Earlier this month we had the privilege of having Martin Frost lead a course on Fore-Edge Painting Upstairs at TALAS.  This event with co-organized with The Guild of Bookworkers.

Fore-edge painter Martin Frost has been working from studios in West Sussex, England for 40 years.  He has painted the edges of well over 3500 books including examples of the scarce all-edge, split and two-way doubles and now binds many of his books too. He has written a workshop manual, published articles and lectured to many major organizations interested in the art and craft of the Book. He has appeared throughout the UK, Canada and the US from Boston to Atlanta, Chicago and throughout California. Recently he lectured at the 2015 Convention of the Society of Bookbinders at Keele University.  His work is to be found in many national and international institute and private collections.

Below is an image gallery from the course.  Please be sure to read below for recap and tips to try it yourself!


 As with most art forms, fore edge painting requires a certain level of practice to perfect the art.  Stick with it, an don’t get frustrated!


The first step to fore edge painting is choosing an appropriate book block.  Martin recommends one of the gilt edge variety if you’re going after a vanishing fore edge painting.  Non-gilt edge books can be used, but keep in mind that the image will always be visible and will appear skewed when closed.


The next step is clamping your book such that the fore edge is exposed.  This involves a certain “jiggling” of the spine that allows that pages to uniformly splay, exposing just the slightest bit of the page.  The book can be held using clamps, or a special fore edge painting press.  TALAS does not currently sell a press, but we are looking to have one manufactured.


Once the book is clamped into place, you can begin painting.  Watercolors are the medium of choice here.  You’ll want to use a variety of watercolor brushes.  The recommended size for brushes is 3-5.  It’s important that you use a very dry brush.  Martin suggests loading your brush with the desired color, and using a scrap sheet to remove most of the moisture from your brush before applying any to the book.  The key is to layer multiple thin layers of pigment to achieve your desired coverage.  A saturated brush will likely remove the gilt edge from the pages and cause the edge to curl.  White pigments should also be avoided as they will not vanish in the same way as the other colors.


As for brush technique, it’s best to move in the direction of the pages.  For example, move the brush from right to left or left to right – which will move naturally with the pages.  Moving from top to bottom is also advisable, but try to avoid moving from bottom to top.


* This final step only applies if you are using a gilt edge book block. *


After you have completed your image you might notice that a bit of the image is still visible when the book is closed.  Not to worry, this can be wiped away using cotton wool.  Take a small swab and moisten it with water.  Squeeze out any excess water.   Gently clamp the book block together and wipe the painted edge using the cotton swab.  Check the swab and make sure that no gold has been removed.  If you see gold, stop the process.  If you see pigment, this is good and it’s working correctly.  You should notice that the gold edge now appears cleaner and your image hidden!


Be sure to see our image gallery above to see these techniques described.
Learn more about Martin Frost on his website here:  www.foredgefrost.co.uk


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