The Book Beautiful

What makes a book beautiful?

My Book

For this assignment we made and bound our own books.  I chose to make a watercolor sketchbook.  I used Japanese silk book cloth, Indian hand-made paper, and watercolor paper.  My book has 3 folded pages to a signature, making 18 pages in all.

This process was very interesting.  I used everything I learned about bookbinding throughout the class to create an actual book.  It was hard!  It is a precise art.  I came to appreciate bookbinding and I want to take a bookbinding class in the fall.

We also made bookplates earlier in the class using carved linoleum plates.  Mine is of a jackalope.






Book Collection

For this assignment, we were given $100,00 of fake money to spend on a collection of 10 books and 5 objects associated with those books.  I chose to make a collection of artist books.  I focused on the connections I found between their concepts more than what they looked like.  I chose objects to reinforce these connections.



















Sheets of Evidence has a unique binding, as most artist books do. Unlike most books, it does not have a front and back cover.  It is a case bound book, meaning that the signatures (groups of pages folded together) are sewn and glued together at the spine, then covered by a material like paper, cloth, vinyl or leather.


However, the front and back covers of Sheets of Evidence don’t exist past the spine.  The spine is the only thing that holds the book together.  Instead, when not being read, the pages are protected by a sleeve made from the same material as the spine.

Sheets of Evidence was bound by Barbara Mauriello.  Mauriello has a background in painting, but she decided to apprentice as a bookbinder at the Center for Book Arts.  Since then, she’s made thousands of handmade books for both herself and for clients.  She’s worked with people like Max Gimblett, John Yau, and Michele Oka Doner.


Here is a book that Mauriello has done that is concertina bound.  This means that the pages aren’t stitched together.  Instead, they are folded accordion style and attached by the endpapers at both ends to the front and back covers.  This is an ancient method that was used between the use of the scroll and modern bookbinding methods.

Here are some of Mauriello’s other works, found at her website:

bm-portfolio19 bm-portfolio07 bm-portfolio18 bm-portfolio20 bm-portfolio24 bm-portfolio26 bm-portfolio28 bm-portfolio29 bm-portfolio32 bm-portfolio33

More About Watermarks

The earliest watermark was made in Fabriano, Italy in 1282.  The image was of a cross with a circle at each point.

Symbology was very important when making watermarks.  A watermark is a symbol that represents a person or company, so it can’t just be anything.  A lot of the symbols had to do with religion.  For example, a common symbol was a cross.  Another was the clover, used to represent the holy trinity.  Animals were used a lot, too.  They helped personify morals and attitudes.  For example, the bull would represent strength while the unicorn would represent purity.  Here are some early watermarks:


In 1826, John Marshall invented the dandy roll to make producing multiple pieces of watermarked paper easier.  Similarly to the screen used to make handmade watermarked paper, wires could be attached to the screen that covered the dandy roll.


The longer, horizontal wires were called laid wires.  The shorter, vertical wires were called chain wires.  The chain wires helped to keep the laid wires in place.  Since the chain wires were on the outside of the laid wires, their lines were embossed deeper into the paper.



John Baskerville discovered how to create paper that did not have these indentations by replacing the regular wired screen with a brass screen woven on a loom.  This created an even surface.  Watermarks were clearer when made on wove papersince there were no embossed chain lines competing with the lines of the watermarks.


Wire watermarks could only provide a 2D image.  After awhile, people began experimenting with ways to make the watermarked image appear 3D.  In 1785, a watermark was produced in Germany that slightly appeared 3D because some of the wires were beaten flat while others remained rounded.

However, it wasn’t until 1848 that the light and shade watermark was invented.  William Henry Smith thought that an area of relief attached to the screen would produce areas where the pulp would be thicker and thinner.  The first reliefs were carved out of wax.  They could also be carved out of other things, like wood.  Here is an example of a relief plate and its corresponding watermark:


Today watermarks are mostly used to prevent counterfeit.  They are used on money, stamps, and important documents.  Some are evident when held up to the light, but sometimes they are hard to see without close inspection.

The Illustrations of Sheets of Evidence

Much like the text, the illustrations of Sheets of Evidence help portray the overall themes of the book.  One of the themes is presented through the watermarks themselves–the images are hidden at first glance; they need to be revealed.  In turn, the truth of relationships between people–of dialogue and physical intimacy– also sometimes needs to be revealed by looking closer at the situation.  However, while the text itself is not straightforward, neither are the images.


248125The first image shows a woman putting cloth into a bath.  In the second she washes her back with a cloth.  This small sequence doesn’t seem like it would be important enough to be recorded in the book.  The book is called Sheets of Evidence, so why are these images important?  Is the woman simply taking a bath to get clean?  Or is she preparing to go somewhere?



In the first image here, it shows a woman disrobing alone.  In the second image, she is with someone else.  This transition slowly leads us through the process of not only the woman’s interactions alone, but also her interactions with others.  It is also important to note the male gaze here–this first interest of a relationship has nothing to do with her because her eyes are covered up.  Instead, she becomes something to be desired.



