Wednesday, 16 December 2015

→ EDITION SIZE UNKNOWN (making sense of editioning artists' books)

ABOUT STONES, an unnumbered edition of 51
This blog post is a private contemplation, as I try to make sense of editioning. 
Remarks and comments on the subject are very welcome.


Everyone producing artists' books seems to have their own process and rules of editioning. Most of the time, I mark and sign edition on the back, and then - discreetly in the gutter - I keep the information on the print run, the paper, the printer and the ink and any other speciffication which I may find important. Like most of us, I try to print all of the edition at once. It is not always practical, however - frequently, I do not have the facility to store large amount of books. If I do not print the edition in one run, can it still be considered the same edition? Can it be numbered as the same edition if it was printed in three runs six months apart using the same printer? The same bed of type? A different printer or different bed of type in a different location? How do you mark those differences? Is it important to mark them?

The business of editioning artist's books sits between producing and numbering books as fine art multiples and producing artist's books as publications. Each of those areas is governed by the absence of formal rules(1), which leave all of us to our own devices of how and when we number our works.

FINE ART (prints)

In printmaking, as Wikipedia says,  "an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time. This may be a limited edition, with a fixed number of impressions produced on the understanding that no further impressions (copies) will be produced later, or an open edition limited only by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate wears."

In digital printing, "dating digital images is particularly important. Since a digital file prints out exactly the same way every time you print it, no matter when you print it, the quickest and simplest way to differentiate one image from the next is by the date it was printed. Even though a print may be one of a larger edition, a date individualizes it, and makes it just a little bit more unique. And buyers like that. In fact, buyers generally like dated art, especially when their dates precede other buyers' dates." (Giclee Printing and Pricing for Artist Limited Editions)

Fine art prints also allow for an artists' proof to exist (marked as AP) outside the edition. Classically, 10% of a limited edition size is considered an appropriate amount of artists proofs (Editioned Prints and Photographs).

(Then there is fine art ephemera, which is a different kettle of fish - see further below.)

Fine art (printmaking) environment has the figure of buyer-collector in the picture. Art buyers like to know the size of the edition. Art buyers like low numbers. Art buyers like signatures. Also, as it turns out, art buyers like digital images to be dated.


Bibliographical definition of an edition was given by Fredson Bowers in Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949). Bowers wrote that an edition is “the whole number of copies printed at any time or times from substantially the same setting of type-pages,” including “all issues and variant states existing within its basic type-setting, as well as all impressions.”  Collectors, however, would only consider the first print run as the first edition, while publishers each have their own rules.

A wonderful book First Editions of To-day and how to Tell Them (1929)(2) by H.S.Boutell gives some fascinating insight into the issues of editioning and terminology used, some of which, is still very relevant today.

        Generally speaking, the collector of first editions is really a collector of first impressions, a first impression being a book from the first lot struck off the presses, and a first edition comprising all books which remain the same in content and in format as the first impression. A second impression is a second printing, A second edition postulates some alteration of text or format. But these terms are, unfortunately, not strictly adhered to. (Introductory Note by Boutell)   

In the Publisher's Note Boutell further points to Arrowsmith entry on page 12, where they note that "the correct term not First Edition but First Impression or Issue." Boutell regrets that the error of terminology is almost universal.

(Can a digital print run be still called an impression?)
The rest of 62 page book is filled with publishers' responses to how they mark their first and subsequent editions and impressions. The book shows how varied the practice can be! For example, I used the book trying to track down the edition number for my The Poetical Works of John Milton (1898) published by Frederic Warne and Co., only to find out that they did at one time mark first editions with a private mark, but they had discontinued the habit and they had even lost trace of private marks (p38).

Bibliographical/book-collector context brings forward the importance of
differentiating between the edition and the print run. 

Editioning information of Alice in the Wonderland (1929) published by George G. Harrap & Co., LTD.
Editioning information of Tractatus Logico-Philisophicus (2009) published by Routledge Classics.


Artists' books include not just bound books, but also a wide range of ephemera in the form of posters, postcards, leaflets, pamphlets, periodicals, zines, fanzines, bookmarks, maps, graphs, tickets, invitations, etc., which may come as multiples, but may not always be numbered. Some will be produced on site to serve as an evidence or a continuation of another event. Others will be regularly published. Among the more fascinating cases of ephemera are Fluxus score sheets.
"Produced throughout the 1960s and 70s, they take on a variety of forms from small event cards with text prompting the viewer to perform everyday actions to larger graphic scores with abstract compositions for indeterminate musical and dance performances." (Exhibiting Fluxus: Keeping Score in Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde) Many of those scores were published and disseminated by Maciunas as Fluxus editions, multiples stamped “© Fluxus”. They could be purchased at low costs. Here are three catalogue entries for three Fluxus publications:


The concept of editioning is tied down to the place and time of production and it benefits the collector/buyer to make judgement on the value of the artists' publication.

