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

Tom Sowden


Click, Swipe, Download, Share – Digital Artists’ Publishing

EDITOR: Océane Delleaux
Author: Sowden, T

Publisher: So Multiples #6
Date: 2013
ISSN: 1961-9618
URL Links: http://www.so-multiples.com/


In this article, the British artist Tom Sowden looks at some of the ways in which other artists are publishing their books digitally. From hypertext works to ebooks to blogging; artists are beginning to utilise purely digital publishing tools as a method of producing artists’ books. Their reasons for doing so range from the ease of distribution to a larger audience, to creating a completely new reading experience, to making comments on the move from physical to digital, or at times in order to minimise production costs.

Taking a small selection of works that he considers to be important in the lexicon of digital artists’ books, Sowden assesses how artists are using the technology available, what they are doing with it, and whether he considers it successful. Not an exhaustive list, but some key works that are conceptually sound, while demonstrating the myriad ways in which digital technologies can be utilised. By its very nature the digital world is continually adapting, changing and improving, so these works are only a snapshot of what has happened in the recent past and what is happening now.

Written from the viewpoint of a practising artist who makes books, the interest in how digital publications can influence artist’s book practice is approached from different angles. It is a keen observation of his peers’ production methods and how new technologies have developed their practice and its content. It is also a survey of how widely these publishing methods are being utilised and offered by artists. It is also Sowden watching how things develop and how new technologies could possibly influence his practice.

Drawing with Fire: The Art of Laser Cutting Paper

Author: Sowden, T.

EDITOR: Luke Morgan
publication: Intersections and Counterpoints, Proceedings of the Impact 7 International Multi-disciplinary Printmaking Conference
Place: Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Date: 29.09.2011
Paper Presented by: Tom Sowden
ISbN: 978-1-921867-56-9

URL Links: impact7.org.au/participants/sowden.html


The possibility of using the laser as a tool for cutting, scoring, perforating and engraving paper is as yet underutilised by book and paper artists. Many artists use hand cutting and scoring in their work unaware that laser cutters can assist in many of the more mundane aspects of producing editions or unique works. The laser cutter need not replace the handcrafted element rather run alongside it. This would allow the artist to produce larger editions more effectively and allow the work to be distributed to a wider audience.

Starting with a brief explanation of the laser cutting process, this paper would then present and discuss examples of artists working with the laser cutting technology to cut and manipulate paper.

In particular it will present the work of three detailed case studies, myself, and two artists who were invited to participate in a four-day residency at the Centre for Fine Print Research where they explored the potential of the laser cutter in relation to their own work. Both of the artists, Su Blackwell and Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck, were selected because they use hand cut elements within the production of their work, but as yet had not fully explored the capability of the laser cutter to produce larger editions and more experimental formats of construction.

Follow-Ed (after hokusai)

Author: Sowden, T.

EDITOR: Luke Morgan
publication: Intersections and Counterpoints, Proceedings of the Impact 7 International Multi-disciplinary Printmaking Conference
Place:  Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Date:  28.09.2011
Paper Presented by: Tom Sowden
ISbN: 978-1-921867-56-9
URL Links: impact7.org.au/participants/sowden.html

I can't stop making books in the style of Ed Ruscha. It has become an obsession, and my failure in trying to replicate an Ed Ruscha book, whilst always trying to succeed, is entirely part of the appeal to me. I don't live in 1960s California and my city is not as aspirational a place as Los Angeles was then, but I am not alone in this and many other artists share my passion and also produce books in an Ed Ruscha style. But why do we do this? 

This paper first looks at my own practice and my journey as an Ed Ruscha rip-off act, and then looks at some of the books from my collection of Ed Ruscha tribute books. Direct tributes such as the amazingly faithful reproduction of Royal Road Test; Macintosh Road Test by Corinne Carlson, Karen Henderson and Marla Hlady - true to the spirit even in the clothes they are wearing for the photographs - in which they substituted a Macintosh Plus (Model 'X') computer for the original Royal typewriter; to more conceptual books such as Doro Bîhme 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. 

