooling. Leather jointed endpapers and edge-to-edge doublures. The paper has been printed and foil tooled.

“Oh, do not believe this Nevsky Prospect! ……Everything is deception, everything is a dream, everything is not what it seems to be.”
This quote kick started the inspiration for this binding, it opened the door to anything goes.
I used the underlying theme of time, which is peppered throughout the tale, interwoven with finery, opulence, beauty and wonder.
I relied on the fragility of the Alum tawed goat’s surface: creases, imperfections and purity to amplify the rhinestone’s sparkle. To create a starkness and delicate beauty at the same time.


Email: nicky@blackfoxbindery.com
Website: https://www.blackfoxbindery.com
Instagram: @blackfoxbindery
Facebook: @blackfoxbindery
Twitter: @nickyblackfox
Accepts Commissions: Yes