Alphabet Books


In seventh grade, I discovered calligraphy and spent time in the library at school studying the books they had and practiced my hand lettering. I’m sure that I could pick up a calligraphy pen now, after all of these years, and remember most of the strokes I memorized so long ago. But I did not spend 10,000 hours perfecting my technique, so I would hire a professional if I embarked on a project that required calligraphy! The discovery of this art form was the beginning of my interest in alphabets and letterforms.  

Alpha Beta, ..., edition of 25, $750

Alpha Beta, …, edition of 25, $750

About 10 or 12 years ago, I met Claudia Cohen at a Paper & Book Intensive which was held near Portland, OR. I’d heard of Claudia (who has bound books and made boxes for many prestigious clients) because she had bound a book for Dieu Donné, where I learned to make paper. She took the workshop I taught at PBI, and afterwards she encouraged me to create artists’ books featuring some my unique book structures. This, quite simply, was the way I began making artists’ books. It took me a few years to get going, and Alpha Beta, …  was my first alphabet book, and it shows off the shadow lantern structure that I developed for my book Paper Illuminated, teach frequently at workshops, and offer in three styles as one of my Playing With Paper Kits

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This structure features a Japanese hinge which allows the pages to flex in both directions, so that the book can be displayed in multiple ways. The font is called Arts & Crafts, and was designed by Dard Hunter, who was instrumental in the revival of hand papermaking in America.

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And Claudia made this box to show off the hinges.

Sound Blocks, open edition, $175

Sound Blocks, open edition, $175

My second alphabet book is called Sound Blocks. Sound Blocks is a set of five paper blocks in the shape of vowels, each one featuring a unique handmade paper. Each block is housed in a separate section of a cherry wood box, with a glass top that slides on and off. The blocks, which can be lined up, stacked or scattered, create a visual and tactile play on letters and language. I can envision these constructed very large out of metal, with children running in, around and through the shapes, and perhaps with a sound component playing the various sounds of each vowel.

Alpha Blocks, available in 4 colors, $75

Alpha Blocks, available in 4 colors, $75

My most recent alphabet book is called Alpha BlocksI discovered the font Block-Up in an old letraset catalog in 1985, when I was taking a class on letterforms as an exchange student in Germany and “translated” the two-dimensional rendering of the font into three dimensions to create Alpha Blocks. You can view a short youtube video of the alphabet in action here

Just as Artists’ Books are now a field and a medium, so are Alphabet Books. I’m creating a board on pinterest featuring some of my favorites. What is your favorite Alphabet Book? Please share a link in the comments section, and I’ll add it to my board. 


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I’m Helen Hiebert!

THE SUNDAY PAPER brings you stories and examples of people doing exciting, innovative, and beautiful things with paper, as well as link to interesting paperfacts from around the globe. Read all about it here!

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