World’s Last Working Fore-Edge Painter

The world’s last known commercial fore-edge painter shares the secrets of his mesmerizing “vanishing” images, painted between the page edges of books, to help keep the magic of his dying craft alive.

London-born vanishing fore-edge painter, Martin Frost, paints on the page edges of gold-gilded books. The pages are fanned to reveal his delicate handiwork. Today, Frost, 72, lives in the seaside town of Worthing in southern England and works from home in his painting and book-binding studio.

The earliest versions of fore-edge paintings hail from London, England, in the mid-17th century and it remains a British craft.

While one side of every page in a book is bound to the spine, the other three can be painted. Frost differentiates between single, two-way double, split double, and all-edge fore-edge painting, depending on how many images are painted and in what directions they are revealed.

He also maintains that gold is the traditional way of hiding the painting.

Frost and his predecessors favor watercolor over oil and plastic-based paints since a light touch and soft pigment are needed to avoid weighing down the pages.

When Frost started fore-edge painting in his twenties, he worked with 19th-century leather-bound books with gold-gilded pages, perfect for hiding his handiwork.

“In the past, I’ve done all of the Bibles and prayer books with religious scenes, they’ve been popular,” Frost said. “Quite a lot of my work goes on the early poets … sporting books, romantic books … at the moment it’s ‘Harry Potter.’”

Frost has had the occasional critic ask him why he would make paintings that one cannot see or deface an old book, but Frost’s response is simple: his art is a loving homage to the words between the pages and the sole goal of his profession is to “make people smile.”

Frost has been listed as a “critically-endangered craftsman” by Heritage Crafts Association, but his biggest accolade to date was an MBE (Member of the British Empire) awarded at the royal Windsor Castle in England.

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