How Artisan Books Began: Chapter 1

The printer

Some of you may know the story of how Artisan Books came to be and unsurprisingly it all began with a book – ‘Sam’s Book’ to be precise. A wonderful portfolio of photographs that we produced at Hurtwood Press and loved so much we decided to make a whole series based on this design. This was the beginning of our partnership with Andrew Barron of design studio ‘thextension’ as it was he who designed and commissioned us to make Sam’s book (more on this in chapter 2).

We launched in 2013 with a range of three sizes and designs and, two years on, Artisan Books are hugely popular with designers and photographers. Here’s Francis Atterbury’s story of how it all began.


Incubating an idea

I’m sometimes asked how Artisan Books came about and why we make them the way we do. Some of our old fashioned’ manufacturing techniques must seem at odds with the highly automated and impersonal way most ‘photo books’ are made.

It’s difficult to pin down a single incident – but looking back there was always a latent desire to be able to apply our Hurtwood ‘benchmarks of quality’ to something accessible to everyone with an appreciation of quality, craftsmanship or design. However, the catalyst that finally got it all moving was a commission for designer Andrew Barron and the work we did together on that first project


Hurtwood Press has been making books since 1978 and, because of our expertise working with (digital giant) Hewlett Packard and their Indigo Presses (our books are even on display at their library in Israel), we were regularly being asked to produce projects involving short-run hardback books. It seemed I was constantly having to re-invent the wheel with similar specifications to both bindery and press. However, if we could standardise the specifications, we could enshrine the basics of quality while allowing the creative mind free rein over the content and at a much lower cost. And then we met Andrew.


Andrew Barron is a book designer and he had been charged with producing a book for a talented young photographer called Sam Magnier. Andrew had finally arrived at Hurtwood having first tried all the well known short run ‘photo book’ producers. But hadn’t felt that anyone could make the book to the standard he expected; doing justice to his design and to Sam’s photographs. He was being led down a route of printing in boring sizes and on dull, uninteresting papers with poor quality, glued, binding.


We were very impressed with Andrew’s knowledge and skill in book design and Sam’s Book was much admired and so, when we wondered who to ask talk to about designing an ‘on demand’ book worthy of the name ‘book’, Andrew sprang to mind immediately.

Luckily, he was keen to be involved. From the off, we decided to do everything in multiples of three. Three people (Andrew, Joanna and me), three sizes of book (small, large and landscape), nine cloths (photo) and bound in 12 page sections. No real reason just a printers’ love of order and a system.


Andrew chose the page sizes for beauty and aesthetic quality and without any consideration of practicality; that could come later. There are always compromises necessary to manufacture but it is very important that the original idea is conceived as an ideal. We’re making books for people, not units of product. It is we who run machines, not machines that decide what we get.


Since those early days, Artisan Books has grown and consolidated. Our original idea has been fine-tuned to a formula that is a perfect framework for creative agencies, designers and photographers. However, you won’t be completely free, just like the great artist type designers were constrained by the artisan punch cutters there will be some things you won’t be able to do.

But of course, as we all know, rules aid creativity.

Read chapter 2 here


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