Artists Books

Artists Book Exchange #1

I have been working on a different kind of artists book project for a while and now it is complete I would like to share it with you. I responded to a call for participation in a book exchange, where a number of book artists all respond to a broad theme within a set of basic construction parameters. We then make enough of our books to send a copy to each other. Simple.

The project was instigated by Cheryl Penn through the Artists Books 3.0 Network. There are ten of us in our group and there are two groups; one working to a pamphlet stitch format and the other to accordion format, so ten copies were to be made. This was the first time I have participated in a collaboration like this, and the first time I have made substantial artists books in any quantity, so I was a little apprehensive. I have participated in a similar kind of group endeavour where a set number of us all submit an equal number of copies of a single page to be assembled into a book for each of us, but not finished books.

The specifications (if they can be called that) were quite simple.  The theme was biography. It could be someone famous, close to you or even about yourself. It could be a formal biography, a memory book, a factual reckoning, the life story of a fictitious person or a series of personal impressions, it was that open.  For the pamphlet stitch group, the format was A6 closed size with a hard/strong cover with 7 – 8 folded A5 sheets making 28-32 A6 pages (the accordion group worked to the same finished size and had a minimum panel/fold count.) These specs ensured that everyone created and received something of equal ‘body’ and would get the same reciprocal experience.

The first task was to decide upon the subject. I first considered myself (conceited, I know!) but I’ve had an interesting couple of years recently and had some first time experiences that I thought might yield some interesting subject matter:

I subsequently rejected myself as a subject, knowing that no good would come of it.

I toyed with a number of historical figures too as I am fascinated by the realities behind the official records that History – with a capital H – retains about people. I think it would be good to read a biography of, say Winston Churchill, from a much more personal and irrelevant  perspective,  and with some wild assumptions thrown in for good measure- “After a long and important speech, Winston loved nothing better than to curl up in the corner of the war rooms on a large bean bag with the latest Mills and Boon romance. It had a soothing effect upon everyone during those dark days of the blitz.”

Eventually, I decided to continue upon a similar track to another project I am working on (more of which I will share in a separate post!) that deals with less conventional approaches to story telling and non traditional narratives. My subject then became arbitrary and I chose a name that has stuck with me since childhood. All will be revealed later.

Having recently got my print studio operational after a long period below a collapsing roof I was determined to produce some original linocut prints. Unfortunately, after preparing a storyboard and working on some preliminary drawings, my skin problems flared up and my fingers became very sore – the skin on my fingertips becomes so fragile that even the lightest pressure would result in a split. I know there are people out there who manage great things with far greater afflictions than mine; sans limb for instance, but three or four splits on the ends of each finger and thumb on both hands is not conducive to any kind of finesse. Plus, there is limited demand for blood smeared, cack-handed books.

I needed to change my approach to entirely digital so I began by trawling my resource files and my internet inspiration favourites. I kept coming back to this old Victorian portrait of two gentlemen, one standing with a splendid waxed moustache and cane, the other seated in a hammock, with his boater in hand.

The image is centred upon the left hand of the standing man upon the shoulder of his seated companion; not an unusual pose or uncommon gesture, but the direct stare of both men invite you to – no, dare you – to question their relationship and the reason to preserve the memory photographically. An idea was forming…


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