Bookmaking – creating a handmade book

Gail Erwin explains bookmaking and how to make a book of your art – or art of a book, whichever you prefer.

Writer and photography / Gail Erwin

A book is an intimate format for displaying artwork.

bookmaking is an art
The image above is called ‘Sisters’ by Gail Erwin.

It combines structure, image and in many cases text. The reader may take a book into his or her hand and turn a sequence of pages, adding an element of time to the experience. The book may be displayed as a piece of sculpture, emphasizing structure. The goal of the book artist is to integrate all these elements into a unified whole, to explore the intersection of two and three-dimensional space, and to engage the viewer/reader so as to experience the artist’s vision.

a book made by Gail Erwin
The image above is called ‘Sticks and Stones’ by Gail Erwin.

Two examples of books – and bookmaking – created by the author – Gail Erwin – use alternative photography in accordion fold books. “Sisters” has Vandyke prints of old family photos printed on pages from a psychological text about fathers and daughters. These images are glued and stitched with french knots to handmade paper and then to the accordion which was folded from Somerset printmaking paper. “Sticks and Stones” is a double sided cyanotype photogram of sticks and stones with a wishbone hidden among the sticks. The structure is a double accordion stitched where the valleys of the accordion fold meet. The paper is Stonehenge printmaking paper. Covers on both books have been covered with book cloth, a paper backed cloth used in bookbinding and bookmaking.

The instructions for creating an Accordion book follow. Specific measurements and number of pages for the book have been given, but you can increase or decrease both to suit your needs when making a book.

Bookmaking: How to make an accordion book

Materials list for bookmaking

  • Ruler
  • Bone folder
  • Scissors
  • Utility knife
  • Cutting mat
  • Glue (pva or other white glue)
  • Container for glue
  • Brush for glue, 1 inch
  • Waxed paper
  • Book board (heavy book board, davey board, 3-ply chipboard)
  • Decorative paper
  • 90 lb (190 gram) hot press watercolor paper

Bookmaking: For the covers of a book

Cut book board to size using the utility knife or a heavy-duty paper cutter. You will need two pieces, one for the front cover and one for the back. For this sample book, the size of the book board should be 6 x 4.5 inches (15 x 11.25 cm).

Cut decorative paper 1 inch (2.5 cm) larger than the book board on all sides. Put glue on board and place it in the center of the paper. Smooth paper with bone folder in order to remove any air bubbles. For gluing use PVA (polyvinyl acetate) or other white glue (in US, Sobo or Elmer’s brands will do). It is helpful to pour some glue into a small container. Choose an inexpensive bristle brush and dedicate it to this purpose. The waxed paper is used to keep the work surface free of glue. Place the board to be glued on the waxed paper and remove or fold the waxed paper between each application of glue. An alternative to waxed paper is craft paper or newsprint. The advantage of waxed paper is that it will peel away if any glue wanders to an unwanted surface. A note on the decorative paper: too thin and the glue will bleed through or too thick and it will be difficult to fold around the covers.

Trim paper diagonally at corners to 1/4 to 1/2 inch (1 cm).

Glue paper at top and fold over onto covers. Smooth with bone folder. Repeat at bottom.

Trim corners to 1/8 inch (3 mm) , tuck in small tab. Glue and fold 1 inch sections on sides onto covers making sure the corners are square and crisply folded.

Place under weight until glue dries so boards dry flat.

Bookmaking: For the accordion

Cut two sheets of paper 6 x 17 inches (15 x 42.5 cm).

Most paper (except handmade paper) has a grain. Paper will fold or tear easier along the grain. You will want to cut your paper so the 6 inch (15 cm) measurement, the one you will fold, is along the grain. The paper for the accordion should be sturdy enough to stand up when folded. I recommend a 70 to 90 pound (150 to 190 gram) paper. I use a 90 lb. hot press watercolor paper or a 70 lb. drawing paper. Most likely, the paper you are using for your alternative photo processes will work.

Measure one inch (2.5 cm) from one end of each sheet of paper, score and fold. Fold the sheet of paper in half, but only to the fold line. You will have two folds at this point with three sections measuring one inch, 8 inches and 8 inches (20 cm). Fold the 8 inch sections in half in the opposite direction creating an accordion fold. Each sheet should have four 4 inch (10 cm) sections and one 1 inch section. Place the sections in front of you with wings up and the 1 inch sections in the middle. Cut off one of the 1 inch sections and glue the other one to the second sheet.

The accordion can now be glued to the cover. To glue, place the accordion on waxed paper and use the waxed paper as a barrier to keep the glue on the section to be glued. Place the accordion on the cover so the folded side is about an 1/8 inch (3mm) from the edge of the cover. Repeat, except when attaching the second cover, place the cover on the folded accordion ensuring that the covers line up properly. Once the pages are glued in, wrap the book and any glued pages in waxed paper and put them under a weight until the glue dries.

An alternative to using one of the wings as the inside cover is to attach the accordion to the cover with 1 inch (2.5) tabs and glue on an inside cover. Either way, you need an even number of accordion pages so the book closes properly.

You can attach images to the accordion with glue or thread, or you can print them directly on the accordion pages.

This article is written by Gail Erwin. Gail is an artist specializing in hand papermaking, artists books and alternative photography. She lives, works, teaches and exhibits in and around Boston, Massachusetts, USA. For more information about her workshops contact her at or visit the website.

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