How Do I Begin?
Before you decide exactly what shape, medium, and format you want your book to take, you should decide: What will my book be about? An original idea that’s been rattling around in your head, looking for a way to be presented? Taking an old classic, and giving it a new spin? Or is it a subject that could stand a new interpretation? Your book can be any of these. It can even be simpler and closer to home, like taking an incident from your own life and giving it some shape and permanence.

Maureen Cummins, Anatomy of Insanity, 2008, Nancy Donskoj photo

Once you’ve decided on the subject, you might want to lay the idea out in a flow chart. If you’re not familiar with the process, it’s like doing an outline, but putting your content in boxes that are linked by lines that show how one box leads to another, and another, and so forth. It’s a roadmap, in that it keeps your thoughts in place, and gives your book a place to go, as you progress.

As you become more comfortable with the subject, you’ll also become more comfortable with the techniques you can use. But as a beginner, you might not know just how far you can go, which is understandable. It’s helpful – and instructive – to see what established artists are doing. To see how they respond to challenges – should the book lie flat or be dimensional; should it be made entirely of paper and board or use materials like plastic, glass, metals, even water; how should the reader approach the book – especially if it’s made of several parts.

Tom Killion, Natural Bridge, Santa Cruz

Good news: As with most craft, you’re not alone. There are places to learn, as well as meet, and discuss projects with other artists of all levels of expertise. Do a Google search of “book arts” and your locale, and you’ll find schools, Y’s, and book arts societies that offer courses for beginners to experts. There are even universities, like Oakland’s Mills College, with degree programs.

Many also offer courses in lithography and letterpress, so if you want to try your hand at the fine art paper arts like Tom Killion, you won’t have to make a serious investment in materials and a press – unless and until you’re sure it’s for you.

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We filmed book artist, Julie Chen. Find out more about Julie Chen's books

We filmed weaver, Jim Bassler, for the ORIGINS episode. Purchase the DVDs or view the programs online

See objects from Craft in America: Expanding Traditions, a seven-city traveling exhibition that ran from 2007-2009, and other Virtual Exhibitions

Want to learn to make a book? Download a lesson plan HERE

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