Although the books collected so far vary enormously in size, subject matter and style, they all have an intrinsic 'Ed' theme, however tenuous the connection may be. The prevailing quality that I feel they all have is the element of humour reminiscent of Ruscha. Where each artist has taken one of Ruscha's books and reinvented it with a knowing twist; referencing with wit, the time and environment that they find themselves in, just as Ruscha did in the 60s and 70s.

A Manifesto for the Book - artist's book - artist's publication - book art?

Author/Co Author:Bodman, S. Sowden, T.

EDITOR: Luke Morgan
publication: Intersections and Counterpoints, Proceedings of the Impact 7 International Multi-disciplinary Printmaking Conference

Place:Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Paper Presented by: Sarah Bodman
ISbN: 978-1-921867-56-9
URL Links:http://impact7.org.au/participants/bodman.html


This paper is based on the results of a two-year research project by Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, March 2008 - February 2010. The project investigated the context and future of the artist's book in an attempt to extend critical debate of what actually constitutes an 'artist's book' in the 21st Century. One key point was to include all the book related activity that artists currently engage with, work that is produced on, and exclusively for, digital technologies within the book arts field, and not leave it floundering on the edge; if the artist considered what they were producing to be a book, then we felt it should be included. We also discussed the continued practice of traditional production processes for artists' books such as letterpress, etching, lithography, screenprint and woodcut, and interviewed a range of artists and publishers who work with these, as well as those producing livres d'artistes, fine press books, design bindings, multiples, installation and audio books.

The project was set up for international artists to openly debate and contribute online with forums through Artist Books 3.0, downloadable survey forms to fill in and diagrams to alter and return for artists, curators, librarians, collectors, teachers, students, dealers and publishers.  We used these alongside findings from our series of in-depth interviews and case studies with 53 artists and other professionals involved in the book arts in many countries including: Australia, USA, Denmark, Poland, Belgium, Canada, Turkey, Lebanon, South Africa, South Korea, Cyprus, Japan, Italy, Singapore, Argentina, Norway, Germany, Estonia, UK, Ireland, Russia, France, Spain and Brazil. We also hosted symposia and a conference, with an exhibition of 119 international artists' books to show examples of contemporary works. All of the outcomes from the project are available as free downloads (http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon.htm).

Un Manifesto para o Livro (A Manifesto for the Book)

Author/Co Author:Bodman, S. Sowden, T.
EDITOR: José Bártolo
publication: PLI Arte & Design No. 2/3, Entusiasmo
Paper Presented by: Sarah Bodman
ISSN: 2182-2093
URL Links: http://books.esad.pt/book/pli-arte---design

Paper Models: Investigating laser cutting technology to develop new artists’ books and paper-based creative practice for arts, crafts and design

EDITOR: Sarah Bodman
AUTHOR: Sowden, T
PUBLICATION: The Blue Notebook, Volume 5, Number 2
PUBLISHER: Impact Press
DATE: April 2011
URL LINKS: http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/bnotebk.htm
ISSN: 1751-1712 (Print) ISSN 1751-1720 (Online)

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. As the technology becomes more affordable, laser cutters are a regular feature within secondary, further and higher education. The project examined the potential of the laser cutter as a tool for artists working with the book form and paper-based work, and how it can replace the need for labour intensive manipulation of paper and card by hand. The project aimed to change attitudes to creative making and increase awareness of the advantage of new technologies for artists/craftspeople.

As part of this research project Tom Sowden developed his own practice as a book artist with the use of the laser cutting process. This involved exploring the possibilities of using the laser cutters in conjunction with digital printing to produce accurate cuts and folds within the book, especially in relation to printed imagery.
Tom also worked with case study resident artists Su Blackwell (UK) and Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck (Denmark) over the summer at the Centre for Fine Print Research to produce new works utilising the laser cutters. These works have been shown at Blackwell's large-scale solo exhibition, Remnants, at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth (21 August - 28 November 2010); and at the London Art Book Fair, Whitechapel (September 2010) where Mette-Sofie D. Ambeck's book Steam, Salt, Milk, created during the residency was presented with the Birgit Skiöld Memorial Award.

