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I am working on some illustrations for a short story based in the early 1900s and have been researching book design from this period. This is back in the day when books had cloth covers, gold leaf detailing and frontispieces. Ex-Libris is Latin for “from the books (of)…” Book plates or Ex-Libris were small hand-designed name tags that book enthusiasts pasted into the front papers of their collection. The books were often numbered and catalogued using this tag (oh computers, how you have ruined the fun!).

As books were once an expensive commodity and literacy was quite low, the earliest book plates are typically coat-of-arms or heraldry for ruling families. As the centuries passed, book plates developed a more personal touch, incorporating the owner’s favourite objects, a signature or his personal motto. Some engravers and printmakers still specialise in producing these plates as handmade gifts, but it truly is a dying art form. I half expect they will make a comeback in the not-to-distant future, when electronic publishing becomes the norm and the humble printed book becomes a rare and collectible piece of art.

I have had a crack at a modern version of a book plate which incorporates decorative elements most commonly associated with the Art Nouveau style. The concept behind my book plate is that I always seem to over complicate things, particularly when it come to producing illustrations. I take the long and interesting road rather than the most straightforward one. The book plate was sketched very lightly and loosely in grey lead and then rendered in Photoshop using a Wacom tablet. I wanted it to have a hand drawn look so the lines are intentionally wonky. The work time was about five hours. I have included some examples of book plates beneath, including the plate I nicked my old-time colour scheme from.  




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