Artist's Books

What is an artist's book?

‘Artists’ books refers not to literature about artists, nor to sculptures constructed from books, but to works by visual artists that assume book form.’

‘An artists’ book may have images without words or narratives without images. It may assume sculptural form as a pop-up book or investigate the nature of the book format itself.’

‘Many artists working in other media turned to books as a form suited to expressing ideas too complex for a single painting, photograph or sculpture.’

From Artspeak: a guide to contemporary ideas, movements and buzzwords, p.48.


This display is a selection of artists’ books from the University for the Creative Art’s library at the Canterbury campus. Anyone is welcome to come and look through UCA’s collection of artists’ books, and to borrow books. All are catalogued on UCA’s website.

UCA is one of Europe’s leading art and design institutions with a proud tradition of creative arts education spanning 150 years. Our campuses at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester are home to more than 7000 students from more than 70 countries studying art, design, architecture, media and communications.

1. Plot lands - Clio Barnard

Whitstable Biennale, 2008. This artists’ book documents interviews with the plot owners near Seasalter and combines excerpts from Colin Ward’s book ‘Arcadia for all’ with drawings and photographs.

2. ABC3D - Marion Bataille

Roaring Brook Press, 2008. The shape shifting cover suggests the delights contained within. It is as much a work of art as it is a pop-up book. Each of the 26 three-dimensional letters move and change as the pages are turned.

3. The naming – John Bently

Liver and Lights, 1996. Long concertina in a box with paper pulp sculpture of prehistoric rock art on lid. A rumination on the origins of language.

4. My Dad – John Bently

Liver and Lights, 2007. A commemorative book about his father. The pages are mounted to the cover front and back to express his two son’s perspectives on his life. Writing John Bently and a sonnet by Peter Bently.

5. Rural views – John Dilnot

John Dilnot, 2007. A folded book containing a series of eight linocut prints of dairy product food packaging.

6. Untitled – Danny Flynn

Burning Book Press,1997. Collected deletions taken from whole manuscript pages of the Paris Review series 1-6 have been copied and printed. A limited edition of 100 bound and printed by hand.

7. Blue fish - Franticham

Red Fox Press, 2007.An accordion folded book between 2 wooden covers. Hand-made screenprinting on Arches paper. Franticham books are collaborative works between Francis Van Maele and Antic-Ham.

8. Assembling box 2 - Franticham

Red Fox Press, 2010.A5 box containing 24 pieces contributed by 23 artists. Includes visual poetry, collages, prints, multiples and objects. Limited edition of 40 numbered copies. Each individual component signed and numbered.

9. Horizon to horizon – Hamish Fulton

Coracle Press, 1983. Line drawings of horizons drawn from various locations including Donegal and Blue Stack Mountains. The artist uses words to describe the surroundings and sightings.

10. Three very small comics 3 – Tom Gauld

Cabonon Press, 2007. This Guardian cartoonist and illustrator produces book works in his own right. This set of three comics present each narrative in a different way; a folded flat sheet, concertina and conventional paged format.

11. Southward ho! – Jonny Hannah

Cake & Ale Press, 2000. A hand printed nautical tale. The narrative traces the artist’s childhood fear of the sea to finally settling by the coast with 'a mermaid from Southampton'.

12. Owl noises – Harrington & Squires

Harrington & Squires, 2007. A limited edition book shows how typography can be playfully represent the different calls of owls.

13. White ass European cowboy – Arno Hintjens

Imschoot,1999. This vinyl book is made of original copies of the LP’s which influenced the artist’s life and work.

14. Warmth – Kaho Kojima

Kaho Kojima, 2007. The book folds out in to a star shape that conveys the circular nature of life.

15. The theatre of nature – Angela Lorenz

Novelties of purpose, 2002. This book can be folded to make a lantern theatre and is decorated with images inspired by strange fake creatures in the Aldrovandi Museum at the University of Bologna.

16. Crane service - Pat Macdonald

Pat Macdonald, 2010. Student work produced in response to an Amsterdam trip. Prompted by the problem of dumping bicycles into the canals of Amsterdam, this fanzine explores the life of a crane driver whose job it is to clean the canals.

17. The Observer’s book of bird’s eggs – Andy Malone

Andy Malone, 2010. An altered book where sections of the pages have been cut away. The act of cutting turns a series of two-dimensional images into freestanding entities that can be read as flip-books or static objects and where the contents of the book can be seen at one glance.

18. Pine Hawk Moth – Andy Malone

Andy Malone, 2010. A concertina folded format book depicting the moth blending in to the natural environment.

19. An ABC of birds & beasts – Enid Marx

Clover Hill, 1985. An illustrated A to Z of insects, animals and their diets with a patterned fabric cover. Enid Marx is an important 20th century designer responsible for many iconic designs including London Transport and Utility textiles to stamps.

20. Freshly made – Ruth Martin

Ruth Martin, 2007. Ruth Martin. A sandwich shaped book in a brown paper wrapping. It is folded in to pages instructing the reader on how to make Whitstable sandwiches. When unfolded the reverse side displays a map of South East England with direction on where they are best enjoyed - Whitstable and Sandwich.

21. An ideal home – Rob Mcdonald

Rob Mcdonald, 2011.The front and back covers are printed with images of house facades, and are bound with blue cloth tape. The two pages are printed on both sides with overlaid photographs and drawings relating to the concept of 'home', and are folded to fit inside the book, which slips inside a printed cloth tote bag.

