Folios are very tall books—15 inches or more. Elephant folios are up to 23 inches in height. Atlas folios, up to 25 inches. There are even double elephant folios, which can be up to 50 inches tall!
By the mid-19th century, folios were made with state-of-the-art printing technology. Larger sheets of paper and new roller presses allowed the creation of these oversized books.
Typically these folios were scientific and scholarly works intended for a very specialized audience, both because of the subject matter, but also the cost. James Audubon’s Birds of America is a classic example. Imagine these big books spread out on tables in wood-paneled private libraries. See all Elephant Folios.
Artists’ illustrated books (livres d’artistes) are limited edition fine art books usually initiated by a publisher or an author, rather than the artist. The artist may be invited to illustrate a poem or other text. Or the artist creates a portfolio of original prints published by an art dealer or fine art press. This genre, which appeared early in the 20th century and continues today, is notable for the high quality of paper, printing and binding.
The distinction between artists’ books and artists’ illustrated books may lie in the eye of the beholder as much as in formal definitions. Both offer the readers pleasurable visual and tactile experiences. See all Artists’ Illustrated Books.
Fine art editions are distinguished by the high quality of materials and production. The weight of the paper, the leather binding, the hand-sewn signatures (sheets of folded pages), and the deckled edged pages are hallmarks of high-end production. The typefaces and the page layouts are artistically designed. Even the colors of ink are carefully chosen.
These are limited editions; only a few copies are made. They are usually numbered and signed by the artist and others who helped with the production. The copy number and the edition number are expressed as a fraction. For instance, 24/50 means the 24th copy of an edition of 50.
Collaborators in publishing fine art editions may include essayists, poets, printers, typesetters, binders, and papermakers.
Occasionally, an artist does it all, from A to Z. See all Fine Art Editions.
An exquisite corpse book is a collaborative project, where each person makes an artistic contribution—a drawing, a print—to the final product. No one knows quite how it will turn out until it is put together.
The exquisite corpse idea began as a Surrealist word play, each player adding one word to complete a sentence with unexpected results. The artists’ version of the exquisite corpse works on the same principal with each artist adding an element.
Here’s one common bookmaking adaptation of the exquisite corpse: Take a set of prints of the same size that depict two human figures. Cut the prints vertically to separate the figures. Then cut them horizontally into thirds—heads, torsos, and legs. By turning these little pages, you can mix and match the body parts of the “exquisite corpse” to create your own unique bodies. The number of combinations is staggering! See all Exquisite Corpses.
Accordion books come in many shapes and sizes, but they all zig and zag. You’d be surprised at the variety of ways paper can be folded or cut to create pages—back-to-back, tunnels, cut-outs, pop-ups. The artwork or text can be placed on both the front and back of the pages. Look at one side, see one thing. Look at the backside, see a different set of images. So much to discover.
Zigzag books can be set on their bottom edge or laid on their backsides. Either way you can squeeze and stretch the pages, like an accordion. See all Accordion-folds.
A gatefold is an oversized page in a book folded to the same size as the other pages but intended to be opened out for reading or viewing. Magazine advertisements use gatefolds. So does the National Geographic.
A double gatefold has three parallel folds. The left and right edges of the paper fold inward and meet in the middle, without overlapping, along a centerfold.
You’ve heard of centerfolds. Now you know about gatefolds. See all Gatefolds.
“Democratic multiples” are inexpensive artists’ books sold cheaply or even given away to as many people as possible. Typically democratic multiples convey a social or political message. The artist wants to get the word out with low production costs and self-distribution, by-passing the art gallery.
This is very much a 1960s “power to the people” phenomenon and a bit subversive. But in a practical sense it wasn’t really democratic. How many people could such a book reach? And an artist can hardly make a living with democratic multiples.
Today, with the possibilities of the internet and print-on-demand, democratic multiples may need to be reinvented. See all Democratic Multiples.
Multi-part artists’ books push the boundaries of the traditional codex—sequential bound pages. What are the separate parts that together constitute the “book”?
They could be a set of booklets; folded pages tucked in an envelope pocket; a portfolio of prints; a deck of cards; or just about anything. Multi-part books invite the reader to open the box or case, to untie or unwrap and remove the different parts, discovering how they all fit together and what stories they conceal and reveal. See all Multi-part Books.
Artists’ books may be enclosed, encased, wrapped up, or bound in engaging ways, inviting you to open them up and look inside.
Enclosures may be made of many materials from very modest cardboard to high-end leather. Metal, plastic, cloth, or other unexpected materials may also be deployed. Enclosures of artists’ books can be works of art themselves.
Slipcases allow a book to slip in or out of a box. They also protect the contents and may be as creatively designed as the books themselves. See all Enclosures.
Codex is the formal name for what we commonly call a book. With sequential pages bound together on one side, the codex is a compact sturdy way of storing and accessing the printed word. The pages can be opened flat for ease of reading. It is economical since both sides of the page can be used. And the binding protects the content. It is not surprising that the codex replaced the scroll as the preferred format for the book. Or that e-books emulate the traditional codex. See all Conventional Codexes.