A couple of days ago I was sitting in the consulting room of a neurologist. The neurologist wasn’t actually present at that very moment. I was waiting for her to get done looking at my MRIs in another part of the building. I looked at the reading material left sitting out on the counter for patients. They were cute little board books shaped like brains and heads, featuring things like pictures of MRI machines, CT scanners and drawings of an unhappy-looking woman clutching her migrainous head in despairing need of the pharmaceutical promoted within the thick, laminated and quaintly-shaped pages.
Yes — board books! Now, I love board books, and my medical inanity-inspiration-seeking muse was positively getting giddy. Yet, in this context … there’s just something about being a patient that is so rather infantilizing. Would there be coloring books featuring brain lesions as well?
Speaking of such (brain lesions, not coloring books), I was here seeking the opinion of yet another neurologist because my last MRI was, apparently, interesting. They’re now not sure exactly what condition I actually have. Bless the neurologist’s refreshing honesty. She said, not in these exact words, that she’d be consulting with Dr. Google to see if she could come up with any ideas.
At any rate, I seriously need to get back into the mindset of a blogger. In spite of the little camera that had been sitting in my bag, I hadn’t thought to photograph an arrangement of the board books until after I’d already left the medical complex. Such a wasted opportunity!
In related news, I recently made a little drum-leaf book for We Love Your Books‘ latest exhibition, Point. It is about how pointless it all seems chasing after medical specialists’ opinions. Since I have no images of quaint pharmaceutical-medical board books to show you, I’ll give you some images of my Point book instead.
My anxiety has been rising over my two Book Art Object Edition 4 contributions. They should have been finished long ago. Every time I start making progress, something happens to slow everything down. Let’s just say, in terms of productivity, a couple of weeks of dizziness and vertigo, capped off by an ER visit for something else, isn’t the most efficient way to go. (The ER was two days ago, and, I’m happy to say, what prompted that is now back under control.)
Alas. Books do not get made when the maker is in bed.
However, I have managed to carve out a little studio time here and there. I’ve finished prototypes for both of my editions. Here is the first one, a board book called Superstition. It will be an edition of 13.
The first page spread is a foldout. The secret to these is that they do not get folded straight down the middle and across for both top and bottom portions. There won’t be enough room for the thickness of the paper and the page won’t fold together neatly if you don’t allow a bit of an offset. It’s easier to show a diagram than for my inarticulate brain to attempt an explanation. This is from a commercial book with a similar style page that folds out:
In diagram form, it looks like this:
For 13 books, it’s impractical to measure and fold each one without some kind of jig. But how to easily construct a jig with so many fussy score lines? There are different ways to do this, but the solution I like is to use a piece of Mylar. I marked the one large and one tiny cut lines and the three fold lines, then carefully cut or scored and folded them, just as I would for the finished page. The transparent material makes it easy to line it up correctly with the paper underneath.
As I score each section, I fold the Mylar down to reveal the next appropriate edge to score against.
I save the lines to be cut, rather than folded, for last. I carefully mark the end of each with a pin prick, and use a real straight edge for that. This works very well.
The platform/object you see me folding on is a corner jig a friend made for me. I have a small cutting mat that fits perfectly on top of it, if needed.
However–at least with this mildly awkward foldout page–I’ve been experimenting with using my light box for the actual assembly (the part where it gets glued to the boards underneath).
And now… to finish putting together the 13 books…!
I knew as soon as I started making an edition of board books that I had to create a jig to keep the boards steady while gluing the page spreads on top. Even pushed up against a straight edge, the @#$% boards have a tendency to wiggle. This is not good. Accuracy is everything when making a board book. I also needed to speed up the gluing process.
I began with my usual setup with an L-square taped to the table. Long ago at the hardware store, I found a thin metal bar that is exactly the width of my boards. The space between boards happens to be one board width, so I taped the metal bar exactly in place between two boards. Then, to keep everything firmly in place, I taped a half-inch wide metal bar to the other side.
Here is what it looks like without the boards in place:
After putting the boards in place, I trim the top of the page and line that up against the straight edge on top. I leave the other sides untrimmed for now. I line up the middle registration mark over the bar, so I know it’s centered right where it needs to be.
When it comes time to remove the freshly glued page spread, I tip up the bar on the side. The page spread easily pops out. (I loosened the tape over the bar just enough so that there’s room to do this.)
It becomes a little more tricky when it’s time to glue the double spreads to each other as the book progresses, but this arrangement still works. To make it easier, I taped two L-squares one on top of the other to create a space twice as deep.
The main thing to remember is that “removable” tape will cure after a while and become far less removable. So after a few days, it’s not a bad idea to pull up the tape and replace it, if necessary.
Here’s a peek at one of the finished mirrors set in its board book page.
I’ve been discovering ways to make board books a little more efficiently. (One of the rewards of making an edition–by the time you’re done, you’ll really know how to make that structure! Not to mention you’ll also really know just about everything that can go wrong when making that structure. Alas.)
More on that soon… I’m going back to gluing pages. That is, assuming our electric stays on. We’re in the midst of a storm and the lights keep blinking. It might instead turn into a chilly night reading by flashlight. Ech.
I haven’t seen many instructions around for making a board book. So I thought I’d share mine.
Some things to consider before starting:
I usually use 4-ply museum board when making board books. Illustration board, matboard, chipboard or any thin, stiff and lightweight support can also be used.
The paper you use for your pages will form the hinge between your boards, so it should be strong enough to withstand lots of bending. As with most books, the grain of both the boards and paper should run parallel to the spine.
It is important to cut your boards accurately and squared. Take your time when you cut.
Making the Board Book Pages
To get straight page spreads that are joined together evenly, you need to line up your boards against a straight edge. This needs to be anchored down either with removable tape, or by putting it against something that won’t move, such as a brick or other weight. I prefer tape. [Note: many “removable” tapes will cure after a few days and become more permanent. I discovered this the hard way after leaving an acrylic quilting ruler taped down for a week.]
At any rate, tape your straight edge to your work surface with drafting or artists’ tape. I prefer to use a flat L-square — it gives you two sides to line your pages against. [Edit: I later devised an improved jig setup for this. See note at the end for a link to it.]
Also make sure you have something close at hand for wiping your glue-covered fingers. As all bookbinders know, glue-covered fingers are the Devil’s friend.
To begin, you’ll need to have your boards cut to the size you’d like your book to be. Your page spreads should not be trimmed exactly to size before mounting. It’s easier to trim a little excess off of the pages once they are glued than to try to match paper and boards exactly when gluing.
The example instructions are assuming you have 8 boards, which will make a 14 page book (7 page spreads) and a cover.
Take two of your boards and line them up against your straight edge. When making board books, you don’t need a large space between your boards. When working with museum board, I use a single board thickness.
Place one of your page papers on your scrap paper and carefully put a thin, even coating of PVA on the back. Carefully position your glued paper onto your boards. It can be tricky to do this without your boards moving — it gets easier with practice. If the paper I’m mounting has to be positioned exactly (ie to line up text or pictures exactly on the page), I’ll trim off a side — one that will fit against the straight edge–and leave the others untrimmed. [Note: if your finished book is wobbly, you likely have gaps in the glue near the spine. Be sure that you have evenly glued the entire board.]
Immediately after gluing, quickly wipe the glue off your fingers. Using your bone folder or a hard brayer, carefully smooth down your paper-covered boards. Put your joined pair of boards aside (preferably under weight) to dry. When they are dry, trim off the extra paper around the edges.
Make three other pairs the same way.
Now take two joined pairs and line them up on the straight edge, closed, side by side, with spine edges facing each other. Check that the tops of the pages are in the right place. Join these with a paper page the same way you joined the single boards.
Join the other pairs the same way. Ideally you will end in the middle of the book with the last remaining page spread, with an equal number of pages on either side. If, however, your book does not come out with an even number of pages on each side, prop spare boards under the shorter side until the height is equal. Then you can glue your paper on them without distortion.
After the book block is dry, you can go back and brush a thin even layer of glue over the spine and then let it dry before proceeding. You want to ensure that there are no gaps at the spine that will make the book wobbly.
Making the Drop Spine Cover
Place your book face down (front down with edges facing the edge) on the left end of your cover paper, allowing a little bit of extra room on the side to trim off later. Where the spine begins, (keeping in mind the paper “hinges” that stick out a little bit between the boards–roughly half a board width extra), carefully mark in pencil. Draw a line. Measure the thickness with of the spine with dividers (or fold a scrap paper over the spine to determine the width) and transfer this marking to the appropriate place on the cover paper. (Or, if you’re feeling lazy, tip the book onto its spine, carefully lined up with the mark you made where the spine begins, and mark the width on the other side of the spine with a pencil.) Score both spine edges.
Now on the back cover side, to the right of the spine width you just marked, repeat the same measurement as the spine width to the right of the spine. Mark and score this third line.
Turn the cover right side up. Make mountain folds for the spine, and a valley fold at the extra score. Smooth well with bone folder. Then lightly straighten the valley fold (don’t bone).
Wrap cover around the book to check the fit. If it looks ok, place your cover on scrap paper, wrong side up, and place a thin even layer of glue everywhere except between your first and last score lines. Neither the spine nor the extra space next to the spine should have any glue. I find it helps to mask the area you won’t be gluing with a scrap paper.
Carefully fit your book into the cover, smoothing the glued portions onto the front and back boards. Wipe glue from your fingers. Smooth the glued parts with your bone folder or roller. Put waxed paper between the pages and press under weight until dry.
When dry, trim off excess paper around the edges.
When There’s a Specific Page Order
It’s possible to attach each page spread in the order it will be in the finished book (ie begin with pages 1 and 2, then 3 and 4 . . . ). However, this is awkward.
A better way is to determine your page order beforehand and make all of the 2-page spreads first, followed by joining those pairs together with the remaining page spreads (the same way we made our prototype). The only hitch is that we need to figure out ahead of time which pages are going to be the 2-page single spreads and which will be the pages that will be joining the separate pairs together.
To do this, you need to make a mockup before beginning. You can just use little scraps of paper folded in half to stand in visually for your page spreads. Place them in the order of your book, piled one on top of the other (not like a pamphlet), making note of which pages represent the ones in your final book. By looking at this, you can determine which spreads will be “pairs” (the single spreads you made) and which will be “coupler” pages that will link the pairs together.
When you’ve figured this out, make a chart or list for quick reference.
An example of pages mapped out for a board book I’m working on. (This particular board book will include a 3-page spread and a pull-out, so not all of the details apply to our example.)
Now you can go ahead and make your single pairs first, then join them with the “coupler” pages in an order that will make the book easier to assemble.
If you want rounded corners, you can trace a round object, such as a coin, that’s the right size and trim. Or you can use a corner rounder or punch that will go through board. If you become obsessed with board books and other structures with rounded corners, you might even invest in a more durable corner rounder…
[Edit: I later added another post with more info on making a gluing jig for board books. This might make the process easier.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
As I explained in the legal disclaimer on the back, my Board Book for Bored Children isn’t really meant for kids. It’s a spoof on the genre of little kiddie picture books featuring photos of familiar objects, in this case, household items.
I’d never made a board book of this sort before. I figured it out partly from directions in an old edition of The Bonefolder, and partly from adapting what I did know about making stiff-leaf books. I wanted the pages to be laminated to protect the inkjet printouts from getting scratched. But also, this being a gag on children’s board books, I wanted the pages to have the plastic-coated feel of the real thing. How to go about that?
Again, I sheepishly admit to owning and using a scrapbookers’ kind of gizmo, a 5″ Xyron. One of the cartridges available has adhesive on one side, and a matte laminate on the other. Presto! Fortunately, it is a small-ish book, so I can squeeze a few copies out of each cartridge.
It has a drop spine, as seen on this children’s book here, and also described in the Bonefolder instructions mentioned above. I like the effect, and think I’ll be using it again.
I described the concept of A Board Book for Bored Children to a friend who’s an on-again/off-again empty nester. She seemed almost a bit . . . too excited by the idea. She enthusiastically suggested dangerous things I hadn’t even contemplated. Poisonous berries? Abandoned wells? And did I know that Calla Lilies are poisonous?