Is it important to keep editioning consistent? In the tradition of artists' book as an editioned work of print, the publication benefits from showing all of the information mentioned above as an honest statement about the scale of production. However, the artists' intention might be that the publication is infinite and ephemeral. In that case, it is up to the collector and cataloguer to make sense of it's editioning data.


(1)  New York and California consumer protection laws require a certificate of authenticity when selling artist multiples.

(2) First Editions of To-day and how to Tell Them (1929) by H.S.Boutell was purchased from Barter Books in Alnwick. If in Northumberland, it is always worth a trip to this Ghibli-esque emporium of second hand books.


Wednesday, 18 November 2015

→ books in cyanotype


Some weeks ago - just in time for the World Photobook Day - I discovered Anna Atkins' 1841 cyanotypes for the Manual of British Algae: the first book to be photographically printed and illustrated. A copy of this book is kept at Horniman Museum in South London.

(both images from Horniman Museum)
Anna Atkins' prints were "photogenic drawings"(1), as she called them. Cyanotype process offered her an image reproduction technique, which escaped the need for accurate drawings. Blue background suggestive of the sea lent poetic beauty to her images of sea plants. While Atkins famously failed on scientific accuracy, she succeeded in producing an very elegant photo book.


Last year's MA Visual Arts (Book Arts) show at Camberwell College of Arts featured works by Ziyan Lu -  Unfolding Shaddow. Lu printed by setting up paper in various public locations; then impressing poetics of the flowing time into her books: abstract images were produced by the passing shadows from the objects around.


Christian Marclay is a New York based visual artist and composer whose innovative work explores the juxtaposition between sound recording, photography, video and film. In 2011, he published Cyanotypes, for which he used drawings of unwound the spools of old cassette tapes. Often using multiple exposures, Marclay created a labyrinth of lines, all tracing a distinct musical history that becomes abstracted, or at least estranged, on paper.

(images from GRAPHICSTUDIO)


In 2011 Ellen Ziegler produced an  artists' book, as she was grieving a sudden loss of her boyfriend. "Imbue” is a sheaf of abstract chemically-altered cyanotype prints inscribed with a crow-quill pen, the words chemically bleached out of the deep blue background. The poems by Patti Smith & Frances McCue reach the sorrowing depths of beautiful and ferocious grief.

(images from Ellen Ziegler website)

Vedos Project at Satakunta University of Applied Sciences / School of Fine Art Kankaanpää in Finland unites artists and teachers interested in studying and practising alternative printing processes in photography and printmaking. Their very informative webpage gives a fascinating insight into the processes, including paper and tinting tests.

(images from Vedos Project)

(1) Henisch, Heinz (1994) The Photographic Experience, 1839-1914: Images and Attitudes, University Park, Pa. : Pennsylvania State University Press. p317.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

visual narrative: when the Bible is a comics

I am not sure at what age I started identifying the Bible with a brick volume of thin pages filled with two columns of text in a very small type. The Bibles that I have owned (and those that I have not owned) all look the same - whatever the language.  As a result, I was genuinely excited when I first discovered Robert Crumb's comic Bible. It had the colour, the fun and the passion of a great story. Later, I found this vibrant storytelling in Medieval manuscripts, churches, interiors.

Visual story telling has long been used in religious education of illiterate or semi-literate population. V&A Cast Court Collection has Hildesheim doors (1015) on display. They are decorated with images from the Creation of Eve to Christ appearing to St Mary Magdalen. Churches frequently have stained glass windows and statues showing sequences of Biblical scenes, to aid the less educated with their knowledge of the Testaments. Visual narrative allows engagement of a more diverse "reader", as  a result, wider communication and bigger impact on the religious thought.

Here is 12th century manuscript Bible of Stephen Harding . Folio 13 features the story in a format of a comic. I have not managed to find out much about the manuscript, except, that it is held at Bibliothèque municipale de Dijon and some scanned folios can be found HERE

Manga Bible is a spectacular publication of the best manga drawing. A five-volume manga series is based on the Christian Bible and created under the direction of the non-profit organization Next, formed by people from the manga industry. Though first published in English, the books are originally written in Japanese and each volume is illustrated by a Japanese manga artist. Each book is adapted from the Bible by Hidenori Kumai.

