Exploring Artists’ Books

This exercise asks students to closely observe artists’ books and articulate their observations in writing and orally. This approach is based on a simple treasure hunt type game with focused, collection-specific questions. While the underlying premise could be used with any type of collection materials, I created to add a layer of learning to the natural curiosity piqued by confronting artists’ books. Since the unfamiliar and unexpected form of artists’ books’ can sometimes be a barrier to understanding, it made sense to me that asking students to break down the works into their component parts would serve as a starting point for understanding. And so, I have designed an exercise that engages students with artists’ books by asking them to take note of their materials used, construction, close observation of sewing and binding structures, as well as use of illustrations, interplay (or absence of) illustration and text as a first step toward gathering meaning about these objects.


Learning Objectives
After completing this exercise, students will:

  • Closely observe artists’ books to become familiar with the selected materials, structures, and techniques used in the creation of artists’ books.
  • Begin to analyze reasons for the use of materials and decipher the artists’ meanings.
  • Understand how to decipher the elements of artists’ books through direct inspection of the items and through secondary sources.
  • Locate artists’ books in a library collection by creator, press, and type of book (e.g. binding structure).

In addition to building specific skills, the exercise also serves to:

  • Inspire students to expand their conception of the materials, structures, and techniques they can use in the creation of their own artists’ books.

Submitted by Heather Smedberg
Reference & Instruction Coordinator, Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego Library

Download the printable lesson plan here: exploring-artists-books