Many printmakers are also book artists, or collaborate with book artists, which you can see at the Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair if you have the opportunity to visit this weekend. This article is by no means a comprehensive overview of the art of bookbinding, but rather a tip-of-the-iceberg introduction to whet your appetite for the medium.
What is an artist book? Like the term “printmaking,” “artist book” covers a range of objects. Traditionally, an artist book is a hand-bound book. It can be a blank journal, or have just images, or have letterpressed text. But the term “artist book” also applies to altered books, where an artist modifies an existing book structure, or even to objects that don’t seem to be books at all, such as boxes or box-based art (see the image to the Left).
Traditional binding styles While it is possible to discuss this subject for hours, lets just go over some basic styles you might see at the fair this weekend. Of course, there is traditional Western book binding, where the artist book is bound to look just like a hard copy you might buy in a bookstore. These books can have cloth, leather, or paper coverings. One of my favorite things about hand-bound books (though it is not necessarily found on all of them) is the uneven edges on the side of the pages. This happens as artists fold papers with a deckle (the ruffly edge of artist papers) and maybe not all the sections of pages line up perfectly–its hand bound, not machine cut, after all.
Coptic Binding is one of the oldest forms of book binding, and I am told was originally used by Coptic Christians in Egypt to bind early Bibles. Coptic bindings have an exposed spine, where the pages are stitched together, and lie completely flat when opened. Think of them as the precursor to the spiral bound notebook.
Accordion Binding is another very common style of binding. It’s exactly what is sounds like, pages are folded accordion style. Often the book can fold completely out, such as Rosemary’s book to the left. These books can get quite fancy and long, see Fleming’s Cloud Garden, below, which is a double accordion.
Other things to look for–in either the front of back of handmade books is usually a page or insert that says what the font is, how or where the book was made, and what the edition is. For example, if the book says it is 1/10, there are only 9 other books like that one. Also note the quality of the text in letterpressed books. The print is actually indented into the paper from the pressure of the type or plate, just like a fancy wedding invitation. Often times, hand-printed illustrations create an imprint on the page of hand-made books as well. Finally, be open to the creative and unusual objects that may not first seem like books. Study the unusual shapes (circle accordion books or organic forms instead of the traditional rectangle), look for book-like construction (“pages” might transform into a topographic rendering of a landscape), and enjoy all the beautiful textures, colors, and stories artists books have to share!