Exercise 3

Alternative publications

For this task, I needed to draw inspiration from my research into artists’ books and fanzines and apply some of the approaches to my own designs. The brief specifically stated that I should not aim for final designs; instead, I should experiment, test out ideas, and consider what these approaches could offer me as a book designer. The brief also mentioned collage and ‘cut and paste’ as a method to try.

Before I started experimenting, I flicked back through my research and picked out a few approaches that had intrigued me or seemed synonymous with zines; these became my focus for this task. Of course, collage was important, but I also ordered a starter lino printing kit, as this seemed appropriate to try out, and considered some paper cutting and folding ideas (a lot of my favourite artists’ books had interesting almost sculptural elements to them). As part of the collage/cut and paste experimentation, I thought it was vital to play with text, typography and building up words or phrases from individual letters, as this was a method I had seen on numerous zine designs.

First, I had a play around with lino printing. Due to cost restrictions, I was economical with my experiments; I ensured I had tried carving my design out so the surrounding area would be inked, and conversely I created designs that were raised so the surrounding area would be blank. I wanted to focus on lettering, as I thought this could be a really effective way of mass producing a heading or title for a zine or book – if the stamps were created, all the designer would need to do would be to ink and print.

My sunshine design was freehand, whereas the text was loosely based on a printed letter. I used tracing paper to transfer the design onto the lino, then carved out the shapes I wanted. The whole process was immensely satisfying, as I could continue to produce the same design over and over once I had created the stamp. In the future, I would like to try using different coloured ink and possibly experiment with layering different designs too, in order to create one whole design. As a starting point though, this method will be useful when producing multiple copies of the same design. I used my letters later on in another experiment too.

Next, I had a play around with some collage. I picked up some old magazine containing a mixture of images (I deliberately tried to select a variety so I could create some interesting designs). I think I gravitate towards surreal and characterful designs; a lot of these images turned out to be quite unusual and, as someone told me in some feedback, ‘creepy’! The possibilities with collage are so open, which is something I appreciate; it was fun to have no limitations and go for it. Some of these designs are eye-catching; I can imagine them appearing on the cover of a zine with minimal type, so as to catch the reader’s attention and draw them in.

I chose a few of my favourite designs and had a play around with photocopying too. As a primary school teacher, I am very aware of the process of photocopying a photocopy, and the reduction in quality. It was nice to see the grainier texture and darker images the more I photocopied. This black and white look was extremely common in my zine research.

Another aspect of collage was the text. After randomly making words to go with some of my collaged images, I decided to create a couple of alphabets that I could photocopy and use again and again (the idea being that this would make it easier to create multiple copies of the same thing). These letters were great to experiment with. I tried putting together words in ways that reflected the meaning, such as the squashed together letters in ‘tense’ versus the spread out letters in ‘calm’ (that space is more relaxing, whereas the closeness feels more urgent). I also included some of the lino printed letters in these words as the first letter (as the first letter of a page is often bigger and bolder).

There were a few more rogue ideas I wanted to try out based on my research. I loved the paper-cutting techniques I saw in some books (and I have some equipment on the way ready to try this out soon!) and also the interesting ways of folding the paper to make the books sculptural. Using some landscape images from magazines, I created a concertina with a sheet of plain paper and stuck these images on to build a landscape. The zig-zag paper enabled the structure to stand up, and by staggering the images, it gave a very clear sense of journeying into the image; it is dynamic, with a definite foreground and background. I could imagine adding text to the spaces that would be revealed when the book was unfolded. It feels like a narrative in the making, and a striking book at first glance.

I also tried a pop-up idea that occurred to me when I was stamping my lino letters. I folded a piece of card in half and cut out some slits perpendicular to the fold. This created a pop-up block when the card was opened. I wanted to create the effect of children’s alphabet blocks, so I stuck the lino letters onto the blocks and decorated them a little with black ink and black pencil crayon. I think it looks interesting! The gaps bother me a little, but I think if another colour was stuck behind, or if there was perhaps string or thread woven in between, this would add even more intrigue.

Finally, I played with fire! I liked the way some artists’ books created spaces so words or images could be seen from the previous page – slightly hidden, slightly revealing. I used matches to burn little holes in the paper (safely of course!) and blew them out straight away. This gave a destroyed effect, but also a feeling of a treasure that had been preserved. It reminded me of old treasure maps or books that contained important messages. I added a few cut out butterflies from some old wrapping paper that added to this whimsical effect.

Overall, I found this experimentation extremely enjoyable! I could have gone on for longer. I had aimed to try out a few different concepts and I think I achieved this. When I have more tools, I would like to continue to experiment with lino printing and paper cutting, as these were both methods that I saw and loved in artists’ books. I will add any further experiments to this blog for this task. I thought it was interesting how, as soon as I photocopied my collage work in black and white, it immediately looked more like something I would find in a zine. This style is certainly distinctive. I do also enjoy the playful aspects, such as pop-up elements or hidden words. When I begin to design my own zine, I would like to include something unusual like this.

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