Bookbinding with… Josef Albers


Colour and collusion


“We do not see colours as they really are. In our perception they alter one another.”

Josef Albers
German-born American artist, printmaker and educator
1888 –1976


Back in March when I read it was Josef Albers’ birthday, it sparked a idea.

I remembered the many colour studies and paintings by the famous artist/teacher who “revolutionized visual culture and the art of seeing”.

His works were no more than simple blocks of colour juxtaposed against one another.

But they are quite interesting to look at!


Collusion and collision— it’s Josef Albers’ colourful world.

The combinations are wonderfully varied — playful, sweet, bold, serene, sombre, trippy…

They are technical experiments but they are also abstract, minimalist modern art.

Albers’ ideas were captured in his book Interaction of Color (1963, Yale University), which quickly became a standard reference for art and design students.


Albers in action. Photo: Amherst College Press

His point: Colour is relative. The perception of a colour is influenced by those surrounding it.

Let’s make a book!

To make a book, I had to first decide which image to use as a reference.

Albers had a famous series called “Homage to the Square”.


“Homage to a Square” in all its permutations.

I looked at the many iterations, and thought the blue and yellow one was good — not too sweet, bright and cheery. Just like a square sun on a clear day.


An original painting by Josef Albers.

This is the same one that Uniqlo USA reproduced under its Museum of Moden Art (MoMA) Special Edition in 2015.


A collaboration between the Museum of Moden Art (New York) for Uniqlo.

And in what format?

It can only be a square accordion book — simple, with repetitive panels.

Paper plans

Finding the right paper with right shade was important.

Fortunately for us here in Singapore, there is Fancy Paper, the specialist paper shop across from National Library on North Bridge Road.


An exercise with coloured tracing paper. Can you see the “interaction of colours”?


Start with a plan.



I decided that both covers should be the same — a mirror image.

For the accordian folds, the colour will go from the blue to yellow before reverting to blue.

I folded seven long pieces of paper, which are then joined into one long strip.


For the cover, colour squares.


The cover, all glued.


All assembled.




Colour is the art

Josef Albers is about the perception and play of colours.

This exercise took a classic Albers study and gave it a third, expandable, dimension.

Should I make one more?


The legacies of Albers and his wife Anni (1899-1994), an accomplished fibre artist, are today represented by The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, a non-profit art education foundation founded by Albers in 1971 near New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Workshop at the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. (Facebook)

Albers’ Interaction of Color was released as an iPad app in conjunction with the book’s 50th anniversary in 2013.



“Easy to know that diamonds are precious. Good to learn that rubies have depth. But more to see that pebbles are miraculous.” — Josef Albers


“Homage to a Square” can also be found in the White House, and the cover of Architectural Digest magazine (December 2016 issue).

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