Since I have started making books, I have made small books and large ones, illustrated books and typographic ones. There has been the classic handsewn hardcover as well as experimental bindings and concertinas. It is a total of 18 books I published between 2001 and 2015. Generally, all my books are limited editions, copies are signed and numbered and usally blind embossed. The choice to make this book rather than another for me is a very personal one. Basically, I choose subjects for two main reasons: because they appeal to me as such and for the wider context in which they stand.
There will be three posts about the books I have made so far. This first part will be about my books coming with illustrations. In a later post I shall describe the typographic books, and in a separate post the books that have a relation to Britain and the English language.
My very first book tells the the story of „Little Niak“. The book itself was published in 2001. However, the story is much older. I wrote it way back in 1986, when my goddaughter still was a little girl. The story was written to be read to her at bedtime.
I had just got back from a trip to Sweden in summer 1986. We had been hiking in pretty remote places in Lapland. It was all far off any beaten tracks. In fact, it was far off any sort of track. We had been staying kind of in the middle of nowhere for some weeks. The scenery was stunning, to say the least. There was no kind of shelter apart from the tents we were carrying. It was a very special experience. When I got back there was this story in my head about a chap hiking in remote Lapland, exploring a cave while taking shelter from severe weather. In there he meets Niak and learns that this wee little guy is in charge of our weather. In fact, little Niak is the chef cooking our weather in his very special weather kitchen. So, after having delivered a heavy hail storm to the outside, the two guys sit by the fire, have a cup of tea and chat along about the recipes for snow and hail and the process of preparing the different sorts of weather for the different corners of this earth.
The book is a small size landscape format. I made 4 woodcuts showing the landscape of Swedish Lapland. The woodcuts run all along the bottom edge of all pages in the book and they run straight through the fold. The text is hand set from a fount of Baskerville we had cast ourselves on the Monotype machines at a colleague’s. It was an edition of ten copies and has sold out a couple of years ago. The covers of the special edition have been made from African hand batik fabric.
I have a pretty large number of books with fairy tales on my shelves. Many come from my aunt’s, who had been collecting books with fairy tales from all over the world almost all her life and left the books to me. I myself have grown up with the classics not only by the brothers Grimm but also by Anderson, Bechstein, Perrault and others. Then somebody suggested I might make a book about frogs. Instantly I had the idea of re-writing one of the Grimms’ tales. One of their very classics is the tale of the fisherman and his wife. She is described as a voracious character, never satisfied. The book that grew from this idea is „The Frog and His Spouse“. It tells the story of an old frog who goes looking for a wife one last time and gets it all wrong. Being old and short sighted he chooses a warty toad who turns out to be insatiable.
The book is a small portrait format from outside, but landscape format inside and comes with two woodcuts. One is inside the book the other one is the cover itself, with the woodcut being printed on a bright green cover cloth. The text is hand set from Akzidenz Grotesk, Memphis is used for the headlines. I chose a paper with a nice decent waterline structure, somewhat resembling the small ripples on the surface of a lake touched by the wind. The book is an edition of 16 and was published in 2003. It is one of the last two books I made in the old place at Ebersbach, where I had started as a book artist originally. I moved out there only a few months after the book was finished.
Ludwig Bechstein was a 19th century writer and librarian born in Weimar. He is known for collecting fairy tales and legends, his own writings are virtually forgotten. Like the brothers Grimm’s books his works have become classical compilations of long told tales and are part of many family libraries. In 2007 I decided to turn one of Bechstein’s tales into an artist’s book. I chose „Das Nusszweiglein“ (The Little Twig from the Nut Tree). The tale tells of a bargain, a curse and a transformation, and it is about confidence and trustfulness – and love.
The book is printed on a green-grey deckled edge paper with wavey waterlines. I made five illustrations. They are lino etchings. One of them is a portrait of Ludwig Bechstein going with his biography. Each book comes with two walnut leaves embedded in silk paper. All text is hand set from a variety of metal type all of the same size of 20 pt. All founts are named in the back in the order of their appearance in the book. Founts used change from page to page. The standard edition is bound in a fabric with bear motif, in the special edition an African batik fabric was used for the cover. All books come in a wooden box. The book is an edition of 12, commemorating the 12 years our wonderful dog had been staying with us. She had passed away in 2006 aged almost 14.
In 2009 my studio was 10 years old. The jubilee book was to be a special version of a very old tale. The story itself is very well known in Swabia, the region my studio was located. It is part of a book written by Eduard Moerike, a 19th century poet and clergyman. The tale of „Beautiful Lau“ is about a water nymph being expelled by her husband for only having still born children. She has to overcome a curse by laughing five times, one time she is not allowed to become aware of it. A vital part in the tale plays a small piece of lead coming from a wizard and being full of witchcraft. There is a tongue twister about it that makes beautiful Lau laugh. The Swabian term for it is „Kloetzle Blei“ (little nugget of lead), which basically is the name I gave my studio. As for my studio it refers to the metal type I use for printing, each character being a little nugget of lead, that can work wonders when used in the right way.
I transformed the tale of beautiful Lau into a broadside ballad. The book itself is a concertina folding. The tale adds up to a total of 19 stanzas. It is written to be sung with a very well known tune of an old ballad. During the jubilee event a ballad monger came with her hurdy gurdy and we performed the song in the classic way with me standing on a bench and pointing out with a stick the scenes on the poster broadside that is part of the work. The broadside is a linocut coloured by hand with water colours. The text in the book is printed on strong blue paper and the concertina is made in a way that it kind of pours out of the cover like a well flowing over. The book is an edition of 16. All books have covers made from blue fabric, but every cover is unique. The special edition comes with a portfolio containing the poster broadside, a bamboo pointing stick, the poster announcing the jubilee plus one nugget of metal type with the number of the copy tied to the portfolio. It is up to the owner to find out about the magic powers it might carry.
There was a scandal in 2009. It might not have grown into a scandal had it not happend during the silly season. Somebody had bought a pack of rocket and while unpacking it he had found some herb of the wrong sort. He could have chosen to just sort it out and throw it away. But he did not so. He sent it to a laboratory and it was identified as being a poisonous plant, and that was, where the scandal took of. It resulted in a number of very specialised gardeners’ businesses almost going broke as people virtually stopped buying rocket. The herb found has an appaling taste. Normally you would just not eat it.
The book inspired by this incident was „Rocket – who has found this?“ and it was published in 2010. It describes 21 plants in text and images that could be mistaken for rocket – well, more or less. The illustrations are linocuts showing the outlines of the leaves. On the bottom of the page describing the respective plants there is a scale showing whether the plant can be eaten or is considered poisenous. There is a sachet pasted to the inside back cover containing dried rocket leaves. The book is sewn through the back with black thread.
The book is all about taking responsibility for oneself, for ones own health and life and for the risks one decides to take. It comes with a quote of Immanuel Kant’s quintessential proposition based on the old Latin advice “sapere aude!”. There is a standard edition of 15 copies (Arabic numbers), and a special edition of ten copies (Roman numbers), the latter coming with a poster with all 21 linocuts. Being a trained botanist I thoroughly enjoyed making this book. It is dedicated to our late friend and talented Blues musician Harald Goldhahn who died far too young just before Christmas in 2009, the very time when this book was in the making.
So far I have made two more illustrated books. One is „Cumbria“ (Image on top of this post) and the other one „Woods in Winter“ (image below). Both books are completely in English and will be part of an extra blogpost covering those of my works that have a British background. So stay tuned, there is more to come.