Friday, May 13, 2011

More artsy terms ... Frontispiece

by Aidana WillowRaven

Time and again, I find myself explaining an art term to an author or publisher, because it's not a term often used in common speech, unless you're an artist or designer. To continue the theme of my last post: Boy, artists talk funny! What on earth is a triptych? And why does my artist think I'd want one? , today, I'll explain what a frontispiece is, show an example of one I've done, and how one can benefit your book.

For this example, we'll be looking at Second Chance, by Galand  Nuchols. 

The story is set in the past, so I wanted something traditional in look, something old-timey. After doing some thinking, and researching older books at the library, I noticed many older books had an illustration, usually an etching styled piece, directly opposite the main title page.

This illustration is referred to as a frontispiece. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary ...

fron·tis·piece noun \ˈfrən-tə-ˌspēs\

1 a : the principal front of a building  
   b : a decorated pediment over a portico or window
2 : an illustration preceding and usually facing the title page of a book or magazine

The second definition, is of course what I am referring to. Wikipedia embellishes on this with: A frontispiece is a decorative illustration facing a book's title page. The frontispiece is the verso (left-hand page) opposite the recto title page. Elaborate engraved frontispieces were in frequent use, especially in Bibles and in scholarly books, and many are masterpieces of engraving. The word may also refer to the title page itself, but this meaning is obsolete according to the Oxford English Dictionary. To the left, you can see the example posted on Wikipedia, and below, the frontispiece I did for Second Chance.

For the old-timey look I wanted, I went with a very earthy medium, charcoal, and used old photos from that era for models. 

Of course, the older publication is much more elaborate than my interpretation, but it serves the same purpose. For a non-illustrated book, it introduces the text much like the cover art does. It pulls the reader into the story a bit, before they even begin reading. The cover told them it had something to do with watermelons, wood chopping, and oil. A simpler time, as they say. The frontispiece gives more, it shows the main characters are two young boys, and hints at the period through their clothing. Kinda Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer-ish (which is also a hint of the types of trouble they get into). 

Now that you know what a frontispiece can do for your book, next time you have a non-illustrated book, maybe you can suggest one?

Aidana WillowRaven

Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing


  1. Thank you, Aidana. I've always been facinated with the way older books are set up. I'm glad it's still possible to have some of those type illustrations (and I'm glad I finally know what to call them). What about those fancy pieces of border (usually very intricate) you see in older Bibles and sometimes in other types of old literature? Is their a name for them and are they ever still done? I've wanted to do a book with some of that type illustrative work in it.


  2. Another interesting article, Aidana. The frontispiece is great. I've seen them but never knew what they were called. You're teaching us so much.

  3. Jean, I've seen the borders your describing in may kid's books, still. I've even seen it in poetry or fantasy books. Just a border isn't typically considered 'illustrated' if the design simply repeats (like the dragon scales in Dragondale). If you want a unique border every page or chapter, then it would be a type of illustration. Especially if the illumination is not part of an embedded font.

  4. Thanks, Beverly.

    I've thought for some time that there 'should be a book' that helps authors/editor's/publisher's to be able to communicate their wants an needs to their cover artists/illustrators/designers.

    You would think there would be, considering how integral the two worlds are in books, but I have yet to find one. So, I'll take up the cause ... lol.

  5. Thank you, Aidana. I believe most of the ones I've seen are repeated. I guess the original one would be an illustration, and some of those are so intricate they must require an immense amount of work. Once the design is created, could it be used in different shapes and sizes to possibly draw attention to differen't areas of a page or to border smaller portions of text (of various sizes) on each page? I imagine it would be enormously expensive to set up a book that way, but I've always been curious about that.