Wednesday, 30 March 2016

→ introducing physicians' almanac binding

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

In the world of medieval English bookmaking, 15th century saw emergence of a physician's folded almanac. The book, which was produced to be carried around; where each page expanded individually to allow the medical practitioner access essential information on stars, saints and signs of Zodiac.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

Folded almanac belongs to the late medieval period, when astrology, science and magic coexisted in medicine. Almanacs were utilitarian tools, which helped physicians check the alignments of starts before making a diagnosis or commencing a treatment. They contained calendar (with saints' days), charts as well as diagram of Zodiac Man, which indicated the parts of the body as they were ruled by the signs of Zodiac.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

The almanacs must have been abundant in the 15th century. By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding(2).

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding. - See more at:
The almanacs had a "best before" date - the astronomical and astrological data was only calculated for a period of about ten years. A physician could only safely consult the manuscript during those years, after which he would need an updated version of the calculations (4).  It is thought(4), that this is the reason why so few of them survived to this day.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

By the end of the 1500s, physicians across Europe were required by law to calculate the position of the moon before carrying out complicated medical procedures, such as surgery or bleeding. - See more at:
Almanacs - like contemporary books - were portable objects: they were produced to be carried around, often hung on the belt. They were built out of individual sheets of parchment, which were folded and sewn together to create a fan-like structure that allowed each leaf to be unfolded individually(1) - not unlike maps. Almanacs’ practical function suggests that they were both ephemeral – readily discarded and replaced – and relatively inexpensive to produce with (often) crude illustrations(3). The more lavishly decorated ones (as the one from Wellcome Library shown here), suggest that their ownership extended to the wealthier patrons, who might have not necessarily practiced medicine.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

English folding almanac in LatinMS.8932. Wellcome Library, 2014.

As seen from the images, the structure is similar to the map fold: the book is contained in a small case, but each page can be expanded into the space well beyond the size of the book. My brief online research suggests, that there are a few variants of the fold, including a type of concerina. A wonderful blog post by Teffania shows her attempts to recreate the almanac structure.

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff

Teffania's Stuff


1 Strådal, Sara Öberg (2016), Medieval Medical Diagrams: Meanings, Audiences and Functions. In Hectoren International: A Journal of Medical Humanities.

2 Bovey, Alixe. Medicine, Diagnosis and Treatment in the Middle Ages. In British Library

3 Brenner, Elma. The Enigma of the Medieval Almanac. In Welcome Library.

4 Albright, Adrienne. Art and Science 4 – Celestial Bodies: Astrological Medicine in a Folding Almanac. In Before the Art.


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

The Intriguing Potential of Non-Human Readers

Technology seems to be advancing at break-neck speed these days, with innovations taking place in many areas of our lives. Things that we rely on on a daily basis would have appeared miraculous just decades before.

Captain Picard from TV's Star Trek with a Data Padd, next to Steve Jobs with his iPad. Image Source:

One particular advancement that I find difficult to fully comprehend is the development of artificial intelligence. The concept is clear to me, but the long-term implications of it and the practical development of it blows my mind.

Something that got me thinking recently was a study that I came across via a favourite blog of mine in which a computer program was fed thousands of works of fiction and then asked to predict human behaviour based on what it had 'read'. In 71 percent of cases it successfully predicted what a person would do in a given circumstance. The detail of the study is fascinating (and can be found here). The applications for this kind of technology seem incredible.

Image source: Radicktv, via Giphy.

Amongst the potential uses include a device for visually impaired people to wear that could provide the user with information relating to things within their immediate vicinity that would be relevant to their predicted needs. For example the device might inform the wearer of a seat nearby if it 'felt' that they might like to sit down or rest.

I particularly like the literary angle to this. In this instance the machine was given the contents of the writing community Wattpad (a site which, according to Wikipedia, is a host for articles, stories, fan fiction, and poems). What if it were given the complete works of Oscar Wilde or the out-put of the controversial writer Michel Houellebecq? Would its predictions be tainted by the author's world view?

Could this technology bring authors back from the dead? Could a machine create a new Shakespeare play given access to his works and an input of our choosing? Articles are already being written by computers, so this may not be as far-out as it seems.

It puts me in mind of Deep Thought, the computer that calculated the answer to 'Life the Universe and Everything' in Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series. With access to all those works of imagination, what might these machines learn about the human race that we don't already know about ourselves? Perhaps within our lifetime's we may begin to find out.

