Jun 152014
 
Pictures will resume shortly.

Pictures will resume shortly.

I’d planned to show you some photos of my latest sketchbook/plaything. So I placed it in my photo cube a couple of nights ago and flicked on my 6-year old DSLR… What the… The shutter release no longer works? Actually, neither does the on/off button — I turned it to off, and it stayed on. It is permanently frozen in some kind of possessed state that is neither on nor off. I eventually removed the battery so I could turn it off. I frantically Googled. Others have had similar issues. With this particular camera, it would be expensive to fix. And it wouldn’t be worth it. This was a low-end Canon Rebel of a few generations back, and I’d actually been fantasizing about upgrading for a while. The camera has had a few sputters in the past, and I’d even picked out which model I’d replace it with. But the sputters had always disappeared as mysteriously as they’d arrived, and any thoughts of replacing it had been definitely in the fantasy stage. I’d hoped to do it, if at all, after my various out-of-town medical trips had been paid off, etc. Alas. The timing was also a bit inconvenient. Norbag, the local book arts guild, has a monthly book exchange and I am their photographer. I document each month’s submissions for their Flickr account. [Later edit: I have since stepped down from this role.] The meeting was two days away. I do have a crummy point-n-shoot as well (which I had to use), but I find it awkward. I’m spoiled. Anyway… the new electronic baby is due to arrive later in the week… And then… photos will resume!

Press the lever… you know you want to.

Press the lever… you know you want to.

(In this house we actually refer to arriving online purchases as “pellets.” As in, the laboratory rat pushes the right button and then, lo and behold!, a reward pellet comes down the chute. The Visa bill, alas, is the negative reinforcement. Z-z-z-a-p!)

Speaking of the sketchbook-plaything, I’ve discovered that I occasionally become the entertainment for others when I’m out drawing in it. A few months back, I was in a coffee shop scribbling and snipping away when I became aware of being watched. There was a little boy of about 6 or so at the table in front of mine. He had a coloring book and some crayons, but had been getting increasingly antsy and whiny with boredom as his mother chatted with a friend. Then suddenly the boy became quiet. I looked up to see that he was now facing backwards on his knees, staring over the back of the chair. His gaze was firmly focused on the sketchbook. I continued on, pretending not to notice. He remained transfixed for what seemed quite a while. Then the kid suddenly whipped around back to his crayons and began to color with silent, manic enthusiasm.

I was thinking of this yesterday after a coffee stop on the way home. I’d wound up spreading out my crayon-equivalents and having some blissful drawing time to go with my iced caffeine. Two women approached as they were leaving. They, it turned out, had been watching me. “You were the entertainment!” Hmmm….

Coffee shop recreation

Aug 272012
 

I’ve written before about the similarities between children’s books and artists’ books. This is not, of course, an original observation. Others, including Keith Smith in at least one of his books, have noted the similarities as well. I’ve come to the conclusion that if you are interested in artists’ books and book arts, you should make a beeline for the kids’ section in bookstores and the book section in toy stores any time you manage to go to either such establishment. Some of the best ideas for book formats are often found in those places. Ignore the subject matter in many–I suspect most of us don’t get excited over “Baby’s First Counting Book” and the like–but you might very well be inspired by the format of that same book if has unusually constructed windows that open to reveal things embedded in the thick pages underneath, or pages designed to look like tabbed directory pages.

In this book, one part of each page spread is glued on top of another, leaving a space carved out for the adjoining foldout to fit inside. When the foldouts are flattened back into the book, everything is neatly positioned and flat.

 

I especially love board books. (I suppose if I were being a properly grown-up Serious Book Artist, I’d say I like stiff-leaf structures). There is just something about a book with such heft and texture. Those thick pages are so satisfying to turn and run one’s hands against (board books often use nice, substantial papers that have lovely tactile qualities). Durability is often cited as a reason why board books are so popular for children. But they are just plain fun to hold as well.

top of board book

An example of a commercial children’s board book showing the drop spine

The majority of commercial board books have a drop spine that folds away from the book as it is read. This allows the book to have a tight fitting cover when closed, yet when opened the page spreads can lie perfectly flat. Aside from a drop spine’s practical role, I just think it’s so pleasing to have a spine that varies in shape as the book is read. Cool, isn’t it? Admit it! And if you still don’t know what I’m talking about, find a commercial board book with a tight-fitting wrap-around cover (the common style cover that most have). Open it up and notice the shape the spine makes as it folds away from the book as it is read. Simple, but satisfying.

