Pioneering book design: meet Trudy Dorrepaal

You have books about art, but also books that are so meticulously finished that they are almost art. That second category includes just about everything that has passed through Trudy Dorrepaal’s hands. As a book consultant, she is second to none. Even now past retirement age, she remains the absolute reference in Belgium and the Netherlands in the field of book printing.

Register for the breakfast session with Trudy Dorrepaal on Nov. 9

Under her watchful eye, the most wondrous graphic works were created in recent decades. Books made so extraordinary that they stand miles above the ordinary printed matter. Consider the “fan book” All Shows by artist Marinus Boezem, which effectively incorporates a physical fan. Or Mad of Surrealism for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: an exhibition catalog, conceived as a cassette with vistas into the collections and inside is made up of four collectors’ houses. They are gems of delicate beauty and tactility, betraying an exceptional love for the craft. Trudy’s knowledge of paper, lithography, printing and binding techniques is rare, as is her eye for detail and perfection. The fact that she recently started knocking on our print shop makes us rejoice with pride. We could hardly imagine a nicer compliment.

Hello Trudy, books so. How did you actually end up in “our” world?

‘Do you have a moment? (laughs) That’s a long story. I’ve always had a passion for art. As a teenager, I wanted to attend the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. But my father said “no. ‘Art, you can’t make a living at that, can you?’ Eventually, I became a kindergarten teacher first. Afterwards, I got into travel and hospitality before starting to work for a cartographer. That’s where I took my first steps in the printing industry. Among other things, I dealt with special custom printing for customers there. From there it all happened quickly. At Proost and Brandt, I ended up in the paper. I worked there for five and a half years and immersed myself completely. After a while I was allowed to give presentations in print shops and schools. For the past seventeen years, I have subsequently worked for some of the leading printing companies in the Netherlands. First at Lecturis. When they went bankrupt, I started my own ArtLibro. In that capacity, I was successively associated with Roelofs Printing Company and then Coers & Roest. I often did crazy projects there. Things that no one thought were realizable, but which I then latched onto. If it had to be really special, people would come to me. That’s pretty much become my trademark.’

Indeed, the books you collaborate on are rarely ordinary. What makes designers and artists come to you when it really needs to be special?

‘You would have to ask them that, of course. (laughs) No, I’ve built up some credit over the years, of course. I have the insight to get certain things done anyway. But above all, I am also very fanatical. High-quality printing listens very closely. The smallest detail must be perfect: the type of paper, the layout, specific color nuances, the quality of the printing ink, and so on. I really put my soul into a book.

Is that Trudy Dorrepaal’s secret: passion?

‘I think so. Passion and perfectionism, perhaps. I rarely make it easy on myself because I assume that anything is possible. Even if a client or printer has no faith in the feasibility of a project, I persevere until I find it. I know what can be done and how to do it. And if I don’t know, I figure it out until I find a solution. Often this results in fantastic collaborations; sometimes it clashes. But I don’t need to be liked, I just go for it. Take the book Crazy of Surrealism for the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. This was created in the form of a cassette with vistas into the collections of four private collections. The book itself is composed of four collector’s houses, each with its own atmosphere and character, translated into different types and sizes of paper. All of the works on display are depicted in those houses. As a reader, it is as if you are invited into the collectors’ homes. Well, things like that, real challenges, I just like doing that.’

But you can’t do it alone, either. Your network spans specialists from all over the world. How important are they?

‘You can’t deliver quality without surrounding yourself with passionate professionals. Designers, publishers, shapers, bookbinders, papermakers and, of course, talented and motivated printers. Without them it doesn’t work.

So what makes a good printer for you?

‘A book is like a baby, you should be able to be proud of it. It needs attention and love. I am looking for printers who exude the same enthusiasm as I do. For me, a good print shop consists first and foremost of passionate people who are involved from start to finish. And, of course, a good lithographer is also incredibly important. You have to be able to mold every detail into a compelling whole. And you have to have a feel for it and be able to work with different grids.

Printer Sven in action for cosmetics brand Ellis Faas’ book.

How did you actually end up at Buroform?

‘When I worked for ArtLibro, I was attached to a regular producer. In this way, I was able to immerse myself in wonderful projects. Since 2022, I have been working completely independently, making me freer to enter into collaborations. I want to give my clients total creative freedom. It opens up new possibilities, for the people who want to work with me, but also for myself. One day I got a call from your manager Jesse to have a chat. He had seen the book Straight-Line Leadership, which I shrugged off. I was immediately impressed by his enthusiasm. He is enormously passionate about his craft. I find that attitude in general at Buroform: going for it, with dedication, with passion. We recently completed our first collaboration: the book for Ellis Faas, a Dutch cosmetics brand. Today I work with several printing companies, in the Netherlands and Italy. I choose according to the project. But coming to Belgium, for me it’s Buroform. That’s where the bar is highest, as far as I’m concerned.

You also provide training and workshops. Soon we will also invite you as a speaker at our first breakfast session. Do you enjoy sharing your knowledge?

‘I have taught workshops and courses for many years to companies, universities, schools and academies, among others. Today I’m a little more selective about that, but I still find it very inspiring to do. I enjoy getting young people excited. To show graphic designers what is possible. You have to feel and experience a book. During such a workshop, I take people completely into the story behind certain books.’

View the program of the following breakfast sessions

You have been past retirement age for a while and yet you keep going. Where do you keep getting that energy?

‘I just enjoy doing it too much still: helping designers, mentoring young people. I have accumulated so much knowledge. It would be a shame to let those suddenly go to waste. I am open to all great projects, small and large, with or without a printer. People can hire me for full guidance during the design and printing process, or just for advice. Of course I sometimes think about doing something else, but art and books remain my first love. You stay attached to that.

On Nov. 9, we will host another breakfast session with Trudy Dorrepaal. Register soon: