Sarah Bodman: Creating Artists’ Books

Sarah Bodman, Artists' BooksI recently bought, finally read yesterday, and immediately liked Sarah Bodman’s Creating Artists’ Books. The blurb on the backcover says (among other things):

This book provides a practical guide for visual artists who are interested in creating their own work in the artist’s book format. After a brief look at the history of the book as an artwork in its own right, Sarah Bodman examines various methods and practical issues involved in making an artist’s book, illustrating each area with examples of work from a number of artists.

I quote this because I think the book can totally live up to the expectation raised by this introduction. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let us start with some facts:

The copy I have is a reprint by A&C Black, London. It is a bound (with thread) softcover, and it cost me 19,99 Euro. It has 128 pages, and numerous color photographs of artists’ books.

The table of contents reads as follows:

1. Form follows function: inspiration and communication through shape and materials
2. Using text
3. Collaboration between artists and writers
4. Printmaking process for creating artists’ books
5. Digital output and computer-based books
6. Making books with limited materials and equipment
7. Unique books, altered books and archives
8. Larger editions, offset litho and ISBNs
9. Using the book to document place and journey
10. Multiples and ‘zines
11. Selecting paper and binding books
12. Display, marketing and exhibiting
Appendices: Bookshops and galleries in the UK, International bookshops and galleries, Artist’s book centers, Book arts collections and archives, Organisations, Artist|s book fairs and events, Book arts websites, References and contemporary book arts exhibition catalogues, Journals featuring artists” books, Further reading on the book arts, Terms used, Endnotes, Index

What to expect and what not to expect: This book does not give you a step by step instruction of how to make your book and what to put in there. The different chapters rather provide the nagging question: “Have you thought about making it this way?” over and over again. In chapter 4 for example, she explains why people like letter press printed stuff. She displays various examples of books made with a letterpress to show what type of content is usually presented this way, and what kind of artists make use of handset type. (A method used in every chapter: Rather than defining the topic at hand with rigorous words, you will find many and diverse examples of books for which the topic at hand is the defining feature.) You will not find instructions of how to operate such a machine, how to set type, and also she does not make the decision for you whether this is the right choice for your book. – And immediately follows chapter 5 in which she will show you another set of equally impressive, this time digitally printed books. Again, she is listing the advantages and disadvantages of this method, and telling you roughly what to do and whom to ask should this be your chosen way of printing.

All in all it is a presentation of what artists’ book can be. It shows their diversity, and makes you want to make your own book. At the end you will find explicit instructions for two simple methods for making books by hand: a four hole Japanese stab stitch, and a simple pamphlet. This is useful for those who have never bound a book before, and want to start making their own immediately after reading this. But you won’t buy this book for these instructions.

Compared to for example “Penland book of handmade books” Sarah Bodman’s book does not impress with beautiful photography (although it contains more than a photo per page), and is not as detailed about artists and their books. But it is also much less intimidating, and encourages you to explore our own way into the realm of book arts. It celebrates the content and the whit of the artists who made the presented books more than their book’s form. The first chapter is a headline to the presentation of the rest: Form follows function.

And this book will help you find the right form for what you want to say.

2 replies on “Sarah Bodman: Creating Artists’ Books”

  1. I have the Sarah Bodman book and your review is very accurate, in my opinion. I think it’s a good book to have in the collection but as you say, not a book that gives instructions, more like ideas and inspiration. I’m a great fan of the Penland book and have found a lot of very useful information there.

    The more I see of your little monsters the more I like them. I’m going to New Zealand til the end of March so I’ll have a lot to catch up on, when I return.

  2. Hi Carol,it is good to hear that you agree with my description of the book. I couldn’t tell whether I like the Penland book better, it wants to say something quite different, which is what I wanted to point out here.

    Oh, and thanks for liking my monster books 🙂
    I am still working on making them more interesting: I am planning to add eyes on the inside pages, too, so that the book blinks at you while turning the pages. Not sure yet whether this will really work within a reasonable amount of work to make it, though. Still working on that…

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