On August 25th at 13.00, at the Ferme du Manoir, there was a talk by...


Martin R. Baeyens,

artist, Dean of the design and graphic arts department of the Academy of Fine Arts of Ghent, Belgium


Find out about Martin Baeyens... go to http://users.telenet.be/martin.baeyens/ or http://www.martinbaeyens.tk/


 Please note that the images will be added soon...



New ways in the world of ex-libris - New technologies



1 Introduction


The quality of education depends to a great extent on the enthusiasm of the educators.  Other determining factors are, for example, keeping up with current events, visiting exhibitions, the impact of globalization, the equipment of the studio etc.  In order to maintain a high level of quality permanent evolution, keeping up to date in every aspect of the educational programme is a vital necessity.


For many people the word ‘ex-libris’ brings to mind the notion “heraldic”. But heraldry, apart from a few minor exceptions, is long gone.  For some people, the evolution of ex-libris stopped there.  Upon closer inspection, however, the situation is altogether different.  The ex-libris, or ‘bookplate’ has evolved with modern times, as did painting, printmaking and sculpting. At most Academies of Fine Arts there is hardly any interest at all in ex-libris; this is mainly due to ignorance.  My personal interest in the field is very different and I am glad to see that it  is also growing amongst my colleagues at the department graphic design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent .  The task of designing and creating an ex-libris is a fine and interesting challenge.  In an ex-libris, text and image must be incorporated into a harmonious composition.  Designing an exlibris requires careful planning, artistic insight, as well as technical skill. 


Let’s avoid going into the details of  traditional printing techniques such as  intaglio, relief, flatbed techniques; these have become well-known over the centuries.  In this presentation I would like to propose discussing more recent modern techniques, such as silkscreen and computer generated design.


I made my very first exlibris under pressure of my teacher, Gerard Gaudaen,  in relief printing technique.  Although he himself used the more traditional techniques as creative tools, he had a very open mind as to anything new and gave me freedom to create my first ex-libris as I wished: an abstract wood engraving.  Later, when I visited an exchange meeting for the very first time, nobody showed any interest in my approach.  It was very frustrating for a young artist.  A few years later, my first silkscreen ex-libris met with the same reaction … and so did my first computer-generated ex-libris.  From my experience, it is very clear that the new always frightens the public and that it prefers to stick to traditional techniques.

Perhaps in reaction to my hard-headed perseverance, this mentality has slowly changed and to this day I have created over 500 ex-libris.  To help prevent young ex-libris artists experiencing similar negative reactions, I have accepted the invitation to give this talk. It is therefore with great pleasure that I shall now explore in more detail the various new techniques in the world of contemporary ex-libris.




2 Stencil method - Screen printing  - Serigraphy – Silkscreen


     Stencilling is as old as mankind itself.


     On the Fiji Islands, the stencil method was used to decorate fabrics and clothes. The material used were leaves of bamboo, perforated by caterpillars.  Stencilling was  used throughout history, in China, Egypt, the Roman Empire etc. In 17th Century England it was used to make wallpaper.  The major  breakthrough came in the U.S. in advertising:  In the fifties, silkscreen reproduction techniques obtained well-deserved recognition and were used by  internationally renowned  artists such as Andy Warhol, with his series of  Marilyn Monroe serigraphies ; Victor Vasarely, Christo, Karel  Appel, Pierre Alechinsky, Roger Raveel and many others.

     In a similar way, serigraphy gained popularity in the world of ex-libris.

In this technique the ink is poured onto the screen and a squeegee is used to force the ink through the non-blocked-out parts of the screen onto a piece of paper below.  

·         Process (photographs of different stages)

·         Design and subsequent  production stages:

          1) for each colour a new shape has to be drawn  (e.g. ex-libris : evening)

      2) a fabric of fine polyester (carrier) is stretched over a  printing frame made of aluminium

          3) A film of photo emulsion is then applied onto the carrier.

      4) The drawing and the frame are run through the press to be pressed together meticulously and are then placed in front of a light source.

      5) The blocked out areas can be removed using a high pressure squirt.  The stencil is the result.

      6) After these extensive preparations you can start printing:  the ink is pushed through the screen with a squeegee.

      7) All these stages of the process have to be repeated for each colour that is applied.


In serigraphy, contrary to other printing techniques (e.g. etching where the printing plate wears down a little with each print that is pulled ),  there is  no visual difference in the quality of the first and last print .


3 *Digital - CGD computer generated design


*In the most recent printing techniques a number of graphic design computer programmes are used such as: Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop and Indesign, QuarkXpress etc.


The task

Composition + materials

The printing process

Interesting examples


The creation and production of a cgd ex-libris can best be illustrated by a few concrete examples.

There are many ways to build up a  composition.  In general, various original documents, drawings, photographs, etc. are used.  They are scanned in high resolution and processed in different layers.  Sometimes up to 20 layers, and  they can to some extent be compared with a silkscreen which is also built up in various printing stages.  


The first example is an ex-libris made for my friend Benoit Junod.

As usual the artist has full artistic freedom. Reality, however, is different.  Benoît asked me to find a way to symbolize our friendship – a special moment for instance – in the ex-libris.  Moreover it would be wonderful if it also showed the portraits of his children. And yes, it would be splendid if his house and/or garden could appear… and if possible a reference to the Congress.

