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Exercise 1.3: Alternative Publications

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Before the practical side of this exercise began, I was first asked to research artist books and fanzines, both of which are areas that I didn't have much experience with before now. I started by looking at the recommended resources in the Smithsonian library, where I had explored the archive of artist books to see what I could find.

Research Task: Artist Books

Although I was slightly disappointed with the amount of entries that did not include images, I still managed to find a good selection of creative artist projects to look at. I selected the examples that I found the most interesting and printed my favourites out to annotate in my sketchbook.

Artist Book sketchbook notes.

Looking at this work broadened my knowledge of the different ways that paper could be torn, folded and supported by other materials to add and change the form of what a book could be. Many of these objects have used elements of 3D design and assemblage techniques to support the context of the featured readable content by completely doing away with a traditional page structure.

My favourite example of a range of techniques coming together is in the work of Kerry McAleer-Keeler, who in Gifts From Our Elders has collected and repurposed materials from old medical journals into a box of curiosities that connect to themes of womanhood and family history.

Another reoccurring name who's work stood out to me was book artist Julie Chen, who never seems to make the same style of book twice. Across several decades she has designed a range of forms that challenge the concept of a books physical structure with works such as World Without End, which almost resemble sculptures.

Research Task: Fanzines

I then moved on to read the suggested chapter Definitions and early days from Teal Trigg's book Fanzines: A do-it-yourself revolution (2010). This was my first introduction to the history of fanzines and I found it to be a fascinating art form that shows the frantic passion of fandom long before the internet allowed likeminded subcultures to connect as easily.

I annotated some of the examples given in the book that interested me to find common practices between them.

Fanzine sketchbook notes

Amateur magazine productions are still running today both online and offline and the popularity of fanzines has influenced some of the designs of professional publications with the "cut and paste" aesthetic prevalent in all fanzines that reached new heights with the rebellious punk publications of the 80's and 90's.

The frantic and sometimes unbalanced design choices that come from the limitation of producing a fanzine quickly and cheaply, reflect a wonderful sense of passionate identity for the niche markets that they are made for. Pop culture images and text from other media are appropriated without consideration for copyright and rearranged to create new meanings alongside fan made original content from emerging artists and writers.

I admire that fanzines are content driven first and the speed of production allows designers to take chances with cover arrangements. It's a far cry from the sometimes sterile world of desktop publishing where I can often find myself agonising over pixel perfection, so there's a helpful lessen to be learned from this looser approach to design.

Exercise: My Own Designs

With my research in mind, I moved on to come up with my own designs using influences from fanzines and artist books using found materials from around my house. I had a head start with gathering materials as I still had a large box of magazine and collage materials left over that I used to create mood boards for my illustration unit from last year, but I still collected a few more materials to add to the pile and set about experimenting with my own fanzine style covers.

Cutting and pasting using magazines.

After identifying and cutting out images and text that looked like good candidates for collage, I worked instinctively to group objects together that could produce some meaning, while trying to keep up the same spirit of urgent energy from cut and paste fanzines by not second guessing my choices too much. After a short while I had quickly assembled four arrangements inspired by the real fanzines I had read about with I had a lot of clipping material left over, so I saved these in an envelope to be used for other future projects if needed.

When scanning them in, I made a versions of each cover in high contrast black and white to see how they would look if they were photocopied for redistribution. I'm pleased that they all still read well in greyscale and I'm proud of the overall set.

Fake fanzine collages and high contrast black and white photocopies.


I found the image of the car from an article on a similar subject and saw the opportunity to change it into a classic motor racing enthusiasts magazine with some added some hand drawn scenery around the side. I tried to reflect the a British identity in this cover with splashes of red and blue in the words, lettering and additional flag collages.

Heritage Emporium

For a fanzine focussed on women's vintage fashion, I imagined this as a modern publication that looks back on retro trends. It was inspired by the words before I selected the images, but once the had an idea in mind, I quickly found the appropriate photos to support a summer issue.

Inner Blood Fever

Inspired by the provocative, edgy and messy style of punk magazines from the 1980's-90's, I wanted to let loose on this cover using rebellious text and images. I had fun playing the theme of animals and authority against each other and I feel the finishing touch of sponged on black ink and handwritten white pen really help sell the look what I was going for.

Detox Your Mind

This one has less of a definitive audience, but envisioned this as a magazine based around news that was in some way related to mental health circles or perhaps the art world. I wanted to exercise more control over the design than with the punk aesthetic, with a cleaner and more considered arrangement of elements that still had that "handmade" feeling.

After making my fanzines, I then had a go at making some small book forms out of scrap paper where I could try some of the basic approaches to normally seen in artist books through cutting folding and tearing them in different ways.

This was only a small exploration, but It was still useful to get hands on with the the concept of changing the structure of a book, but I would like to go into more detail with this in project later on. Sometimes when without a brief I struggle to latch onto ideas, but given a theme I would love to explore the different options available with artist books that links together the form and function of the object along with the content that adorns it.

Overall this exercise has definitely opened me up to many ideas that I hadn't considered before, and I look forward to bringing them forward into the next set of tasks with the next project.



Chen, J. (2021) At:

McAleer-Keeler, K. (2021) At:

Smithsonian Libraries (2021) Artist Books At:

Trigg, T. (2010) ‘Definitions and early days’ In: Trigg, T. Fanzines: A do-it-yourself revolution a guide pp. 6-43.


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