The evolution of an artist’s book

I came across this recently and thought it would be of great value and interest to all you book-y folks. It’s a lecture by book artist Sarah Bryant of Big Jump Press given at Wells College. In it,  she closely examines and shares her process in creating one artist’s book (produced in an edition of 75, I believe).

It’s a process that took several years (and a great many mock-ups–I’d guess at least 10), and that deserves to be noted. That being said, the steps of her process (free-flow idea gathering and brainstorming, photography, sketching, concept development, book planning, design, organization, mock-up making) can also be done on a shorter time line, and I think that the careful consideration she gives to every choice is well worth emulating.

As we discussed in class, so much of creating an artist’s book is about careful decision-making and having a reason for doing things a certain way. Of course, the ideas shift and change throughout the process, and this project is an amazing example of that  evolution–truly, an evolution–of one project.

The talk is about 50 minutes long, but it’s worth a watch. Here are a few particularly relevant and interesting points Sarah made:

On giving thought and time to the seemingly tiny details: “People will notice even if they don’t notice they notice. … It makes a huge difference to be deliberate about these choices.”

On conscious attention to the process/evolution: “I do like to, at the end of a project, gather it [process materials] together and look at the narrative. … It’s so easy to go off the rails. You’re making a book about one thing and then you end up making , I don’t know, something else–sometimes badly. It helps to keep you focused to keep a record.”

On the joy of editions: “I’ve always been drawn to editions. Every time I’ve ever made a thing … I’ve always been disappointed because it wasn’t 20 identical things.”

On the idea of forefronting the book: “I don’t think you can make artist’s books without having the project be about the book. You’re always going to be making work about the book. … Even if you’re making a book that you think is about something else, you’re still working in book form and that means you find something in the book form that is worthy to talk about. … It’s always about the book.”

On working with a variety of tools AND choosing the right tool for the project: “I see the letterpress as  a tool the way a pen is a tool or a pencil is a tool and a computer is a tool. All of these things are tools, and I use them all. I don’t necessarily need to print letterpress. … To me what’s important is the execution of an idea.  I like using letterpress and  printing that way because I’m in control of every single thing. It’s a simple machine, I can mix my ink, I can design the thing. I can digitally design, I can carve a block. There are a million ways for me to do what I want. But also, it’s a limitation, and I like having a limitation. I like being able to work with a set of rules that I can find ways around. But I’m working with a set of restrictions that I think makes me more creative rather than less.”


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