Art + Design

Paper and lasers

I still have a worn, outdated Merriam-Webster paperback dictionary that I got when I worked at B. Dalton Bookseller in high school. It’s pretty useless compared to the latest editions, or of course, online resources.

But I love this thing, for a reason that librarians, bookstore employees, publishers, and book freaks will all identify with: the smell of the paper. It’s yellowed, and probably more acidic than a lemon, but one musty hint brings me right back to bookselling days. Really, go smell an old book. It is up high on the scale of safe-for-work sensory experiences.

We work with a lot of paper, and obviously now we really have to steward this precious resource. But as the basic material of books, it’s still pretty unbeatable, and has amazing possibilities. Not just how we print on it, but how you can fold, cut, and engineer it to create all kinds of things. These production features used to be the sole domain of children’s pop-up books. This changed mightily in the 1990’s, when we published a number of sophisticated, production-intensive titles, most notably Griffin & Sabine. May we be so bold to suggest illustrated book publishing hasn’t been the same since.

So I was excited to see something Guinevere pointed me to early in the week: an artist we love, Olafur Eliasson, has just produced a massive book consisting entirely of laser-cut sheets. What’s that, you say? Laser-cutting is a fairly new process whereby a sheet of paper can be burned by laser into highly detailed filigree. Olafur used it to simulate an interior-cross section of a house.

Yes, I agree, excellent. A few years ago we made our first book with laser-cut pages: Turbulence, by the excellent and prolific illustrator Henrik Drescher. If I’m not mistaken, this was the first trade-publishing book to incorporate such a feature (tell me if I am wrong—it was published in 2001). Sure, we only had like five laser-cut pages, not several hundred, but we were there! There are still so many possibilities to explore with this humble medium. More on that, soon.

A laser-cut page from Henrik Drescher’s Turbulence. That’s Beth Steiner in the background, the production genius behind the book.

Alan Rapp, Senior Editor | Art & Design

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