Making an Artist’s Book

My tutor suggested that I consider developing my monoprints using natural stencils and acrylic paints printed off a gelatine sheet. I have been thinking about how to produce something which didn’t just hang on a wall. These two ideas have come together in the production of a small artist’s book.  There is no sketchbook work to support it because the prints are arrived at spontaneously, using leaves. However, it is the result of much thought over quite a few months, trying to plan my approach and the practicalities, and trial and error in producing a book (or rather a booklet).

Particular issues to be resolved were:

  • weight of paper; heavy enough to print on with waterbased acrylic but light enough to fold
  • weight of cover
  • number of pages
  • whether to print on every page, every other page
  • producing a linked family of prints
  • learning how to crease and bind the book
  • placing the prints consistently on each page.

I decided that the back of each print should be blank and also the facing pages. This meant printing every second page. To stop this being dull and to add an extra dimension to the book, I decided alternate pages should have a cut out, to glimpse the next print through. The cut out, of course, had to be a leaf, with a tree on the first page. I decided to cut these before printing, as I could easily recut if I messed up printing, but didn’t want to spoil a good print with a poor cut out.

I had picked up quite a few different shaped leaves in the autumn and pressed them in a book to use as stencils. I prepared for the printing by:

  • cutting my pages, double width, exactly the same size, with many to spare
  • folding my pages and cutting out my leaf motifs
  • making a jig to print with two plastic sheets to attach two papers to with masking tape, attached to a piece of mount board, covered with plastic and marked to place my gelatine sheet in place
  • Jig with two plastic flaps

    Printing jig

    Printing jig

  • making a trial booklet using my planned technique.
    Trial booklet, 10cm x 15cm

    Trial booklet, 10cm x 15cm


    My new pocket sketchbook!

It was difficult to plan the printing, but there are some basic principals which seem to hold for gelatine plate printing with stencils:

  • transparent paints work best
  • working light to dark in layers
  • printing alternate negative stencil prints and positive ghosts (hence two flaps to the jig)
  • very thin layers of paint to get a jewel-like effect
  • rolling the roller over a damp cloth before rolling  the paint
  • working the paint with a palette knife produces good textures.

However, often great effects are achieved by breaking these ‘rules’. After printing, the best prints in a range of colours were selected and the page order chosen. The pages were put together and left between boards under heavy weights for a couple of days.

Pages selected and put in order before adding cover  and stitching

Pages selected and put in order before adding cover and stitching



A slightly heavier paper was selected for the cover, and the tree motif cut into a small piece of lino. This was printed onto scrap cover paper to test and then onto the cover once I was satisfied with the colours and the amount of ink on the plate.

Book ready for trimming

Book ready for trimming

The cover and pages were assembled, pressed again and then sewn with a complimentary thread. The book was placed between two pieces of MDF, everything squared up and clamped so that the pages could be trimmed square with a scalpel blade, opposite the spine. This was desirable because the bulk of pages at the spine means that each folio gradually sticks out more. I left the slight variation top and bottom as I quite like a little handmade-feel.

Final book, 10cm x 10cm

Final book, 10cm x 10cm


P1040123 P1040126 P1040122

Here are some of the pages which didn’t make it into the book and which will be used as birthday cards.


I have really enjoyed this project:

  • it’s lovely to handle a physical object after having it rumble around at the back of my brain for months
  • the jewel like colours look great through the cutouts
  • the thin acrylic layers have worked well, especially combined with gold
  • texturing the paint on the slab worked very well
  • there is huge pleasure in making an artifact.

I could improve on this and develop further:

  • more precise measuring and cutting – more practice
  • I may have put in one too many folios here
  • go bigger
  • more variety of leaf – my choice was limited in February!
  • other themes such as featuring a particular plant, my garden, things collected on a walk in a particular place
  • themed non-natural stencils using the cutouts from the previous page, although these would not have the delicate detail and texture of nature
  • use a variety of paper for the pages although these would have to be matched for weight
  • develop presentation for the books, boxes, slip cases etc.

About starrybird

I am mature student studying art with The Open College of the Arts. My passion is printmaking.
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