The San Francisco Center for the Book

Another stop on my bookbinding-focused trip to San Francisco was The San Francisco Center for the Book. I loved the exterior of the building. It just didn’t want to blend in.

San Francisco Center for the Book - Exterior

When I got inside the building, I realized that I had imagined that the space would be much larger. I think that I’ve been impressed by their programs for so long that I literally built up the place.

Here are some images from the inside of the building:

San Francisco Center for the Book - interior

Book presses all in a row

Lying presses

Sewing frames

Challenge guillotine

Roll file with rolled paper and bookcloth

I organize my bookcloth this way too!

During my visit, I was lucky enough to be able to view Once Upon a Book, SFCB’s current exhibit.

Once Upon a Book showcases six acclaimed children’s book illustrators in a new light – through doodles, sketches, mock-ups, all the way through finished art. This exhibition looks into the creative process of six masters of children’s books: Remy Charlip, Maira Kalman, Elisa Kleven, David Macaulay, Chris Raschka, and Brian Selznick.

I really enjoyed seeing the rough sketches and mock-ups of each artist’s work. It brought the work down to a more accessible level – I think that it’s easier for me to relate to artwork when it’s less polished. Here are some images from the exhibit:

Artwork by Remy Charlip

Remy Charlip

Artwork by Brian Selznick

Brian Selznick

Artwork by Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman

Artwork by Elisa Kleven

Elisa Kleven

Artwork by Chris Raschka

Chris Raschka

Artwork by David Macaulay

David Macaulay

I’d like to give a special shout out to David Macaulay – as it turns out, he lives in Vermont (woohoo!). His sketchbooks were just breathtaking – such attention to detail, even in a mode of exploration. Very inspirational. The exhibit runs until August 7, 2009. You can download the Once Upon a Book catalog for $6.00 or purchase a print copy for $12.90 from

And if that isn’t enough for you, exhibit curator Thacher Hurd produced two videos in which participating artists talk about their creative process. You can watch the videos below.

4 Responses to “The San Francisco Center for the Book”

By White Wolf Studio - 23 June 2009 Reply

Thank you for the peek. I have just returned from Ghost Ranch, Abiquiu, NM and visisted Pamela Smith, Book Binder, Printer, Paper Marbler, really generous and wonderful woman. Also the videos were very inspirational.

By elissa - 24 June 2009 Reply

Donna –

I was in New Mexico a few years ago, but I didn’t have time to check on any book artists in the area. Luckily, I did get to some paper stores.

It sounds like you had a great experience. Meeting artists face-to-face has always been really rewarding for me too.


By Carol - 24 June 2009 Reply

I’ve been saving this post for days waiting until I had plenty of time to watch the videos. I just loved these insights into the way the illustrators make their books. Inspirational as Donna says. Thank you.

By elissa - 24 June 2009 Reply

Carol –

Glad you enjoyed the videos. I wish I were a better photographer – the work is so much more vibrant in person. If the work hadn’t been in cases I probably would have grabbed the books, sat down on the floor and started reading.


So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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