A while back, I started putting together a board book model collection. I suspect the folks at the local book shops have come to realize that I’m not actually a doting auntie buying gifts for a young someone else. I love to look through my collection.

shaped board book

Shaped pages. Because the pages are so thick, board books are a good choice for sculptural books.

spine of shaped board book

A drop spine hidden underneath a decorative spine element.

Some benefits of board books:

  • Nice weight and presence in the hands.
  • Flat pages with no sewing–great for page spreads that need to be presented flat and uninterrupted. And no page imposition, since the page spreads are glued back-to-back, not nested.
  • The thickness of the pages allows all kinds of opportunities for cutting through layers and embedding details, cutting into pages to make windows or peep holes or to layer scenes, or making shaped pages that stand up firmly. Thick, solid pages also offer an ideal support for page pullouts, pop-ups and the like.
  • There’s that fun drop spine thing.

Foldout pages.

Pages of all different sizes.

tabbed board book

Double-thick tabbed pages with flaps that fit inside a raised border. The toddler subject matter does not excite, but the structure itself offers interesting possibilities to try out in a book design.

Top view of the drop spine construction on the book with extra thick pages.

board book on wheels

A book that rolls on wheels.

Pages with transparent, printed windows. Mylar or something similar can be sandwiched between the board and the paper covering it, or between two boards mounted together.

Pages with peep holes.

 

Shaped pages and an embedded tunnel book.

Commercial board books with split pages (a variation on an exquisite corpse), often have a double-sided version of the drop spine. There are extra folds on either side of the spine that allow the page segments to move back and forth independently when the book is open, but allow the spine to fit snugly when the book is closed.

Top view of the double-sided spine construction.

Plus, let’s face it, board books are so connected to children’s books that it’s also fun to use the format to poke fun. (I’m planning to photograph colorful pharmaceuticals for my next “children’s” book.)

But I think grown-ups should have more board books–especially if they are artists working with books.

 

I’ve looked around online and have realized that there are few instructions out there for people who want to make board books from scratch by hand. Since I just taught a workshop on it and it’s fresh in mind, that will be my next post.

The commercial books pictured are, in order from the top:

  1. Animal Spots and Stripes Britta Techentrup.
  2. Look Who’s There! Martine Perrin
  3. Look Who’s There!
  4. Colors: A Butterfly-Shaped Book Accord Publishing
  5. Colors: A Butterfly-Shaped Book
  6. Dinosaurs Simms Taback
  7. The Grouchy Ladybug Eric Carle
  8. Baby Baa Baa Dawn Sirett et al.
  9. Baby Baa Baa
  10. Fire Truck DK Publishing
  11. Mister Sea Horse Eric Carle
  12. I Spy in the Ocean Damon Burnard and Julia Cairns
  13. Beautiful Oops! Barney Saltzberg
  14. My Very First Book of Animal Homes Eric Carle
Mar 072010
 

This time around the topic isn’t children’s books themselves, but a how-to on illustrating them. This was another find from Eureka Books that dates to the 1950s. There really is so much overlap when it comes to the design of kids’ books and that of artists’ books.

This especially got me thinking about possibilities for illustrated end papers and book covers, along with other aspects of book structure.


But what I most wanted to do was share the chapter on typography with bookmakers I know who tend to think of font and type matters as afterthoughts, if they think about them at all. Henry P. here says:


“Type is the most important element in most books. Even in the young child’s picture books it is still a factor of great moment. No book could be considered well designed unless its type faces were well chosen, its size appropriate, and the type panels well proportioned and well printed. And the relation between type and illustration must be a successful one….Illustrations are almost always near neighbors of type in some form, and they must be compatible…


Occasionally, an illustrator is tempted to use an exotic type face because it goes well with his pictures, but here another factor enters: legibility. There are many…display types which excite and delight the eye for a line or two but which bore and repulse if pursued page after page. The so-called book types have stood the test of countless hours of reading and have survived because they do not weary….


Picture and text are bound to influence each other, beneficially or adversely. Who would choose any but the way of cooperation between them?”


Indeed.

Mar 052010
 

Books meant for kids often have some of the best ideas for artists’ book structures. They are, in many respects, often quite similar–they have an emphasis on illustrations with perhaps a little bit of text. Sometimes they also have an unusual structure or shaped pages.

I recently came upon a couple of children’s books from an earlier era.

