XYZine: Books to Help You Bind Your Own...

I love making zines. Sure: getting words down on paper is cool, but rolling up my sleeves and making decisions about paper, format, and structure? These are the parts of zine making that I love. Wandering the aisles of an art supply store lulls me into a trance, as I spend time planning “the next big project”.

Don’t fool yourself: the structure of your zine is as important as the thoughts and emotions that you pour into the content. Some of my long-time favorites (All This is Mine, Cursive is not Cryptic, Arte Postale) incorporate amazing writing and clever book structures. Take the time to consider how you want your zine to appear to the average reader; decisions such as paper choice and size should be considered before embarking on any new zine project.

In previous posts, Liz Mayorga and I discussed the ins-and-outs of basic zine making, so there’s no need to go over that again. But where do you start if you need some fresh new bookbinding tips? You’re in luck! I’m going to share some of my “can’t live without ‘em” reference books about making books and zines. These are the volumes I’m constantly riffling through for visual inspiration or figuring out a new technique; the well-thumbed pages are a testament to their usefulness in my studio. Each one is an invaluable resource.

Print Workshop: Hand-Printing Techniques and Truly Original Projects -- This book inspires from the very first page to the final resource guide. Written by Christine Schmidt (of Yellow Owl Workshop), this well written, easy-to-understand book showcases a variety of basic printmaking methods. Kitchen table techniques such as relief printing and image transfers are covered, as well as specialized skills like cyanotype printmaking. Inspired to try something new, I dug up a few things for relief printing…

How to Make Books: Fold, Cut, & Stitch Your Way to a One-Of-A-Kind Book by Esther K. Smith came to live on my bookshelf when it first hit the streets in 2007; the eye-catching cover won me over right away. Cool looking sample projects, jazzy typography, and a general love for bookbinding are standout characteristics of this popular volume. As an introductory “book about making books”, this is a good place to start, although at times the instructions are vague. On the flip side, the sample books shown throughout have a way of encouraging you to take the leap and experiment with your own ideas, which can lead to some happy accidents (see below).

Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures, and Forms: One of the most exciting things about both zines and artists books is the fact that they are uniquely personal in look and design; no two are ever alike. Book artist (and bay area local) Alisa Golden has been creating artists’ books for over twenty five years; Making Handmade Books is a collection of four of her previously published books relating to paper techniques and bookmaking. Equal parts inspiration (lots of great photos!) and demos (want to learn more about map folds?), there are plenty of ideas that can be applied to zines and small book projects. Starting simple with basic folded books, Alisa takes readers through the different styles of bookbinding and paper engineering, ending with boxmaking.

Indie Publishing: How to Design and Publish Your Own Book: whether you’ve just wrapped up your very first twenty four hour zine project or you’re an old hand at making zines, Indie Publishing is a handy reference book to have around. In addition to chapters about zines/handmade books, different aspects and considerations of independent publishing are discussed. Ever wondered how offset printing happens? Perhaps you need a fast answer to the question “How do I even start my new zine project?” (easy to follow flowchart on page 116!). Maybe you’d like a reminder about page layout or terminology – this is the book you’re looking for! If you make zines which utilize both new school technology (Photoshop/Illustrator/InDesign) with old school technology (cut/copy/paste) this book will be a great resource guide.

Limiting myself to these four books was a hard task; while there are plenty of books about zines and zinemaking (What’cha Mean, What’s A Zine, Stolen Sharpie Revolution, Zine Scene: the DIY Guide to Making Zines) and bookbinding (Cover to Cover, Bookbinding: A Step by Step Guide, Creating Artists’ Books) I feel that each of the books I’ve mentioned above are solidly consistent; I find myself referring back to them again and again. These are books that I often loan out and never see again – a true testimonial to their usefulness.

Bonus: these four books (and other books about making books) can be checked out at your local public library; see what they have and reserve your copies at

So You Want to Make a Zine (Part 2)

As our world becomes more dominated by digital media, it's easy to forget that there are still things books can offer that computers can't. And one of the greatest things about books is that they are physically engaging, so zinesters, don't be afraid to play with the shape and presentation of your projects. Allow your creativity to take over and treat each page with love. Why make a boring old zine when you can make an exciting new zine? With enough imagination, you can bring that same excitement that exists on your zine's cover into its inner pages. And the whole piece can become one cohesive, creative experience, from start to finish.

