Book Projects with Associate Professor Susan Schmidt

By Pamela Reponen

Students explore the tradition of handmade artists’ books and more recent experimental book forms, learning how images work together in a sequence; narratives are created by blending images and text; and books can be constructed in varied physical forms.

Required reading: Structure of the Visual Book, by Keith Smith 
Sample print and online resources: The Book as Art: Artists’ Books from the National Museum of Women in the Arts, by Krystyna Wasserman, and Center for Book Arts ( 

Examining the emergence of “artists’ books” in the 1960s and the work of contemporary artists, students complete three book projects: “Tales Retold,” creation of a story based on an interpretation or update of one aspect of a fable or fairytale; “Opposing Sides,” expression of the theme of duality in folding book form; and “Final Book,” project in which students work individually to decide content for a narrative drawn from a source of their choosing and select the best design to express it.

Three book projects, sketchbook, and short books and proposals

“Tales Retold” critique: Distributing their books to classmates for review, students listened and responded as professor and peers critiqued each project. They then described their process of creating content and images for their books; their experiences in selecting and practicing varied printmaking and bookbinding techniques; challenges encountered; and lessons learned about books as an art form.

Receiving her master of fine arts degree from Pennsylvania State University, Associate Professor of visual arts Susan Schmidt joined the College faculty in 1987; her specialties include printmaking, artists’ books and drawing. Working with a community of artists at the Mixit Print Studio and having her own studio in the Brickbottom Artists Building in Somerville, Mass., she has participated in numerous exhibitions during her career, including the recent “reThink INK: 25 Years at the Mixit Print Studio,” at Holy
Cross. Schmidt has received several research and publication grants and serves as the coordinator of the studio art division of the visual arts department at the College. 

Noting that students with varied majors and interests take this course, Schmidt explains her expectations for their learning experience: “I want students to investigate multiple aspects of making and reading books, particularly the experimental book forms defined as ‘artists’ books,’” she says. “Students are in charge of the conception, planning, illustration, writing, printing, construction and binding of their books, and they engage in the complex process of making these components work together. They learn the interaction of content and craft, learn to work through their failures, learn to improvise and adapt to new materials. Because the class requires such long hours working together in the studio, I find that students assist each other in learning, and the class is truly a workshop experience.”

“My book re-tells the folk tale “Manawee,” by specifically focusing on the three obstacles that the little dog faces in the original story,” says Margaret “Maggie” Reichenbach ’14, of Manhasset, N.Y. “To represent the obstacles, I printed a hand-drawn maze onto vellum paper multiple times and then put the vellum pages over the obstacles (a bone, a pie, a stranger), which I block printed onto Rives lightweight paper. My book is unique in that it is a French-door style book so that it represents the theme of duality in the story; however, it made the craft much more difficult to perfect because it required twice as much planning and time in comparison to a regular left side bound book.”  ■ 

View one student's Book Project creation here.