The first was sent to me by a friend. It’s a German translation of an English book that was called Animal Lore and Disorder. It advertises “more than 200 comic animals.” The pages are divided horizontally, so as you turn them, you create little mish-mashes of mixed up animals and mixed up descriptions to go with them. This here is a “Cowk,” a cow/elk: “This animal lives in the farmyard. He gives lots of milk and cream and…hunters often go around Canada hunting him.” The book itself is interestingly made. It is essentially a pamphlet with hard covers and a buckram spine. The paper cover wrapper is glued directly onto the book boards, with flaps left free. They tuck in around the front of the book. You can see the raw edges of the book board.



The second I found in a bargain bin at Eureka Books. It’s not in great condition, but I liked the form of it and the way it was made. It’s an accordion. The pages are shaped book board panels, all joined together with book cloth hinges and a cloth spine. It’s satisfying to open and arrange these heavy, smooth panels joined with cloth. The sections move in a way that wouldn’t be possible with the cheaper production methods of newer picture books.

I’m already imagining how elements of these two book forms can be worked into my artist’s books.

Dec 082009
 

A while back I came across a blog thread that was, more or less, about girls and boys and bookmaking (unfortunately, I lost the link). The artist had shown some pictures of a gift set she’d made for a little girl’s birthday present. It included a customized journal/book and some other customized things to go along with it. The women commenting on the site oowed and ahhed, and said what a lucky little girl the recipient was. And then someone chimed in (the way I remember it) that it was a shame that little boys only cared about things like legos and super-heroes. She’d sure like to make gifts like that too, but only had little boys in her life. They wouldn’t like gifts like that. I felt sad for the little boys in her life.

Two of the biggest artists’ books fans I know are twin 7 year old boys, the sons of a friend. They are normal, lego-loving boys. And they are completely fascinated by book structures. One year (6th birthday? I’m losing track…) I made them each a flag book with blank tabs surrounding the name of each boy, with the idea that they should decorate and customize the books themselves. To my surprise, those flag books seemed to be the hit of the party. One of the twins called it his “magic book.” Another time, I gave them personalized little pamphlet-style books, and they, apparently, are still pasting things into them and using them. At the moment, they’re waiting to hold me to a promise to come over to make books with them. When their mom had mentioned something about my studio, last time I saw them, little 7 year old D.’s eyes grew huge with excitement. “You have a studio! A real art studio!” You might as well have announced that I had my own train in the backyard. He wants to come see the studio.

I used to be afraid that they’d be disappointed if I were to give them homemade gifts, rather than some perhaps more cool or coveted thing from the toy store. It turned out that they have genuinely liked their handcrafted cards and gifts. I always let them know that they can learn to make the same kinds of things themselves, too. It had never occurred to me that because they are boys I was supposed to assume they wouldn’t be interested in handmade books and art-related activities. Boys deserve better than that.

Dec 052009
 

A beloved friend passed away last month. He’d been ill. It wasn’t a surprise. But still very sad. He’d been a BIG person…in every way. Big personality, big physical presence. Before he’d become too sick, he’d also been a gunsmith. Imagine a very large, loud-voiced (often spewing loud expletives) guy working away in the gun shop. I used to delight in sending him birthday cards each year that were childlike, such as one with a crayon stick-figure drawing of him holding a pistol and saying “Bang! Bang!” We were opposites, but we’d always had a lot of affection for each other.

One birthday, my juvenile “card” offering was a Matchbox car that I’d glued a trailing banner onto, with the words to Happy Birthday written out. The tiny banner was rolled up and tied to the roof, to be untied and unrolled for reading. I was told later that one of his young grandsons was enthralled with the car and  wanted to play with it every time he visited. The little guy was gently told it wasn’t really a toy, so he should only just look at it. (My, did I feel mean!)

Recently, I needed some kind of birthday cards for a set of twins, children of another friend, who were turning 7. I decided to make a couple of the banner cars. I found matching Matchbox cars and customized them for each boy. They were well received.

Come springtime when his own birthday rolls around, I have a suspicion that my friend’s grandson will be getting his very own happy birthday car just like the one his bampa had. And it will come with explicit instructions that he should be allowed to do whatever he darn well pleases with it (although I’m sure his bampa wouldn’t have said “darn”). This is part of my unofficial campaign to plant subliminal thoughts in my friends’ children that art can be fun. It doesn’t have to be serious. Silly is good, no matter what size you are.