Here are some items and strategies that will be helpful for both the creative process and production:


1)..   An Exacto-Knife: With an exacto-knife, you have more control over the types of cuts you make, so it comes in handy whenever you’re trying to cut tight corners or odd angles.

2)..   A Cutting Mat: You’ll run the risk of damaging a lot of furniture, carpets, and floors if you don't have a cutting mat.

3)..   Scrapbooking Tape: It’s clean and flexible. It’s double-sided and removable. Scapbooking tape allows you to make mistakes and play with composition.

4)..   Glue Stick: A good alternative to liquid glue, because liquid glue tends to wrinkle paper.

5)..   Black Sharpie: Usually, when you erase pencil marks, the ink will lift, leaving behind a grainy trail of black. Though “grainy” can be a good look, sometimes you really just want a bold black and sharpies are good for creating the darkest, boldest marks that will translate well into photocopies.

6)..   Metal Ruler: Flimsy rulers break easily. A metal ruler is stronger, sturdier, and it keeps your papers in place, while you mark them.

7)..   A Bone Folder: A bone folder is a thin but firm tool that resembles an envelope opener. This is useful for making quick, clean creases into your paper or cardstock. You can also use it to fold your pages without leaving any oily residue on your paper, and to flatten or eliminate any unwanted imperfections.

8)..   12.5” Long-Reach Stapler: In order to staple your zine in the middle of the folded page, you’re going to need a long-reach stapler. Once you have this essential item, you can also play with different formats and sizes. You can create anything from small ashcans to larger, full-length magazines.

STRATEGIES: Create a mock-up (or a dummy). Play with form and structure.

With a mock-up you can write notes to yourself, see what you want to layout on each page, figure out the flow of your mini-magazine, and decide on the following:

1)..   Size and shape.
2)..   How many pages do you want to to be?
3)..   How many copies are you going to make?
4)..   Are you going to print in black and white or in color?

Never lose sight of how you're going to print things. If you make your dummy the exact size you want your zine to be, you can predict what it will look like after you print it, and you can have a better sense of your audience's experience.

There is no ONE way to create a zine; everyone has their own approach. Zines become the finger prints to individual personalities and each zine expresses a unique voice, so once you've found your source of inspiration and once you know what you want to say, the next question to consider is, "How do you want to say it?"

So You Want to Make a Zine (part 1)

This was supposed to be a single blog, but when Jennie and I got together to write it, we had too many ideas to fit into a single entry.  We got carried away with different ways of making zines, styles, etc., so we decided to break this up into a few parts. 
We start with inspiration.

Even if you don’t write personal stories, specifically about yourself, every artist draws from life.  Expose yourself to the world around you, and sharpen your senses by paying close attention to what you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel every day.  What’s calling your attention?  I always carry a journal with me, so I write down random thoughts and observations.  I like to eavesdrop and script people’s conversations when I’m on the bus or sitting at a café.  Other people take snapshots with their phones, or sketch out images they like throughout the day.  As long as you’re documenting the stuff that jumps out at you in some way, you’ll see a pattern.  What you notice is usually in sync with what’s going on in your head. 

It also helps to revisit your favorite artists, books, magazines, and music to feel excited again.  In the same way, these artists help you remember the things that are meaningful to you.  Personally, I find it helpful to keep my influences physically close to me.  My bookshelf has a special “go to” section that stores all of my favorite writers.  Whenever I’m out of ideas, I always read some of the books on this shelf and often they help me find the words/images I need to get started. 

How do you get started?  Jennie came up with these brainstorming exercises:

1)..   Mind map everything you’re thinking about.  Write down the first 20 words that come to mind. 

2).    Write down snippets of conversations you overhear throughout the day.

3).    Take 10 minutes to take snapshots or sketch out all of the random visuals that catch your eye.

4).    For the next 24 hours (nonconsecutive), make a drawing/write a phrase for every hour.  At the end of those 24 hours, take your 3 favorite drawings/phrases and base your zine on those 3 hours.   

Now that you have something to build on, there are decisions to make.  Here are some key things to consider, before getting started:

1).    Zine / paper size
2).    Number of pages
3).    Style

Make a zine mock-up (or dummy).  Fill up the pages with content, get the words and pictures out onto the pages, and the dummy will help you find the layout or design for your zine. 

This is how a zine is born.  You must have writings and visuals, you must establish a size and page count, and after you’re done with your dummy, you print, staple and collate. 

In our next entry of “So You Want To Make a Zine” we will go over the materials you’ll need to put this all together.  In the meantime, keep working on those brilliant ideas.  Flow is what’s important!