alisa banks

bookish terms by Alisa Banks

Here is a brief rundown two common terms used in book arts:


This term is often seen in book descriptions. A book will either be part of an edition or a unique offering.

  • An artist can determine how many of a book to make. An edition can be as few as two or it can be hundreds. An open edition means that more of the book can be made in the future. Other editions are finite - the artist determines how many to make, usually before production.

  • Each individual work in an edition may be exactly the same, or may differ somewhat. For example, in my Edges series, which is made from books that were altered by cutting and adding needlework, I created four for the edition. Each of the four original books are from same literature series and the subject of the finished pieces are the same, but each individual book features a different “hair style.”

  • Sometimes an artist will decide to create a deluxe and standard edition. Deluxe editions usually have something special that the standard edition does not. The special item may be how the book is printed (more on that later), a custom box made to house the work, inclusion of a sculptural component, or the addition of a precious metal. Deluxe editions are usually costlier than standard editions.

  • In order to identify individual books in an edition, the artist will assign it a number. For example, the third book of an edition of 10 will be notated as: Edition 3 of 10 or 3/10. This numbering system is also used in printmaking. Some may feel that the number in the edition denotes quality, but this is usually not the case.

  • A unique book means that it is the only one. No other copies were made.

  • An Artist Proof (A/P) means that there is something a little different in this book. Even the most streamlined book requires test runs. An artist proof is often a run that is acceptable, but maybe a feature, such as a type of paper, color of ink, image, etc. was changed before the edition was produced.

Press Name

Some books will feature a small logo or text denoting the press name. Consider a book obtained from a mainstream bookseller. The publisher’s imprint (name) is listed - usually on the spine, and the front or back covers. In basic terms, a publisher charges to print and sell books. Publishers offer other services too, such as editing and designing. Most makers of artist books are self publishers - they make the decisions for their work and often fabricate the work themselves. Many artists use a press name even if they create books without text. Others do not. Having or not having a press name in an of itself does not determine the value of an artist book.

In the next Bookish post, we’ll discuss printing terms.

What the heck is an artist book anyway? by Alisa Banks

I’ve been making artist books for years and know of many others who make them. However, our community compared to that of say, writers, sculptors, and painters in the general population is quite small.

Often, I am asked to define what an artist book is. Most know what a painting is, what a sculpture is, what a novel is…at least in general terms. An artist book can be all of those things and more! In many cases, one can touch an artist book even if it’s with gloves. This is very different from experiencing other types of art and the artist can manipulate these qualities to enhance the viewer’s experience.

Many have attempted to distill the definition of an artist book. Suffice it to say an artist book can consist of any of the following:

  • A writing encased in a fine binding

  • A bound collection of images or writing

  • A sculpture made from a book or books

  • An old book that has been altered - ex. painted, folded, cut - to enhance the original meaning

  • A box with papers featuring unique writing.

  • A book form constructed with unconventional materials such as plastic, plants, soil etc.

This is certainly not an all-inclusive list. Most artist books have a sculptural component and text, but not all. Most are portable and meant to be touched, but not all. The image above is of Continuum, which I also consider an artist book that is in the form of a quilt. The lines between the book and other forms of art are indeed blurred. Books can be made of textiles, tiles, or plants. There are even edible books!

Exploding the Codex by Alisa Banks

Book art exhibition and lecture at LSU this fall.

Book art exhibition and lecture at LSU this fall.

Poule Aye will be featured in Exploding the Codex at LSU Libraries Special Collections in Baton Rouge August 19 – December 13, 2019 at Hill Memorial Library. Celebrated artist Julie Chen of Flying Fish Press will present a talk at 5pm, Thursday, October 24 at the LSU School of the Arts. The exhibition and lecture are free and open to the public.

Poule Aye consists of one page, part of which is folded to form a “shotgun” style sharecropper’s home and part of which contains a “field” of text. A backyard chicken coop and be viewed through the front door when the book is open. The façade is an image of one of the homes that my dad lived in as a boy. Poule Aye examines ones relationship with place and identity. I am happy that this edition of Poule Aye is so near Ventress, LA, the place that inspired the story.

Skillman Library at Lafayette College by Alisa Banks

Lafayette College is located in Easton, PA, about an hour or so from Philadelphia. The rare book collection of Skillman Library at Lafayette is home to over 15,000 volumes of printed objects including works about its namesake, the Marquis de Lafayette, slavery and abolition, angling, and artist books. The collection also includes early editions of works by Stephen Crane, who spent a semester at the college, and miniature books.

The artist book collection is diverse, with subjects including but not limited to the environment, books on race relations, alphabet books, books featuring photography, and books on women and gender. There appears to be limited on-line access to the artist books - but one can view the holdings in the on-line catalog. I was able to pull up my book Rosenwald, which is in their collection. Skillman also does a good job explaining their collections, how to search the collection, and discussing visiting etiquette. Skillman library holds exhibits of their collection and announces them on-line. Synopses of past exhibits can also be viewed.

I wish I’d known about Skillman Library years ago when my sister and her family lived outside of Philadelphia. I really enjoyed my visits there, and if ever there’s an occasion to return, I will be planning a visit to Easton!

Surface design association by Alisa Banks


When Is Now is featured in the Exposure section of the Summer 2019 Fringe issue of the Surface Design Journal. The journal is published each season by the Surface Design Association, whose mission is to promote awareness and appreciation of textile-inspired art and design through publications, exhibitions, and conferences.

The Crouch Library at Baylor University by Alisa Banks

I am very fortunate to have books in several collections. The first collection I will introduce is the collection at the Crouch Fine Arts Library (CFAL) at Baylor University in Waco, TX. The Crouch Fine Arts Library houses the music and visual arts collections and contains approximately 75,000 audio and video recordings; 95,000 music scores; and 50,000 books on the arts. CFAL's special collections include rare and unique materials dating from as early as the 11th century. I am not sure of the size of the collection, but images of many of the books are on-line. They’ve posted several clear up-close images of each book and from the looks of it, the collection is very diverse.

The library has a very informative page discussing what an artist book is, a link to images, and how to visit. I am very happy that my books Armoire, Emergence, Nan, and Cotton Heritage are housed in their collections. I confess that I have not visited the collection at Baylor in person, but plan to do so before the year is out - I can tell it will definitely be worth the drive and can’t wait to tell you about it!