Books On Books Collection – Karen Hanmer

The Spectrum A to Z (2003)

The Spectrum A to Z (2003)
Karen Hanmer
Tunnel book. 5 x 5 x 18 inches. Pigment inkjet prints. Edition of 20, of which this is #17. Acquired from Vamp & Tramp, 3 September 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the artist’s permission.

The Spectrum A-Z is a satisfying addition to the Books On Books Collection for several reasons. Accordion book, flip-book and pop-up book treatments of the alphabet abound, but this may be the only tunnel book treatment. If not, surely the blending of the the alphabet with tunnel book structure and the color spectrum secures its uniqueness. Also, the springiness achieved in this tunnel book makes it alive and special.

In response to questions about the work, Hanmer commented on the work’s creation and sent along the screen shot below of the Photoshop files from which she printed the letters A-D:


A screen shot of the Photoshop files used for printing. Courtesy of the artist.

I print them with crop marks, cut the larger thing out and into quarters, and then cut around the individual letters (used to use a Havels #11, now I use a Swann Morton #10A scalpel blade, and a 6” ruler with sandpaper on the back so it does not slip for the straight bits, freehand for the curves). Years go by when I don’t need to make another, so I have a non-printing comment reminding me of the grain direction. If the letters were long grain, the structure would be limp and unsatisfying.Assembly with 1/4″ 3M 415 tape. PVA would make it wrinkly. Mohawk Superfine Cover, I think 80#. Whatever printer I have at the time, now an Epson SureColor P5000. (Correspondence with Books On Books. 19 October 2021)

The Havels #11 and Swann Morton #10A.

The color spectrum followed out and part way back by the book comes eclectically from the order of the default RGB swatch palette in Adobe’s version of Photoshop prior to Creative Suite in 2003. As for the structure’s springiness, Hanmer comments that she is not wild about it,

but 20 years ago I did not know that I could cut several little tabs with a woodworking gouge out of the accordion for each letter and attach the letters to the tabs to relieve the tension, and 2021 Karen does not feel like adding several more hours to the process of assembling these. She also likes the security of having each panel adhered for its full length. And now that you mention it, the springiness would make it a lot more fun to play with, so maybe it is not so bad after all. (Correspondence with Books On Books. 19 October 2021)

The Spectrum A-Z was made in response to a call from the Chicago Hand Bookbinders, which thrived from 1978/9 through 2009. The Biographical/Historical Note for the CHB archives mentions that, “Among its notable projects was a series of fifteen collaborative artist’s alphabet books in varying formats, created between 1987 and 2004”. Of course, from time to time, other “organizations of the book” have issued calls for artist alphabet books. But with the infinite gradations in Roy G. Biv’s spectrum and the customizability within Creative Suite, surely now another call is bound to result in a rainbow of followers of Hanmer’s innovation.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Gage, John. Colour and Culture : Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction. London: Thames & Hudson, 2009.

Webb, Poul. “Alphabet Books – part 1“, 27 December 2017; “Alphabet Books – part 2, 29 December 2017; Alphabet Books – part 3″, 1 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 4“, 3 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 5“, 5 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 6“, 8 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 7“, 10 January 2018; “Alphabet Books – part 8“, 12 January 2018. Art & Artists. Accessed 2 September 2021. “For the color” from horn-books to the alphabet books of the early 20th century.

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