Hello welcome to episode eight of Books in the Wild, the podcast about exploring books. I’m Keri Schroeder. I have had a few questions for the past seven or so episodes, regarding what exactly is book art. So today I’m going to reel it in and start at the beginning.
What is book art exactly? What is an artist book? Are all art books book art? What do you mean by codex? Or livre d’artiste? Are you making these words up?
I’m glad you asked dear listeners. And I hope we can reach these answers together, and have some fun doing it. Today we are going to talk about the book art basics. I’ve invited a couple book workers to play book art trivia today, and got a new kazoo so you know we’re all in for a big treat, and the best thing about book art trivia is that win or lose – we’re all equal in the world of esoteric nerdery. We will go over a bit of history, and I also have compiled some frequently asked questions from our listeners.
I have a few announcements about some upcoming events, but I’ll save those until the end of the episode. I also recently discovered that Books in the Wild has reviews on iTunes – I had no idea because apparently iTunes doesn’t notify you about these sorts of things? So I wanted to thank Simon, Jim, and LizzyLou for their thoughtful and kind reviews. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to hear that people enjoy the podcast. So thank ya’ll so much. You too can leave a review on iTunes or wherever and I will probably find it eventually.
Hello and welcome to BOOK ART TRIVIA. I am your host, Keri Schroeder. Book Art Trivia consists of three rounds covering various topics book arts terminology, book history, bookbinding structures, typography and printing. For those playing along at home, I would love to hear your answers too, so feel free to comment on the episode post on booksinthewild.com or send me a message. Today’s book artist contestants are Ariel Hansen Strong and Faith Hale!
Welcome and thanks for playing. And now for Book Art Trivia Round One!
These questions will cover general book terminology. Each contestant will have the opportunity to answer. And I may or may not make some comments in between. We’ll see how it goes.
Question One. Book arts is a general term that refers to the creative and craft disciplines of bookmaking. Therefore, book arts includes which of the following subsets:
a. Fine press books, traditional bookbinding and designer bookbinding
b. altered books, artist books, sculptural books, and zines
c. printing and typography
d. installation and performance art dealing with concepts of books
e. all of the above
Ariel: Definitely e. All of the above. And more probably
Faith, any more to add?
Faith: e all of the above. I think book art is anything that is even remotely booky
Keri: Excellent job! Book arts is an umbrella term that houses all things bookish. And by bookish, I mean pertaining to the book as a book itself as an object. Things like bookbinding and printing and papermaking can all be included under book art. Then within those subsets are even more subsets. And within those subsets are even more subsets with experts questioning the definition of these subsets.
So for example bookbinding is a part of book arts for sure. But then within bookbinding there are fine binders and commercial binders and library binders to name a few. Then within even the subset of fine binders you have those that specialize in gold tooling, or leatherwork, or historical bindings, then maybe within the subset of historical binding specialists you’ll have ones that work exclusive on one particular structure. Or within printers there are those who specialize in letterpress, or offset, or lithography, and so many others. There is a lot of overlap between these disciplines, there are a lot of book workers who are well-rounded in multiple disciplines and techniques, but there is also a lot of divide sometimes.
Alright, on to question two. This deals with book history.
In the 15th century, this man introduced movable type to be used with the printing press. Who was he, and why was this a big deal?
Ariel: Gutenberg! He was a German printer and publisher who created movable type out of melted metal. Which was a big deal because before movable type, books were either hand scribed or printed with wooden blocks. And unlike wooden blocks, metal type can be re-melted and reformed and type allowed for a speedy printing process, and the invention gave way for the printing revolution.
Great job Ariel. And Faith, what about your answer?
Faith: Gutenberg. Everybody knows this! He was a printer and he was a big deal because he introduced movable type to be used with the printing press. Um before him, you had to be super fancy to own a book, and after him you had to be a little bit less fancy to own a book. He really democratized ownership of printed stuff, and he made it a lot more accessible for the non-super wealthy people.
Keri: Absolutely. Fantastic answers. Johannes Gutenberg was a German blacksmith, printer, and publisher who instrumental in the development of the printing revolution in Europe. There is a popular misconception that Gutenberg invented the printing press. He did not. But what he did do was develop a more efficient way of casting metal movable type. As Ariel mentioned, prior to this development, there were still books being made, but they were either written by hand, or they were printed from carved wooden blocks. By having movable type, this allowed for texts to be composed letter by letter and printed, then the type could be moved around into a different composition and printed again. You no longer needed to carve a whole new block of wood for each page, or spend hours or days writing a page by hand.
And as Faith mentioned, this revolutionized printing making books slightly more affordable and available to not just aristocrats and the super elite. The books were still expensive, just not as expensive as previous books. For example, in 1455 Gutenberg printed around 200 copies of the 42-line bible, also aptly known as the Gutenberg bible. Each copy cost 30 florins, which was approximately three years’ salary for an average clerk at the time. However, this was still far less expensive than a handwritten manuscript bible in which one copy could take upwards of a year to make.
The Gutenberg bible was a massive undertaking. Each bible consisted of two volumes totaling 1,286 pages and measuring 11-' by 16 inches. They are set in two columns of large, black-letter type of 42 lines per page. This format of having the bible pages divided into two columns was extremely influential on the style of bibles even today. Out of the 200 copies, approximately 180 were printed on rag paper, and 20 were printed on vellum which is a tanned and stretched calf skin, each vellum copy required the skins of about 160 animals.
Today, Gutenberg bibles are wildly rare an expensive. Only 48 known copies survive – 36 on paper, 12 on parchment. In 1978, the going price for a Gutenberg bible on vellum was $2.2 million. A single leaf can easily fetch more than $60,000. In 1994, Bill Gates purchased a complete set, meaning two volumes of the bible for a rumored 31 million dollars.
Now we’re going to jump ahead a few centuries. Question Number Three. American pop artist Edward Ruscha is often credited with creating the first modern artist book in 1963. Ruscha’s innovative book consisted of twenty-six photographs with short captions. What were the 26 photographs of, and why was this significant?
Faith: Gas stations! 26 gas stations! Ed Ruscha took pictures of 26 gasoline stations, and this was significant because once again this was not fancy. I feel like all of the exciting book art advancements was when we went from super inaccessible and difficult to get your hands on, to really easily accessible, not only did he take pictures of something that any motorist can see but he made it available in a form that was a really simply printed book – it wasn’t on fancy paper, and hadn’t been done with special materials, it was just a mass-market press book, even though at the time it was super cheap and now they are super expensive to get a hold of. When I first became enamoured with this book I would look it up on ebay all the time, and I learned very quickly that now they are highly prized and really expensive.
Great answer, Faith. Ariel?
Ariel: Gasoline stations! American gasoline stations specifically. Why was this significant? I guess because it was cheap and mass-produced which defied the idea at the time that an artist book had to be expensive and finely crafted
Keri: Excellent answers. Now, bringing up 26 Gasoline Stations by Ed Ruscha as a key moment in the history of book art is probably a bit contentious for some book artists. I feel like Ed Ruscha to book art is like Pablo Picasso to cubism, where you’re gonna get the art historians saying “boring” and start naming all the other artists who started cubism and influenced Picasso and yet Picasso gets all the credit, and so on. Which are all valid and true points. However, it is kind of hard to deny Picasso’s reach and popularity. Same with Ed Ruscha, where in a way, his importance to artist’s books is because of his importance to artists books.
Our contestants’ answers were pretty thorough so I don’t have much more to add, other than to emphasize its importance as a democratic multiple, meaning that it was inexpensive, easily accessible, and breaks down some of the preciousness sometimes associated with artist books.
Question Number Four.
THIS is a technique of relief printing using a printing press, a process by which many copies are produced by repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface against sheets or a continuous roll of paper. This is done by composing and locking movable type into the "bed" or "chase" of a press, inking it, and pressing paper against it to transfer the ink from the type which creates an impression on the paper. What is this printing technique called?
Ariel: Letterpress printing
Keri: Letterpress printing comes up a lot in the book art world, because it was the primary printing process from the mid-15th century through the early twentieth century. This is when offset printing was developed and became the main printing process for books and newspapers because it was cheaper and faster. But letterpress is still used today, and there are a lot of die hard letterpress fanatics because it’s beautiful and very hands-on.
Question Five. This is a tricky one. Please take as much time as you need. What is an artist book?
Ariel: In my terms, an artist book is a work of art that uses or references or exists in the form of the book, or uses the qualities inherent to the book form, such as sequence, pacing, intimacy, combining text and image, or the options for multiple readings, etc. An artist book might be self-referential, as in the form refers to or informs the content and vice-versa the content informs or refers to the form.
Faith: I think an artist book, it’s one of those questions that even after studying it for several years now, I can’t give you an exact definition, but I think the easiest most cop-out answer to this is an artist book is something that an artist tells you is a book. So, it can look like a book, or it can not look like a book. It can operate like a book, or it can operate totally differently. The most convenient answer that made me stop wrestling with it and stop trying to define it is that I read a book by Gord Peter and he’s a furniture maker and he says that he shows somebody something and says that that’s a chair, and sees how their knowledge of the fact that it’s supposed to be a chair affects their interaction with said chair. Maybe it’s a pile of ashes. Maybe it’s a chair but it’s been so covered with things that you can’t actually sit in it. And I feel like a book is very similar, where maybe it doesn’t have pages, or maybe it doesn’t have a cover, maybe it doesn’t even have words but someone has told you that this is a book and as the viewer you have a responsibility or a certain set of filters with which to interpret and analyze it. Or maybe just even experience it.
Keri: Thank you so much for your thoughtful, detailed responses. Everyone gets a point for that one! Oh boy, the artist book. It’s not universally agreed upon where the placement of the apostrophe should be placed in artists book, let alone what they are. To me, an artist book is conceptual art, essentially, that in some way interrogates the book through form and/or concept. An artist book can be an actual book, but it must in some way expand beyond that – it must need to be a book and use its physical form to support its content. A great example of this would be Julie Chen’s book Chrysalis, which uses the metamorphosis of a chrysalis as an allegory for the stages of grief. The book comes in a box resembling a specimen case, and inside sits an actual chrysalis-shaped object. The viewer must open the case, and remove this precious and delicate looking object. The chrysalis is held together by magnetic hinges that the viewer must then peel back to access the small crescent-shaped book inside, thereby making the viewer an active participant in the unraveling and transformation of the object. The innermost book is small and feels delicate in one’s hands. The text inside deals with how stages of grief can transform oneself into something unrecognizable and new. The reading experience of Chrysalis happens not only in the text, but all the elements of the object working together in tangent, creating an intimate, immersive experience.
And yet another example of an artist book might not have any physical elements of a book at all, but instead deal with different aspects of the book conceptually. Heidi Nelson is an interdisciplinary artist whose work often explores ideas of communication, data collection, and the reading experience. Nelson’s installation Outernet Library Branch – Wave Farm is a receiving station for Outernet data transmissions in Acra, New York. The features a satellite dish antenna surrounded by Adirondack-chair-inspired seating, with a bench oriented toward each cardinal direction. The WiFi network access area is defined by a large mowed meadow. Visitors can access the expanding library collection of data broadcast from a network of satellites in space, is a new and separate system outside the Internet. Outernet is not a book per se, but offers similar experiences of a book such as the transference of information and the collaborative organization of imagery and text.
On the other other hand, there are books that can contain artwork but not be artist books. Livre d’artiste are books in which the text and images tend to be not very collaborative. Usually they are deluxe editions of a classic text with illustrative prints created by famous artists. Books like a French translation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven by Stephen Mallarme illustrated by Eduard Manet, or James Joyce’s Ulysses illustrated by Matisse. They are usually finely bound with ornate covers and exquisite craftsmanship. They’re luxurious books for the sake of being luxurious books, but the concept doesn’t usually extend beyond the content found within the text itself.
We will return with round two after this commercial break!
Woman #1: (Sigh)
Woman #2: What’s the matter?
Woman #1: Oh just trying to get some shopping done, I’ve been all over town but can’t find the last couple items on my list.
Woman #2: That’s too bad. What are you looking for?
Woman #1: Well, you know how Tim and I are redecorating? I really need a few cactus throw pillows, and a real striking centerpiece for our living room –something that really expresses our love for printmaking, and fine art, and Beyonce.
Woman #2: You know, that is so funny that you would mention that and also eerily specific, but I happen to know just the place!
Woman #1: Really?
Woman #2: Yeah, I just got some great book-themed baby clothes for a baby shower last week and treated myself to a linocut print of Queen B herself from Cloudship Creative over at cloudship.etsy.com, and if you enter the code BOOKS you will get 10% off
Woman #1: Amazing! What was the site again?
Woman #2: That’s Cloudship.etsy.com
Keri: Now for round two of book art trivia: What am I? I will provide a definition for a book arts related item or structure. Contestants, your correct answer will name the item being described.
Item One. I am a book made by many sheets of paper one on top of the other, adhered together on one side with a spine, and typically covered with a thicker, more durable cover.
Ariel: What is a perfect bound book
Yes, that counts. I was looking for something more general though. Faith?
Faith: I am a book made by many sheets of paper, I am a codex
Keri: Excellent. Both answers are correct. A Codex is a typical, everyday book, with pages and a spine and a cover. Ariel mentioned a perfect bound book, which is a type of codex. Perfect bound is a commercial binding that consists of single-sheets of paper glued on one edge and attached directly to the cover – think of a mass-market paperback, that is a perfect bound book, ironically named because they are just awful.
Item number two. I am an inscription usually found at the end of a book that contains facts and information about my production.
Faith: The inscription usually found at the end of a book is the colophon. These are the nerdiest things I’ve ever seen in my life, because they’ll tell you, I mean not all the time, sometimes they’re very normal and they give the most basic information about the book but sometimes they talk about the paper and where it was made and who made it and the typeface and who designed it and the ink and what kind of ink it is, and that I think is the birth certificate of the book. It gives you all the information of where it came from and who made it come from there.
Item Two. I am a slim slightly tapered piece of bone, or sometimes I am now made out of Teflon. I fold and crease paper.
Ariel: Bone folder
Faith: I am a bone folder. I love Teflon folders. I also love bonefolders that have been altered. When I worked for the fine binding apprentice, he had like these super tiny ones and he had big fat ones and he had all different sizes but I did learn though when I had to help them shape them is that you should never sand bone outside of water because the flakes of bone will get into your lungs and do horrible damage.
Keri: Item three. I am a book made of one long sheet of paper, folded in a zig-zag formation.
Ariel: A single-sheet pamphlet, or a snake book, I dunno it has a lot of names
Faith: a book made of one long sheet of paper, folded in a zig-zag formation is an accordion book.
Keri: I will accept both of those answers. It does have a lot of names. I was aiming for concertina or accordion book but now I am realizing that snake book or flutter book would work too.
Item four. I am reddish-brown deterioration spots on paper, and share my name with a cute furry forest dweller.
Ariel: Is the cute dwelling forest creature reddish brown too? Cause I’m gonna guess a fox
Faith: I am foxing! Why is it called that though? Does anyone else know? I wish I did.
Keri: Correct! Foxing is an age-related detoriation of paper. You ever see an old book or paper with reddish brown splotches? That is called foxing. And thank you for your question Faith – I did a little bit of research and it seems that foxing is possibly named because of the reddish brown color, or because the color is caused by the chemical ferric oxide.
This concludes round two of book art trivia. It’s a close call! If I were actually keeping score, I think it’s a tie? We’re about to start our final round, but first here is another message from our sponsors.
(COYOTE BONES COMMERCIAL)
Keri: Welcome back folks. Before we move on to round three, let’s learn a little more about our contestants.
First we have Ariel Hansen Strong. Tell us about yourself Ariel.
