Editing Illustrations

Most people understand the editing and proofreading part of making books. But what about the illustrations in a book, including the art on the jacket?

Many readers of art books will never see the actual objects in the pages they turn, or they’ll see them once and buy the catalogue so they can see them again whenever they wish. For this reason, at the Amon Carter our paramount goal in reproducing art is to hew as closely as possible to the object itself, warts and all.

Enter Steve Watson, senior photographer at the Amon Carter. Whether he photographs art objects himself or receives files for reproduction from other institutions, it is Steve’s task to make certain a native file will generate a reproduction as true as possible to the art it represents.


In this photo, Steve is working his way through the stack of 492 image proofs for our monumental book Charles M. Russell, Watercolors: 1887−1926. At this stage, he’s already deep into the process of making sure the art is printed accurately. He’s spent many hours photographing objects and calibrating files to get to this point.

To accurately assess the colors on a printed proof, Steve is working in the museum’s color-viewing booth, which emits full-spectrum light in a viewing environment that is standard in the printing industry. The exact same lighting conditions will be used when the book is on press to compare approved color proofs with printed sheets coming off the press. If the printed reproductions match the approved proof, then all is good. If not, then adjustments are made on press, or new plates are made that can achieve what the proof shows.

In the photograph, Steve is either approving proofs or marking them with corrections; when he’s done, all the proofs will be returned to the proofing company, called a “color separator.” Any proofs Steve has marked for correction will be revisited and fine-tuned with color, contrast, or lightness corrections as noted, then a second round of proofs will be produced to show the updated state of the image. This continues until every proof is approved. All the approved files will then be used by the printing company to make the plates for the press, and as printed sheets come off the press, the approved proofs will be used by the pressman as a standard to match.


I’m posting about every two weeks on the process, so come back to Booktalk for the latest updates. You can follow the project on #CMRussellBook as well.

Don’t wait too late to preorder your copy—only a total of 750 are being produced, and only 250 of those will be hand-assembled with leather binding, signed and numbered by the authors. If you have any questions about the book or its production, email will.gillham@cartermuseum.org. If you want to preorder, contact Melody Caban at sales@cartermuseum.org.