inspiration making

Shared making of the Oxford English Dictionary

Yesterday I wrote about Storybird and how it enables a form of shared making through an online interface using email to notify authors when it is their turn. This reminded me of a very definitely non-technological example of the shared making of books..

Making the Oxford English Dictionary

From when the gargantuan project of compiling the Oxford English Dictionary began in 1857 it would take 71 years until the first edition was published. The third editor, James Murray, worked on the project for 36 years but died before he saw it completed. As part of his tasks Murray oversaw hundreds of volunteer readers and contributors who would painstakingly search out early examples of the use of words and send them to Murray by post. As a result of this mail-enabled shared making method, the first Oxford English Dictionary contained 414,825 words, and 1,827,306 illustrative quotations.

Contributors were not all academics and linguists. J.R.R. Tolkein was a volunteer while one of the most notorious, and prolific, contributors was Dr W. C. Minor, a murderer and certified inmate of Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Confined at Broadmoor with his collection of rare books, Minor happened upon Murray’s call for ‘men of letters’ to become Oxford English Dictionary volunteers in the early 1880s and began scouring his collection for the first or best uses of words.

If the project took place today it would almost certainly be termed a ‘crowd-sourcing’ project and would be built as a wiki (see What does this non-digital shared making project suggest? That times change, technologies move on but ideas remain the same, or perhaps that we shouldn’t let technology get in the way of carrying out a good idea..?


Storybird – collaborative storytelling

Storybird is a website where you can create your own online illustrated storybook. Aimed at children from 3 – 13 books can be created collaboratively and they positively encourage families, friends and school classes to work together. The artwork for your stories is provided by illustators and visual artists who are able to upload their drawings to the site. Making a Storybird is free though they plan to charge for their printing service when it starts later this year. You can browse by artwork or themes as inspiration to start your book and I have to say I like the look of the site and the illustrations very much.

When collaborating on a Storybird each person can jump in and make changes any time they like, however, they have also put together a more formal collaboration process based on turn-taking. One person starts the Storybird and when they want to pass over to their friend they let Storybird know and an email will be sent to their friend telling them it is now their turn. Storybirds can be kept private or published to the library when complete so that other people can share it too.

As I said, I love the look of the site and the illustrations they currently have in the library. It seems it would be difficult not to create a visually beautiful book from these pictures – and I imagine you can upload your own artwork if you want to illustrate your own stories. Storybird suggests that contributing artwork to Storybird has several benefits for artists including making money from your work. However, I’m unclear how this happens when making a Storybird is free… (If you find out please do let me know!)

How does this relate to bookleteer eBooks? I think it’s interesting that the Storybird exists only as an electronic online storybook (at least for the moment) and I don’t find that this detracts from the reading experience – though perhaps I’d feel differently about this if I was reading with a child, or group of children. On the other hand I can also imagine that if I was a child and had created my own Storybird that I would love to see it printed out as a proper little book that I could take home and show my family and friends. I wonder what it is about tangible, hold-able items that makes them feel so personal and intimate compared to things on a screen?


Carlton say Books Come Alive

New Scientist reports that UK publisher Carlton have launched two titles in their Augmented Reality series. The books – Fairyland Magic and Dinosaurs Alive – include a CD with software to install on your PC. Once this is done you point your webcam at the pages of the book and the webcam image of the book displayed on your computer monitor is augmented with hand-drawn, moving fairies or dinosaurs. The New Scientist article does a great job of describing the perceived need for books to embrace technologies and the potential complications resulting from this. You can also watch Carlton’s video promoting Fairyland Magic on YouTube.

I find the books interesting in the context of a discussion we had at the Pitch Up & Publish Augmented Reading last week when David suggested that interactive digital content of this kind (we weren’t talking about the Carlton books at the time) diminishes the experience of reading rather than augmenting it. David’s argument was that adding screen-based computation to a book imposes rules and restricts interaction in a way that a paper-and-ink book doesn’t.

Books Come Alive seem a good illustration of this argument as the book has to be in proximity of the computer screen and webcam in order to create the digital images. This sets up what seems to me to be a quite unnatural reading position as the priority becomes orienting the page to the webcam. Instead of reading being an intimate experience between one person and a book this opens it up to a wider audience for whoever happens to be in sight of the computer monitor. I wonder what the effects – good or bad – will be of this?


Electronic Popables

A little while ago I wrote about the integration of electronics and books and speculated about the different kinds of reading experiences this might create. Now I find Electronic Popables by Jie Qi which electronically augments a pop-up book and creates a beautiful series of scenes where sliding, pressing and flipping pieces of paper causes underwater sea creatures to glow, the buildings of New York City to light up and stars in the night sky to twinkle.

Jie Qi created the book with Leah Buechley and Tschen Chew during a summer working in the High-Low Tech group at MIT Media Lab. The High-Low Tech group aims to engage people in creating their own technologies through situating computation in new and unusual contexts integrating high and low technological processes, materials and cultures.

Electronic Popables integrates traditional pop-up mechanisms with thin, flexible, paper-based electronics including capacitive sensors, bend sensors and pressure sensors, and the result looks like a familiar pop-up book but with added electronic effects.

Watch a video of Electronic Popables on YouTube here..