Ruscha Rip-off, Rip-out

Author: Sowden, T
Publication: Afterimage, the journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, Vol. 37, No. 6
Publisher: Visual Studies Workshop, NY
Date: 2010
URL Links: www.vsw.org/ai/issues/afterimage-vol-37-no-6

A Portfolio by Tom Sowden as part of the special section on photo-bookworks in Vol. 37, No. 6 of Afterimage, the journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism, published by Visual Studies Workshop, NY. The photo essay details a selection of the books he has collected for an exhibition project co-curated with Linda Newington to be held Winchester School of Art in January 2011. Published in Afterimage online, the journal of media arts and cultural criticism 2010

Bonefolder Cover image


Author: Sowden, T.
Publication: The Bonefolder, Volume 6, Number 1
Publisher: Syracuse University Library
Date: 09.2009
ISsN: 1555-656 pp. 15-18
URL Links: www.philobiblon.com

From Sowden’s own practice of producing artists’ books in homage to Ed Ruscha, he has been curating and collecting works and preparing for a touring exhibition Follow-ed. Sowden is currently working with Linda Newington at Winchester School of Art Library and Maria White at Tate Britain to develop a touring exhibition launching in January 2011.

Maria White has also invited him to speak at the conference she is organising in tandem at Tate Britain in January 2011 on the books of Ed Ruscha and artists who have made books in tribute to his works. The Bonefolder article discusses his research into these books since 2007.
Righton Press letterpress image 09.12
journal article

Codex Event 8: An Australian and British Collaboration of pulp-printing, installation and artists’ books

- with Sarah Bodman, Paul Laidler, Tim Mosely, Monica Oppen and Tom Sowden 2011-2012

Imprint: The Quarterly Journal of the Print Council of Australia, 47 (3). pp. 6-8

A co-authored article by all the artists for Imprint journal, Australia, September 2012. Sarah Bodman and Paul Laidler from the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at UWE, Bristol, UK joined Tim Mosely in Brisbane at Queensland College of Art (QCA, Griffith University, Brisbane ) after the Impact 7 Multi-disciplinary Printmaking Conference in Melbourne in October last year. Tom Sowden and Monica Oppen collaborated by sending instructions from (CFPR) Bristol and Sydney respectively.

Our brief was to explore the concepts of the urban jungle, based on Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of smooth and striated space in their publication A Thousand Plateaus. The striated was to be the instructional signs we assimilate and obey each day as we pass through any city, “don’t walk, walk, do not enter, exit, stay behind the line, go back” etc. The smooth was to remove the control, and think of space in the way that the Inuit see their surroundings on an even, unbroken white horizon of snow, or the way that nomads travel without constraint in the desert landscape. For Codex Event 8, to smooth was to bring the jungle into the urban. As well as the article in Imprint, a full report can be viewed online:

2011-2012 | For more information visit the book arts website

Artists' Yearbook 2010 cover imageArtists' Book Yearbook 2010-2013

Editor: Bodman, Sarah
Art Editor: Sowden, Tom
Publisher: Impact Press, UWE Bristol
Date: 09.11
URL Links: http://www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/abyb11.htm


Over 600 artist’s book listings from 207 national and international artists. Reference listings of: collections, libraries, archives, bookshops, galleries, centres, design print & bind, publishers, dealers, presses, studios, competitions, fairs, festivals and exhibitions, journals, reference books, organisations, societies, websites, academic projects, touring programmes and courses. 

Essays include: 
John Bently on books and community; Earle D. Swope’s extraordinary account of how he came to be a book artist; an update on the work of the collaborative artists’ group AMBruno; a study by Eileen O’Keefe of Sarah Jacobs’ thoroughly absorbing - Drawn from the Inventory: the Notebooks ofElisabeth Faulhaber; Jackie Batey celebrates the 10th issue of Future Fantasteek!; Lawrence Upton has written on his extensive art collaboration withGuy Begbie; Davy & Kristin McGuire explain their beautiful performance piece The Icebook; Nicola Dale looks at the artistic potential of book destruction, and Radoslaw Nowakowski asks: Is a hypertext (artist’s) book possible? Linda Newington explores the book works of SALT + SHAW;Paulo Silveira reflects on the start of his recent academic project: The University and the Artist’s Book, and Reinhard Grüner shows us some of the very special presentation copies of artists’ books in his collection.

