Heritage Crafts

Fore edge painting

The application of an image to the edges of the pages of a book so that it disappears under gold when the book is closed.
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Yorkshire (18th century)
Area practiced currently
Sussex, Derbyshire
Origin in the UK
17th century (1660)
Current No. of professionals (Main income)
1 vanishing fore edge painter (see other information) 1 fore edge painter (see other information)
Current No. of professionals (Side income)
1 vanishing fore edge painter (see other information)
Current No. of trainees
Current total No. of serious amateur makers
Current No. of leisure makers


Fore edge painting is the craft of applying an image to the pages of a book. The page block is fanned and an image is applied to the stepped surface. If the page edges are gilded or marbled, the applied image disappears when the book is relaxed. When refanned, the painting reappears.

Earliest examples of fore edge painting are credited to the Royal binders Lewis Brothers in 1660, with a rennaissance in the second half of the eighteenth century, circa 1760-1800 with the Edwards Bindery in Halifax and London. A recent revival saw more work in the late 1900s.


Watercolour painting onto the fanned page edges of the book. The tips of the pages hide the image when the book is released (see examples here).


  • Bookbinding
  • Miniature Painting
  • Illumination
  • Fine print

Issues affecting the viability

Vanishing fore edge painting:

  • Market issues – lack of demand for vanishing fore edge painting of the type traditionally associated with antiquarian books and fine bookbinding.
  • Skills issues – there are very few painters with the skills to edge gild and rebind books. This means that the ‘vanishing’ element remains critically endangered.

Fore edge painting:

  • Market issues: there has been a surge in popularity in fore edge painting driven by artists on Tiktok and Instagram. Many of the practicing Fore Edge painters are painting on books such as Lord of The Rings and Harry Potter; these books are well loved and the super-fans are very keen to spend a lot of money for collectible items related to their book.

Support organisations

Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

  • Martin Frost – has created 3,500 works since 1970.
  • Clare Brooksbank – has created many fore edge painting and has her work in a number of significant collections

Artists carrying out fore edge painting of books, but not vanishing fore edge paintings:

Other information

  • Current numbers of professionals: Fore Edge painting is enjoying a surge in popularity on apps like TikTok and Instagram due to the adaption of the craft to appeal to younger generations through popular culture (like Harry Potter and other current fantasy books). This has led to the craft of Fore Edge painting becoming significantly less endangered and a general increase in awareness of the craft.  However, the art of vanishing fore edge painting (where the image disappears under a gilded edge) remains critically endangered.
  • Current number of trainees: There are currently no formal trainees in fore edge painting. Over 300 people have taken part in workshops in the UK and USA but none are practising. Gillian Stewart has received an Endangered Craft Fund grant from the Heritage Crafts Association to further her skills in fore edge painting. She hopes to teach the skills as a part of her bookbinding practice.


  • Weber, Jeff. (2010). Annotated Dictionary of Fore-edge Painting Artists & Binders. The Fore-edge Paintings of Miss C. B. Currie; with a Catalogue Raisonné. Los Angeles: Weber Rare Books.
  • Weber, Carl. (1966). Fore-edge painting: a historical survey of a curious art in book decoration.
National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

Craft inspiration direct to your inbox

Become a Heritage Crafts Fan and receive a free monthly newsletter about craft announcements, events and opportunities.