Break it Down into Simple Steps: Thinking about Setting Up a “Production Line” for Your Art “Edition” Project

June 6, 2011

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Above: the completed zine sets in their simple cases. Each will be put in an archival plastic bag. Click on the image to view an enlargement.

In March 2011 the MCBA Visual Journal Collective had a Journal Zine Swap. Participants made an 8-page zine on a journal topic (either direct journaling or a compilation of journaling pages).

You can read instructions for the Journal Zine Swap and instructions on making the 8-page zine here.

A discussion of content for your Journal Zine can be found here.

You can read instructions for making the Journal Zine case to hold a collection of zines here.

When the Journal Zine Swap was completed we had 8 additional sets of zines. One was purchased immediately by a visitor to the group that evening. One set is going to MCBA for the Library. The remaining 6 sets are going to be sold this summer at MCBA. (I'll post details as I learn more how this will be handled, auction or direct purchase.)

As I set about making the 6 additional cases needed so the sets could be sold, I realized that some people reading this blog might not have gone through the process of making an "edition" or a bunch of cases for an art project. I decided to take some quick photos to break down the process.

If you haven't completed a project like this before it might seem too large and intimidating. Once you start breaking a project down like this you'll find your approach to everything from cooking dinner to brushing the dog might change! So whether you're binding a series of books or painting a bunch of pages in your journals take time to do a little planning. Make a list of steps that will keep you on track and ensure that you use your time as productively as possible.

1. Make a prototype. I did this before the March meeting and also had an unglued prototype that I glued up at that meeting as a demo. Making a prototype will allow you to work out any problems before you go into production. You'll verify that you are making your case wide enough for the edition or set you are containing. You will work out any construction difficulties that need to be modified. This can be the most interesting and fun portion of the project as you get to solve problems creatively. (If you've never made a prototype before I recommend you start with some simple thumbnail sketches in which you note down the aspects of the prototype and guestimates of the measurements.)

Above: Prototype for the cases. This one shows the labels in position. Also, since this prototype was glued together at the meeting I had to cut it apart for my production run (to remind myself of the measurements etc.) so some of the tabs are cut off. But here you see all the labels as they need to be positioned.

2. Make a list of steps in the order needed for efficient completion of the entire production run. For example, on my list for this case making project I needed to cut and fold 6 cases (gluing would come later). You might step back even further and begin by cutting 6 strips of paper that are the right size from which to cut and fold your case. (I didn't have to do that because I knew I could fit 3 cases in a parent sheet of paper so I simply cut 1/3 off the sheet of paper as I needed it.)

3. At each step of production make additional (extra) pieces just in case you have an accident or problem and need a substitute piece. It is easier, for instance, to print out extra labels than to return to the computer for an additional label, print it, affix adhesive, trim, etc. just one extra label later.

4. If you can't work on and finish your project in a couple days be sure to take notes so that you can refresh your memory of the process and where you are in it. Try to completely finish a step before stopping for the day, or a break—this will help ensure consistency (e.g., we all fold slightly differently on any given day; if you do all your folding at once there will be consistency throughout the items).

5. Look for time-saving actions at each of your steps. This can be as simple as folding all the verticals before you fold horizontals (or vice versa); or doing all your folds before you do any cutting, etc.

2labelsheet Left: By printing out labels ganged on one sheet I saved time in trimming. I could trim all the right edges at one time, all the left edges at one time. That left only the tops and bottoms to trim individually. By placing your labels specific widths apart you can also make one cut instead of two when separating them at the top and bottom. More savings of action and time. Click on the image to view an enlargement. ("Ganged" is a printing term which means that items have been grouped together on a single sheet. You can gang items that are different so that you save on costs, or you can gang items that are similar, as I've done here, to speed up your production.)

6. Look for material saving actions. How can you best use your paper, bookcloth, etc. with the least waste? I find that doing all my gluing at one time as in this project, allowed me to save on glue because I could put out how much I thought I was going to need, and be a little on the skimpy side so that I wasn't wasting. That meant I didn't have lots of glue that was developing a skin. (I used PVA to glue the sides of the cases together.)

In this project I found a time and materials savings by realizing when I was trimming the labels that I could attach the participants list to the back of the case instead of putting it on a sheet of cardstock and inserting it into the case. This meant that I saved on trimming 6 pieces of cardstock as well as saving the actual cardstock. It also meant that I could add the list label at the same time as the other labels and only have one round of "burnishing." Another physical action savings. As you can see, planning becomes really fun for me. In part this is a function of years as a graphic designer—bidding on jobs and then working to get them done accurately but quickly. But it is also simply part of my character and the way my brain functions. How can I do something better in less time? Try it and see how fun it can be!

Use of the Xyron for the labels eliminated glue drying time from the label step! This allowed me to complete the entire project in an afternoon.

Another time savings for me was "eyeballing" the placement of the labels. I've been doing this for quite some time and my eyeballing skills, the placement of something by eye without any premeasuring, is pretty good. It makes no sense for me to take time to measure out the exact placement of each label. This is afterall a handmade item. What I do, when placing the labels is look for other "landmarks." On the case the obvious landmarks are the folds. Since I took time to cut the labels accurately with straight sides and 90 degree corners I can line them up visually parallel with those folds and they will look accurate to the eye. Also, by placing the participants list on the back panel first I now have a top and bottom edge (of that label) to look at when I place the spine labels. These labels will not all be visible at one time when the case is completed, but the fact that they have the same drop down from the fold gives a tidy and uniform appearance.

Above: A view of the cut and folded "case" before the labels have been affixed. Click on the image to view an enlargement.

Above: All the cases have been cut and folded. The labels have been attached and burnished into place. I find that having a stack of work completed at the end of each step is also a huge "morale" booster. You can see real progress on your edition. Click on the image to view an enlargement.


Above: Here the cases have all been glued together, or into shape as it were. They were left standing for an hour while I took a break. I wanted to be sure all the glue that might have seeped (I'm not known for seeping glue, but you want to be careful!) would be dry before the zines were inserted. The stacks of journal zines can be seen behind the cases. Click on the image to view an enlargement.

Another great reason to work out a production sequence is that not everyone has everything he needs at home! If you find that you can rent time on a cutter or a Xyron or some other type of equipment at a scrapbooking or office supply store it saves you MONEY to be organized when you arrive. It also saves you worry because you work quickly through your project in an orderly fashion, don't need to return for something you "forgot," and are less likely to lose any of your component parts.

Next time you have to finish an edition (of artist books, zines, cases, whatever) take a moment to break it down into steps. Short cuts will emerge. Hidden costs and problems will appear—and you'll be able to address them. As you work your way through the project you'll be buoyed up by your progress instead of stressed by tasks ahead.

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  1. Reply

    Thank you so much Roz for sharing this process, so helpful. Appreciate how you broke it down into simple steps, I’ll be saving this information!

  2. Reply

    Bren, I’m so glad this was helpful. I hope you put these thoughts into action. When you do an edition I would love to see a jpg of your project! Have fun.

    • ambal
    • June 9, 2011

    This is a very helpful and instructive post. Not sure when I might make such a case, but will bookmark this for future reference. I really like the orderly practices you use for your work. Thank you, Ambal

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