I finished reading Sarah Bodman's Creating Artists' Books today.
This book is described as a handbook for the "student or practised printmaker who is experimenting in a new area." As such, it's an overview of the main points of the medium (if we are to describe artists' books as a medium), surveying briefly its immediate art-historical antecedents (livres d'artiste, livre de luxe, the Kelmscott Press, et al), and spending longer on a thematic survey of contemporary practitioners. Bodman's descriptions of these illuminate her subject headings: using text... collaboration between artists and writers...printmaking process for artists' books... digital output... making book with limited materials and equipment..multiples and 'zines, et cetera. Under each of these headings she has elaborated descriptions of the work of book artists. For instance, John Bently's collaborations with five Dundee residents provided the text for A Handful of Memories, Dundee, is given as an example of artists working with others who have textual input (and who often provide materials, handwritten or otherwise- including ephemera, photographs) which complicate the artist's role as a collaborator, editor and as a designer for material which already exists. Bodman's chapter on unique books looks at (among others) the work of Guy Begbie and Miriam Schaer, with descriptions of how these artists use unusual materials and interrogate the notion of the book. The chapter on digital book production includes work by myself, Andrew Eason, and by Douglas Holleley, Underpinning the organisation of the chapters, and culminating in chapters on display, marketing and exhibiting, is an undercurrent of the artists positioning themselves vis a vis the difficulties, (both technical and financial) of production using the various media, establishing a working practice, and ultimate intentions for the book.
Each chapter also includes advice on the pitfalls and positive characteristics of different production routes. The organisation of the chapters, from the history of the form, to chapters dealing with collaboration and content, to those on design and output method, then through sections on design intention (eg 'zines or those works intended to avoid the usual art institutions) describes what might be seen as a journey through an artist's encounter with the book form. Moving from contextualising the book by historical references, to the practicalities of production involving medium and content, and finally to the fate of the book in exhibition and distribution, it presents all the various aspects of the form someone with minimal knowledge might need to begin: there is even included a chapter on simple binding methods, with the redoubtable Tom Sowden demonstrating stitching methods in a series of detailed photographic steps. Lest I should imply that Creating Artists' Books is organised in a simply programmatic way, let me also note that despite its' modest length at 128 pages, the complexity of the relationship between material, technical/financial capability, intention and design is indicated from the outset in the chapter entitled Form Follows Function. Thus the arc of the chapters, whilst describing the evolving interest one might take in book works does not neglect the relationship that's constantly moving backwards and forwards through the medium between materials, history, content and intention. As an introduction it does not lean too heavily on the theoretical checks and balances this implies, but it is nonetheless evident in the identification of the different strands of book working identified in the chapter headings.
Creating Artists' Books has a good balance of instructional material, introductions to techniques and processes, and examples from contemporary practitioners. The book is illustrated in colour throughout, with many excellent examples shedding light on areas of contemporary practice that would be difficult to describe in words alone. Bodman's use of illustrations for this purpose is strikingly effective- no less than one would expect from someone whose own artists' books are such good examples of careful and engaging design. Unfortunately, Bodman has been too modest and has denied us the chance of seeing examples of her artworks here, but Creating Artists' Books is nonetheless a richly rewarding introduction to the form.
Finally, appendices include substantial material on galleries, shops, collections and websites relevant to the subject of use to anyone with an interest in the subject.