I almost never make flag books. All that waving and shaking and moving around is just too much for me. But lately I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about them in preparation for a course I taught this past Saturday at the London Centre for Book Arts. Before teaching a thing, you obviously must know about that thing, so I shook the dust off of my flag book muscles and got to work. (You have flag book muscles, too, but don’t ask your doctor which ones they are.)
Flag books were invented by The Amazing and Most Wondrous Hedi Kyle in 1979, when she produced April Diary. What did this first flag book look like? Well, here, look, I happen to have a photo of it:
Oh, and then she blew everyone’s mind by making one out of mica:
The flag book is a very simple structure; tabs of paper (or, you know, mica) are adhered to alternating sides of concertina folds. These tabs (or ‘flags’) stretch and move against one another in the finished book, adding motion and satisfying sounds to the mix. To get a good description of the process of creating a flag book, complete with step-by-step photos, see Karen Hanmer’s excellent article in the Bonefolder.* If Hedi Kyle is the mother of the flag book, Karen Hanmer is its best friend. Karen produced my favorite flag book of all time, Bluestem:
I am not feeling very articulate today (this is day 624 of my cold–no end in sight) and so I will let John Cutrone of the Jaffe Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University describe this book to you:
“There was so much motion in it; the whole country seemed, somehow, to be running.”
So writes Willa Cather in My Antonia about the ‘rough, shaggy, red grass’ in which Karen Hanmer’s Bluestem finds its subject. Exquisite words chosen by the author, and the artist gracefully moves us through the metaphor through pure visual construction. The illustration is printed on acetate and on the two paper accordions that form the structure of the book, which is based on the Flag Binding created by Hedi Kyle. Hanmer uses the structure to its best advantage: It is the printed acetate panels that complete the gesture of the book and deliver the feeling of ‘so much motion’.
Bluestem is an adaptation of the flag book; in the photo below you can see that Karen has tipped flags onto two parallel concertinas.
Karen is a flag book genius, and you can see more of her books on her website. I think you do have to be a flag book genius to make a great flag book, because like so many interesting and unusual book structures, it is all too easy to use it for evil. Bluestem works because the content and the structure, the layering of the imagery, the motion of the flags, even the sound it makes when it is opened, all work together seamlessly. 99.999% of the book ideas out there in the world do not in any way fit into a flag book structure, and when a good idea is abused and squeezed into a structure where it does not belong, it quickly mutates into a bad idea. Misuse of the flag book structure often yields a gimmick of a book. I am afraid to do a flag book. But I am not afraid to teach other people how to make a flag book, because I am a hypocrite.
In that spirit, I refreshed myself in the ways of the flag and started making a model and then some kits.
And then unleashed these kits on some lovely ladies at the London Centre for Book Arts. (Thanks for a fun day, guys!)
It’s been a fun week, really. It is unusual for me to spend so much time contemplating a structure that I never use, and it felt like a license to relax and play. Look, I made this weird arrow flag book just for kicks:
But the week is over, and the flag books are on the shelf now. It is time to direct my attention to other things. Gearing up to teach letterpress next weekend at the LCBA, binding up old projects to clear the decks for future projects, and getting ready for the Artists’ Book Fair in Bristol later this month.
*Thanks for the link, Nic!
Immerse yourself completely in flagbooks! You’ll free your soul and cure your cold!
Suzanne, If the flag book can cure this cold, I will make a full scale Big Jump Press letterpress-printed flag book in payment for good health. Wait and see.
flag books (hedi and karen) are brilliant, but i have seen many, many just plain dopey ones. sigh.
Me too! It is dangerous territory.
I never heard of flag books before. Lots of art involved here as well as talent. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Beth. I’m glad to introduce you to flag books. Best Wishes,
pretty pretty books
So glad I found your blog as I want to get back into book-making and belong to the Sonoran Desert Collective – Paperworks whose focus is artists books, making paper and all that goes with it. Look forward to your next post.
