Illustrated Books Are More Than Just Images

Posted inDesign Books

The term “illustrated book” deserves a more nuanced definition, and this was one of the topics discussed recently during an illustrated book panel at the American Book Center in Amsterdam. Joined by author/illustrator/designer/DIY maven Kate Bingaman-Burt and Peter Giljam of Buzzworks, we used our collective book publishing experience to differentiate types of illustrated books.

Based in Amsterdam, Giljam has been representing artists and designers for years, finding them commercial work and producing t-shirts, posters, and other hip products. The foray into book publishing is a relatively new development and has yielded some very attractive books, all of which stem from Giljam’s established relationships with these artists and his admiration of their work.

Morky’s sparse Steam Punk pieces that comprise the all black and white Day and Night nicely counter Merijn Hos’s whimsical drawings in The Marigolds (top).

These illustrated books definitely fall on the side of monographs, featuring the work of a single artist without any overt narrative structure.

Obsessive Consumption, Bingaman-Burt’s online project turned book, definitely qualifies as a monograph – all of the content was created by her. But these daily activities were part of a larger project that helped her examine exactly how, and what, she consumed, and in doing so makes readers think about their relationships to the objects they buy. For me, this is the essence of a strong illustrated book: the visuals provide a point of entry into subject matter that reaches well beyond a single artist or designer. As Bingaman-Burt told the audience, “You need to show that you have a strong point of view about the topic.”

My shelves teem with traditional monographs, from Charles Burchfield to Taryn Simon. But does the world need another retrospective book of Picasso or Van Gogh? Probably not, especially since there are so many great stories to be told led by the visual.

What books come to mind when you hear the term “illustrated books”?

Stay tuned for more on all of this, plus other loosely related matters . . .