• August 2015

Illustrator Michael Gibbs Tries His Hand at the Art of Handmade Books

By Michael Gibbs
Illustrator, fine artist
MichaelGibbs.com
MGlenwood.com

Since late 2006, I have been making handmade books. Most, but not all, incorporate illustration, while some are illustrated using photography.

Two of the books, “Occams’s Razor” and “UnHoly Wars” were shown in the Chicago Center for the Book’s “Action/Interaction: Book/Art” show, a national juried exhibition, in 2007. “Blue Moons | Yellow Cows | Green Tambourines,” which features 31 illustrations, was exhibited, along with the original art, in two one-man shows and one group show.

These books feature a variety of bindings, from traditional case-bound to more elaborate flag-book, book-in-book, coptic-stitch, and accordion bindings.

Why do I love to create handmade books?

It’s a passion of mine, something that let’s me take my creativity to a new level. While I love being an illustrator — and have had the privilege to work for publications ranging from The New York Times and The Washington Post to creating posters for Harvard, the Virginia Opera, and the National Cherry Blossom Festival — there is something particularly satisfying about dreaming up a project that is entirely my own.

Following are samples of three books that I have made. I hope you enjoy them. Questions? Feel free to contact me by email.


Blue Moons

Blue Moons was created as an assignment for a Book Arts class at the Corcoran College of Art. The assignment was to create a piano hinge book, a book structure in which signatures are interlaced and held together by rods or skewers in an exposed binding. I chose to illustrate song lyrics that alluded to colors, assigning a different color to each signature of the book.

The 31 illustrations (30 plus cover) were created in under two weeks … an ambitious goal, but a necessary one since the entire book needed to be completed in three weeks. I had also decided that spontaneity and immediacy were qualities I wanted to achieve in the artwork, so the compressed time frame actually worked in my favor.

Because of the positive reactions to the artwork, I decided to re-create the book in two additional, different bindings: a case bound book and an oversized coptic-stitch binding. The original piano-hinge book and the casebound book are each 5.75″ square, while the coptic-stitch book is much larger — 12.75″ square, and quite heavy.

The books subsequently found their way into three different gallery shows, accompanied by a full suite of 31 framed prints, and three of the illustrations were honored by being selected for the Society of Illustrators 2008 juried exhibition.

  • Blue Moons, large coptic-stitch version: This version consists of 22, 4-page signatures. The pages are Rives BFK printmaking paper, with tipped-in plates printed on Moab Entrada paper.
  • Each spread features an excerpted song lyric and a tipped-in plate.
  • When open, the book is 25.5″ wide.
  • Pictured above are two sample spreads featuring Tommy James’s “Draggin’ The Line” (top) and Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (bottom)

Click here to see more about this book, and to order a copy.


Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is a flag book about the philosophical maxim that argues for simplicity over complexity, a philosophy credited to William of Occam, a 14th century philosopher. The maxim is often reduced to “keep it simple.”

“Razor” refers to the act of shaving away unnecessary parts of an argument, reducing it to its simplest, and therefore most logical form. In design, it is taken to mean simple design is preferable to complex design.

I thought a flag book, with its sliced illustrations, was the perfect book structure for the subject. It features three sliced illustrations, a sliced-up explanation of Occam’s Razor, and an antique straight razor contained in a box inside the book.

  • Overall size is 9.5″ x 12″, 1/2″ thick.
  • Covers are covered in black bookcloth. Inside is printed on Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper using an Epson 2200 printer with archival inks.
  • Title is laser-printed on handmade paper. The subtitle, which reads, ” [ keep it simple ] ” is cut and inlaid into the decorative paper, using paper cut from the inside of the book.

  • The book, opened up, includes three flag spreads, each spread a long illustration broken into 7 flags. On the left is text explaining William of Occam and his philosophical maxim, “Occam’s Razor.” On the right is text explaining three examples of Occam’s Razor, each of which is illustrated. There is also a handmade box, containing a razor and cut pieces of text.
  • The inside cover pages are designed in Quark Xpress. For the backgrounds, I scanned in the handmade paper used to create the book (the box, accordion, backs of flags, cover label) and printed/reversed out the text onto it.

Here’s a closeup of the box. The razor is an antique straight razor. The sliced text is a very lengthy explanation (2,884 words) of Occam’s Razor, printed on handmade paper. The subtitle on the cover, [keep it simple] is from this same text. The shredded paper is glued in … each piece individually glued in one spot, giving it the appearance of being randomly tossed into the box. The box is handmade, wrapped in handmade paper. The straight razor is glued in with epoxy. The book can stand up with nothing falling out.

The three examples of Occam’s Razor are:

  • Crop circles: It’s more reasonable to conclude that humans, rather than aliens, made crop circles, largely because the alien theory is too complicated and makes too many unproved assumptions
  • If You Hear Hoofbeats, Think Horses, Not Zebras: A phrase used by doctors to explain how to diagnose multiple symptoms … go with the obvious. If a patient has five symptoms, it’s one malady, not five.
  • Solar System: Copernicus used Occam’s thinking to explain that the Sun — not the Earth — was the center of the solar system, which made heavenly observations easier to explain and eliminated many convoluted 17th century theories.

Click here to see more about this book, and to order a copy.


Snapshot

  • The front cover of the book measures 5.25″ x 5.25″ square.

  • This is an accordion book.

  • Here’s a sample spread The book is printed on Rives BFK, and the photos are printed on glossy photo paper. The photos were amateur snapshots taken by tourists, bought from multiple sources on eBay.

  • The portfolio case and a clamshell box are sized to fit the book.

Click here to see more about this book, and to order a copy.

All artwork © 1990-2015 Michael Glenwood Gibbs. All rights reserved.

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