Meet Your Maker: Melissa Chao

Melissa Chao is the Boston-based bookmaker behind To Boldly Fold and her work has been featured in UPPERCASE and CRAFT magazines. A fellow 2012 Assets for Artists grantee, Melissa encouraged me to restart this blog’s popular “Meet Your Maker” interview series so it’s only fitting that she be the first new interview.

What is your name and where are you from?
Hello! My name is Melissa Chao and I am the owner and artist of To Boldly Fold – Handmade Books & Paper Goods. I live and create in Massachusetts.

How did you get your start and how did your business go from an idea to what it is today?
I started making books when I was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. I was studying photography but still found myself using sketchbooks on a daily basis. I started making books because all the sketchbooks my friends and I were buying at the store were poorly made and kept falling apart!  I began by taking a few beginner bookbinding and paper making classes. From there I realized that I could make books of any size, shape, and with whatever types of paper I wanted. It was really quite exciting to have so much choice in the matter.

By the time I graduated, I had taken every bookbinding and paper making class MICA offered, and even studied the craft during a semester abroad in Italy. After graduating, I moved back to my home state of Massachusetts and began bookbinding full time.  Since starting my business in 2009, I’ve made well over a thousand leather books, and countless more of varying styles.

At first, I focused the business solely on books, with a dedication to high quality materials, meticulous craftsmanship, and functional design. I was interested in making books that I hadn’t seen in stores.  I wanted artists and writers to have a book made with really nice quality paper because I believe that a handmade book can be an incredible source of inspiration for an artist.

Another big belief of mine is functionality. If it looks beautiful but doesn’t work well, it’s not for me. I’ve always hated books that don’t lie flat on a table when open. Commercially-made books with glued spines tend to have this problem and you have to crack the spine to get the book to lie flat. I use binding styles that allow for the books to lay completely flat and lets the artist to work from edge to edge.

What are your favorite materials or colors?  What inspires you to create and what is your studio/work space like?
Many people see the leather in my work first and assume I’m a leather worker. Leather happens to be the best material for the job but my true calling is paper. I love working with paper. I love the variety of weights and colors. I love how different it can look and feel. It can be clean and crisp, battered or distressed and it’s still perfect.

I’m inspired by nature, by other artists and by the simple act of making. I’ve been extremely lucky to have found a supportive and inspiring art community in Massachusetts. It’s exciting to meet people who aren’t starving artists but thriving artists. The craft movement and the internet have enabled so many artists to build businesses on their creativity and it’s exciting to see art as not just gallery work. I’m inspired by people who work hard and create with their hands because I love to do the same.

What do you do when you are not at work in your studio?
Eat. Sleep. Work. Repeat. Just kidding.  Even when I’m in the studio, it isn’t all work. I love to create and, thankfully, bookbinding for a living hasn’t spoiled the magic of making art purely for fun!  Rarely is there a weekend at my house spent watching TV. I’d rather build a garden than hang out at the pool.  I try to draw and read a lot. I find it relaxing. I also love to cook and bake. I grew up constantly learning to cook from my mother so I’m thankful of all the delicious dishes she taught me. This year my goal is to travel more!

What are the top three reasons readers should stop by your Etsy shop or visit you at an event?

  1. I’m in love with bookbinding and can’t wait to see where To Boldly Fold will go. The business has grown tremendously over the last year and new opportunities constantly present themselves.
  2. Creativity is not something we lose when we grow up. It’s there within all of us and sometimes it just needs a nudge to come back out of hiding. Pick out a book today and get started!
  3. My shop, toboldlyfold.etsy.com, is updated and there are lots of new books available now.  I’ll be launching a brand new line of cards and paper gift items over the next few months.

Melissa has generously set up a special perk in her Etsy shop for Anselblue readers: apply discount code THANKSSARAH at checkout for 10% off!  To learn more about Melissa and her amazing books, visit www.ToBoldlyFold.com or check her out on Pinterest.

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