This first image shows the man reaching at the woman, and in the second they are having sex.  It zooms in on the woman’s face and also their entangled legs.  It is at this point that they become an image of not two separate people, but one act and the emotional result of that act.



The book ends with a self portrait of William Kentridge, and then on the following page a picture of a skull.  In a book about transitions, that is probably the simplest form of what is and then what will be.

The Text of Sheets of Evidence

The text in Sheets of Evidence is unique because it is so unconventional compared to other texts.  Kentridge designed the book as an artist.  Therefore, one doesn’t read the text straightforwardly.  It should be processed as art.

248134 Sometimes the text complements the art.  Here is a page where the text reads: “Making a Place for the Secret” above a tray of fruit.  The reader is supposed to connect the text with the picture, and, likewise, connect this page to the whole book.  The book is about love and lovers and death.  The reader should wonder about what this text means, not understand it upon first reading.  It is supposed to make one’s mind wander.


This text says, in different fonts and boldness respectively, “Problems in Couplings,” and then “Three-inbed gambler wins bet, loses lover,” and “When you drink tea you are bringing a thief into the body.  It goes to every little nerve worker and robs it of energy.”  The differing of fonts and boldness helps the text to be read as artwork.  These pieces of information are not necessarily related to one another.  They are each a separate element that add another layer to the overall piece.


This page reads, in differing fonts and boldnesses respectively: “Table Decoration,” and then, “The Central Battery System,” and then, “Powers, Devices And Appliances,” and then, “Historical Notes on Transmitters,” and then, “Stomaco cattivo: vita di sofferenze! (1),” which means “Bad stomach: life of suffering,” and then, “MECHANICAL MOVEMENTS,” and then, “Contro il map di mare,” which means “sea-sickness”.  This page is like the former.  Each snippet connects to the other, but it is subtle.  There are many motifs throughout the book of tables, and food, and mechanics.  It is a comparison to the human body, and how two human bodies work together.  One is supposed to connect these together by reading between the lines, like one does with poetry.  The variations of size, styles, and boldness between the text emphasizes the difference between each piece of information and the difference between the subject figures in the book.


This page reads: “DINNERS FOR EIGHT PERSONS,” and then, “What Lies/ in Store/ What Lies/ in Wait/ What Lies/ Asleep.”  The latter is in cursive handwriting, which cannot be replicated exactly digitally.  This both shows the artist’s hand in the handmade nature of the book as well as the organic quality the book is trying to achieve.  I mentioned earlier how the mechanical references reference the relationship between two humans.  This handwriting bit contrasts with that, showing the organic and poetic nature of people.


This page shows indiscernible handwriting or symbols which appear to be overwritten by proofreading symbols.  It then reads, “MINUTES OF A HARD HOUR.”  This page, too, emphasizes human qualities.  It shows a personal note that perhaps only the writer can distinguish.  It could not be replicated on a machine at all.  A machine could not recognize the lettering.  It is here that art bleeds over into text, and text into art.


Sheets of Evidence was made with short cotton linter pulp.  This material was probably chosen because cotton is known for its archival quality.  This is because of the cotton’s high alpha cellulose content.  For more information about the specific chemical qualitites of cotton paper, look at this company’s website.  According to this page, Cotton paper can go years without deteriorating like paper made from other organic materials.  In fact, for every 1% of cotton that makes up the percentage of the paper, one can expect another year that the paper should not deteriorate.  For this reason, cotton paper is often used in legal documents.  However, 100% cotton paper is known for its acidic properties, so 100% cotton paper is perhaps too much of a percentage of cotton for archival use.

Cotton linters are the thinner cotton fibers that stick to the cotton seeds after a cotton gin separates the seeds from the thicker cotton fibers–the cotton lint.  Here’s a diagram:


As the diagram says, the lint itself (sometimes called cotton wool) is used to make yarn and actual cloth, while the linter is used to make things like paper.  They can also be used to make medical and beauty supplies.


When making paper out of cotton, the pulp would be made from the prepared cotton linter, but one could also add recycled material to the batch as well.  This material may be cotton rag or even already made cotton paper scraps.  Adding material to the hollander, a machine that breaks down the cellulose of the cotton, is the first step to making paper.  Big factories have large hollanders, but smaller ones can be found in studios like Dieu Donne.  After the pulp is the right consistency, one can use a mesh mold like the one seen in last week’s video to create the right shape of paper.  This creates a slab of pulp that can be pressed.  The slab of pulp is placed between sheets of felt and then placed into the hydraulic press.  The press squeezes out the water and compresses the pulp, making it thinner and stronger.  The PSI can be adjusted to determine the thickness and strength of the paper.  After the paper is pressed, it is set to dry between more sheets of felt so it doesn’t curl up too much.  It is then pressed again, to flatten it out.  Finally, it is stored in a hung position.

You can see Dieu Donne make paper in their smaller studio here:

However, a more informative video set in a factory can be seen here: