Creative Arts Book of the Week 09/11/15

Fully booked: cover art & design for books

Welcome to Book of the Week and a peek into some of our Special Collections at the same time…

I have always loved interesting or unusual book covers and Fully booked: cover art & design for books (edited by Matthias Hübner) takes this idea one step further with a compilation of styles for both book covers and content which most of us may never come across in a library or bookshop. Fully booked is designed in two halves which is something I come across regularly as I pore over clothing and home furnishing catalogues. So… you are leafing through the book until you reach the middle and then you need to turn the book upside down to look at the other half. Fully booked was published in 2008 so I guess it was ground breaking (and confusing) in its time. Sigh…2008 seems such a long time ago…

Whichever way you look at it Fully booked is introduced by a collection of interesting short essays by academics Katherine Gillieson and Maria Fusco discussing the merits and limitations of the book as a contemporary art form. I am sure most of my library colleagues would agree that the history of the book is a fascinating subject. However ever since Gutenberg, the printed format and shape of the book has remained largely the same but there have been exceptions to the rule.

I will now digress slightly and mention a few examples where artists and printers have experimented over the course of history. I have also included some images of their books that we hold in the University Library.

Hints of subversion started with William Blake when he set up his own printing press to produce his books. See how he did it here.

The facsimile of the Book of Urizen is in our Rare Books Collection.

And then later, the Avant-Garde and Post-Modernist Movements – as artists and designers experimented with function and form and extended the boundaries of self-expression. There was also the private press movement when books were produced by individuals using hand-made ‘artisan’ methods. These presses flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and contributed to the book design and typography we see today. The Library Catalogue holds a copy of  British Library Studies in the History of the Book: Fine Printing and Private Presses which ironically you can’t touch and admire, because it’s an e-book. Lots of interesting facts though!

We hold many examples of private press books in our Rare Books and Glass Cupboard Collections. Here is a page from The merchant’s tale by Chaucer and printed by the Lion and Unicorn Press London in 1960.

Although the book has a traditional cover the pages are designed so the reader sees the verses simultaneously in Middle English and Modern English with illustrations on the opposite page. If you want to know more about earlier manuscripts of the Canterbury Tales see this short video from the Welsh National Library . It also includes a piece about their Kelmscott Chaucer which was produced by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones in 1896. If you would like to see a facsimile of the Kelmscott Chaucer we hold a copy in our Rare Books Collection.

Our Glass Cupboard Collection also contains a fabulous collection of contemporary pop-up books that are too fragile to be out on the open shelves.

Paper blossoms: a book of beautiful bouquets for the table by Ray Marshall

So moving on to the twentieth century, the early 1970s began to view the book as an art form and the artist’s book  was recognised as a distinct genre.  With this recognition came the start of critical appreciation and academic debate and institutions were founded that were devoted to the study and teaching of ‘book art’. In the 1980s and 1990s, undergraduate and postgraduate degrees were founded in the USA and then an MA was introduced at Camberwell College of Art in London. The Journal of Artists’ Books (JAB) was founded in 1994 to “raise the level of critical inquiry about artists’ books.”

This brings us up to speed for my book review. In Fully booked some of the images modify or re-interpret traditional forms of book design, or parody them; others reject them entirely and create new rules. Examples are discussed briefly in one half: Graphic designer Nicholas Feltron’s 2006 Annual Report (page 8 – other half) mocks the genre by using the language of diagrams and charts to describe his life and activities over the past twelve months . A modern take on the diarist Pepys perhaps. And there are also traditional book parts that have been re-interpreted, such as Matilda Saxow’s Jekyll and Hyde (page 120 – other half again!) (this is where it gets slightly annoying…) where the binding has been distorted  and each page has been folded down the middle to create a step to reflect the dual personality of the lead character. Obviously the steps become deeper as the story progresses and Dr. Jekyll becomes more consumed by the evil Edward Hyde. There is also  The Smallest Book in the World by German typographer Joshua Reichert. His book includes a magnifying glass in a wooden box to read the letters of the alphabet on pages that measure 2.4 x 2.6 mm. That’s (roughly) an inch square to the oldies in the camp!

Of course we probably won’t ever get to see these artists’ books at first hand but we do have displays from time to time on the top floor of the Library when students from CCI have shown off their creative book-making skills. If any academics would like an opportunity for some of their students to exhibit their work here please contact us for more details. Be aware it’s only a small space: small but perfectly formed.

Just like The Smallest Book in the World… However Fully booked was published in 2008 and The Smallest Book now has a rival.

As Faculty Librarians working for the Creative and Cultural Industries we have recently been showing staff and students many examples relating to Architecture and Graphic Design to help them in their teaching and studies. Many had no idea we held these wonderful treasures or that they were so easily accessible. We are hoping that Illustration staff and students will also want to take the opportunity to use our lovely resources for ideas on decoration and design.

Please ask us if there is anything in the Rare Books or Glass Cupboard Collections you would like to come over and see as a result of reading this blog.

Fully booked: cover art & design for books is available in the Library under 741.64 KLA and there are five copies available. There are lots of colourful design ideas for students of Graphic Design and Illustration. Also great for Librarians and anyone else who likes nuggets of information about books and book design. STOP PRESS: Fully booked: ink on paper (part two in this series) has just been ordered for Library stock.

Don’t forget the My Subject pages for other resources relating to this subject area, including eLexicons, a new database that provides a reliable and contextualized learning resource for the visual arts, including Typography, Graphic Design, Graphic Art, Illustration, and Lettering.




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