Ariel: I am book artist, print maker and designer based out of San Francisco. I got my BFA in sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute, which is where I first learned about book art and where I fell in love with it. I have a MFA now in Book Art and Creative Writing from Mills College, and I currently teach book art related public education courses at SFAI. My work usually centers around socio-economic issues and you can check it out at arielhansenstrong.comI also create printed goods under the name Cloudship Creative, and you can find me on facebook as Cloudship or on Instagram at Cloudship_AHS
Fantastic. It is a pleasure to have you on the show Ariel. And now let’s meet Faith Hale. Tell us about yourself Faith.
Faith: My name is Faith Hale. I work for a company called CreativeBug that does online art and craft tutorials. So I had originally gotten my MFA in Book Art and Creative Writing from Mills College. I really wanted to teach book art in a college setting, and now that I’m at this kind of platform it’s basically like a Netflix for crafters. I’m really excited to be able to expose book art to a broader audience. In the month of September, I’m doing a daily book art class and each day we do a spread or technique and it’s really interesting to see the kinds of people that are taking my class and what is coming out of it. It’s such a privilege and I’m perpetually excited to be working with this kind of community.
Keri: Wonderful. Is everyone ready for Round Three, Who’s that book worker? In this round, I will provide the duties and job description of a book professional and you will name their job title.
Number one. Sam deals with the provision and maintenance of a collection of books, which is usually accessible to a defined community for reference or borrowing. Sam’s duties may include archiving, building bibliographic databases, and developing community events. What is Sam’s profession?
Ariel: Sam is a librarian
Faith: Sam’s a librarian.
Keri: Correct! Two points! Profession number two. Dean is a craftsman who works in a specialized trade that assembles and covers books. His duties may include creating decorative coverings, leather working, and gold tooling. What is Dean?
Ariel: Dean is a bookbinder
Faith: Dean is a craftsman. I would call Dean a fine binder. That was actually my first professional job in the book world, was apprenticing for a fine binder and he was so perfect. He was everything you would imagine a bookbinder to be: angry, and loud, and very opinionate and also super passionate and excited and delicate. He made the most exquisite historical reproductions and also is very skilled leatherworker.
Keri: That is correct. And thank you for the insider look at bookbinding apprenticeships Faith. Profession three. Castiel preserves books and manuscripts from further damage. He does this by repairing when necessary with archival, reversible materials and ensuring proper storage and care.
Ariel: A conservator/preservationist
Faith: an archivist. I think?
Keri: Eh, I’ll give points for both those answers. The answer I was going for was book conservator, which is a profession dedicated to the preservation of books and paper. They don’t necessarily restore books and paper, but make reversible repairs and decisions regarding its storage and environment in order to prolong the life of the object.
Profession number four. Bobby creates artwork that deals with the concepts and form of the book.
Ariel: Bobby is a book artist
Faith: Bobby is a book artist
Keri: Correct. That was a bit of an easy one. This one might be a little tougher. Profession number five. Ruby is a designer who specializes in the art of arranging type to make written language legible, readable and appealing. She selects and arranges typefaces, point sizes, leading and kerning.
Ariel: Type designer/type setter
Faith: I think that Ruby is a graphic designer.
Keri: Excellent. I’ll accept both answers. I was going for type designer or typographer which I guess is a specialty within graphic design.
What an exhilarating game! It looks like the score is uh… fifteen and fifteen? Which means we have a book art trivia tie because we’re all winners here. For those playing along at home, I would love to hear your answers as well. Send me an email or post on our facebook!
I recently asked on facebook for book art questions, and asked some book friends for their frequently asked questions as well. And I mean book friends like friends who are also into books, not literal books that I consider to be friends, I’m also not sure if that’s something that really needed clarification, but you never know.
So I took these frequently asked questions and talked about them with some fellow book artists and friends and we came to some answers together, so it’s not like I’m speaking on behalf of all the book artists in the world. So here are the top five questions we have gathered.
