the raw and the readymade project development: book

there were several issues that came up during my formative assessment that i wanted to address in the final piece. the first was how i was going to present the book. being a small and somewhat delicate object i knew it needed some kind of case or protection.

i first considered making a beaded bag, a traditional way of carrying amulets on the person, as well as adding another layer of shiny magical protection (reflective surfaces being believed to ward off evil spirits). i also considered a traditional museum display case, to amplify the notion of the book as an ethnographic artefact, but i worried that this would send a “look don’t touch” message, which i certainly didn’t want – this book is definitely for reading.

i finally decided on a watch display case, being the perfect size to house the book, but hopefully more inviting than a secured case. i’ve yet to settle on a title for the work, but when i do i intend to “etch” it onto the top glass (the most practical way to do this will be to use dry decal transfer paper). i need to ensure this title/message will invite the viewer to open the box and the book.

the case as purchased had a cream velour lining, which i dyed with drawing ink to a more traditional burgundy red. i cut liners to size from foam and covered them with the velour from the internal cushion (with virtually no material to spare). the end result isn’t exactly as i’d hoped – the foam pieces once covered were slightly too large, hence the crumpling of the fabric – but i’m happy that the book fits very neatly into the space and is held firmly in place which is the most important thing to me.

i also wanted to address comments that the quality of the typewritten text block didn’t really match up to the craft skill of the enamel covers. ever keen to try new processes i decided to experiment with laser etching onto paper. the main motivation behind choosing this method was to obtain a digital version of the text block which could be reproduced as a limited edition. artists books in short runs is something that i really wanted to explore further, beyond my experiments on the letterpress. i was pleased to find that it was actually possible to etch onto such thin paper (130gsm, the maximum weight that would fit in the covers) without burning through or any real visibility on the reverse side.

i chose a very simple layout because i wanted the quality of the etching to be the main focus, also because typewritten text/courier is a kind of house style of mine. (i just spotted that my online no-caps writing style has crept through into the example above as well. oops) laying out the text block was quite challenging as i needed to “print” the pages both front and back. getting the right pages in the right place was one thing, but getting the registration of front and back within such narrow margins was the biggest test. i only missed by a few mm but given the size of the book unfortunately that does show, with the text creeping towards the centre of the finished pages.

the practicalities of using the laser cutter with such lightweight material also gave me a few hiccups. originally i’d intended to etch on the front, and then etch and cut the pages from the back. but once cut the pages were scattered by the power of the laser and left me with an almighty mess. there was also an issue with burning on the reverse of the pages, i think due to stray material on the lower grid catching in the heat of the laser.

in order to tame lifting of the paper and subsequent poor registration i ended up taping the sheets onto cardboard and i etched rather than cut the page margins and then cut them by hand. frustratingly, etching those lines increased the time-per-page from 10 minutes to an unwieldy 35. with the queue of people behind me desperate to get onto the cutter (the second cutter having been sent to llandaff for the fab lab) i was unable to re-do the wonky pages or produce more than one sample text block for the limited edition.

overall i’m very happy with the laser etching. the paper is a softer creamy colour which echoes the off-white of the covers, and while the text contrast is subtle there’s a noticeable engraved effect which to my mind gives a much more crafted look than the initial typewritten pages.

my final task on this project is to produce an etch design for the covers which i presume i will make from (3mm?) ply, as it responds so well to the process. i do need to bear in mind the weight of those covers, as the enamel book only just sits closed and the covers are pretty weighty. by increasing the width of the spine and perhaps enlarging the covers overall i hope to counteract the natural “spring” in the text block. if all else fails i’ll just leave them under a heavy weight as long as possible!

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