Katie Miller on Book Arts, Writing and Spirituality

Image courtesy of Katie Miller

For many SCAD writing majors, it's become a rite of passage to face harrowing accusations from the outside world like, "Why are studying at an art school?" and "Is writing REALLY considered a fine art?" For book maker and writing student Katie Miller though, nothing is more creative or rewarding than writing a book and binding it.

She discovered the seamless blend of book arts and creative writing during her junior year at SCAD, and has since launched her own book-and-paper press specializing in hand-made and eco-friendly journals, sketchbooks and mini-book charm necklaces. Soft Spoken Press reflects Katie's quiet resilience and gentle self-expression, as well as serving to "encourage, edify, and strengthen Christian girls and young women through creativity and the written word." In addition to her online business, Katie is a resident artist at Hood Street Art Center in McDonough, Ga. and proudly worships at the Tara Church of Christ. This June she will also teach a miniature bookbinding class at The Atlanta Printmaker's Studio. She encourages all bibliophiles and amateur book artists to attend.  

Emme Raus: How did you first get into book making?

Katie Miller: I've always been fascinated by paper and drawn to projects that require the use of my hands. I used to do a lot of collage art in middle and high school, taking magazine clippings and paper scraps and putting them together. I love the textures, weights, smells and colors of paper. I feel about paper the way a painter feels about globs of paint. There’s a yumminess about it that makes me excited. 

I first heard the term book arts as a freshman at SCAD, but at the time it didn't register to me that paper was a huge part of that process, so I didn't think much of it. It wasn't until I started writing toward the ending of my freshman year that my interest in bookmaking was sparked. I was never an active reader or writer, but the process of both caused me to see the books I was reading in a different way … So I started looking into the art form and teaching myself.

The first books I made were actually a pair that I made for my parents as Christmas gifts. I wrote a story and divided it into two parts, one for each of them, and managed to bind each book without knowing what I was doing. You could say I was blindly stitching something that resembled a functional book. They didn't turn out too bad, actually. From there I found an internship at a printmaking studio owned by two SCAD Alumni and it was where I learned how to make my first properly bound book. I ended up binding a series of books for the studio owners as part of a collaboration they were doing with a local poet. It was a great experience; one that I still credit with changing my creative path for what I think will be forever. 

Image courtesy of Katie Miller

ER: How did you develop your book making business Soft Spoken Press? What role does spirituality play in your mission?

KM: Having my own business has been a no-brainer since my middle school years. I was always planning and thinking up strategies for creative success as an entrepreneurial artist, so Soft Spoken Press came about in a similar way … My business sort of evolved throughout college from being an online jewelry shop on Etsy to a full blown paper-and-book-binding press. But I had no idea what the term “press” encompassed and certainly didn’t think it applied to my work until I took a papermaking class my junior year at SCAD. It was during a conversation with my professor about my goals and my business that she tagged on the word “press” at the end of “Soft Spoken.” Little did she know that in that moment everything I had been working on finally made sense and from there my business started to take form. I began making more books, figured out how to continue making paper on my own, took all of my own pictures and wrote all the code for my website and realized what the purpose of it all was.

The creation of my business was a spiritual process in and of itself: it was emotional, inspiring, tiresome and frustrating. I wanted to give up so many times because doing it all on my own involved a lot of hard work and late nights, but I couldn’t walk away. I knew, in every way, this was what I was supposed to contribute to the world because my little press is about so much more than books and paper. It is a representation of who I am, what I've been through and what I hope to leave behind and inspire in others. 

My business is also what it is because I started writing and journaling through emotionally difficult times. Journals are symbolic of growth, honesty, rawness and beauty. Journals are where I worked out, and continue to work out, my own insecurities about being a shy, introverted and a soft-spoken person. They are where I find solace and a sense of acceptance and understanding that God made me this way for a reason. My mission is to inspire others to embrace how God made them, perhaps through their own writing, and to contribute a light with whatever talents He’s blessed them with.

Image courtesy of Katie Miller

ER: Do you think your book making influences your writing or vice versa?

KM: Oh absolutely … The two art forms are made for each other, as I figured out when I began writing. Both processes inspire me endlessly and I’m always conjuring up creative ways to combine them. I love writing fiction mostly, and one of my greatest ambitions as a writer and book binder is to write and bind my first novel by hand. To write a book alone is a great accomplishment, but to bind it as well would be an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.       

ER: I noticed that you come from a long line of writers, musicians, painters, seamstresses, soap makers and photographers. Did their creative backgrounds inspire you to pursue a career in art too?

KM: I would definitely say so. I grew up with the understanding that anything was possible, especially as an artist. I watched my mother form her own creative business as a painter, and have found endless inspiration from seeing her hard work and determination. Growing up with an entrepreneurial mindset, while being encouraged to create, motivated me to work hard for what makes me happy. I’ve never really questioned if a career in art was possible, just like I never questioned if going to art school was a “smart” choice. For me, it was the only choice.   

Image courtesy of Hood Street Art Center

EM: How did you achieve an artist residency with Hood Street Art Center in McDonough, Ga.?

KM: I actually share a studio space there with my mom and we found out about the art center while it was still being renovated. The late Andy Davis, a well-known sculptor who commissioned sculptures all throughout the McDonough and Atlanta area, had a vision for a community art center to make McDonough a thriving creative hub. My mom and I took advantage of the opportunity to be involved and have been there for close to a year. My press is currently housed there: it’s where I bind books and make paper. 

Image courtesy of Katie Miller

ER: You also make all of your own paper from 100 percent recycled materials. Why do you think it's important to use eco-friendly products in your work?

KM: I think it's important to be mindful of all the chemicals we use because we are natural, organic beings. We should treat our bodies as such … I recycle 100 percent cotton clothing – such as worn out jeans or T-shirt – to make new paper. It’s a sustainable and earth-friendly process that results in professional high-quality paper that’s durable and made to last. I like working with organic fibers, not cotton polyester blends for example, because my machine that breaks down the fibers isn’t capable of breaking down the synthetic fibers used in a lot of clothing and it's more sustainable.

Image courtesy of Katie Miller

ER: Can you tell us more about the upcoming Atlanta Printmakers Studio class that you’ll be teaching?

KM: Yes, I'll be teaching a miniature bookbinding class as part of their Tiny Press Sessions on June 10. It’s a three-hour class that involves learning how to make a tiny hand-bound book that you can wear as a necklace. No experience in bookbinding is necessary to participate. I’m expecting it to be a fun time! I'm also excited to return to APS because I interned with them for a while and it was where I got my first taste of letterpress – another art form I’d like to master.