How an Artist’s Book is Not Like a Picture

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.


Volvelles are paper wheel charts with rotating parts. The modern ones, such as those reproduced in Jessica Helfand’s Reinventing the Wheel, are enjoyable. But there’s something so captivating about the ones from previous centuries that were incorporated into books. These were used for serious stuff like astronomy, medicine and fortune-telling. They were computing devices in their day. To think that the modern movable book has such exalted ancestry.

When I posted a picture recently of a volvelle from Petrus Apianus’s 1529 Cosmographia, it whetted my appetite for more. Here are a couple of other examples from the Cosmographia.

A spread from the Library of Congress website, showing the positions of the sun, moon and planets.
According to the Lambeth Palace Library Exhibition catalogue, Petrus Apianus (1495-1552) was a mathematician and a pioneer in astronomical and geographical instrumentation. The Cosmosgraphia was a European best-seller. It appeared over the next century in as many as 45 editions in 4 languages, printed in 7 cities by at least 18 printers. It contained four volvelles.

Here are a few links to historical volvelles:

The following page from the Astronomicum Caesareum by Petrus Apianus (1540) is thanks to the Wikipedia page on Volvelles:

The following is a “cipher encoding machine” from around 1600, from an exhibition of manuscripts that was at the Getty:
The University of Oklahoma has an example or two:
Galileo Collection
From the University of Oklahoma’s Galileo Collection
As well as the British Library:
Volvelle from "Medical miscellany, including an astronomical calendar" (approx 1490).The British Library.
Volvelle from “Medical miscellany, including an astronomical calendar” (approx 1490).The British Library.
Doesn’t it just make you want to start cutting and assembling circles (or at least drool over photos of old manuscripts)?

Maps as Art

The world’s smallest atlas, made for Queen Mary’s doll house.

I’ve been pondering a potential project–a metaphorical atlas (for lack of a better description). I’ve long loved maps and map-like visuals, and have been wanting to use that kind of imagery in my artwork for as long as I can remember. I think the time is coming to do it as a book. We’ll see if anything materializes. For now, it’s mostly in the sketching and pondering phase. 

What made me want to mention this was stumbling upon this exhibition review on the BBC news site. The British Library and the Royal Geographical Society are both currently putting on shows that focus on the artistic aspect of maps. One of the items they show is the miniature atlas above. 

Catching up After the Outage

Our electric was out for a day and a night. Blech. Let’s hear it for rural living…

So, with a whole day’s worth of email and stuff to catch up on, what better thing to do than find a nice little paper-related video?

Each frame was crafted from a 4 x 6″ piece of card stock. By Javan Ivey.

Pop-up Collection Video from Australia

This segmentfrom a show about collectors was originally broadcast in Australia back in March. Carol Barton also mentioned it on one of her blogs. Says the blurb:
Graphic designer Corrie Allegro has an immense collection of 3,500 pop-up books collected over 30 years and including four Australian-produced books. The collection dates from the 1830s to the present day, with over 90 pre-1940s books. The books were created by “Paper Engineers” and not made just for children, but rather for adults and students, to explain things – how architecture and famous buildings, the human anatomy and plants and animals work. The earliest pop-up books were made in the 1500s, but they weren’t produced in quantities till the 1860s. Early books illustrated astronomical and scientific works, and it wasn’t till the 18th century that pop-up books were produced for children. The collection includes books illustrated by well known Australian designers such as Graeme Base’s My Grandma lived in Gooliculch, and political cartoonist and satirist, Patrick Cook‘s The Pop-Up Waltzing Matilda. The oldest book in the collection is Metamorphosis which was produced in 1830.

Corrie says, “It all started by coming across a simple pop-up book in London in 1978. As a graphic designer working with paper, textures and colours ….I was hooked. The beauty lies in the unlimited possibilities of designing 2-D images that ‘come to life’ by turning a page”