MANHATTAN (KSNT) – One local artist is doing her part to bring back a rare form of art, and she does it all from her home in Manhattan, Kansas.
Brianna Spraque, who got her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Kansas State back in 2012, brings books to life with something called ‘hidden fore-edge painting.’ She creates intricate paintings on the edges of books, which are initially hidden by a glossy gilding.
“It’s hidden until you know exactly how to splay the edges out,” Sprague said. “And once you do, it’s like magic.”
Sprague is one of the only artists in the world who can work that kind of magic. After a friend of hers, who was a librarian at K-State at the time, showed her a book that had fore-edge painting back in 2019, she was hooked.
She said she taught herself how to fore-edge paint on her own during the pandemic.
“[I] probably ruined about 20 books in a row trying to get it right because it’s really delicate and you have to have the angle just right,” Sprague said. “And you have to have the right about of the gilding for it to actually hide it.”
The artist uses watercolor paints, but with hardly any water, to avoid warping the pages on her books. Depending on the design, she spends anywhere from 20-35 hours on each book, making custom orders for people on Etsy.
Bri works with customers to nail down everything from the edition of the book they want, to the color scheme and desired painting. She said she’s been completely booked up with orders for the past two years.
“She wants to make sure it’s perfect and she usually does,” Brianna’s husband Stuart Sprague said. “So she puts a lot of blood, sweat and tears into it. She works really hard and I think it really does show.”
Much of her inspiration comes from Martin Frost, who is a renowned fore-edge painter. But now, Bri has reached her own level of fame on social media.
She first started sharing her work on TikTok during the pandemic, and over the past few years, has built up a following of over 200,000 people. The idea was to show off her work, but it wasn’t long before she went viral.
“My parents always made sure that we had books and art supplies,” Brianna said. “That was the thing, my dad was always reading a book and my mom, my mom was and is still an amazing artist. So I feel like this is one of the ways I can sort of meld my childhood into one. And I can also help to bring this endangered art form to the forefront a little bit more.”
Bri’s husband says her work has inspired many other young artists to pick up the practice. She’s currently occupied with being a mom, but Bri said she’d love to teacher others how to fore-edge paint in the future.