Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Making a Book - Andrew Phelps

"I smile to think of him out there, cursing to no end, trudging away from his truck to compose that picture of his truck in the mud, capturing the spirit of the whole mess. The sunset simply being the excuse to go".

At the end of last year I asked
Andrew Phelps if he wanted to write something about his experience in bookmaking, what a book means to him, what makes him move between large print editions and self published projects.

To me, he seems to be able to perfectly understand how to shape his own projects, the right scale to give to his ideas, when to turn the volume up and when to fade down and dim the lights to give us the perfect fireside feeling for small but intense stories. Such is also the case for his latest book project,
Point Sublime, which he created from an inspiring personal story and is also devoted to a noble cause.

Once again, Andrew showed us how serendipity can come to us and create unexpected beauty, after all it is just a matter of looking into the right shoebox.

Enjoy the read.

Thoughts on making a book
, by Andrew Phelps

Since 2004 it has become more and more important for me to make books. The process has become as important for me as photographing.
I am concentrating on the 2 ends of the spectrum; both the large print-run style of working with a big publisher and at the same time I am producing my own set of limited edition artist books. For me, the two forms are very different and it would be impossible to say which is better or which is more important. They both have advantages and disadvantages. As much as I like the freedom of the self-published books, I also value working with an experienced publishing house when it comes to design, distribution and sales.

Front cover of a dummy for 720

The decision whether to self-publish or go with a big publisher has always been clear to me and determined by the project itself. The bigger projects, meaning the ones which go for years at a time, or that are bigger bodies of work seem to fit the process of working with a publisher. NATURE DE LUXE (Pustet), HIGLEY (Kehrer), and NOT NIIGATA (Kehrer) fall into this category. BAGHDAD SUITE and 720 are projects which I felt fit more to the self-publishing format; conceptual, small print run, a bit abstract.

Front cover and spread from Baghdad Suite

When I start thinking about a book, I begin by printing out all the images simply onto standard paper, not worried about the quality. I then start laying these on the floor. I have found it is best to lay them on the floor running vertically and not horizontally as one might suspect. This seems to mimic the way I see a book. As you walk down the line, the images that will be on the right side of the double page spreads are right above each other and your eye can move directly from one to the other. It is very important how the images on the right sides of the pages follow each other, almost more important than how a double spread works.

Front cover and spread from a dummy for Nature De Luxe

Then, when the order and selection is fixed, I simply bind a dummy of these images so that I can get a feeling for how it will feel. I have only once ever made a dummy cover image which ended up being the actual cover of the book. The cover image seems to take shape as the book comes together.

These early dummies are usually just taped and glued together at first, than after some fine-tuning, I take one to the book binder and have a linen bound dummy made, unless in the case of 720, I knew it would be a soft cover so didn’t bother with the hard binding.

Spreads from dummy and final version of 720

Front cover and prints from a dummy for Higley

Final version of Higley

Front cover of a dummy for Not Niigata, spread and final cover

What I miss most about self publishing the small editions is the off-set printing process. Because the print runs are so small, I have always done them with a digital print and this is of course no comparison to standing in front of the off-set printing machine for 20 hours and watching the sheets as they come out, the noise, making slight adjustments, getting high on the inks. The digital printing process is very clean, steril, silent and almost clinical.

NOT NIIGATA; The printing of. 2009 from Andrew Phelps on Vimeo.

Andrew Phelps "720" from Andrew Phelps on Vimeo.


The latest project POINT SUBLIME, which is also a digitally printed booklet of 24 pages, is the first time I am bundling a book and print. I have been very successful with the special editions of HIGLEY and NOT NIIGATA when I offered them with a print in a pre-release offer. Each was in an edition of 100, HIGLEY sold out right away, there are still a few NOT NIIGATA left.

So I have decided for this new little self-publication to only make them available with a print. The reason for this decision is a result of the project itself. The images are not made by me but by my father. First off, he doesn’t have any kind of art-market value that he has to worry about diluting with too many images and secondly (and most importantly) is that the reason for this publication is to raise money for cancer research and by adding the print to the deal I can charge more money and thus donate a bigger sum to the cancer research. Besides all of the practical and marketing arguments, the spirit of this project just fits so well as an artist book.

In the summer of 1984 my father drove his Ford F250 alone into Point Sublime, a remote overlook at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. His only objective was to photograph a sunset. On a visit to Arizona last summer I began sorting through thousands of slides, deciding what to scan, what to archive and what to throw out. When I came upon a sheet titled “Sublime”, it wasn’t the sunsets that interested me, but the photographs he never showed me; his truck stuck in the mud, the lonely road, a spooked deer in the woods. I know he will say different, but if you have met my father, you will agree that below his rough outer-surface is a romantic renaissance man. An otherwise practical man, he was inspired to narrate his journey to watch the sun go down. I smile to think of him out there, cursing to no end, trudging away from his truck to compose that picture of his truck in the mud, capturing the spirit of the whole mess. The sunset simply being the excuse to go. So many elements of this trip; travel, solitude, isolation, obsession, reflect the same spirit that I always feel dominates my small artist books. They are these little things that, for some reason, I just feel like I have to do.

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