The Spellbinding Bookbinder

Loulé Design Labs Artist of the Month – Juliett Paola Sarmiento Nieto

They say never judge a book by its cover, but this month I met a bookbinder that has made me see things differently.

Juliett is from Barranquilla, Colombia. Her father taught her the ancient art of bookbinding when she was 15 years old. She went on to study Graphic Design and Plastic Art in Colombia before moving to Portugal four years ago. 

After completing her Master’s programme in Contemporary Creative Art at the Universidade de Aveiro, she moved down to Loulé a little over a year ago, becoming one of the youngest members of the Loulé Design Lab.

Wherever she goes, though, Juliett always seems to find a way to, shall we say, ‘bind’ what she learns together with what her father taught her. 

We met at the Palácio Gama Lobo, headquarters of the Loulé Criativo, and after a little chat, Juliett reached into her backpack – which was brimming with books and notebooks – to show me some enchanting examples of what she’s created over the years.

Let’s have a look … 

What became immediately apparent as Juliett started to display her collection was that she has a true love for tiles (or azulejos as they are called in Portuguese). It’s long been one of Juliett’s favourite pastimes to go for a little walk about town and catalogue any she finds on old buildings. 

Portugal is a perfect place to do this. Juliett explained to me how she takes pictures and, with a little technological wizardry (no doubt garnered from her time studying graphic design), prints them out and turns them into the lovely patterns that cover many of her notebooks. 

But it’s not just tiles that catch Juliett’s attention as she walks around town. Back in Barranquilla, Juliett made a fold-open book with all sorts of drawings and words that serves as a sort of ‘visual cartography’ of all the posters and publicity, as well as a few interesting characters she found on her trips around her home city. 

For the final exhibition of her Master’s degree in Aveiro in 2021, Juliett made a bright and rather striking book called Entre o Dia e a Noite (Between the Day and Night), which was inspired by the Portuguese landscapes between Gerês and Madeira.

Entre o dia e a noite – Masters Aveiro

Her latest work, she showed me, were two cute little notebooks she made for a local fair where the Loulé Criativo artists were displaying. Inspired by, and indeed called, Cores do Algarve (Colours of the Algarve), the first features a glorious orange sunset and the other, as if turning to look in the other direction, shows fading mountains stretching far out into the distant greens. 

On the back of these latest little notebooks, Juliett was excited to show me that she has recently made her own stamp and can now leave a unique signature mark on her work. 

Up and coming workshops

You know how there are those people who can gracefully glide through a piece of paper with scissors without even seeming to have to stop to snip? Or who can just casually tear a piece of paper into two perfect halves mid-conversation – because they feel the direction the punched strip of paper runs in? Well, it’s not me. I said as much to Juliett, who laughed and insisted that it’s just a matter of practice.

The right tools can help, too, of course. And Juliett showed me a little wooden paper creaser that last month’s artist, Wesley Sacardi, had made for her. 

All this to say, if you aren’t one of those origami magicians either – don’t worry. Juliett is starting to give workshops at the Loulé Criativo and is happy to teach you all the tricks. 

You’ll explore the various paper, postcards, cards and fabrics that help in the binding process, as well as getting to know the tools and glues used. And, in the end, she’ll teach you to make your own traditional hardcover notebook that you can take home with you.

A dull pencil is better than a sharp mind

How many of you keep a notebook? The human mind is meant for creating thoughts, not holding on to them. Having a place to write your ideas down (or simply sketch away and doodle) really helps you organise your work, rest and play – and keeps your mind free for what it’s good at. 

That said, I think you are far more likely to feel inspired to put pen to paper if you have a nice pen and a beautiful notebook. And just imagine if you made it yourself!

While exploring Juliett’s Instagram page, I found a quote by a bookbinder called Antonio Galvan that says: “Binding is a clear demonstration of the love of the book – both for its content and what it contains.”

So, thinking about it, maybe we should sometimes judge a book by its cover. Or, at the very least – be in love with our notebook at hand.

To keep an eye out for upcoming bookbinding lessons with Juliett – or all kinds of other experiences by the Loulé Criativo – please visit:

And find Julieitt on Instagram @juliettpaolart


Share this edition