Artists’ pages by: Amir Brito Cadôr, Eric Doeringer, Lara Durback, the Idaho Book Artist’s Guild, Susan Johanknecht, Paul Laidler, SALT + SHAW, Clare Thorntonand Maria White. Cover design by Tom Sowden

Blue notebook cover image

The Blue Notebook: a journal for artists' books

Author: Bodman, Sarah
Publisher: Impact Press, UWE Bristol
Date: On-going
ISsN: 1751-1712 (Online) ISSN 1751-1720
URL Links: www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/bnotebk.htm


The journal is published in two formats: an electronic colour version to be accessed at any time online, and a paper, black and white version. Subscription covers both formats at £10 GBP per annum - UK and international. Written contributions are peer-reviewed by an international panel which includes: Susan Johanknecht, Maria Fusco, Jeff Rathermel, Ulrike Stoltz and Paulo Silveira.

We welcome submissions of writing on contemporary artists’ books for The Blue Notebook, if you need any info or have any questions, please contact Sarah.Bodman@uwe.ac.uk

Artist's page contributions are at the invitation of the art editor, Tom Sowden.
Please see the submission guidelines for written contributions.

Artists Books

Righton Press letterpress image 09.10
artists' books

Surplus to Requirement: Book Arts project publication

Tom Sowden was invited to curate a selection of Bristol-based book artists’ works

for a collaborative project with the Righton Press group at Manchester Metropolitan University. Each artist produced a page to print, and a ‘sketch’ page on the theme of Surplus to Requirement.


In Manchester the group worked around an unused herbarium collection, and in Bristol, works were made around a collection of books rescued from Bookbarn.

The book is being edited, printed and published in an edition of 250 by the Righton Press and will be launched at The London Art Book Fair at Whitechapel 25-27 September 2010.

25-27.09.2010 | For more information visit the book fair website

Manifesto for the book cover imageA Manifesto for the Book

Author/Co Author: Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden
Publisher: Impact Press
Date: 02.10
ISBN: 978-1-906501-04-4
URL Links: www.bookarts.uwe.ac.uk/canon.htm.


Download the colour 187 pp publication at A Manifesto for the Book, which contains our statement for a manifesto, and an edited selection of interviews, essays, presentations, case studies, and some ABTREEs from the project What will be the canon for the artist’s book in the 21st Century?
If you prefer to have a hard copy of the publication, we have made it available in black and white print, at cost as a Print-on-Demand book at lulu.com: A Manifesto for the Book-Hard copy

Scotts Flight Cover image

Scott’s Flight: Migrating East

Author: Bodman, Sarah and Sowden, Tom
Publisher: Conference: 4th round of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina International Biennale for the Artist’s Book at The Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center
Date: 04-05.2010
URL Links:http://www.bibalex.org/english

Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden were invited to make a collaborative book 'Scott’s Flight: Migrating East' a unique reconfigured book, cut with figures of Ospreys for the 4th round of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina International Biennale for the Artist’s Book at The Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center from 22 April to 25 May 2010. “Nomadic Cultures” was chosen as a theme for this round, a theme considered by the Italian Art theorist Achille Bonito Oliva – coiner of the term ‘transavantgarde’—as an essential element of any transavantgarde artist.

General commissioners of the Biennale are artists Fernanda Fedi and Gino Gini. The exhibition, curated by Fernanda Fedi and Gino Gini, Alexandria, Egypt, includes 46 artists from 25 countries and runs from 22 April until 14 May 2010. The artefacts will remain in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Center to enrich its permanent Artist's Book collection.

Ø - Cherry Blossom Island Tree

Author/Co Author: Sowden, T. Bodman, S.
Publisher: Impact PRess
Date: 9.5.2009
URL Links: http://artistbooks.ning.com/video/oe-cherry-blossom-island-tree

A collaborative artist’s book by Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden was exhibited at Doverodde Book Arts Festival, Doverodde, Denmark, Saturday 9th May 2009, with the production of the book en-route documented as a collaborative video work available to view on the UWE Book Arts website – along with the talks and information sheets.