Thursday, April 2, 2009


The best part of producing art books is working with the art itself. We spend a lot of time with art pieces, making sure that our reproductions are faithful to the originals—we want you (our readers) to see something perfect, something that lets you know how it feels to see the art in person. Here's what we do:

Step One: Viewing the Work

After Braziller, Inc., decides to move forward with a new illustrated title, I arrange a viewing of the art. It is impossible to gather everyone involved—perhaps the art collector can't fly into New York, so s/he allows his/her irreplaceable property to travel by FedEx—but we do what we can. A standard viewing session can include a photographer and his assistants, Mr. Braziller, myself, a designer, a printing specialist, a museum director, and even (when absolutely necessary) an author, all of us wearing cotton gloves à la Mickey Mouse. The first five minutes after the art has been arranged on the table are the happiest of the production process.

Step Two: Understanding the Work

Immediately thereafter, the problems begin. Someone says that the art's textures and jagged edges must be perfectly reproduced or the effect will be ruined, but the photographer asserts that this is impossible. The art's owner says that the work needs to be returned quickly for a forthcoming exhibition, and though the designer agrees to work in this time frame, the author wants to keep the pieces on hand for reference. There are flecks of gold in the medium used, and I wonder if these can be reproduced somehow... I start sweating.

Step Three: Photography and Scanning

After the meeting, we leave the art in the hands of a photographer or scanner. They do the most absurd things to art, they really do, and I only vaguely understand them. I've seen a photographer hang sketches by slapping them onto a vaccuum-suction wall. I've seen art adhered to drum scanners, bent painfully in the process. In any case, it's really best that we don't know about this process.

Step Four: Proofs

After a photographer or scanner sends their digital files to the printer, the printer sends us a packet of proofs. Proofs usually arrive when we're right in the middle of something important, but all office work grinds to a halt, and everyone gathers round—are the proofs too red? too green? too dark or light? warm or cool? Is the paper so thin that the ink bleeds through? If the original art is on textured paper, shouldn't the book's paper be textured too? We run the back of our hands over the paper, flick the corners, compare its weight to the weight of other papers we've liked before. If we have the original art on hand, we stare back and forth between the proofs and the originals for over an hour. If we don't have the art, the proofs need to be mailed to someone who does... and hope that we hear from them soon.

Step Five: Proofs. Again.

Seriously though, this second set of proofs is better, but it's still a little red, don't you think? Oh, maybe it's just that the paper color is too cool.

Step Six: Proofs. Again.

Didn't we tell them to remove that smudge?

When the book goes to press, we still have a lot of worries. On a big run of books, the first thousand might come out too dark, and the last thousand might come out too light, but the middle 15,000 are just right. On a small run, the first are too light, the last too dark, and there are no perfect copies in between. The next time you pick up an art book, have a look and ask yourself: is this 140 gsm paper? does it have too much tooth? should it have been printed 6c instead of 4c? Or just sigh with relief that we think about that stuff so that you don't have to.

—Maxwell Heller, Editor

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your glimpses of the art book production process. Your attention to detail shows in the finished product. I have been greatly enjoying your ukiyo-e books over the years, and I very much hope you will continue publishing those, perhaps with titles like the
    Hiroshige Tokaido, or collections of other Hokusai series ("Bridges" etc).


    MR, Pasadena