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 it 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
Nov 042010
 

I’ve been pondering ways of conveying the progression of time and movement in books. I was recently re-skimming parts of Keith Smith’s Structure of the Visual Book. He talks about how the structures of artists’ books relate to those in “music, poetry, story-telling and cinema.” He then cautions:

Carryover of past concepts is often inappropriate… Revolutionary ideas must be realized when starting to work in a new medium. The basic problem in making books is approaching it as if it were many single pictures, and it is not . . . This error comes from working in one medium, and carrying over principles to a new process, rather than discovering what is unique about the new medium.

As someone who used to work largely in single pictures, this is something that I’ve found to be both exhilarating and vexing about making artist’s books.

I was listening to a talk that Bea Nettles gave at Duke University (thanks to a link posted on the Book Arts List). She mentioned how in one of her books she partly conveyed the slow, subtle process of aging by gradually transforming the background color of the book’s pages. As the book progresses and the subject grows older, each page becomes ever so subtly more purple. By the end, the viewer realizes that the pages have become deep purple, hinting at how a person almost imperceptibly ages from day to day, slowly evolving into an older person. Now that’s the sort of thing that makes a book unlike a painting.

Aug 082010
 

I went down to San Rafael to see the Art of the Book exhibit at Donna Seager Gallery before it closed. It was wonderful and truly inspiring.

I also found it reassuring. I often feel insecure about the little imperfections in my books. It was enlightening to handle work by some of the book artists I admire most, and to see that theirs, too, splay or have stitching that is not quite perfect, or windows that are just a tiny bit crooked. It’s good to be reminded that those little idiosyncrasies can add character and warmth to a piece.

The show has come down, but is still online (via the link above). Note that there are two pages of pictures.

I also got to stop at California Carnivores in Sonoma County, my favorite plant nursery of all time. It was quite hot during the trip home. It wasn’t safe to leave my new babies in the car when I stopped for coffee, so they came in with me. For some reason, people stared.

Jun 222010
 

A good friend recently went to Wales and England for a visit. The Lambeth Palace Library was on her itinerary. This is the historic library and record office of the Archbishops of Canterbury and is the principal repository of Church of England historical documents. It’s one of the earliest public libraries in England. It was founded in 1610.

They are currently having an exhibition of rare manuscripts and documents in celebration of the library’s 400th anniversary. It sounded like a stroll in paradise for book lovers.

Today I got an unexpected box in the mail. Nestled inside among all sorts of wonderful books and ephemera from the UK was a shrink-wrapped copy of the lushly illustrated Lambeth Palace Library Exhibition catalogue. Oh my!

Thanks K!

This is a spread from Petrus Apianus’s Cosmographia from 1529, which shows a movable volvelle that could be used to tell the time in any latitude.
Jun 162010
 

I’ve been rereading one of my favorite art books, Drawing the Landscape by Chip Sullivan. Its intended audience, I believe, is aspiring landscape designers and architects who want to learn to draw, which wouldn’t include me. But I love street views and maps, and this book is so quirky and full of good advice. It’s hard not to like an art book—one meant to be used as a textbook, no less—that tells you that a proper art studio needs to include a comfortable place for reading and napping. “Perhaps a couch with a bookshelf nearby.” He then goes on to describe napping and reading as essential parts of the creative process. I hadn’t looked at it in a long while, and was surprised to realize it even included a few examples of book art at the end. He cites his earliest artistic influence as Mad Magazine.

I’ve been going through one of those physical periods of frustration where I haven’t been able to do much. Rereading a favorite old book like this has been like comfort food.

From the section on the creative process:

“There is a certain degree of magic and mystery to creativity, but if you understand the process, it may come easier. First, you must be open and receptive to your imagination. Creativity is not one of those things that comes effortlessly; it is not instantaneous. It takes a lot of work, and artists strive for it constantly. Creativity is 90 percent hard work and intense preparation. Ideas implanted in your mind linger for a long time; they’re nurtured, then explode into a burst of creative energy. . . The creative flow is very much intertwined with perseverance.” (My artist friend Joan also blogged about this very thing a while back.)

A practical consideration is how does an artist persevere to create when lacking in physical stamina and fighting off other forms of physical limitation? But I keep trying to actively feed my head with ideas. Favorite books are good nourishment.

Pictured: The couch in my studio, which is actually a covered plastic love seat. The framed print above the road sign pillows is an example of Joan’s artwork. The deer crossing sign next to them is papier maché.

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.

Nov 162009
 

Last March Julie Chen came up here to Humboldt to give one of her “Book Brain” workshops to the book arts group I belong to. It was a good experience, and I can highly recommend it to anyone who is thinking about taking one of her classes.

Julie was featured several weeks ago on the PBS show Craft in America. It used to be available for viewing at the PBS site, but they’ve since removed it. You can still see a couple of segments from it here and here. I particularly liked one quote from her. Talking about how she uses skills from traditional bookmaking and printing to make beautiful objects, she stresses that creating an attractive item is not the end purpose. The polished look and the methods used in the construction of the books are there to help support the content. “Everything that goes into the piece should contribute to the meaning of the piece,” she says.

While poking around I found another interesting Julie Chen video from 2004 that originally aired on the San Francisco PBS station KQED. One of the scenes that awakened my fuzzy brain was of Julie showing some of her books to her students at Mills College. One is a carousel-style piece that is held in its open display position with magnets, rather than with ties or whatever. How clever. It made me want to pull out my own magnet collection, which I got a long time ago from K & J Magnetics on the advice of another book artist (who, in turn, had gotten the idea originally from Julie Chen). These particular magnets are tiny, yet very strong, making them ideal to embed in book board and such. Or at least that’s the idea. When I played around with mine I found that the magnetic pull wasn’t quite strong enough once the book cloth and such were added on top. Perhaps I hadn’t been using the best sized magnets, or enough of them. At any rate, I think I might have to give it another try. The video also shows Julie paper shopping at Flax in San Francisco. Just the sight of all those flat files bulging with paper makes my heart pound..

Oct 252009
 
Ok…this isn’t paper-based art, but Luke Jerram’s glass sculptures of viruses are fascinating. And he does touch on an interesting question in regards to traditional biomedical illustration. According to the website:  

“These transparent glass sculptures were created to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial colouring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena. Jerram is exploring the tension between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent, their impact on humanity.

The question of pseudo-colouring in biomedicine and its use for science communicative purposes, is a vast and complex subject. If some images are coloured for scientific purposes, and others altered simply for aesthetic reasons, how can a viewer tell the difference? How many people believe viruses are brightly coloured?”

Jun 012009
 

book experiments…
Originally uploaded by littlepaperbird

A while ago, when I first started getting into book forms, I stumbled upon the work of Sarah in Leeds (LittlePaperBird on Flickr and in blogland), and found it quite inspirational. The books were largely explorations of relatively simple folding and stitching patterns. Yet she tweaked them and built upon them in a way that made them seem so complex and elegant. She also does some nice, more traditionally bound books and boxes too.

I was recently browsing around the web and rediscovered some pictures of those folded book forms from a while ago. Great stuff.