22. A chapbook of English tat – Andrew Mockett

Andrew Mockett, 2007.Pages folded in to a concertina and mounted on back cover. Charming and playful series of images that can be cut out and stand free of the book. The drawings are evocative of English county fairs and toys of yesteryear.

23. Maps – Nigel Peake

Analogue Books, 2008.Quirky hand-drawn maps, covering a range of subjects from grid-like diagrams of cities to abstract representations of journeys taken.

24. The order of things – Norbert Schoerner

Phaidon, 2001. This fashion photographer’s work is presented in a carousel of images without beginning or end. It invites you dip in at a point that interests the eye.

25. Un deux – Naomi Takayama and Yoshie Watanabe

Little More 2008.Picture story book with independent folding sections allowing for a variety of stories to be created.

26. Multiple pleasures – Richard Tipping

Thorny Devil Press 1996.Postcard pack to accompany an exhibition of this Australian artist who works between image and language. Some examples here celebrate oddities of public signage or subvert conventional phrases and instructions.

27. Car spotter’s pocket reference – Simon Tozer

Simon Tozer 2006.Inspired by Victorian secret language of flowers this artist has applied hidden meaning to the cars he remembers from his childhood.

28. Small houses: the buildings of Tom Browne – Erica Van Horn

Coracle 2007.This small, limited edition book is dedicated to the work of artist/builder, Tom Browne, who now retired makes scaled-down models of vernacular residential houses.

29. A dictionary story - Sam Winston

Circle Press, 2005. This work graphically illustrates the balance between a world that's safe but boring and a high risk universe full of creative possibilities.

Further information about Artists’ books

From the website of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (National Art Library)

Artists' books are books made or conceived by artists. There are fine artists who make books and book artists who produce work exclusively in that medium, as well as illustrators, typographers, writers, poets, book binders, printers and many others who work collaboratively or alone to produce artists' books. Many artists' books are self-published, or are produced by small presses or by artists' groups or collectives, usually in limited editions.

Artists' books that maintain the traditional structure of a book are often known as book art or bookworks, while those that reference the shape of a book are known as book objects. Other types of work produced by artists in book format include concrete poetry, where meaning is derived from the spatial, pictorial and typographic characteristics of the work, as well as from the sense of the words.

Contemporary artists' books are noteworthy for their many different forms and perhaps because of this they have an equally large number of precursors and influences. Artists have been associated with the written word since illuminated manuscripts were developed in the medieval period. Many have been concerned with books as an artistic enterprise, notably William Blake at the end of the 18th century and William Morris at the Kelmscott Press from the 1890s. Avant-garde artists throughout the 20th century also produced many books as part of their artistic endeavours.

It is however the livre d'artiste, also known as the livre de peintre, that is generally considered to be a key precursor to the contemporary artists' book. Originating in France around the turn of the 20th century, the livre d'artisteis a form of illustrated book. They are distinguished by the fact that the pages have been printed directly from a source created by the artist themselves rather than from a source that has been created by a technician from the artist's design. An early exponent of the livre d'artiste was the dealer Ambroise Vollard who commissioned Pierre Bonnard to illustrate with lithographs a collection of poems by Paul Verlaine, Parallèlement, published in Paris in 1900. The works produced were essentially deluxe, limited editions, produced on high quality paper using specialised printmakers. They were generally left unbound so that they could be dismantled for display and so that bespoke bindings could be commissioned if desired. Vollard produced numerous works in association with a number of artists, matching them up with texts to illustrate. Various other publishers followed suit, collaborating with artists of their own association.

In the 1950s and 1960s Swiss-German artist Dieter Roth (1930–98) and American artist Ed Ruscha (1937–) created conceptual works which are considered the foundation of the artists' book genre. In 1962 Ruscha published the first edition of Twenty-six gasoline stations, which comprised 26 deadpan photographs of gasoline stations along Route 66 from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City. The book was not intended as a means for the reproduction of pre-existing photographs, but rather as an artwork in its own right. As the piece retains the essential characteristics of a book, such as the idea of seriality and sequence provided by the turning of pages, it is considered central to the development of the genre. Ruscha produced a series of bookworks in a similar vein. Another characteristic of this series was that they were published in unlimited editions, had a wide distribution and were inexpensive to buy, in a deliberate attempt to bring art to a wider audience.

Roth's distinctive contribution to the genre was his examination, through his bookworks, of the formal qualities of books themselves. These formal qualities, such as flat pages bound into fixed sequences, were deconstructed and investigated, this investigation becoming the subject matter of the book itself. For example 2 Bilderbücher (1957) consists of two picture books of geometric shapes with die-cut holes cut into each page to allow glimpses of patterns from the pages beneath. Subsequent works such as Daily Mirror (1961) involved the use of found materials manipulated to a particular purpose, a technique that was much used by later book artists.

Artists' books became popular throughout the 1960s and early 1970s and the genre has continued to expand. During the 1980s and 1990s many more artists began to use the book as a medium for self-expression and they continue to do so. Techniques remain varied and range from the traditional to the experimental. Small presses and individuals have continued to promote the art of letterpress printing and the hand-crafted book. Some artists have chosen to use computer-generated images while others have used the photocopier to reproduce their work. Many artists have taken up the challenge to experiment with the content and physical structure of the traditional book form. Bookworks and book objects have continued to step outside conventional boundaries to encompass concepts associated with the fine arts. Works range from the minuscule to the gargantuan. Bookworks are not restricted to the use of paper and ink but can incorporate all kinds of materials and appended objects. While such works are usually unique or limited editions, some are produced in multiple copies.