You might know her from her business Just Terrific, her courses at RIT, or maybe even her feature on Roc Girl Gang. Rachael Gootnick is a Rochester woman -- born and raised. She tried traveling south to Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to earn her degree in film and television studies before realizing that tangible art was more her thing. Now, she owns a bookbinding business and teaches workshops based around the upcycling of books. She tells me of her love for tactile products and the lost art of bookbinding as we sit in her home studio.
Rachael transferred to RIT after her stint at SCAD, and was actually in the last graduating class of Print Media students. The major has now made the transition over to iPad and digital publishing, something Rachael feels she’s lucky to have missed out on. She tells me, “I was able to get the traditional print design education. You’ll notice I don’t have any machines in here, because I like to do things the old school way.” As you could probably imagine, she doesn’t own a Kindle or any other digital reading device, primarily because she loves handheld, tactile books. “And,” she says she is “trying to keep books relevant in people’s lives.”
In addition to book restoration and utilizing traditional medieval stitches, Rachael tries to repurpose and upcycle paper and books that otherwise would get tossed out. These scraps go into smaller books or journals, or even the jewelry pieces Rachael creates with mini-books that she wears all the time. Rachael explains, “There’s so much waste in the world that I hate throwing anything out. Journaling and reading are two really important things that we need to make more time for in our lives, so showing people that there’s value in that is really important to me.”
I assumed that Rachael was a book-worm as a kid, given the signs in her studio that depict her love for reading. Rachael affirms, “I was like the library freak. I grew up in the village of Fairport so I was walking to the library everyday, reading.” She also used to write stories -- “Really bad stories!” -- in empty notebooks from Michael's and make collages using cut-outs from magazines in her journals. Journaling took on a deeper meaning for Rachael as she became a book binder; she was now able to create her own journals. She tells me, “Everyone goes through hardships in life, and being able to get it out of your mind and onto paper has been extremely therapeutic for me. Some people are athletes, some people are musicians, and journaling is really a form of self-expression that can be really liberating and really freeing for a person to kind of express themselves that way.”
Teaching was not Rachael’s career goal growing up, nor does she have formal training as an educator. However, understanding her craft so deeply and feeling so passionately for what she is teaching has become a success in the field. She also attributes the thought process of teaching a group of students to further development of her own creative skills. She explains, “You have to think about someone who’s never done something for the first time. They’ve never made a book, they’ve never held an exacto knife-- how do you go from step zero?” She thinks teaching has really helped her think about the artistic process and the process of creating something from step 1 - 10. “I love that,” she adds excitedly. “I love teaching people how to do things. It’s awesome! They get such a thrill, a sense of satisfaction when they’re done. Like, yes! You did bind that book. You did that on your own,” she laughs.
Obviously, teaching college students and teaching workshops at Rochester Brainery differ in a few ways. For Rachael, the most apparent is the grading. Teaching at Rochester Brainery requires no grading and no standard level of excellence; there are no expectations like there are when you’re teaching a college course. “Workshops are more of a creative release,” Rachael describes, “It’s for the sheer enjoyment of learning something new.” She goes on to tell me that if anyone got their hands on the first book that she had sewn, they would start laughing. However, it was the creative process of putting it together that got her “jazzed” about pursuing other projects.
Before she could start her own book-centered business, Rachael had to think about how she could get others just as jazzed about the process as she was. She says the way her products are different from those at a store are that they’re either “really really really tiny, they use alternative materials, or they’re just sewn at a level of care and meticulousness that something store bought wouldn’t be.” She is always trying to make new things. “If I had it my way,” she tells me, “I would be making things everyday, but business gets in the way of that.” Of course she’s thought about hiring someone to take care of the business end and just let her create, but she doesn’t want to lose the novelty of being able to tell everyone “it’s just me, I made this with my two hands.”
It’s kind of difficult to explain to the public what exactly bookbinding entails -- especially to younger generations. Rachael lays it out plain and simple: “I do bookbinding by hand including book repairs and restorations of older books. Really for me, it’s the process of doing things by hand.” People can usually understand that and Rachael’s love for old things. “I’m an old soul,” she humbly laughs.
Rachael admits she brainstorms her goals each day. Going forward she wants to keep doing what she’s doing, but on a larger scale. This means growing her national clients with her Etsy shop, and just bring more of that sense of community to the handmade world. She believes that “once people understand it, they appreciate it,” and she wants to continue making and drawing awareness to her craft. Overall, Rachael believes you should always love what you do. When she started her business, it was a little intimidating, but she knew she was going to be happier and more fulfilled. She goes on, “At the time I didn’t think it was going to be that great, I just knew I was going to be happy. Living and breathing books-- I never thought I would be here, and here I am.”
Rachael is a longtime friend of Rochester Brainery and will be holding Just Terrific’s 5 year anniversary party with us on May 19th from 7pm-8:30pm and will include a number of book craft-related festivities like “Sew Your Own Notebook” and more. There will also be snacks and desserts including book-shaped cookies from Get Caked and hot tea selections from Happy Earth Tea. A silent auction will be held throughout the night to fund Rachael’s extended education at the 2018 Maker’s Summit (a creative small-business conference for handmade artists like her).