Book Arts Glossary
Image of hand-bound books produced by Ink Press Productions.
Book-based art, often simply referred to as book arts, is a growing and thriving arts practice that even many art lovers and connoisseurs have had limited exposure to. Book-based art covers a range of media, topics, and formats. Through CURRENT Books and our exhibitors, we hope to expand the public’s understanding of book-based art and its significance to the evolution and innovation of artistic expression and conversation. CURRENT Books is excited to provide a platform for artists pushing the boundaries of the arts publishing and print media worlds to engage with the local community.
To help visitors navigate CURRENT Books, we’ve created a general Book Arts Glossary to help clarify specific jargon and processes often encountered in arts publishing:
It’s important to understand that many art books are intended to be archival objects, meaning they are high-quality artworks that break the mold of commercially-printed paperback or coffee table book. If something is made with “archival paper,” that generally means that the paper is acid-free and has a neutral pH, resulting in a longer-lasting print. Books made with archival materials are intended to last but are nonetheless art objects that require proper care and conservation.
An artist’s proof is an impression of a print taken in the printmaking process to understand the progress of the plate an artist is currently working on. These proofs can also be used to test and show colors that will make up the final print, however, most commonly the artist’s proof is used to simply view how the image is going to translate once printed. These proofs are not given place in the limited-edition count, but many art collectors often seek them out due to their relative rarity. They are generally marked “AP” or “Artist Proof” and can sometimes be remarqued (when an original mark or drawing by the artist appears in the margin), making the print even more desirable. Editioned objects like books may also have artist’s proofs.
Within the medium of printmaking, an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate. Exploring the term further, artists can categorize objects into open editions or limited editions. Open editions generally refer to prints that are only restricted once the plate wears from use or age. An artist can continue to print as many of the same print or photograph as they want. Limited-edition items are most common among contemporary artists, where a fixed number of impressions are produced with the understanding that no other copies will be made later. In terms of book publishing, an edition refers to all copies of a book printed from the same setting of type.
Letterpress printing is when multiple copies of an image or text are produced by repeated, direct impressions of an inked, raised surface against sheets or a continuous roll of paper. Put more simply, ink is applied to the press rollers or directly to a “form” (what becomes the image or impression) that lays on the press bed. Paper is pressed onto the form by the platen or the cylinder, and the pressure produces a print. There are several different kinds of presses, but the basic principles of each remain the same. Though letterpress printing has gone through many evolutions, it is still revered as a process that creates extremely high-quality work. Letterpress printers have continued to develop innovative printing methods, including creating “polymer plates” that use photosensitive plastic sheets to make letterpress forms of digital images.
A monograph is a book that focuses solely on one subject, or an aspect of a subject, traditionally written by one author. Prevalent in academic circles, monographs are used to present primary research and original scholarship. Differing from serial publications, monographs are catalogued as independent volumes. In the world of art books, a monograph features one artist or one body of work created by a single artist or collective.
A familiar term in the workplace, photocopying is the production of copies of original documents. Photocopying remains the preferred medium for many DIY publishing projects and zine makers. Zines produced by photocopying are often the lowest pricepoint artists' books.
Risograph (or riso) printing was first released out of Japan in 1986, gaining in popularity as a digital duplicator designed to handle high-volume copying or printing. With ink less expensive than toner and no need for additional heat to set the ink, risograph printing is an economical choice for artists who hope to keep production costs low while still maintaining quality. Risograph printing relies on a layering technique to produce multi-colored prints. Though color choice is quite limited, printing on top of existing layers creates an unpredictable and exciting array of possibilities.
Screen printing is a form of printing that is used widely by artists and book artists. Screen-printing (also known as serigraphy) is a technique that involves the passing of ink through a mesh or screen (traditionally made from fabric-- silk or synthetic) that has been stretched on a frame. A light-sensitive emulsion is then applied to the screen. Once dry, the screen is exposed in an exposure unit with a stencil on top to block out specific areas of light. The stencil ultimately determines form and composition of the image. A squeegee is used to force the ink or paint through the open parts of the screen and onto the paper, producing the desired image.
Relief printing is a process that involves cutting or etching a printing surface, covering the remains of the original surface in ink (making sure no recessed areas are touched) and applying that to paper or another material. It’s imperative that a significant amount of pressure be applied, ensuring a smooth transfer of ink. Other relief techniques include woodcut, relief etching, rubber stamp, and so on.
Our friends and hosts at Studio Two Three specialize in screen printing, but are also home to a hand proof press for letterpress printing and recently acquired a risograph. For more information about different types of printmaking, drop by Studio Two Three or take one of their classes! Studio Two Three will also be hosting special book-arts related programming the week of CURRENT Books, so stay tuned for updates.