BBC Radio 4’s Front Row just had a half-hour program “The Art of Book Cover Design.” I suspect many of you will find it as interesting as I did. From the official description:
John Wilson explores the art of book cover design and meets artist Suzanne Dean, who has been responsible for more Booker-winning covers than any other designer. Writers Ian McEwan, Tom McCarthy and Audrey Niffenegger discuss the art that represents their words and Telegraph books editor Gaby Wood provides a reader’s perspective on what makes a book stand out in a bookshop. As more of us than ever read books on e-readers, is beautiful design the key to the survival of the physical book?
Sketchbooks, visual journals, daybooks …. Different artists call that book they carry around different things. No matter what I’ve been — or not been able to be — doing in the studio, I always keep a couple of different kinds on hand. It’s essential. Even if all I do in a day is scratch out some lines, at least I’m doing something.
One of my take-along books is a sketchbook that’s used mostly for jotting down ideas and making mock-ups of book pages and that sort of thing. I’ve carried one of those around in one form or another for a very long time. The current one is a thin store-bought softcover thing with graph paper inside. It serves the purpose.
The other carry-along book is handmade. Its purpose is to keep me making marks on a regular basis. Often, this is while the TV is on, or while I’m out doing errands and stop for a rest with some coffee. When I go out, I bring it in a sack that’s also filled with colored pencils, pens, threads and needles, a glue stick, eraser, pencil sharpener, brushes, small scissors and scalpel, a 4 x 6″ cutting mat, vial of water, and, occasionally, a small watercolor palette (yeah — I overpack my suitcases as well). I also have a small zippered case that contains an assortment of postage stamps, papers and other stuff.
I haven’t been particularly satisfied with what to call this book. Although I take it to coffee shops and the like with me, I don’t sketch my fellow visitors in it. It doesn’t seem to be a sketchbook. It’s also, to me, not quite a visual journal, which, in my mind, has a dated and linear progression expressing the feelings of the moment. For the most part, the only dates are the ones to note when it began and when it was retired. I very definitely do not work in a linear, nor systematic, way in them. I make marks — sometimes drawn, sometimes cut and sometimes sewn. The object is not to make art, nor to work out my thoughts or state of mind. It is, rather, my plaything.
It’s my relaxation, and it keeps me thinking about patterns, lines and colors, even though my one self-imposed “rule” is to not think too much about anything I put in there. Just grab something and start moving over the page. The pages themselves are not plain. This helps keep the flow going and reduces the intimidation an expanse of blank paper can cause. It also simply makes it more interesting to me.
Drawing in my plaything has become a pleasurable obsession. The latest incarnation of this type of sketchbook-journal-plaything began with a sewn-board bound book (shown here) that I made early last year. I filled it with different kinds of handmade and decorative papers, fragments from outdated science journals, printouts of things like enlarged postage stamps, a postcard, old library catalog cards, and translucent vellum in different colors.
The binding is actually a bit eccentric. Sewn-board bindings with their drop-down spines aren’t supposed to be thick (it’s usually recommended for books with around a half-inch spine). Plaything number one (with the red spine), however, is more than five times that wide. And I love it. It has a covered spine like a regular book, but the pages fold down flat and are easy to work on. The cloth from the spine automatically folds out of the way when I’m working on it.
I recently (more or less) retired the first one, and have just begun a second sewn-board bound plaything filled with lots of stuff, including photos of foreign money, guilloché patterns, postcards, Yupo, decorative and handmade paper, library catalog cards, lotus-fold pages… It is covered in silk that I made into book cloth. (Local friends — Eureka Fabrics has wonderful silks and cottons that make gorgeous book cloth, and their prices are reasonable for the excellent quality.) It took me weeks to actually make the book, but planning it out has been part of the pleasure.
There’s actually a story behind the silk cover. While adhering the book cloth to the boards, I was very, very careful to wipe all glue quickly from my fingers, and to immediately remove any soiled scrap paper after gluing. I glued with a bad case of bookmaker’s glue paranoia. And so, of course, as soon as the front was adhered, there was a big blob of a stain right to the left of the depression where the label was to go. Impolite things were said.
And then I reminded myself that these sorts of accidents invariably lead to something better than what had originally been planned (this really is true). I decided to add a second label to cover up the mess. I tried to impress a recessed area for a label over the stain using my press, but the resulting impression was too feeble for that purpose. And so I put the label on top and added a silk-covered “frame” around it. It worked. To make the other label match, I added a second frame. I put images from Chinese and Danish banknotes in them. Happy things were said.
