Indie Publishing

Edited by Ellen Lupton
Created by the MICA GDMFA program.

This handbook presents basic information about publishing your own book, whether informally for friends or family or in a more official way. Perhaps you want to commemorate your grandfather’s life with selections from his war diaries. Maybe you need a full-color catalog for your first gallery exhibition. Maybe a wonderful old building in your neighborhood is about to be torn down, and a short history of the site could help save it. If you work with kids after school, a book of their poetry could show the world what they’ve achieved. If you have content that you want to share and you want to give it a fresh and orderly form, this book will help you get started.


Final Cover Design: Kelley McIntyre



By John P. Corrigan

When artists or curators produce exhibitions, they put a lot of thought into how to display the works on view. How high should the pieces be hung, and in what order? Are the works framed or unframed, close together or spread far apart? Are the pieces in dialog with each other, or is each one a self-contained statement? Will the work be identified with labels on the wall or with a printed list? Similar design decisions go into making an exhibition catalog or any book of photographs and reproductions of works of art.

Such books present and display reproductions in a manner that makes the works compelling and accessible to readers. An art or photography book is a document of works that exist elsewhere. Often, the photographs in a book are the only permanent record of an installation or performance. The printed page is no substitute for experiencing art in the flesh, even though the quality and availability of color reproductions has increased rapidly over the past decade. Just as a documentary film is an edited, authored depiction of reality, so an exhibition catalog or other art book is an edited, staged selection of images. The seemingly neutral, anonymous format of many art books has been deliberately designed in order to create an authoritative yet inviting atmosphere for looking at reproductions. Layout and typography serve to emphasize the work, as the book itself steps into the background.

An art book is an invaluable tool for artists who want to document their work and share it with various audiences, including collectors, curators, collaborators, grants organizations, fellow artists, and the general public. Creating a clean, simple design that focuses attention on the work is a good place to start. Use scale, rhythm, sequence, and white space to present a selection of images in an inviting manner.

Arrange works in a sequence that encourages dialogue and comparison between images. At the same time, understand that readers will free to flip through your book and stop where their interest takes them. A good art book or exhibition catalog creates opportunities to wander and rest—just like a good exhibition design.

Pictures are often the dominant content of an exhibition catalog, although you may also want to include essays, captions, and a checklist. An essay by a critic or writer adds weight and value to your book. Commissioning an original text is a great way to collaborate with a writer and acquire fresh insight about an artist’s work. A checklist is a complete list of all the works that were featured in the exhibition, including those that may not appear in the catalog. This document, which typically includes titles of works, dimensions, media, and other basic information, becomes an official record of the exhibition’s content, valuable to curators, researchers, artists, and dealers in the future.

study your pictures

Look at all your pictures before choosing what shape your book will be. If most of your pictures are horizontal, for example, you may prefer a horizontal book. Also consider the length and importance of your captions. These take up more room on the page than you might expect.

choosing a format

Your choice of format will be influenced by the printing method you choose to use as well as by your book’s content. Some pages sizes are more economical than others, and some printers only produce books in certain sizes. The horizontal format chosen for this book relates to the experience of walking through a gallery. The wide format also makes it easy to place two square or vertical images on a single page, while leaving plenty of room for captions. Designed by John P. Corrigan.

vertical format

Vertical pages are the most familiar to readers. This format works well for showing one image per page with a caption underneath. You might also put all your images on the right page and captions on the left page.

landscape format

The extra page width in a horizontal publication easily accommodates multiple images, explanatory text, and captions. Try leaving white space around an image to emphasize its object-like quality.

designing a grid

A grid consists of the columns and margins of your book as well as horizontal divisions. Designers use grids to create consistent yet varied pages, making their publications feel orderly and professional. They allow the designer to create many different layouts—you don’t have to stick everything in the middle of the page. To make a grid, begin by choosing how many columns your pages will have. Page layout programs such as InDesign will ask you to create columns when you open a new document. The grid shown here has five columns per page. Some elements, like captions, occupy just one column, while pictures and essays span multiple columns. This grid has five horizontal divisions as well as five vertical columns. The grid serves to anchor different types of information, such as headlines, captions, running heads, and page numbers (also called folios). The grid creates order while allowing elements to be placed in a dynamic, changing pattern.

image size and placement

Each double-page spread of your book is a unit. Think about the relationship between the images on the left and right pages. Should each image be large or small? Do you need to show a detail of an image? Use the grid to determine both the size and position of images. Ignore the grid when you feel it’s necessary. Also think about how big to make your images. Some artists want to make each picture as large as possible on the page. Others want to suggest the scale of the actual art works by making some reproductions smaller than others. You may also wish to create contrast among images that is unrelated to the art work’s actual size. For example, you could come in close on a tiny painting and show off its details, or your could zoom out to represent a sculptural object in a larger environment.


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