Johan Hybschmann: Book of Space

Book of Space was made by architecture student Johan Hybschmann while at the Bartlett, UCL. Johan was inspired by Sokurev’s film Russian Ark in which viewers travel through time as they move through the rooms of the Winter Palace. This all takes place in a single shot sequence. Johan writes:

The distortion of time is, of course, interesting in terms of the timelessness of the spaces – but the interest of the project lies in the way that the camera never looks back. Even though the viewer never sees the full dimensions of these spaces, we are still left with a sense of coherence and wholeness. It’s as if we constantly use the previous space to create an understanding of what should be behind us.

Book of Space draws directly on the film and transforms two scenes into constructed perspectives cut into the leaves of the book. The elements collide and the nature of the space changes as the user turns the pages.

For me, Book of Space is a fascinating and inspiring match of concept and construction as it explores spatiality and temporality through its content as well as through the book format. And I feel that the fragility of the cut-out pages brings a further reminder of the temporal nature of books as they are used.

See more images on Johan’s website..


Chisato Tamabayashi: Book Artist

Chisato Tamabayashi is a London-based artist who’s made a range of stunning books using cut-outs, printing and pop-ups. I thought I’d share a few of my favourites with you.

9 – 5 is a book of hand-cut images showing the shape and colour of a tree transforming through the seasons. Alongside this three miniature books nest inside the book cover illustrating smaller transformations of the tree at different speeds and times. The image below is not actually from the book because I couldn’t find any accessible photos of it. Instead these two pictures are from Chisato’s Season series and similar enough to give you some idea of the beautiful colours and delicate nature of the work.

Two untitled images from Season series

queue is designed as a pop-up book and as a fold-out pop-up scene. As a book each page shows a single car that, once unfolded, line up to form a traffic jam.

queue as a fold-out pop-up scene

The last project I’ll write about is branches which combines elements of both of the above (and do check out Chisato’s website because there are many more fabulous works to see!) branches is a pop-up book that explores the transformation of a family of trees in different seasons and of different generations. Like queue, branches can also be viewed as a fold-out scene showing all of the trees simultaneously.

I find these books completely inspiring and after looking at these I’m impatient for my next session of bookleteer experiments (last week I played with pop-ups and I’ll write about the results of that soon). I would love to see what Chisato would make out of the bookleteer eBooks and StoryCubes..

All of the projects I describe here (and more) are on Chisato’s website..



From Alices Adventures in Wonderland by Robert Sabuda

I came across the work of Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart when I was investigating the idea of making an e-Book pop-up book. Robert and Matthew’s books don’t just pop – they also spin, slide and grow! While the subject of the books is often aimed at children the construction is most definitely for adults. The pop-up of Alice growing inside a house, or the tornado spinning across Kansas in the Wizard of Oz have me mystified!

The spinning tornado in The Wizard of Oz by Robert Sabuda

From watchingthe video I learnt that Robert began by making white pop-ups and this became something of a signature style for him. The construction seems simpler in these books and is matched by the simplicity of the style to create something I think is  beautiful.

You can find their all their books on Robert’s website and Robert and Matthew reveal a little more about their craft in this video here..


For the lazy reader

Feeling too tired to turn the pages of your book? You need les éditions volumique…

The making of les éditions volumique, Bertrand Duplat and Etienne Mineur

Created by Bertrand Duplat and Etienne Mineur les éditions volumique is a physical book with computer-controlled self-turning pages. Watch the video here..

At first glance I thought this seemed a very different digital / physical hybrid to the ebooks and storycubes, however, why shouldn’t the little books be augmented with electronics and programming? The potential is great. Imagine stories with sound effects, guide books that know which direction you’re facing or self-lighting books for reading in the dark. Suddenly the content is brought to life, as the book becomes aware of its surroundings and responds to them expanding the experience of reading beyond the page.


Your House: Olafur Eliasson

A few pages from Your House, Olafur Eliasson

Looking deceptively simple, Your House by Olafur Eliasson (the artist behind the Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2005) is beautiful and detailed. The book shows a laser-cut negative impression of Eliasson’s house in Copenhagen. As you move from the front to the back of the book you make your way through the rooms of the house constructing a mental and physical narrative as you go. Every sheet is individually cut and every time you turn the page your perspective on the building changes. Each page is to scale and corresponds to 2.2 cm of the actual house.

The book is a limited edition of 225, published by the Library Council of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2006. Concept by Olafur Eliasson, design is by Michael Heimann, Claudia Baulesch /

See more pictures of it on Olafur Eliasson’s website here..


Rainbow in your hand: Masashi Kawamura

I’ve seen the photos and the video but I still can’t quite believe this works. I hope it does because it’s so simple and such a unique way of experiencing a book.

Rainbow in your hand is a flip book by Masashi Kawamura. Each of the 36 pages has a colour spectrum on a black background. As you flip through the book you see the illusion of a rainbow hovering above the pages.

Seeing this makes me wonder if it’s possible to make an eBook flip book. I’m quite surprised to hear no-one has tried this already and it’s definitely something I’d like to experiment with in the next few weeks. Do let me know if you have made an eBook flip book already and have any tips or examples…

Watch Rainbow in your hand on YouTube