Artists Book Project Module ENGL 420

What is an Artist’s Book?

One way of thinking about an artist’s book is that it is like a broadside, expanded to the book format, though the boundaries quickly grow complex. Drucker begins by calling it “a book created as an original work of art … . [which is] almost always self-conscious about the structure and meaning of the book as a form.” Page, paragraph, line, spacing, margin, binding — even paper itself — become part of the expressive meaning of the artist’s book.


From Johanna Drucker’s introduction to A Century of Artists’ Books:


There are a number of scanned artists’ books online. Please read two of these. (The archive allows you to scroll through page views, read bibliographic information about the publication or zoom in to a high resolution scan of a given page. Look for the link at the bottom; you don’t need Flash. )


How do Artists Books use the genre and material (typography, images, paper or cloth and physical form) of the book? How does a good Artists Book blend reading and viewing (literature and art)?

Project Requirements

  • Book should be at least 10 sheets long
  • Make expressive use of dimensions, spacing, and construction of the physical book. (Don’t just go with paper folder in half and staples in the middle.)
  • Use thoughtful typography, sequence, and images.
  • Harmonize meaning and visual dimensions through the use of graphic design software, hand lettering, color, traditional cut-and-paste etc.

Five Steps to Making an Artists Book

  1. Generate an Idea. Start by reflecting on a subject, considering material and theme. Or consider how to remix an existing text, enhancing it through design (but also changing the text to fit the project).
  2. Compose, revise and edit. At this point you may want some feedback on the text from classmates or the professor.
  3. Assemble visual material, such as LEGAL images (public domain, Creative Commons, or original)
  4. Plan your production. Will you cut and paste a physical object? Will you use graphic design software? Do you want to bind the pages on the left or create a different kind of book? (If you don’t have access to Adobe, you can search for two, free open-source programs that will run on Mac and Windows machines: Scribus and Gimp.
  5. Produce and Document. You will photograph your book object and share this as a PDF. (I recommend Cam Scanner for use with a phone).


The school shut-down presents some challenges for this project, since you don't have access to on-campus computers. However, there are a few really good options:

1) Download Photoshop, Indesign, etc. to your home computer. (Best if you have a relatively new machine, one you use for gaming etc. Did you enjoy the broadside project and feel confident using the software? )
2) Download a simple, free open-source graphic design tool like GNU Image or Best if you enjoy learning a new tool and have an older, slower Mac, Windows, or Linux machine.

3) Explore a web based design tool like Figma

4) Make a physical book, using typewriter, hand-inking, and paste-up. (Old school) Then photograph it.