With notes on the book Wood Block Prints by Steve Chappell

Artists’ books: Promoting your work

by Doug E. L. Haynes

Chappell's book Wood Block Prints
The question of how to generate awareness of one’s work is a recurring theme among artists. Artists use postcards, and websites to promote their work, but to really make an impression it helps to have something more permanent. A book is a lasting record, something unlikely to be discarded. When one thinks about artist’s books, we imagine that some day when we get famous enough a publisher will seek us out to document our brilliant career. But why should one have to wait so long. What working artists need is public awareness right now. On the other hand the chances of a publisher showing interest in a mid career artist are slim to none. Like all the other aspects of promoting one’s career, it is best to take matters into one’s own hands. Printmaker Steve Chappell has done just that with is book WOOD BLOCK PRINTS with artist’s notes. The book, which was written and prepared for print entirely by Chappell, is a comprehensive look at the last 20 years of his work as a printmaker. It includes a gallery of works, detailed commentary on each of the works and an informative section on the process of making prints. Chappell sought to create a record of his work, raise his profile among collectors, and increase the understanding of his artform.

Chappell began working on the book four years prior to the date of publication. The process included assembling information and writing prose about each of the works included. He also got photographs and prepared them for print. Finally he prepared the book design on the computer. Steve, whose day job is preparing documents for print at a Madison printing company, was well prepared to tackle the work. He publishes under his own label: ROLLING TIRE PRODUCTIONS.

He created the label in the 90’s when he was drawing and publishing comic books.

For someone considering such a project for the first time, Chappell offers these words of advice. First be prepared to do a lot of work. Writing the text, gathering the information and preparing it will require a large commitment of time. One must also be prepared to spend some serious money. There is no escaping the fact that printing is expensive. Expect to spend thousands of dollars. With that much time and money on the line, you will want to plan the content of your book very carefully. Chappell recommends that one look at other artist books and see what approaches to layout and content appeal to you most.

Marketing is another area where planning is important. At the same time that Chappell was printing the book he also printed an abundant supply of postcards and bookmarks for marketing purposes. In addition to the postcard blitz, Chappell also pedaled the book to bookstores and online. Chappell admits that marketing is the most challenging area in self-publishing.

Lee Weiss is another Wisconsin artist who has had success promoting her work with books. Her first book was published at the suggestion of her friend and mentor Dr. H. Lester Cooke, who was curator of painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C. Like Chappell she also gave careful thought to her distribution plan. Two thousand copies of her book were mailed to museums across the country and another thousand were mailed to collectors who had previously purchased works from Weiss. She also sold books at workshops and at local bookstores. Lee found the book was a remarkably effective way tool for marketing paintings. Collectors who received a copy of it were soon clamoring for her paintings. The experience prompted her to make two more books at intervals of ten years. In each case the books proved useful in drawing attention to her paintings. Both Chappell and Weiss agree that such books are not intended to make money, but the attention that it draws to the artwork and subsequent sales of artwork have supported the costs of the book’s production.

Artists who have traveled to Asia, will notice that self-published artists books are in wide use. WP&S member Waverly Liu has brought that tradition with her. She recently had a tiny booklet made during a visit to family in China. Her book has only a few pages, but it quite attractive and sure to raise interest in her work. Print production costs are considerably lower in China than they are here. Unfortunately the deal she got on the printing there, would be hard to find here.

When it comes to production of a book, not all of us are as multitalented as Steve Chappell. For those of us in that boat there are resources to tap into. One can hire professionals to help with the technical aspects of book production. One source of information is SPAN, a membership organization, which offers resources to authors of self-published books. Their monthly newsletter has good articles on all aspects of publishing. Members can also get discounts on FedEx shipping. WP&S members are eligible for a discount on the annual SPAN membership fee. For more information on SPAN, visit their website at: www.spannet.org. One might also want to tap the wisdom of WP&S members Chappell Weiss or Liu to hear how they made it happen. In particular Chappell might be an especially valuable resource. He is now considering offering a service as a “contractor/publisher” to assist other artists in their own book publishing pursuits. They could use his label or create their own. For a negotiated fee he would help guide people through their book projects.

Copies of “Wood Block Prints with artist’s notes” are available through Chappell’s studio. Send $10.00(includes postage) to ROLLING TIRE PRODUCTIONS, 2308 Center Avenue, Madison, WI 53704. For further questions about the book, email S. Chappell at schapart@sbcglobal.net , or see his studio website @ www.schappellstudio.com Chappell will be coming out with another book in January. This time a chapbook titled, “Warm Rain in Mexico.” It will feature wood block prints and stories describing his time spent in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico during the summer of 2006.

Copies of Lee Weiss’s second and third books are available from the artist. The cost is $10.00 per book (plus $2 postage) Lee Weiss, 106 Vaughn Ct, Madison, WI 53705. Do not forget to include the address that you want the book sent to.

Chappell's book Wood Block Prints Lee Weiss’ book Watercolors III Waverly Liu's untitled booklet Chappell's new book
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