Crab Quill Press—Artist Books > Making a Book

Making a Book



When people look at my books, one of the most frequently asked questions is, “How did you make this?” And so the story begins. Making an book is a fascinating process, which involves a wide variety of materials, tools, and technologies. As such, each book becomes a celebration of materials, a web of manufacturers, and the history of technology. Each project tends to foster a rich collaborative environment where writers, historians, translators, artists, designers, and technicians interact. And after the book is finished, this collaboration extends to each individual viewer/handler. Because each book is a marriage of so many elements, the making can be seen as an intricate puzzle where the parts build upon each other layer by layer. Books unfold page after page, introducing the element of time in the form of discrete temporal units. Thus, the creation of an artists book as a whole can be compared to composing a piece of music where concepts such as pacing, rhythm, themes, voice, and duration must be carefully considered.

What follows is a very general introduction to the making a book. The process of making a book can be loosely divided into five parts: content selection and design; pre-press preparations; printing; binding; and construction of a protective case.



1. Content selection and design

Crab Quill books generally display a clear interplay between form, material, and content. In this process, the idea (in the form of text or image) generally comes first. Next, technicalities of the book's construction (such as size, paper, and type of binding) are considered so as to best complement, accommodate and present the content. Only after the dimensions of the book have been established are the final images made and the type set. The result is a book that is at once a visual, intellectual, and tactile experience.



2. Pre-press preparations

Most text in Crab Quill books is printed letterpress off of lead type that is either set by hand or by monotype machine (other methods include using photopolymer plate, stencils, lasers, and, of course, by hand). Each letter is an individual piece of lead. If set by hand, each letter is individually selected and then composed line by line in a composing stick. After the text is set, that block of type is locked into the bed of the press and several proofs are pulled to check for missing, dinged, or upside-down letters, awkward spacing, and so forth. Actual printing does not take place until all text is set and proofed. Many of the books contain intaglio prints, which are printed off of copper plates on an etching press. If the books contain relief images, they are then printed using photopolymer plates and printed on a proofing press. Prior to the actual printing, all paper and fabric is cut or torn to size.



3. Printing

The main press used for printing type at Crab Quill Press is a Vandercook SP25 proofing press, originally designed to proof newspaper galleys. In this process, type is locked into the bed of the press using wooden furniture and coins. Inks are mixed and then applied to the rollers, and the packing on the tympan is adjusted to accommodate the specific thickness of the paper being used. Paper is attached to the tympan, which is then rolled over the type. Voila! Then between proofs, minor adjustments are made to the position of the type, packing, roller height, and ink density until the desired print position and quality is achieved. This process is repeated for each color printed and each page. For intaglio images, an etching press, designed by Ray Trayle, is used.



4. Binding

Most Crab Quill Press books are bound in one of two bindings: the sewn-boards binding, championed by Gary Frost; and the drum-leaf binding, developed by Timothy Ely. In both cases, these bindings have been modified for exposed wooden boards as well as to accommodate a drop-away spine. The covers of the sewn-boards binding are sewn as an integral part of the text block (instead of the case wrapping around and being glued to the text block, as with typical trade books). The drum-leaf binding is a non-sewn binding that is similar to children's board books. In both bindings, the spine of the book is protected by a spine-wrap hinged in such a way that when the book is opened the spine-wrap drops away so as to increase flexibility. These are a favored binding not only because is it extremely durable, but it also allows the book to open flat (in contrast to most books where the paper curves dramatically at the spine), giving the audience the optimal reading/viewing experience. Good action!

Considerable time is spent looking for wood for the covers of each edition. Many of the covers, especially on one-of-a-kind volumes or very limited editions, are pieces of wood originally cut for musical instruments that for some reason were rejected by an instrument maker (usually the tone was not right or contained an insect hole). After the wood is selected, it is re-sawn into thin boards, and sanded. Once the cover dimensions are established, the boards are cut to size, and the bound edge is machined to fit varying thicknesses of fabric and paper that are used in the construction of the spine. The cover image or text is then branded, sandblasted, or laser-cut into the surface, and the cover is finished with a sealer.

The process of binding is also intensive. The paper is cut to its final size and folded using a folding bone. Each folded sheet, known as a folio, is collated with other folios into signatures. Signatures are then collated to create the text block. The text block is then bound with linen thread and placed into a book press where the spine is smoothed and stabilized with several layers of glue and long-fibered Japanese paper.

The final step is constructing and adhering the spine wrap. This wrap not only hides parts of the binding, but also protects the back of the book.



5. Construction of a protective case.

Most Crab Quill Press books come in what is known as a Solander Box, a box designed by the Swedish botanist Daniel Charles Solander (1736-1782). A pupil of Linnaeus, Solander became Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum, and later he traveled with Captain Cook on his expedition to the Pacific as the chief botanist. The boxes he constructed to store specimens have been standard storage boxes ever since.