In some ways an artist’s book can be more like a performance than like an ordinary book, both for the artist and the audience. For a start, they are often encountered in public settings and are rarely read in bed. More importantly though, artist's books can be multi-dimensional, sensual, time-based. Designing an artist's book is therefore a complicated process, taking into account at least seven inter-related decisions.
Click to enlarge this diagram
I think my best book designs are those that begin with the content, but sometimes a structural experiment or an inspiring piece of paper will launch a design which can hold its own.
The decision making process is iterative as each consideration has to be checked against the others. Design decision making require balancing conceptual expression against the demands of the materials, the requirements of different structures, the needs of an imagined audience and the limitations of my production capacities.
For me, designing a book to make as multiples for an edition has many more limitations and demands than designing a unique, one off, book. A unique book can be more elaborate and time consuming to make, it can use expensive rare materials, its content can be created by hand rather than printed or it can be very big. My unique books can be, and often are, experimental.
My editioned books on the other hand, should be relatively economical in both the materials and effort required to make them. Right now I’m in the process of developing an edition that was conceived when some very small images and some small pieces of paper were occupying my attention for different reasons.
My search for images of fossils to embroider exposed me to some beautiful electron microscope photographs of microfossils, and I decided to make sketches of some microfossils on small loose pages made from the creamy offcut strips left over from the history book edition.
As my stack of sketches of radiolaria and other microfossils gradually expanded, I began to experiment with miniature book bindings, reteaching myself neglected skills, since for many years I have favoured contemporary folded and adhesive structures over sewn ones. So far I have made seven miniature case bound books, each slightly different, as I experiment with variations and try to perfect my skills (and get quicker, since production speed is important to the economics of editioning).
Meanwhile I am trying to figure out the most economical way to reproduce the images, which I think may be to print them onto a single sided A3 sheet. That requirement in turn influenced the book structure which now involves sewing accordion folded signatures inside a hard cover. Single sided printing generally leads to more folding than cutting and the resulting folded foredges lends a pleasing thickness to the text block, giving more substance to the tiny book.
I will continue reassessing every aspect of the project until all the elements are in harmony, so nothing is final including the content. Happily I have no immediate deadline, so I can continue toying with the design until it is just right.
In the meantime, I thought I might share some of the bounty of my mini book binding experiments. Bibliophilia’s November giveaway is a pair of miniature blank books: two of the series I have made as practice. They won't be perfect, but they are cute! If you would like a chance to win a pair of tiny blank books, comment on this post before 18 November. I will randomly select a winner and make an announcement soon after.