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KUED's online series exploring creativity

What Makes a Book So Special?

“The visual book, as I like to call it, can be a mode of creative expression,” says Marnie Powers-Torrey. “And I think that’s particularly important today as so many of the modes we move in in our daily lives are primarily screen-based.”

Marnie heads the Book Arts Program at the University of Utah’s Marriott Library. Her students make books out of a variety of media.

Traditionally, a writer would write text, then pass it on to a letterpress printer who would collaborate with a papermaker to print it. The printed sheets would then be handed to a book binder.

“That would have been the traditional model, and that’s just kind of blown up at this point. Yes, we still honor these crafts and practice them here. The craft and presentation is extremely important as is the historical relevance,” explains Marnie. “We also have an amazing freedom now. What does it mean to publish, to write, to read, to make art? Through collaboration, discussion, or simply by being involved in a community makerspace, bookmakers can meld ideas and techniques in a very responsive and dynamic manner.”

Sometimes a book artist will make a book and be responsible for all aspects of the production, while other times a number of skilled artists will take part in making the book. Someone will write the text, while another person sets and prints the text. Someone else may make the paper, other artists may draw or paint visuals that are then turned into plates to be printed. Another person may decide on the best book form and materials to bind the book.

“You hear writers or artists say they don’t have any ideas. I think being able to respond to a multitude of voices keeps a project moving forward in a really wonderful way.” Says Marnie, “Whether the art comes first, or the text, or the book form, all of those things start to inform the project as it grows. I tend not to think in a very linear progression, but more of a creative response mode of production.”

Like many bookmakers Marnie’s love of books began as a young girl. She identified as a bookmaker at an early age. “Dotted along my personal timeline are instances of book projects, beginning with construction papers and staples.”

Marnie graduated with a BA in English and Philosophy with a Minor in Art from Boston College. Destined to multi-disciplinary expression, Marnie found book arts again as an adult. “I’m a printer, I love to put ink onto paper. I came to book arts is through print making and photography.”

One of her books, A Casual Commentary (Front Seat, U.S.A) is about a cross-country road trip (from the passenger seat) recounted with photographs that were gum bi-chromate prints and intaglio prints from photopolymer plates. The spine, an accordion-like fold in a concertina binding, resembles the open road.

To see more of Marnie’s work visit Vamp and Tramp. To learn more about the Book Arts Program visit their webpage, Facebook and Instagram pages.