Monday, November 30, 2009

Using Transparency and Translucency in Books

Above: A look at some of the translucent pages layered together.

In my last post, I mentioned that I am using vellum for many of the pages in this book. I thought I would explain my thinking and the intent behind this choice.

Working in ceramics, I could make any shape or form (within the limits of my skills, of course!) that made sense for the idea I wanted to communicate. So in choosing to limit myself to the book form, the particular structure and materials employed are inherent to the meaning of the work. At this stage, I'm not planning for the book I'm making for the Book*Art*Object project to have any ceramic parts. Incorporating porcelain or other clay has to make absolute sense, and not be about working with clay because that's "what I do".

It doesn't take long working in the book arts to come across the scholarly contributions of Keith Smith to the field. In addition to five volumes of practical binding techniques, he has also published a number of titles exploring more theoretical concerns of using the book as a vessel of expression. Eventually I hope to own the entire collection, but late last year I picked up a second hand copy of "Structure of the Visual Book" (1994).

I have to confess that I am nowhere near finished reading this book in its entirety. It isn't that it is heavy going or difficult to understand. It's just that there is so much to consider and experiment with, that I haven't got far. It is certainly a book that you can dive into, to read what Smith has to say about say, blank pages, and although my plan is to read the book from front to back eventually, I can see there will be sections of particular relevance to the way I work, that I will return to again and again. If you never had a look at this book, I really recommend it.

Early in the introduction, Smith talks about using transparent materials as pages. For me, after working with porcelain, the concept of transparency bounces back and forth, in my head anyway, with translucency. Most ceramics are static objects, so working with books, the whole idea of "turning pages" and the power and meaning in this fundamental action is still very exciting to me. The act of page-turning represents the passing of time in the work, and if the page is made from a transparent or translucent material, then it seems to me to imply the way the past and the future can impinge on the present, if we let them.

In his book, Smith talks about using a number of transparent pages in sequence to enable imagery to be built-up and torn-down again by the turn of the page. He also discusses the way a shadow will be cast by the page as it is turned, moving into and out of focus. Both of these seem to me to work well as metaphors for emotional turmoil, for the way we grieve and do the emotional-work that is required of us in order to deal with loss. I'm incorporating a mix of pages in my book, transparent, translucent and opaque and I'm hoping they will work together to suggest the stop-start confusion and growth that occurs at these times.

Above: Translucent pages layered together.


  1. Watching you work your way through this is fascinating Amanda. Your images are so beautiful, I can't wait to see the end product. I have almost all of Keith Smith's books but not that one so I'll have to find a copy. Today Di has got me thinking and now you have added a relevant piece to mull over.

  2. Thanks Carol, I too, come from a ceramic background and can really appreciate what you are saying. Transparency is a great design tool no matter what medium you are using.You have used it to great advantage with your images and colour.

  3. Hello Amanda, I'm fascinated too... particularly since I'm scared of using Photoshop and in awe of those who can and do use it as a tool in their work! Your pages are beautiful and, like Duck, I'm getting excited in anticipation of being the very thrilled owner of one of each of the lovely books I'm seeing. Sara

  4. simply wonderful transparency, thanks for posting more images on micro-pages too. always a pleasure reading your blog.