Artists’ Books

Amid discussions over the future of the printed book and the inevitable transition to digital reading, there runs a current of publishing that centers around the idea of the book as an artistic medium. Artists’ books can be difficult to define: they may be produced as a unique object or as an edition of many; they span a vast range of form and content; and they may push the boundaries of what is considered a book. In essence, though, an artist’s book examines and responds to form and content in equal measure.

Here in Portland, we have some fantastic resources for those interested in making artists’ books: you can learn to make paper at Pulp and Deckle, learn basic typesetting and letterpress printing at the IPRC, and gain access to a full studio of letterpress and bindery equipment at Em Space (they are looking for new members, too!). We even have a dedicated book arts gallery, 23 Sandy. But if you happen to be in the Bay Area this February 8–11, you’ll have the chance to attend the CODEX International Book Fair and Symposium, the largest event of its kind in the world. The event occurs every other year, and brings together leading book artists and fine presses from all parts of the world. Robert Bringhurst, who wrote the typographic bible most of us Oolies read in our book design class, says of the event:

The [biennial] Codex gatherings, held since 2007 on the shores of San Francisco Bay, are the most important symposia in the world for those concerned with the arts of the book. The Book Art Object anthologies—of which there are now two—are the substantial printed records of these occasions. No one who cares about books and their fate in the present world should be without them.

Many of us booklovers are adamant that the printed book is here to stay; but as we move more and more toward ebooks and digital media, it is interesting to consider taking advantage of the physical properties of printed books in a more intentional way, like this take on Dangerous Liasons by Éva Valicsek. (Whether or not this would unduly complicate the reading experience is yet another discussion.) While artists’ books are at the extreme end of formal experimentation, I think we’re going to see a lot more “special edition” books with high-end production values. In much the same way that vinyl records often come in deluxe packaging and include a digital download, I could easily envision an increase of deluxe books bundled with an ebook download.

Although it won’t exactly be a special edition, here at Ooligan we are embarking on our most ambitiously designed book to date: Mastersounds. Since the book will include numerous photos, we will need to put lots of thought into how to lay everything out. And who knows—since jazz in the Pacific Northwest is the subject matter, perhaps we will decide to incorporate some design ideas that reflect the improvisatory nature of the genre.

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