The number one question that I have been asked is what is book art? Which I hope the book art trivia game helped explain a little bit. But basically to reiterate, book art is an umbrella term for many crafts and disciplines involved in bookmaking. This includes but is not limited to, bookbinding, letterpress printing, zines and ephemera making, paper marbling, etc etc etc
Question two. How do book artists make money? Who buys this stuff?
Great question. And something that I definitely something that I need to learn more about myself. Book artists are just artists, just like the painters and photographers and other creative professionals and so I think their source of income is much the same as any other artist. You have the commercial artists that make money by making custom products or designs – for book artists and printers it would probably be stuff like wedding invitations or posters or labels or custom bindings for books, that sort of thing. Then you also have the fine art side, where book artists might sell their own creative work to libraries, museums, or private collectors. Education is another component, there are a lot of book artists who make a living teaching book arts in the many book centers out there like San Francisco Center for the Book, or the Center for the Book in New York, or The Paper and Book Intensive, or Minneapolis Center for the Book, or there are many book art programs at a university level such as Mills College, University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Univerisity of Iowa, University of Utah, Wells College, San Francisco Art Institute… This is by no means a comprehensive list, there are a lot out there.
Question three. How is Book Art different from graphic novels, zines, or art and print portfolios? Oh my gosh Selena, I don’t know. This is a tough one. But I think the answer is, they don’t have to be different, there can definitely be some overlap, but at the same time, just because a book has art in it doesn’t mean it is an artist book. I think to be an artist book, or to even really be housed under the term book art, the content really needs to be intrinsically tied to the book itself, either in concept or form. Whereas, there may be many graphic novels whose stories can be told just as well through another medium and really ignores the fact that it is a book at all, to be an artist book means that the form of the book itself really plays a big part in the overall meaning. Book Art is also one of those things where the more you learn about it, the more aware you are of just how much you don’t know. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you learn that Columbus discovered America and Pluto is the ninth planet and all the dinosaurs seemed to live together during the same time period, and then a few years later you’re told “by the way, literally none of that is true, welcome to the uncertainty and existential dread of adulthood, good luck trusting anyone ever again.” So maybe book arts is like that? But we get to make stuff with our hands?
Question four. Do you hate e-readers?
I think there’s a misconception that book artists are holding onto dead technology for the sake of I dunno, it’s preciousness? or for tradition’s sake? But I don’t know any book artists out there that are anti-technology. I believe that Book artists make books because there is something about the care and craftsmanship that adds a noticeable difference between a hand-made book and a commercial paperback. It’s not merely to add difficulty and time to the task, I mean, no one likes things to be more difficult if you’re essentially getting the same outcome. I also don’t believe that new technologies necessarily need to devour each other, there is plenty of room for e-books and physical books.
Question five. What do you think is the future of the book? Also a tough one. Because I’m not a witch or a fortune teller, but I think that in the near future you’re going to see a rise in small independent presses and finely made books. Because publishing has wildly changed due to things like self-publishing and the e-books, and it’s really difficult to compete with online shopping or big companies that kind of have the market cornered for mass-market books. So, we have to offer something that they can’t which is human touch, craftsmanship, personalized experiences, maybe more limited edition works, things like that. I also think there will be or should be more cross-over between artist books and digital books, hopefully. This question especially, I would love to hear your thoughts on.
Before we conclude this book art basics episode, I had an announcement about an exciting exhibition at San Francisco Center for the Book. Degrees of Innovation will be opening on October 13, 2017 and runs through January 17, 2018 featuring the work of twenty alumnae from the Mills College Book Art and Creative Writing MFA Program. The opening reception will be held on October 13, 2017 at 6pm and there will be an artist talk on December 8, 2017. For more information you can visit sfcb.org
I wanted to thank Ariel Hansen Strong and Faith Hale again for playing Book Art Trivia, you can check out Ariel’s artwork at ariel Hansen strong .com or follow her on Instagram at cloudship_ahs and facebook as cloudship. You can find Faith’s zines and other creative projects on Instagram @ faith, with like 11 a’s, or go to creativebug.com to sign up for her online book art classes.