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    90s Kids: The Handicraft Maker

    Bookmaker Chen Fenwan is inspired by the commonplace things around her, from leaves to cat hair to cut-up paper.

    “You can call me Chen Fenwan, though it’s not my real name. I haven’t had a serious full-time job since I graduated from the book-binding program at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts. I live like an unemployed homeless person: Right now, I’m teaching a workshop on how to make books by hand, and most recently my priority has been designing handmade books. I really think this is something I’ll never stop doing.”

    Chen’s self-introduction may sound ordinary, but as a girl who graduated from college just two years ago, she already has quite a few fans. People come to her workshops to learn the history of handmade books, as well as how to make books themselves.

    Making books is a way for Chen to document her life and find inspiration from the world around her. “It’s an art form,” she says. “So many things in a person’s life — the food they eat, the fur from their cat — can be displayed in a book. I just want people to know that making books is a lot of fun, and that there are so many possibilities to explore.”

    It was coincidence that first led Chen to study bookmaking. She signed up for a class on the subject during her sophomore year, just because she thought it sounded interesting, and despite the class not being a popular choice among her peers. “In that class, I discovered that books are not just pieces of paper bound together — they can actually be made from an endlessly diverse list of materials,” she says. “That’s when I started to make books by myself, and I’m still doing it today. Now, bookmaking for me has become a type of self-expression.”

    But it’s not always easy to survive on passion alone. Luckily, Chen is motivated by the support she receives from family and friends. She likes to think of herself as an “independent handicraft maker.” “To me, the best thing is that my work encourages people think, and even makes me some money,” she says. “Though it’s not the most lucrative business, I’m very happy being able to earn a living from something I enjoy so much.”