Centre for Fine Print Research University of the West of England Centre for Fine Print Research

Tom Sowden

Senior Research Fellow


Tom Sowden is Senior Research Fellow in artists’ books, programme leader for the new MA Design and academic lead for the Centre for Fine Print Research’s laser cutting area. His research is of direct benefit to artists, designers, makers and manufacturers helping them to develop ideas and bring new products to the marketplace through access to his research, digital prototyping, manufacturing, workshops, touring exhibitions, knowledge transfer, advice and CPD courses. Tom is also a key member of the teaching team for the MA Multi-disciplinary Printmaking course.

Tom completed the AHRC funded project Paper Models: investigating Laser cutting technology to develop new artists’ books and paper based creative practice for arts, crafts and design in 2011. A study into the long-term potential of laser cutting technology for artists. Artists often adapt industrial and digital technologies to work with creatively, as evidenced by the use of digital printing, to create artists' books and prints. This project explored new methodologies for artists' creative production methods and the potential of the laser cutter as a tool for artists working with the book form and paper-based work.

Tom also completed a two-year AHRC funded research project with Sarah Bodman in early 2010 'In an arena including digital and traditional artists' publishing formats - what will be the canon for the artist's book in the 21st Century?'

This major study was a responsive exploration with a collaborative, international audience of artists, academics, presses, publishers, curators, dealers, collectors and students involved in the field of artists books, in order to propose an inclusive structure for the academic study, artistic practice and historical appreciation of the artist's book. All published outcomes are online including, interviews, essays, conference papers, case studies and their manifesto for the book.

Tom is also Art Editor for the Artist’s Book Yearbook and The Blue Notebook.

For the last seven years Tom has been collecting artists' books that reference, mimic, are made in homage to, or just completely rip-off the iconic books made by Ed Ruscha. To date he has a collection of over 80 books and is now collaborating on the project Follow-ed (after hokusai), with Berlin-based poet and conceptual artist Michalis Pichler, another avid collector of Ruscha-esque books. They co-curated their first exhibitions of these books under the Follow-ed (after hokusai) title at the Winchester Gallery, Winchester School of Art, in 2011.

The show then toured to Arnolfini, Bristol with a simultaneous show at gallery P74, in Ljubljana. Alongside Tom’s conference paper ‘Follow-ed (after hokusai)’ at Impact 7 Printmaking Conference, Melbourne Australia last September, some examples of the direct tributes books were exhibited from the Follow-Ed (after hokusai) touring exhibition at Monash University, Melbourne: from Louisa van Leer’s Fifteen Pornography Companies, to Eric Doeringer’s Records to Doro Böhme and Eric Baskauskas’ Various Blank Pages, which presents all the blank pages from Nine Swimming Pools, Colored People, A Few Palm Trees and Various Small Fires. 

The collection and quest for more books continues. Some of the books are obtained because Tom and Michalis can see a link, most of the books are direct references to the style or subject matter of Ruscha's originals. The one overriding factor is that they all contain an element of humour reminiscent of Ruscha, and they still get really excited with each new discovery.

Tom’s artistic practice often involves a knowing but light-hearted reference to the aspirational work of American conceptual artists from the 1960s and 1970s, particularly Ed Ruscha. Instead of sharing their utopian ideals, his approach is more to do with the commonplace British concerns - for example commuting, walking in the park and supermarket shopping - whilst still alluding to systems and processes that artists such as Ed Ruscha and Lawrence Weiner employed. He works across a number of disciplines, primarily with the artist’s book format and video but also photography, printmaking and sculpture. www.tomsowden.com

Tom’s artists’ books are in a range of national and international public collections including: Tate Britain, Manchester Metropolitan University, Winchester School of Art, Camberwell College of Arts, University of Plymouth, Mills College, Oakland, USA, and Texas Gallery, Houston, USA as well as private collections around the world.

Research Grants Awarded

2010 Paper Models: investigating laser-cutting technology to develop new artists' books and paper-based creative practice for arts, crafts and design, AHRC Research Grants (Practice Led and Applied) £31,957, Principal Investigator

2008-10 In an arena including digital and traditional artists' publishing formats - what will be the canon for the artist's book in the 21st Century? AHRC Research Grant (Standard) £114,377, Co-Investigator

Tom's current CV

Contact: Tom.Sowden@uwe.ac.uk