I won a contest. This never happens to me. The last time I won anything was my senior year in college, when I won a scholarship. I was very pleased about that. I am almost as pleased about winning this book.
It’s Your Fantastic Elastic Brain, by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., illustrated by Sarah Ackerley, and published by Little Pickle Press. I’m delighted because it’s a great book. I’m doubly delighted because I read about the teething troubles Little Pickle Press had in getting this book out of the computer, through the presses and binders, and to the bookstore shelves.
Seems that a good part of the problem resulted from the paper choice. Your Fantastic Elastic Brain is printed on Terraskin, “a combination of large amounts of mineral powder (>75%) with a small quantity (<25%) of non-toxic resin combined to create an environmentally friendly paper,” according to the company’s website.
Writing surfaces have been made of all sorts of things, but the overwhelming favorites for paper production have been cloth and wood in various forms. It’s fair to say that paper-making has been elevated to an art form; go to a press some time and ask to see their paper samples books. In a world dominated by plant-and-fabric-based product, Terraskin is something new–a paper made from minerals and resin–stone.
The up side of Terraskin is that it can be produced without destroying trees. The down side is that creating illustrations that will print on this paper stock is a bit of a gamble, since not a lot has been written about the way this paper seems to take ink, and if Little Pickle Press’ experience is typical, the paper’s unique texture can create challenges in the binding process.
For those considering printing on Terraskin, the closest equivalent in conventional paper stocks that I’m familiar with is Sundance uncoated. The uncoated stock that CreateSpace uses for its book interiors seems to take in in a similar way, resulting in flatter, less saturated images.
The result is a book with a soft, traditional, look. Without seeing the illustrator’s original images it’s hard to know what the original colors looked like, but the overall print quality has many characteristics typical of traditional uncoated stocks–the ink seems to have been absorbed deeply into the paper, leaving a slightly mottled surface texture, and softening, flattening, and de-saturating colors. This sounds like a negative. In my opinion, it’s absolutely not. It results in a book with a rich, elegant, soft, and yet simple look–ideal for supporting the mission of a book like this, which aims to familiarize children with the wonders of their brains.
The feel of Terraskin is wonderful–soft and velvety. It seems to crease comparatively easily, which I could see making the printing and binding process a challenge, and I’m not sure how well it will stand up to the rigors of little hands, but esthetically the feel is very pleasing. I found myself running my hands over the pages, just for the pleasure of the experience.
The result is that Your Fantastic Elastic Brain has the look and feel of a classic children’s book, due, in large part, I believe to the lovely illustrations, and how they interact with the paper on which the book is printed. Now that I’ve had a chance to hold the book in my hands, I am disappointed to learn that Little Pickle Press has no plans to repeat the Terraskin experiment any time soon. Though it seems to be a tricky paper to work with, the end results are worth it, in my opinion.
So for all you designers and paper geeks out there, here’s my take on what this paper does well, what it doesn’t do well, and how it might work better.
1. It produces soft, desaturated images. The website says, “Because the paper is fiberless, it does not absorb ink like regular paper and also uses 20-30% less ink than regular paper. Images stay much crisper and cleaner because the ink doesn’t bleed.” I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on that; the look of the printed book would seem to indicate that if the paper isn’t wicking up the ink, the way it takes the ink creates a result that looks much the same–flattened, desaturated images with the softened, slightly ragged edges typical of soft, uncoated paper stocks. Observation would indicate that it’s not going to be a good choice for projects where a bright, sharp, high-contrast look is desired. Nor would I choose it for a project requiring highly detailed, tiny scale work. There are no photos in this book, so it’s impossible to evaluate how Terraskin handles those; from what I can see, it might not be a happy experience. Running a dry varnish or choosing a coated stock might help in controlling how the ink and paper interact; it would be a good question to ask, at any rate.
2. I’m going to be interested in seeing how the book holds up to handling; my initial reaction is that I’d probably choose something a little less creasable for a kids’ book. On the other hand, the site specs indicate that it’s pretty tear-resistant, and the paper does feel lovely.
3. I’d like to try Terraskin in an annual report for an appropriate client, for an illustrated book for an older audience–the illustrations in “YFEB” certainly came out lovely–or for a book where I wanted a soft, tactile, and traditional look and feel–or for a project that would benefit from vagaries that seem to characterize how this stock interacts with ink. I’d be very interested in learning how other inks interact with this paper, as well as what other paper weights, stocks, and coating options might be available. A coated version of this paper might be significantly more flexible in terms of applications.
All in all, Terraskin is an ecologically-friendly, tree-free paper with a lovely feel. For the right projects, like this book, it seems to produce beautifully, though I can see where working with it might be challenging in some circumstances. I look forward to seeing how the paper evolves as it begins to be more widely used, and its makers fine-tune their formula.