to tell stories,

To tell stories we delve into our memories, our past experiences, into other stories, from other times. We turn to our imaginations, we learn from the imaginations of others. We remember the stories we were told as children, that our perhaps were told to our elders when they were children, and to their elders when they were children.

In The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling, Ben Okri writes: 

No civilization ever became great on knowledge alone. Indeed it is the imaginative dimension of civilizations which gives them distinction. What would ancient Greece be without its tragedians, its Parthenon, its Homeric epics? What would ancient Egypt be without its pyramids, its temples? Imagination dreams what that which knowledge makes real. It could be said that imagination is the porto-reality. A people can only create what they can imagine. If in some mysterious way we fall short of the ancients, it may be because we have long ceased to cultivate, to the highest degree, the fruits of the imagination, of the spirit. That despairing cry from the Bible should always haunt us. “For lack of vision my people perish.” . . .  How do we awaken imagination? How do we awaken vision? One of the ways, passed down to us with cunning simplicity by our ancestors, is storytelling.” 

To tell stories, we speak, we write poetry and prose, we make images, films and animations, we compose songs and lullabies. 

Cover image from Lire le monde, Michèle Petit. Ed. Belin

Emphasizing this very need for storytelling in Lire le monde, Michèle Petit  writes in the first person as if speaking directly to a child: 

I give you songs and  stories so that you can repeat them to yourself through the night, so that you will not be too afraid of the dark and the shadows. So that slowly you will not need me, will think of yourself as your own distinct little subject, will elaborate the multiple separations you will need to face. I give you snippets of knowledge and fictions so that you can equally symbolize absence and affront – as best you can-  the big human questions, the mysteries of life and death, the difference between the sexes, the fear of abandonment, the unknown, love, rivalry. So that you can write your own stories between the lines you have read.

This was translated to english by me, to the best of my capacities. I am quite certain it doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the original text, which I have included here below for those of you who do read in French: 

Je te donne des chansons et des récits pour que tu te les redises pour traverser la nuit, pour que tu n’aies pas trop peur du noir et des ombres. Pour que tu puisses peu à peu te passer de moi, te penser comme un petit sujet distinct, puis élaborer les multiples séparations qu’il te faudra affronter. Je te livre des bribes de savoir et des fictions pour que tu sois à même de symboliser l’absence et d’affronter, autant que faire se peut, les grandes questions humaines, les mystères de la vie et de la mort, de la différence des sexe ; la peur de l’abandon, de l’inconnu, l’amour, la rivalité. Pour que tu écrives ta propre histoire entre les lignes lues.

To tell stories, we make things with our hands.

We paint, we draw, we stitch and embroider, we sculpt, we create objets, we make books. We make artist books.

An ‘artist book’ refers to a publication that is created as artwork in its own right. It can said that the very first books in human history were artist books, though the content may have been created by one artist, the text manuscripted by another and the images illuminated by a third. This the case for ancient illuminated manuscripts, scrolls (also called phads in India), concertinas, books of hours, religious scriptures, among other formats.


This illuminated manuscript, “The opening of the Sixth Seal,” is from the Morgan Beatus, 10th Century.  Maintained by the Morgan Library and Museum, New York. Source: Awesome Stories.
Ancient Indian scroll or phad titled Sky Battle of Kurukshetra


A Gujarati religious text on palm leaves between acacia wood covers; probably from the 1700’s. Source: Columbia University


The book is a medium that allows an artist’s work to be more accessible. The reproduction of the work – whether in limited edition prints, etchings, printmaking or even through photocopying – gives it a potential to reach a larger and more varied audience. In this way, the artist book can be an incredibly powerful storytelling object.

While artists’ books can take many forms, there are a few elements that they share in common. They reflect on the properties of the book form itself. The book is not merely valued for it’s content, if not for its form as well. The artists’ book invites us to hold it and turn through its pages. Whether the contents are visual or linguistic (or both), physically moving through an artwork implicates notions of sequence, repetition, juxtaposition, and duration. The dialogue created between the text and images, the printing process and the design of the book, allows for many exciting possibilities within narrative, media, and meaning that are specific to the artists’ book alone.

In preparation for a workshop dedicated to the artist book that I will be giving in April, I have amplified my collection of research on the subject.

In this post, I would like to share some of the book artists that have caught my attention, some all time favorites, and some new discoveries.

Katsumi Komagata is a Japanese graphic designer, turned book-maker and publisher. In several lectures I have heard him talk about how his initial fascination for making books began when his first child was born. He says that he tried to imagine his child’s curiosity for how the world works, and wanted to create simple objects that she could interact and play with. This resulted in a collection of beautiful, geometric object-books (livres-objets), some of which can be enjoyed below.

Little Tree, a book that shows the life cycle of a tree, through the seasons. Source: One Stroke


Details from Little Tree, by Katsumi Komagata


Yellow to Red. Tokyo : One Stroke ; 1997 ; 2003 ; 2005 / Du jaune au rouge. Édition bilingue français-japonais. Tokyo : One Stroke ; Paris : Les Trois Ourses, 2014


Details from Mountains (left image) and Blue (right image), by Katsumi Komagata.



I recently came across the work of book artist Mar Goman. The images below come from her website, which I recomend visiting. I have not included captions because no additional information about the pieces can be found on the site. I am including a small selection of the images that most intrigued me.


Selected works by Mar Gorman



Tara Books, an independent publisher from Chennai, India describes its mission as “pushing the boundaries of the book form in an age that is busy writing its obituary”. As well as featuring traditional artists and artisans whose narrative traditions are in danger of extinction, they make a series of handmade books using block printing, exquisite hand-made khaki (cotton fibre) papers, and even cloth.



The Cloth of the Mother Goddess by Jagdish Chitara


The Cloth of the Mother Goddess follows the tradition of painting a cloth as an offering to the goddess Durga. The book is block-printed on fabric and designed as a foldable shrine, which a similar format to the Kaavad, a portable story-telling temple from Rajasthan. Though it can be argued whether a kaavad qualifies as an artist book, because it is made of wood and resembles a piece of furniture more than a book, it’s principle purpose is to be manipulated by the kavaad-bad (storyteller) to turn the doors (which serve as pages) and unveil the story.



A kavaad I made inspired by the text The Elephant’s Child by Rudyard Kipling. More information here

There, of course, is more. A lot more. So much, that this post will be continued in several posts over the next weeks. These weeks, in which I will be reading, writing about and celebrating telling stories and making books to tell them in.

Song of the day

Tracy Chapman – Telling Stories