Ask an Artist: Making a Book

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday June 11, 2015

Sarah Nicholls is a book artist known to many in the field for her role at The Center for Book Arts, In New York City. For more than a decade she was Programs and Marketing Manager there, and a constant presence in the print shop and bindery, helping others and creating her own works.

Last year she went full time on her own art, and has recently completed The Field Guide to Extinct Birds, a limited edition artist book. In addition, Sarah produces a limited edition pamphlet series, which she distributes by subscription.

This week, she answered a few questions about her work and process by email:

A Field Guide to Extinct Birds [about] came about because I'm a fanatic about natural history books, and old science textbooks, and yes, definitely, arcane subject matter is a passion.  


Field guides are a uniquely utilitarian subspecies of bird book, which are currently transitioning from printed language to digital media. So I was partly interested in that transition, and in the relationship between obsolescence and extinction, and generally how we remember that which we have lost. [more


I read a lot of books on the history of ornithology, and on the process of extinction, and on birding in general, and looked at a lot of old bird books and guides. Friends lent me their favorites; they each have their own style and focus. I learned that many extinct birds we only know about through stories, or a handful of sketches someone made, who may not have ever even seen the bird when it was alive. 


The most exotic bird I found is probably the Moa, a twelve-foot tall flightless herbivore from New Zealand. It was the last of the great prehistoric megafauna: like mastodons and woolly mammoths, but a bird. The Maori hunted it to extinction in the fourteenth century. Can you imagine, hunting a twelve foot tall bird? It must have fed an entire village. 


About the pamphlet series:

The most recent pamphlet in the series, Prisms and Shamrocks, came out in April; the next is in the works and should be done in late August/ early September. I don't have a title yet, but bacteria and microorganisms will play a part. [about] [video]

About art and language multiples:

I get to use both sides of my brain. I get to research and write and draw and distribute. The most enjoyable projects that I’ve been doing recently are my pamphlet series, which lets me indulge my tendency to become obsessed with something specific and obscure and then tell everyone I know about it. Multiples are arrogant in a way, in that you’re assuming from the get-go that there’s more than one person in the world who’s interested in what you have to say. But then they also force you to go out and identify who those people are and communicate with them. Which is probably a good thing. I think that the main object in making things is to communicate with someone other than yourself. [from an interview with Roni Gross; more]

About book arts fairs/teaching:

I'm going to be tabling at Pete's Mini Zine Fest in Williamsburg [about], July 25th. I'll also be teaching an Experimental Letterpress Posters class this fall at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Connecticut [about], starting Sept 27.

Where Sarah prints:

For my letterpress work I print at The Center for Book Arts. I hope to start working some silkscreen into the pamphlets this summer at Shoestring Press in Crown Heights.

Sarah’s website is a feast of art and information, here.



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