Deep Thought, revealing the answer. Image Credit: Igor Canova.


Wednesday, 16 March 2016

the typewriter

As part of our Gutter project we used a typewriter. The reason for us, was that it is the most transportable way of printing on site without having to have a computer and a printer.  It doesn't need electricity or take up a lot of room, so fits into our project quite nicely, allowing us to print a publication during the duration of the fair.

Photo: Pauline Lamont-Fisher

So I'm going to explore a few creative uses of the typewriter in various forms. 

Firstly this manual for the use of an Olivetti typewriter from the 50's. Though not intended as a piece of art it is beautifully designed and reads like a piece of concrete poetry. It sums up the modern differences in keyboard design which enthralled so many people at the fair. The 'experience' of the typewriter, the noise, the extra pressure you put on the keys added an interesting layer to the event. Also what I liked was that the backspace key pointed in the direction the carriage moved and not in the direction it now points on a modern keyboard. I wonder when this change in direction appeared?

I couldn't look at the typewriter without looking at concrete poetry which seems to form a big part of its creative use, like these typewriter drawings and poems by Carl Andre. It did strike me while using the typewriter the other weekend, that there is something quite freeing about an analogue way of working. If you don't mind not having perfectly straight lines of text, the typewriter works more like a drawing with a slightly less than precise form of mark making. 

While doing this typewriter research I came across this fun book by Ed Ruscha that I wasn't aware of. Some might be repulsed by it but it fits into this post on the creative use of a typewriter quite nicely. 

This artists' book documents the destruction of a Royal (Model 'X') typewriter that was thrown from a car travelling at 90 m.p.h. The book being an interpretation of Jack Kerouac’s 1959 novel, On the Road. Various parts of the typewriter that were scattered far and wide were documented along with the remaining body of the typewriter itself and the artist inspecting it. 

I'll leave you with this: 'The Typewriter' a piece of classical music from the 50's written by Leroy Anderson. Reminding us that the typewriter can not only be used to draw with, record text and be thrown out of a speeding car, but can also be used to make music. Enjoy!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

GUEST POST: From Books to Printed Matter (A brief history of Highchair Editions by Edward Newton)

With the recent boom in self and small scale independent publishing, the book has, in many ways, taken centre stage in the world of photography. Everyone wants to publish a book! I, of course, was no different when I started Highchair Editions in 2011. It was set up with my brother as a self publishing imprint for our personal self initiated projects.

From the outset we made in our minds a clear distinction that we were making artist books rather than large volume trade editions.  There were a number of reasons that led us to print small editions. Firstly it was financial, followed very closely by what we felt was something of a creative restriction of producing something in volume as well as the unknown landscape of distribution and audience. As things began we were blind to many of the nuts and bolts of the process, we just wanted to print something.

At the start we were also led by the choice of printing technique. Inkjet printing for some is still something of a dirty word. Very few people seem to want to make direct reference to it. For us the process allowed us to find our book making feet so to speak in the fact that it offered us complete in house control over the production from making the early dummies to the finished publication. It also allowed us the opportunity, through a lot of trial and error, to print on a huge number of different non inkjet specific paper stocks. By doing so we were able to eliminate a huge number of options and discover a few real surprises.

Our first happy accident was to print on sugar paper, also known as construction paper and used today mainly in primary school art classes.  Its rough surface has a beautiful tactile quality which really lent itself to the work we were printing.  It’s rough but has stability and at 140gsm meant we could book stitch bind it and more significantly it printed well, holding black particularly well.

On the other end of the paper scale was a GF Smith paper stock Accent smooth, an off-white ‘smart’ paper with a significantly smoother surface than we had used before. It offered elegance in both presentation and print for a series of abstract, tonally subtle images.

We continued to experiment with paper options and moved towards using coloured stocks, albeit in shades of light brown, culminating in ‘The Light Was Rust’. This particular publication features work made in the Italian city of Palermo and uses a light straw coloured stock in two weights for cover and bulk. The shade and texture of the paper lend themselves to the tone and texture of the city itself, and, much like the place itself was an attempt to marry certain elegance with an informality and roughness.

My attitude to design and what constitutes a book has changed quite significantly in the five years of Highchair Editions, in fact we may now consider our productions as printed matter rather than books! A small but significant shift in attitude and approach has led to a variety of formats being produced, the main driving force being the aim to design specifically around the work and not have a one size fits all approach. We have always wanted to start from scratch each time we begin a project, and, in some ways react against the last one. With ‘This time next year’ we used a salvaged wall paper for the front cover, it was a book made up primarily of domestic scenes from around the house so the material lent itself towards feelings of the home. However it was also very pretty and as a reaction led us to make ‘Trampolines and Bouncy’ castles, an ugly book made up of ugly images!


