Give old prints a new life in an explosion book

I was going to say “use up your old duff prints”, but it is more positive to think of this activity as transforming your less than prefect proofs, giving them a new and exciting life, and sharing them with other people in a different way.

When I am developing a new print I always end up with a pile of ‘practice’ ones which may have nice sections in them but generally are not top quality. It is hard to actually chuck these out so they tend to accumulate in the studio.

Some people use these for cards or collages but I really like making explosion books with them.

four explosion books

What is an Explosion book?

These little books pack a punch – even when you know what to expect, you still get a thrill when the contents pop out at you.

They are very tactile and encourage people to explore the shape, turning it over and opening and closing it. I think this also encourages people to look at the sampler of prints in side in a new light.

The way the book folds up into itself and closes makes each new opening feel as if you are discovering a secret.

Watch a video here, showing prints displayed in explosion books.

Here are some examples of explosion books I have made

These ones all feature sections of prints which didn’t quite make it! I often use old plates to make the covers, these give a lovely tactile surface which adds an extra dimension to the whole experience of looking at the book.

explosion book with marbled paper samples
Marbled paper samples

Paper marbling always produces piles of decorative papers – this book is a sampler of different marbled patterns.

Wave explosion book opened out

These prints are made from combed cement plates, which I have used to make the cover.

I had a plan for them but got distracted, so when I rediscovered them an explosion book seemed a good way to preserve them.

The idea of a wave moving and tumbling links well with the form of the explosion book.

Cover for 'wave' explosion book
detail of wave explosion book
'babel' explosion book opened out

This was an experiment with text to accompany a larger print. Thinking about language and how it can divide us, I used a quote from Genesis about the tower of Babel.

In its new incarnation the print has been fragmented which continues the idea of words and mis-communication.

Kingfisher explosion book detail

I got really excited when I saw a kingfisher for the first time last summer. I spent ages trying to make a print that expressed the experience of seeing an electric flash of blue in a dappled shadowy brown river.

Somehow, it didn’t really work, (however I might return to it) and I have re imagined the print in this explosion book. The covers for this one are also made from tile cement printing plates.

Once again, the fragmenting of the print suits the subject as it reflects the momentary experience of glimpsing a kingfisher in action.

open kingfisher explosion book
Cover of kingfisher explosion b book

Make your own explosion book

You will need:

3 squares of paper, in this example I used 20cm square.

2 squares of cardboard, 11cm x 11cm 

A glue stick


materials needed to make an explosion book
Fold your paper

1. Fold the first piece in half, bringing opposite edges together. Open it out and fold in half the other way.

Open it out.

cross folded paper for explosion book

2. Turn the paper over so the folded edges point upwards (aka ‘mountain fold’)

Fold it in half diagonally by bringing one corner acoss to the opposite one.

diagonal folded paper for explosion book

3. Press it in the middle so the small triangles fold inwards. Collapse it down into a 10cm square and press it flat.

Do the same with the other two squares of paper

two explosion book sections folded flat
three sections glued together

Glue the 3 sections together

Arrange the 3 sections with the first one pointing towards you, the middle one pinting away and the third one pointing towards you.

Slide the squares on the middle section inside the squares of the sections on either side.

Glue the squares together where they overlap.

Congratulations! You have now made the inside pages of your explosion book!

Add a stiff cover

Use mountboard or any stiff cardboard for the cover, you can also use an old printing plate if it has nice textures on it.

Make the cover a centimetre bigger than the folded pages; glue it on so it sticks out half a centimetre all round, this will protect the edges of the pages inside.

glueing covers on the explosion book

Fill your book with images

I used cut up prints, leaving a gap all round the edge so the book will still fold easily. Instead of cutting up prints you could make small ones specially – a great project for the tiny printing press!

You dont need to limit yourself to prints, why not add photos, drawings or text as well?

This is one of those lovely activities that is great for all ages, from young children upwards. I hope you enjoy it, send me a picture if you make an explosion book yourself.

Finished explosion book
cut up prints
jumbled books