Do You Cover Book Arts?
by Kari Anderson
Move over your paints, brushes and canvas. It’s time to make way for another category within your art materials store. If you don’t already have a book-arts section, maybe now is the time to create one.
“Interest in book arts has swelled in the last five to 10 years,” says Kyle Ondricek, national sales manager for Lineco, makers of a variety of bookbinding and scrapbook materials. Ondricek, who has been instrumental in the development of Lineco’s bookbinding program and products for book artists, spoke at the National Art Materials Trade Association (NAMTA) show in April about the growing popularity of book arts. “The field is moving so fast. Ten years ago, it was about sewing spines. Now it’s more creative.”
What are book arts?
There are many subcategories that fall under this heading, all of which obviously employ some sort of combination of words and paper.
• Calligraphy includes one-of-a-kind writers who do poetry, certificates or other official documents.
• Bookbinding covers artists who make traditional books or blank journals.
• Book repair is for people who restore and preserve tattered old volumes.
• Scrapbooking has moved beyond memory albums to include frame-able art.
• Altered books are really book sculptures created by turning an existing book into a three-dimensional work of art.
• Letterpress is an Old World, printed art form that continues to grow in popularity.
• Papermaking also falls within book arts because it is so foundational to the creation of books.
Why so popular?
Ondricek explains that one of the reasons certain types of book arts have taken off has been the maturation of the scrapbooking movement. “Scrapbooking has been popular for over 10 years. There are people who started doing it as a hobby in the ’90s, and they are now extremely good at what they do.” It could even be argued that this more sophisticated take on memory albums has blurred the line between fine art, and crafts.
Others within the art supply industry point to letterpress as the driver of the growing popularity of book arts. “Book arts is a niche market that is performed by a small, core group. Letterpress, on the other hand, is exploding,” relates Marc Schotland, director of marketing for Legion Paper. “We are seeing the letterpress market evolve from the traditional wedding and invitation market to more corporate and advertising usage.”
Rita Madsen, director of marketing for Speedball Art Products, maker of inks and printing supplies, attributes some of the popularity of letterpress to television. “Letterpress is a very old art that is getting new interest because it was featured on the television show ‘Extreme Makeover.’ Here again the home-décor market is touching the art-and-craft market, giving our products a boost.”
TIME magazine has even chronicled the rising popularity of book arts, and letterpress specifically, in articles such as “Book Smarts,” which appeared in November 2002, and more recently “Back in Print: The Old-Fashioned Letterpress Gets a 21st Century Business Makeover,” published in September 2006. In the latter article, author Coeli Carr refers to the current growth as a “letterpress renaissance,” noting that in the last three years, about 500 people have become letterpress printers in the U.S.
Mitchel Cohen, director of the Printing and Book Art Center in Rochester, New York, told AMR that because the invention of the printing press was arguably the most important invention of all time, his center’s mission is to promote and preserve letterpress printing.
“There’s a certain quaintness to it,” he says. “It’s an art form. It’s fun to play with, and you don’t need to have artistic talent, in the traditional sense, in order to do it.”
What products are necessary?
AMR caught up with Max Yela, head of special collections at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Libraries and a book-arts scholar, teacher, curator and theorist, to find out whether book artists shop at art supply stores, and what products an AM retailer should have on hand for these customers.
“I can tell you that book artists make use of a wide range of materials, much of which can be found at art supply stores, others that are found at specialty distributors or directly from the manufacturer, and others that are accumulated from all kinds of ordinary or off-beat sources,” Max says. “Some papers, bone folders, inks, davey board, binding tools, binding cloth and tapes, binding threads, paper fibers and pulp, and even papermaking screens and molds can be found at well-stocked art supply stores.
“Some artists will buy directly from the manufacturer or from specialty distributors if they work with specific materials all the time,” he continued. “This is especially true with papers and binding materials. Art supply stores are convenient, however, and when it comes to artist’s books made by artists who work in other media that they also bring to their bookwork, art supply stores hold much of what they might need. Letterpress printers have a harder time because much of what they need is practically obsolete, such as replacement parts for proofing presses and metal type.”
Paper and ink for letterpress printing, however, is something that is available at just about any local art materials store. Marc Schotland says that while letterpress paper is distinct from other types, there are a variety of papers that can be used in this type of printing.
“The higher-end letterpress papers we offer are mould-made, such as Somerset and Arches, but what makes a paper truly receptive to the letterpress process is the soft surface to accept the impression and the ability to hold the colors,” he explains.
Creating an impression in the paper is an attribute that distinguishes letterpress from other forms of printing. This was not always the case, however. In a 2005 article entitled “Wood Type Rising: The Resurrection of Letterpress Arts,” Rochester City newspaper author Michael Neault explained that biting into the paper is a relatively new way to differentiate this form of print. “In the old days, the most admired impression was the one that was the richest and the lightest, called ‘the printer’s kiss.’ Now, in order to differentiate from alternative printing styles, printers often bite into the paper, creating a deeper and more tangible impression.”
Therefore, a softer, more malleable paper that will take on the impression of the metal type is preferable. Still, Marc Schotland says that it’s important to remember that there is a plethora of papers that will work well for all kinds of book arts. “Papers tend to be pigeon-holed as printmaking or drawing papers, when in fact, many of these papers are excellent for letterpress. Retailers need to offer their customers choices and suggest they experiment with a variety of papers.”
According to Marc, Legion Paper offers thousands of papers suitable for letterpress, as well as decorative papers for the inside covers (or end-papers) and book papers for printing limited editions.
As for the ink side of printing and book arts, Rita Madsen comments, “Speedball printmaking products like brayers, inks, linoleum blocks, and linoleum cutters are all on the rise because of the interest in letterpress and bookmaking. Embellishing of all types is a fast-growing area with a wide fine-art appeal.
“In the calligraphy market, our pigmented acrylic calligraphy and drawing inks are beginning to attract new interest because of the bookmaking rise. Retailers are trying to keep their customers happy by offering more intense colors that have archival capabilities. We are seeing an increased interest in not only our inks but in our lettering charts and books about learning to letter, from the beginner level to our collector’s item: The Speedball Textbook, now in its 23rd edition.”
Kyle Ondricek of Lineco breaks down products for book arts into three categories: kits for first-time book artists, materials for experienced artists, and supplies and tools for repair and binding. He suggests cross-merchandising supplies with related books, and emphasizes the importance of having samples on hand. “Samples make a display ‘pop’ more than a two-dimensional picture can,” he says. He also suggests that a retailer include structures, such as paper boxes or blank board books, with no decoration so customers can imagine the possibilities and draw on their own creativity.
How to get connected
In his NAMTA seminar, Ondricek pointed to several sources of advice for getting your book-arts section up to speed. “Book-arts centers abound,” he said. “They’re within 50 miles of every town and in any major city.” He also mentioned specialty publications that could be of interest, such as Altered Arts magazine and Paper Crafts magazine, and he noted that there are hundreds of books and millions of Web links on the subject of book arts. Staff members at local book-arts centers, professors who teach bookbinding and paper arts, community educators, and even your current customers can be valuable untapped resources. Ondricek suggests asking these “influencers” for advice on product selection, to teach a class at your store, or even to exhibit their book arts on your walls, windows, or atop display fixtures. Be sure to publicize any exhibition you might hold, or any book-arts class you offer, and always stock supplies to support the class.
“Book arts is a creative niche market, but it’s a viable one,” he says. “People may not think of your store as a source for these products, so attracting attention will require cultivating your visibility. Delving deeper into the book-arts category is a good way to differentiate your store from the masses, and it can result in a profitable addition.”