More recently, any experimentation has been in format as much as with materials. ‘nothing at the moment’ is something of a follow up to the earlier mentioned This time next year’ and continues to explore the home and domestic scenes. The finished publication is part portfolio, part book, and is made simply of seven sheets folded and then housed in a small band, it is content driven, 14 photographs, no text.

It was stripping back the process to the bare bones, thinking about what the key components are and very much an attitude of less is more, an idea that culminated with ‘Unknown’. 


As something of an antidote to the white space of ‘nothing at the moment’ and ‘unknown’ we made ‘FORZA’.  The work, made in the Italian city of Genoa, covers every surface of the publication, a publication that functions as part concertina book and part poster. It’s loosely bound with elastic to fold out to reveal a larger image and can be read as individual pictures or a complete set. The format is simply two sheets of paper that fold down, with the smaller sheet functioning as a cover of sorts. It was made with the specific city in mind, in that it is compact with little space but if you begin to look it will reveal itself to you.

So as we continue to develop the practice of self publishing many of our original ideas and aims remain, in fact, very little has changed in terms of attitude and intention, this despite some changes in the landscape as a whole.  We’ll continue to pursue our own ideas and focus on image based content presented in the most suitable and hopefully interesting way as possible.

Edward Newton
(Highchair Editions)

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

→ gold on the cover // The Great Omar + 10 contemporary foiled covers.

As we are getting ready for PAGES|Leeds with our gold embossed covers - which will house a new publication for GUTTER project - I have been looking around at gilding practice in contemporary bookmaking. 

Fabulously rich gilded bejeweled bindings were frequently used on grand illuminated manuscripts in Middle Ages. As manuscript culture faded, so did the bindings. 

In the XXth century Sangorski & Sutcliffe emerged as the binders of exceptional extravagance, using multi-coloured leather, jeweled inlays and precious metals. The history of their most famous work The Great Omar, is as spectacular a story as the work itself.

The Great Omar was commissioned by Sotherans Bookshop. It was indicated that the cost of the book was not to be a consideration. With that carte blanche, Sangorski & Sutcliffe outdid all previous efforts: after two and a half years they created a sumptuous binding containing over a thousand jewels. The front cover was adorned with three golden peacocks, their tails made of inlaid jewels and gold, as were the vines winding around them.
When the book was finally completed in 1911, it was listed for sale at £1,000 and shipped to New York for display. Customs, however, demanded a heavy duty on the shipment and Sotherans refused to pay. The Great Omar was returned to England, where Sotherans had it sent to Sotheby’s auction, where it sold to an American named Gabriel Wells for mere £450. The first ship scheduled to transport the Great Omar sailed without the book, so it was packed safely into the very next option, a luxury liner called the Titanic. The book went down with the ship in 1912. Weeks later, Sangorski also drowned in a bathing accident off Selsey Bil.
Sutcliffe took six years to recreate a second copy from Sangorski's original drawings. As soon as the new Great Omar was completed, it was stored in a bank vault for safety. Unfortunately, the bank, vault, and book were destroyed in the bombings of World War II.
The firm passed into the hands of Sutcliffe’s nephew, Stanley Bray, in 1936. After his retirement, Stanley created the third The Great Omar, which took another fourty years. He worked to his uncle’s original specifications. This final copy lives in the British Library still today. (from Biblio and Guardian)

The place of Sangorski & Sutcliffe is taken today by designer bookbinders. Contemporary bindings look remarkably modest as compared with the above. I have discovered some very skilled bookbinders (such as Robert Wu or Sol Rébora). I have failed, however, to find jeweled lashings of gold (even though, I am sure they exist!). As a result, I have diverted to mock gold leaf, i.e. metallic foils. 
Here are my top-ten book covers:

1. F. Scott Fitzgerald anniversay book cover editions by Coralie Bickford-Smith


 2. by Julia Kostreva

3. by komma (a platform for presenting projects of students of the Design Faculty of the University of Applied Sciences, Mannheim)

4. Laus 2015

 5. by Keith Hayes

6. by Coralie Bickford-Smith (again)

8. by Marian Bantjes

 9. by Tadeu Magalhães

10. Laus 2012