This is a very normal situation when a collector commissions an ex-libris. But Benoit is flexible and I could do as I thought best.


The assimilation of the information provided by the collector is of course the artist’s first task.  Next he has to make a selection and come up with solutions, always keeping in mind the collector’s wishes.  Often my first reaction is: another boring commission, but each time a new ex-libris proves to be a challenge

The collector supplied me with photos of his two sons, his home and garden in summer and in winter.  A lot of information to assimilate.  I never start creating an ex-libris immediately: for days, various images appear in my mind until, almost unconsciously, a final choice is made at the moment I really start working on the ex-libris.

For this ex-libris two options were retained:

- the house, as a first possibility

- the portraits of the children as a second option.

A proof of the first option with the house was realized, but was later cancelled; a very limited edition of it was printed nevertheless.  Thus half of the provided material was already rejected.  Remained the option with the various photos of the children. New possibilities were explored; photos were selected and some parts were blown-up or reduced to the required format. Other elements that could be incorporated were : the lake, water, the congress and the fish as a symbol of the congress.

Next the size of the ex-libris was chosen. 

An original showing water was made as a starting point for the ex-libris.  it was then scanned and adjusted.  The exact location of the photos of the two children was decided upon, and incorporated.   Colours were changed to be in harmony with the water.  The water was changed again by removing some parts and adding new ones.  The colours were adapted a second time  to be in balance with the  composition.

A choice was made from different sketches of fishes. It was scanned and added to the draft, which was adjusted again.  Finally the text was incorporated.  Rather than just typing a text and adding it I prefer to handwrite the text that I wish to keep for the future; a very conscious choice. The text is handwritten several times and the best example is chosen to be scanned. The size and colour have to be adjusted to the final concept.  Everything is then checked and adjusted a final time.

At this stage the first proof is made on the inkjet printer.  Why an inkjet printer? Because the colours are more intense than on a laser printer.  A plotter is even better quality because it has 12 colour cassettes.  Finally the quality of the paper on which the ex-libris will be printed may even be the most important element. Paper made from rags yields the best results as to the brilliance of the colours.

Each technique has its own characteristics and typical processes.


4 * Final project at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts

At the Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent each student has to present a final project. It is with some pride that I can tell you that for the very first time a student has chosen to work on the subject of ex-libris for her final project:



Stefanie De Pellicom first came into contact with ex-libris through a competition in which her class participated as a team.

Her work was selected for the exhibition. A year later she decided to choose the ex-libris as the subject for her final project.

As her tutor, I had the privilege to advise her. It is not easy to start working on such a project. By mutual agreement, we decided to approach this task in the most pragmatic way possible.


A portfolio with 20 cgd ex-libris would be created on the theme “wildlife”, a selection of which would be used as her participation for the next ex-libris competition organized by the town of Sint Niklaas in Belgium, on the same theme.

As stated before, we opted for a realistic approach and we contacted a number of collectors by letter or e-mail, asking them whether they would be prepared to sponsor the project.  Some 30 collectors were approached, 20 of which reacted positively.  This was the starting point for Stefanie.  After months of work, Stefanie was able to present her beautiful portfolio to an external jury, with a very positive result.

Example: show all 20 ex-libris


5*New possibilities, new challenges

To be demonstrated by several examples.


6* The importance of competitions

The introduction of the computer has thoroughly changed the creative landscape.

Making a bookplate as a mark of ownership of books by means of a computer does not differ in any way from creating an ex-libris in traditional techniques, such as intaglio, relief or flatbed.  The degree of complexity is higher as the technical skills required have a greater impact on the results. 

At the Academy of Fine Arts, the ex-libris is not part of the graphic design programme but belongs to the field of fine arts. The creation of an ex-libris is a task that is not very often set – if at all – and it depends solely on the teacher. The aim is the more general art world and one hopes to draw attention from curators and organizers of exhibitions.  These however are only interested in contemporary art forms, such as videos and installations.  As a consequence, in Belgium and elsewhere, students show less interest for printmaking. This has a direct negative impact on the study of traditional techniques, in particular lithography, where the increasing scarcity of presses and stones accelerates the downward spiral.


The increasing importance of the creation of ex-libris in the studios of graphic designers is also due to the growing presence of digital technologies.  The computer offers new possibilities to create ex-libris.  


Another means of drawing attention in the world of ex-libris is participation in competitions. Luckily they are organized all over the world, one competition being more important than another.  It is necessary therefore to be selective.  One of the most important and eldest competitions is the one organized by the town of Sint-Niklaas.  In 2007 it will be the 16th edition already.  Many students won prizes here and subsequently found their way onto the international ex-libris scene.



7.  Frontrunners in contemporary ex-libris.

I would like to end this presentation where I started, that is with education and training.

The quality of education depends in the first place on the enthusiasm of the teachers.  My friend Hasip Pektas fully shares my great enthusiasm to promote bookplates and it is therefore not by accident that both Belgium and Turkey are trendsetters in contemporary modern ex-libris.


Dear collectors, I sincerely hope that I have convinced you of the possibilities and the importance of new techniques and, more importantly, that you will follow us on our road to secure the future of the ex-libris.


Ó Martin R. Baeyens                                                                                        

Schildekensstr. 55, B 9340 Smetlede, BELGIUM

Tel/Fax: (+32) 9.369.02.63 Email: martin.baeyens@telenet.be