It took me a long time to arrive at the concept for my book. I knew it had to be creative and original – something that was specific to this particular project – and I also knew that I wanted to try to make the most beautiful book that I am capable of making based on what I have learned this semester. Gradually the idea came to me to make a book that explored the book, and I ended up writing an essay that addressed that on two levels: an encapsulated history of the book form, and why books hold emotional meaning. In this way, the form of the book is strongly linked to the content of the book.
My concept challenged me creatively and structurally because every step of the way in the conceptualization I was trying to think of how the book itself could illustrate what I was trying to convey. I used the most beautiful paper I could find as the basis and added specific elements like illustrative typefaces (for example, Egyptian slab serif for the segment on papyrus, Charlemagne for the Roman innovation and Blackletter for the manuscript), Pre-Raphaelite design, soft cover booklets, fold-out pages and a hand drawn illuminated letter to allow the book to speak to the subject matter. The greatest creative challenge was that I had set the bar very high. I wanted to make a book that would be a beautiful object; lovely to look at and to hold. My models, after all, were the manuscripts of the middle ages and the uniquely designed books of the Kelmscott Press!
The level of craftsmanship that I brought to the book was tied in with that. I wanted it to be as close to perfect as possible and so I struggled with the printing, for instance, until I was happy that the print job was correctly aligned on both sides of the page. In terms of successes and failures, I am happy with how the books have turned out overall. They look neat and well executed, I think, and I was able to overcome the glitches that tend to crop up along the way (like punching five holes instead of four in the signatures and having to be inventive, then, about how to join the two firmly!) I am glad I corrected my earlier mistake of the over-busy cover embellishment that I experimented with in my first mock-up.
I feel that I fully explored and even stretched the quarter bound book form I used by adding design elements like the centerfold pages and the two mini books (the pamphlet book and the matchbook). I also thought carefully about how to make a book that contained just one, single essay feel substantial. I think I was able to do that by using voluptuous paper for the text block and being generous with the layout, while not having to resort to meaningless blank pages. I gave a lot of thought to the dimensions too, and I felt that the ratio of 4.5×7 would create a slender, elegant silhouette.
The graphic and typographic choices I made directly impact my book and concept. As I mentioned earlier, each typeface is chosen for its illustrative purpose, while the graphics – from the frontispiece, to the William Morris border designs, to the booklets, to the illuminated “B”, to the foldouts suggesting manuscript type – are informed by the concept of the book, both as subject matter and as form.
As I was writing the essay, I was using “Why Books?” as the working title. It was useful for guiding my thinking about why the book form evolved from the codex as it did, and also about why books hold emotional significance for us. When I started designing the title page, no other title suggested itself to me, so I just went with the original title, and it seems to work well enough.
I’m still so close to the project that it is difficult to step back and say what things I would change if I were to make this book over again. I keep coming back to the printing, and I really need to try to figure out a way for it not to be such an onerous undertaking every time; I’m just not sure what the fix is at this stage. I do think I would use firmer paper for end pages because the paper I chose is just a tad flimsy, particular given the weight of the Acqueforti Italian paper I used for the text block. Another thing is to do with the writing. I found that I was writing my essay with a mind to how I could translate it into a book. A better way around, I think, would be to take a piece that has already been written and then find the most effective way to articulate it in book form.
COST per book:
Text block paper 3.00
Artists paper (cover + end paper) 75
Book board 1.50
Book cloth 1.00
Soft covers for mini books 50
Printed frontispiece 50
Thread, mull, headband, eyelets 50
PVA glue and StudioTac 1.00
Estimation of time for concept and pre-production:
Researching, writing and revising essay – 1 week
Layout and design – 2 days
Photographing and Photoshopping frontispiece and printing 4 copies in the lab – 2 hours
Hand drawing, coloring and printing illuminated “B” – 1½ hours
Estimation of time per book:
Sizing paper to 8.5×11 and 8.5×14 for printing – ½ hour
Printing individual, double-sided pages – 1 hour
Aligning and sizing each page to 7×9 for the text block – 1 hour
Nesting, punching and sewing two signatures – ¾ hour
Gluing text block and applying craft paper, mull and headbands – ½ hour
Measuring and cutting book board, book cloth and artists’ paper – ½ hour
Constructing quarter-cloth cover – ¾ hour
Casing in – ½ hour
Measuring and trimming frontispiece – ¼ hour
Measuring, cutting, printing and sewing mini pamphlet book and matchbook – 1 hour
Printing, cutting and adding gold detail to illuminated “B” – ¼ hour
Cutting and trimming ribbon for centerfold – ¼ hour
Affixing the finishing details (frontispiece, booklets, illuminated “B” and ribbon) and numbering the edition – 1 hour
Total time per book = 8 ¼ hours
Based on cost of materials and the time taken to make each book, I think $25.00 is a reasonable price. (Until I did this breakdown, I would have priced it lower – it was a salutary exercise!)