As for size, this one is a pleasingly eccentric nearly 3″ thick. Special considerations come into play when lining the spine of the book block and making the cover when the spine area will drop away that much from the book. But those sorts of small technical details are for another day.
If you’d like more information about making sewn-board books, here are a few links:
Bookbinder Henry Hébert usefully details the steps for making them on his blog.
Gary Frost, who devised the structure, discusses them here (PDF).
Do you have a favorite way to keep a journal, sketchbook, daybook or plaything? What do you bring along in your to-go kit? Have you discovered the perfect drawing tool or organizing device you now can’t live without? Do tell.
Count me in as another bookie blogger with an entry in the new 500 Handmade Books, vol. 2. I feel honored to have my work included with that of so many top-notch book artists I admire. The piece pictured is Mysophobia: Mainstream Culture, from an edition of 15 I made a while back.
Much to my surprise, a few months ago I was asked if I’d like to contribute an artist’s page to the next edition of The Blue Notebook.
Hmmm… did I want to be in the book arts journal The Blue Notebook? I was already designing the page in my head as I typed back that, yeah, I think I’d like to do that(!). I was told that I could do anything I wanted with my page. But they were also kind of hoping I might do something based around The Literary Cure.
The Literary Cure is what I call my prescription bottle of “Codex” capsules (there’s a photo of it in the gallery). Each capsule of “Codex” contains a miniature book. There are 20 capsules in each bottle. It was an edition of five.
Each copy of The Literary Cure also includes a patients’ informational insert (I wrote about the making of the insert here). For my artist’s page, I decided to show the text of an insert with a photo of a bottle of Codex.
My copy of the journal recently arrived. I was not expecting to to find my page right at the center fold. Oh my!
Coincidentally, in this same issue Emma Powell wrote an article about her work with We Love Your Books and about some some of the artists who’ve contributed to the WLYB exhibits over the years, including yours truly. I felt quite honored, especially since there are some others there whose work I have admired for quite a while.
Among other things I like in this edition is an interview with Helen Douglas, who was commissioned to create a work in 2012 as part of Reflective Histories: Contemporary Art Interventions at Traquair House. She made a manuscript book echoing the small devotional books in the library at Traquair, which is the oldest inhabited house in Scotland. The pictures of the book that are included with the interview are exquisite (unfortunately, I couldn’t find any photos of it freely available online). As always with The Blue Notebook, it takes a while to get through all the interesting stuff in it. I’m really delighted to have been included in this last issue.
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…!
One of my favorite reads at the moment is Photoshop Masking and Compositing by Katrin Eismann et al. Partly, I want to improve my photos of books so they look professional for web and catalogues and that sort of thing. I also want to keep improving my photos and illustrations for use in my books. One of the things I love about Photoshop is that there is always something new to learn about Photoshop. Every time I start feeling a bit cocky, I realize I hardly know anything, really.
As one of those whose early design experiences date to before the computer era, I don’t think I’ll ever lose a vague sense of wonder as I watch my photos and digital art transform on the screen. And then to have the ability to do professional-level typesetting and layout in InDesign that can be printed out right here at home…! It’s just a part of life now, but when I think back to the world of pre-computer graphics and design, it’s like magic or science fiction or something. I know people just 10 years younger who barely remember film in cameras and don’t understand the lingering sense of amazement the computer brings, even now, to a middle-aged codger who finished her BA before the 90s (well, in 1990, to be precise).
I needed a picture of a clock for one of the BAO books I’m frantically trying to finish. I wanted it to look photographic and sort of old. I could have taken a photo of a clock or obtained a stock photo. But then I remembered the 60+ clock faces I’d put together for the Minute book earlier this year. However, they are flat, black and white and definitely not photographic-looking. But perhaps, I thought, with a little digital tinkering…? After a little fiddling, I began with this:
And after some playing around, I wound up with this:
I’m sure I could have done it with more authenticity, but for my tiny miniature, it works. Kids, I’m telling you, this is like sci-fi!
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.
The latest We Love Your Books exhibition, Minute, is now up at the University of Northampton. It includes my flip bookdepicting one minute on the clock. This year the exhibit in Northampton was selected from a larger online show, and views of it can be seen here. A catalogue can be seen and bought here. “Minute” could be interpreted in any way desired, and there’s some genuinely fascinating work here.