Thanks so much, Judy. The Sonoran Desert! I haven’t been there for years but remember how beautiful it is. I’ll check out the collective and see what you are up to. Best of luck, Sarah
Thanks for showing us how to do this! I have some paper lying around that I can’t wait to experiment with 🙂
Great, Fiona, good luck! Honestly, check out that article by Karen Hanmer that I link to in the post, her instructions and advice are great. Thanks!
oh wow, this is very creative and beats me. keep it up
…I knew all those hand folding skills, that I learnt at the knee of an old-school bindery journey-person, would come in handy one day… and yes, flag book muscles do exist and they can be pushed beyond their limits… (never enquire what happens when the folding machine breaks down and you have an urgent leaflet to complete)… looks like a fun project for the coming winter months…
A folding machine. . . I saw one once when I paid a visit to an offset printing operation. I often think of it when I am deep into an edition. Thanks for reminding me of it now. Good luck with your project.
…thanks for the idea…congrat’s on being freshly pressed…or is that freshly creased?..
Thanks! Har har
They look gooood!! May have to give it a go! Thanks! Sam
Do it, Sam!
Very, very interesting! Opens up a whole world I knew nothing about. Thanks!
Thanks for reading! If you like the flag book, you may want to google “tunnel book” as well.
Reblogged this on Royal TKO Media CEO Blog and commented:
Something fun and interesting to read about.
Impressive! Seems like a lot of work, though…
How exciting to see this on FP!!! Congratulations!
Hand made books are my specialty. Never attempted a Flag book but I will now. One of my very favorite books to make is a Star Book. I love to see the look on peoples faces when they see it open into a Star.
Thank you for sharing this magnificent design and inspiring me to give it a try.
Star books are definitely fun, too. I am going to teach some kids the star book pretty soon. Good luck with the flag boook!
Reblogged this on havefunforlife and commented:
This is very artistic and interesting! Would like to try to do this!
Thanks for reblogging this! I hope you give it a try, best of luck!
Promise, I will! hehe Youre welcome and thanks too 🙂
That is fascinating! Would love to see you make this on video
Great post right there! Visit my blog anytime if you want!
This was a fantastic Great New Thing of the Day for me. Reminds me of Brian Dettmer. I shared it with a professor at the University of Iowa, who will likely incorporate this work into his poetry classes. Thank you so much.
Thanks do much for sharing the post, and for your comment. Brian Dettmer makes my Brain Hurt. Best wishes, and I hope some perry flag books emerge.
Brian Dettmer makes my fingers hurt.
Fascinating post – I had heard about flag books, but not seen them so the photos helped my understanding and a non flag book related point… I hope day 625 of the cold is the day it eases !!
Me too! So far no dice, but I a cold can only last so long, right? right? I am glad I could help with the flag books!
these are fantastic! they look really fun!
Not something I had heard of before – I will be trying my hand at making one
Great! good luck!
Neat! I love this, Not much of a crafts guy but this is something I definitely gotta try 🙂
This is nuts. I’d never even seen one of these before. Thanks!
What pretty things. I had never heard of flag books before. Great post.
Love doing book art in school but this is brilliant! Not sure I’d be able to do that though- fab stuff 🙂 May have to link this post when I do my arts and craft section on my blog!
Thanks Miss Sykes!
I had never come across flag books before so thank you so much for posting! What am amazing piece of art they are! Very interesting and I will definitely be taking a closer look. Well done for the one you made – I guess it mustn’t have been easy but a real labour of love.
Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment! Bookbinding (and most of book arts in general) is a labor of love for sure. Thanks again and best wishes.
What a fantastic post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and desire now to ask my doctor where my flag book muscles are 🙂 Thank you for the introduction to Hedi Kyle and Karen Hanmer, such lovely books! And I enjoyed your flag book. It’s nice to have a just because project now and then.
Thanks so much! Just because projects are a must, if only to get my brain moving. If you don’t already know of them, check out Julie Chen (flying Fish Press) and Barb Tetenbaum (Triangular Press) for some more innovative and structural artists’ books! Thanks again!
The creativity involved here astounds me. How do people think of these things?
Thanks, JW, yes it is amazing. You should see the other structures Hedi Kyle has innovated!
So very cool! I love paper and I love books – never tried to make a book but it’s on my list. Now I have to add this particular type of book and I will share this with a friend who is addicted to book binding these days 😉
Thanks Jana! Good luck! I hope you make a book sometime soon, it is the greatest.
Reblogged this on aimiet and commented:
love the little pieces of paper everywhere
What an amazing idea! So cathartic! I will be doing this for sure. 🙂
Thanks! Best of luck to you! Make sure to check out that Karen Hanmer article for inspiration.
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