Percy is a bookbinder and paper artist, living and working in Hong Kong. Her interest in papercuttings and book arts originated from a research project when she was studying in England. Her work has been exhibited in Hong Kong, Macao, USA, Canada and The Netherlands. She currently teaches and works at her studio in Causeway Bay…
- Name: Percy So
- Graduating Year: 2002
- Years at CIS: 11
- College & Degree: Carleton College (BA) and Cranfield University (MSc)
- Current city of residence: Hong Kong
Could you introduce yourself a bit (background & profession)?
I am a bookbinder and paper artist living and working in Hong Kong. I make fine bound books, artist’s books, repair and rebind old books, paper cuttings and provide workshops for institutions and private workshops in my studio.
When did you first start with handicraft making and specifically bookbinding?
I have always loved anything paper, as a young child, I collected paper cuttings and decorative letter paper. For my A-levels art project (at Roedean School), I did a study on paper and made my first book by punching holes into the pages and covers and binding it with a ribbon. That book does not work well structurally! At Carleton, I started thinking more about the structure of a book and studied how to make artist’s books. Artist’s books are books that house art, the structure of the binding enhances the artwork.
What inspired you to take the step to leave your office job and focus on what you are doing now?
After Carleton, I came back to Hong Kong and got a job in finance. I went on to do a masters in finance and management in England, during that year a friend of mine asked me what I would do if I did not have anything to worry about. I answered him straight away and I said I would make books. Looking back I was lucky to have graduated from my masters after the financial crisis in 2008, I came back to Hong Kong and was reluctant to go back to my old firm. I decided to give it a go in the creative industry and worked at an art gallery.
Working at a startup art gallery was tough but I learnt a lot about how to run a business and got to meet and talk to different creative people. Everyone was encouraging me to make books but I doubted myself. The doubt led to depression. Long story short, I went to the American Academy of Bookbinding in 2010 for a two-week beginner’s course in fine binding and found my passion and purpose. I stopped my antidepressants a week into the course and came back to Hong Kong and set up my studio.
What has been the biggest challenge in your career so far?
The biggest challenge is to keep a balance between the jobs that generate a good income and the projects that I’m passionate about. My current struggle is my career direction, by staying in Hong Kong I will be going towards a more creative route whereas if I move to England I would be able to concentrate on fine bindings and repairing antiquarian books. Also, I have offers to do other non-book related ventures with friends that excite me. This year will be a telling year as I will have to make the decision as to where I want to go, but I know that I can always come back to the other option later on.
What is your advice for any young alumni looking to start a career in your field?
I have been really blessed to be able to study with really good teachers who are now my mentors. It is very important to study from the best and have constant guidance and have someone critique your work. The community is small in Asia which makes it really important to have friends that understand the nature of your work and can encourage you and grow with you.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to make books until the day I am unable to. From what I’ve seen, most bookbinders are able to work until their 90s.
Where can we find you and your artwork/products?
I have a book in Tai Kwun’s artist book library. One of my artist’s books is on tour in Canada with the Art of the Book exhibition. I did a fun interactive book project a few months ago at Gallery Exit. Museum Meermanno in Holland has one of my miniature books.
The easiest way would probably be to look at my website www.percyso.com and follow me on instagram @percybookbinder.
What was your most memorable CIS moment?
There were so many great moments. There’s no one particular moment, but I think what I most appreciate about my time at CIS is all the encouragement that I received from different teachers. I was not the brightest student or the loudest, but in my shyness and insecurities, my teachers saw my potential and motivated me.
How did your CIS experience contribute to who you are today?
There was a Chinese quiz that I scored 26/100, I remember how disappointed Mrs. Lau was. I studied hard and got 80 something for the next quiz. I learned that hard work pays off and that failing is a part of the process.
What was your favourite subject at CIS and was it related to anything you actually ended up doing?
Mathematics! Mr. Tsang was my IGCSE teacher, he really puts his heart into teaching. I use maths on a day to day basis for my work, maybe not all of what I learnt but then it is the approach to solving problems that translate into my work. There’s a certain logic to my creative work, I can break down my processes into steps like how I was taught to solve a math problem.
Please read the following questions and write down the first answer to pop into your mind (3-second limit ):
- What is your favourite movie/production: Juno but my latest favourite is A Simple Favor
- What do you have for dinner on a weekday: Noodles
- What would be your last meal on death row: Mom’s cooking
- If you could have a one-hour conversation with anyone – historical or current – who would that be and why: Jesus, I just have so many questions. But knowing myself, if I had that hour I probably wouldn’t know what to say.
You can find out more about Percy and her work here: http://www.percyso.com/