Timothy Ely

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Timothy C. Ely (born February 9, 1949) is a contemporary American painter, graphic artist and craftsman, known for creating single-copy handmade books as art objects.

Ely began making his own books at the age of eight; comic books were a major early influence. He earned a B.A. in drawing and printmaking from Western Washington University (1972), and a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Washington (1975); he traveled and studied in Great Britain, Italy, and Japan under a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (1982). He has taught bookbinding and drawing at a number of institutions and venues, from Central America to Scandinavia. His practice of the craft of bookbinding has extended to involve metalworking, leatherworking, woodworking, and related disciplines. He exploits traditional and modern techniques of bewildering variety—even making his own inks from caramelized seaweed. He originated and teaches his "drum leaf" binding, a technique for binding single sheets that is designed to suit paintings, prints and drawings, mounted photographs, and other materials difficult for the standard technology of book-manufacturing.

Ely's one-of-a-kind books draw on domains of knowledge and culture, including Western and Eastern religious traditions, astronomy, particle physics, cartography, alchemy, and sacred geometry; they employ graphic elements from skeletal structure, UFOlogy, and the golden ratio. Ely has described his Spectronomicon (2000) as being "about light portals and spectrum energy." Ely's work evokes a range of thematic material: arcane knowledge, secrets and cryptography, time and timelessness. He has developed a private written language using 366 individual signs or "idiographic cyphers".

Ely has collaborated with the writers David Abel (Memo 7 and Other Works, 1989) and Terence McKenna (Synesthesia, 1992). He has also illustrated a small number of conventional or commercial projects, such as the Booklover's Repair Kit (2000) by Estelle Ellis, Douglas Lee, and Wilton Wiggins.

A selective and far from exhaustive list of Ely's works includes Geotryphinities (1981/3), Alectis Ciliaris: Time Stunt (1981/4), Apocryphon (1984), Tetraplanex Cypher (1985), A Very Small Galaxy (1985), Alternate Sky (1986), The Investigation of Alchemy (1986), Sense 9 (1990), Saturnia (1994), Materia (1995), Amalgam (1996), TXC 144 (2003), Amblygon (2005), Compound 12 (2005), and Tables of Aries (2006). Ely works are included in public and private collections, including The Victoria and Albert Museum and The Library of Congress.

Ely currently operates out of Colfax, Washington.


  • Hubert, Renée Riese, and Judd D. Hubert. The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists' Books. New York, Granary Books, 1999.
  • Lewis, Roy Harley. Fine Bookbinding in the Twentieth Century. Riverside, NJ, Simon & Schuster, 1984.

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