And then there is Robert Crumb's Genesis ( Nominated for three 2010 Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards) and Nestor Redondo + Joe Kubert's DC Comics Stories from the Bible : both are fabulously edgy, risque and fresh; in contrast to many others, which are roughly interchangeable with a range of books seen in Christian bookshops' windows. This is what Crumb said to Paris Book Review:
In all the comic-book versions I was able to find, they just made up dialogue, pages of it that are not in the Bible. I was reading this one thing and I thought- did I miss this? And I went back and checked against the text and it’s not in there. And they claim to be honoring the word of God, and that the Bible is a sacred text… the most significant thing is actually illustrating everything that’s in there. That’s the most significant contribution I made. It brings everything out.
 Could his comic version of the Bible be the most honest one yet?



Nestor Redondo and Joe Kubert's DC Comics Stories from the Bible was printed in 1975 and covers the stories from Creation to Sodom & Gomorrah.

by Egidija

→ books & braille: reading with the fingertips


At BABE earlier this year I met a Norwegian artist Randi Strand. Randi's work reflects on the physicality and meaning of language signs, exploring relationship between signifier and signified. Randi showed me her recent book BERØRINGSSTROFER, which runs a Norwegian text alongside a text in Braille. Norwegian words are printed in a gently raised glossy ink. A bind person would be able to read the Braille and detect the physical presence of another text without being able to read it. A sighted person, on the other hand, will be able to read the Norwegian text (subject to the knowledge of Norwegian!) and see the presence of Braille as asemic writing. This beautifully light and poetic book combines tactile and visual pleasure of reading.

When we close our eyes, the object between our fingers loses visual cues - such as title, text, colophon, index, images. Books become blank books - or libri illeggibile - books devoid of traditional attributes of book in favour of acoustic and tactile experience. (Reading Book as an Object, 2015)

Indeed, some books become less blank than the others: some books are produced for tactile reading and they can only be read with the fingertips. In those books materiality of the object merges with the verbal and the visual content into one tactile experience of a very physical reading. They are the books for the blind.


David Rumsay Map Collection holds a 1837 embossed atlas for the blind. The atlas is printed in Boston Line Type - it was not until 20th century that New England Institution for Education of the Blind adopted Braille. 

L: Back of embossed New Hampshire map page. R: Explanation of New Hampshire map. From atlas of the united states, Printed for the use of the blind, at the expense of John C. Cray; under the direction of s.g. howe. at the n.e. institution for the education of the blind. Boston 1837.(SLATE)

L: Back of page holding explanation of Vermont map. R:New Hampshire map. From atlas of the united states, Printed for the use of the blind, at the expense of John C. Cray; under the direction of s.g. howe. at the n.e. institution for the education of the blind. Boston 1837. (SLATE)


Contemporary embossed maps are produced by Princeton Braillists. The master drawings are duplicated by the Thermoform process to make clear, sharp copies onto plastic sheets, which are bound into volumes with cardboard covers and spiral plastic binders.




A few years ago Illinois Rare Books and Manuscripts library found a 19th century Moon's "First illustrated reader": a book for blind children, published in Moon type and decorated with eight embossed illustrations.

Bellow is a beautiful contemporary Braille edition of Piccolo Principe, with embossed illustrations, including this image of a boa constrictor digesting an elephant.

A very promising appliance for the blind was featured in September 2015 issue of BBC Focus Magazine. BLITAB - a tablet which will allow the 285 million of blind and visually impaired individuals to finally enter the "tablet revolution". BLITAB is the first affordable (potentially) and light tablet for the blind. It was developed by an Australian startup: it creates Braille out of tiny, liquid-filled bubbles. Up to 15 lines of Braille can be displayed, while built-in software can convert text into Braille from websites or USB sticks. BLITAB can also display graphs, pictures, maps. It is expected to go on sale in 2016.


The final body of images come from a photographic work by the above mentioned Norwegian artist Randi Strand. Her series Memoria feature a set of seemingly insignificant images overprinted with Braille, forming a drawing of embossed writing.
The works are at the same time images of language and inaccessible language images. They conceal their message and convert communication into decoration. One language decorates another. She complicates them, takes them apart and reassembles them in new ways. She challenges us to ignore the meaning of signs and draws our attention to the signs as such, in other words, to the visuality of language – as form, movement, image. In this way the signs are emptied of their original meanings, without becoming meaningless in the process. (text by Mari Aarre)