I’ve been printing periodically on the press for nearly nine years now, and it has been almost entirely a solitary effort. So, when Tasha Thorpe agreed to put in some time on the press, I had to look at my set-up in a new and different way. My space is kind of like the workshop equivalent of a well- used easy chair. It fits me perfectly. I know where everything is, without needing anything labelled – drawers, boxes, type trays. Also, there is the issue of a second person in the what is a very small space. I had no idea how it would work, but it has worked very well. Tasha’s busy tooling up her own art studio making some very cool steam-punk assemblages, but she seems to be enjoying the the very industrial/retro space that letterpress occupies. She is patient and possesses an enviable focus when it comes to dissing and setting type. Her coming to the studio on average once a week has lit a fire under me to begin steps to accommodate more than just my solitary self. We’re actually getting some pretty decent through-put, which makes me very happy. And it’s made me think hard about how I do things and how things really work in the studio.
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One of the many diverse things I do to cobble together a living is to write about the antiques market here in Canada. It is always a bit strange to go to auctions, take photographs and copious notes but walk away with nothing – I simply don’t have the spending power. However, every now and then something comes up that I can’t resist, such as this early 19th century dome-topped document box, which I bid for and won at the sale of Henry and Barbara Dobson’s collection held in Napanee, Ontario on October 22, 2011, held by Tim Potter Auctions. (My article on the auction will appear in the Jan/Feb issue of The Upper Canadian Antiques Showcase, available early in January).
The paper lining inside has been decorated with some kind of faint wash of watercolour through some kind of patterned template or stencil.
A closer inspection shows that the paper lining itself are pages of a book, probably printers’ waste since they are full sheets, not folded, cut then collaged in from an existing book. It’s early enough since the ‘s’s are represented by ‘f’s, eg “fally forth for feafhells by the feafhore” etc. Kind of a cool find, and as luck would have it within my financial scope.I read some of the mtter – excruciatingly boring, whatever it is which may explain why it ended up lining a box.
Still, I carried this home with me after the auction and regretted the purchase, thinking that I could have spent the money on a fine press book. This was driven home with particular emphasis while I was at the OCAD Book Arts Fair a week ago! Ah well, when my reserves are back and I do get some more books, I have a classy place to keep them!
An article I wrote on the Canadian Private Press scene has just been published in Ornamentvm, a mag dedicated to decorative arts in Canada. My only complaint….? Wish I had another couple thousand words to play with. Great illustrations including examples from Locks Press, Don Taylor, Barbarian Press and George Walker. It should be on the newsstand, but sub info is HERE.
Here’s what the cover looks like:
It has been a busy few weeks here in the studio, dealing with the day-to-day work that flows through as well as prepping for the opening of the Impression/Expression exhibition at Studio22 in Kingston, then followed by the Maker’s Hand show in Piction, Ontario. Most of my preparation involved framing prints, one set of everything for Impression/Expression and another set for the Maker’s Hand show. In an ideal world I might sell out of all these, but reality dictates that some pieces will be coming home again, which will give me lots of stock when I start searching for new venues in the new year. The experience with Studio22 has been amazing. The owners, Hersh and Ally, have been amazing in the midst of a busy time of their own (preparing another exhibition at the ROM), hanging our art, displaying our work and even producing a catalogue. This kind of gallery experience just doesn’t happen much any more. The opening went well, with a good mix of people, many new to us, and good sales. A week later we were in Picton, setting up for The Maker’s Hand. Again, a successful outing with large, enthusiastic crowds and some good sales. Best of all, I sold both copies of the Vampire book that I brought with me. Time to bind up some more! So today I finally cleaned up the remnants of the show, hung the prints back up and had a brief look at the form on the press before replacing the cover. Looking forward to completing the type sample I have set up, then moving on to other, long delayed projects.
This blog’s title would make a good name for a press, but what I really mean is that there are certain books that I tend to keep around the press for reference. Some are permanent fixtures, others will come and go.
So here they are, from left to right:
1) a handbound blank notebook, used to record bits of stuff that happen while in the throws of printing;
2) Printing Digital Type. (Something I’ve been studying up on).
3) The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. (A fixture!)
4) Practical Guide to Drawing (by a couple of Spanish artists) I do sketching and linocuts in the press area, so I like to have some reference books at hand.
5) The Artistic Anatomy of Trees. Yup, I’ve been struggling with representation of vegetation in high contrast relief prints, so I keep this one handy.
6) The Woodcut Artist’s Handbook, by George Walker, Toronto wood engraver. Another fixture, and becoming well thumbed.
7) Design and Figure Carving. Very handy when cutting relief work from lino or wood.
8) Letterpress Printing, a contemporary manual by Maravelas.
9) The DC Comic Guide to Inking (or “Inkling” as seen above on the spine, proof that I’m not the only one who makes typographic errors. It’s been corrected on later editions, which means of course there have been later editions, which it deserves.)A book that’s all about the dark and the light.
10) The spines up, but another book on pen & ink sketching.
11) The Complete Manual of Relief Printmaking. Done in the ’80s by a talented Australian artists, it is a fantastic reference, with lots of lino and special emphasis on style and technique.
When I moved into an apartment in the top of a house in Ottawa south in 1988, I opted for the smaller, more quiet room at the back, with a rear view of a rambling place on the next street. My desk, graced as it was with my KayPro II personal computer, was situated so that I could write and enjoy the view, without any street noise. I learned through unintended observation, therefore, that the house was a hive of artists, bohemians and a rotation of rather shady characters, all great fodder for someone working on a novel. Inevitably, I became the fascinated witness to a few dramas, but thankfully no murders in the line of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. During one rather frustrating bout of writer’s block, I picked up the sketch pad and got to work, later dressing it up with watercolours. And now, a print. I framed one up and brought it to the Makers Hand, and it sold early on the first day, always an encouraging sign because I can never seem to tell if I cut a winner.
I finished work today by sewing up the text block of the Graven Images prototype, or what will ultimately become the press copy.
I enjoy this part of the process. My compatriots in bookbinding will tell you I am no innovator with thread and needle, particularly with exposed spine bindings. Some bookbinding sewing is every bit as intricate as the most painstaking embroidery patterns. What I am doing with Graven Images is very simple, although still time consuming, with eight individual portfolio sleeves, and a section each for the front and back matter. Because sewing a book together is such a lot of work, it has become the rage to show it off, and tart up the stitching with colours and intricate patterns. It has a long tradition; the first codex books known were made by Coptic Christians in Egypt, some 1,800 years ago, and the style is popular again. Holly uses the method to bind her Muse Journals.
It is not necessary for me to make my sewing look spiffy because soon it will be buried, hopefully for many long years, beneath hard covers. So have a look while they are still exposed:
The link stitch is a survival from the Coptic manner. The last stitch at the top and bottom of the book block is looped down below the previous section, then brought back up again to enter into a new signature, or section. It creates a strong chain running across the top and the bottom of the spine.
With sewing and binding the sole tasks left in the production our next book, I should take a moment to remind those who may have stumbled upon these mad ravings about what I speak of when I pray (or swear) to Graven Images.
Graven Images began as a modest portfolio of fourteen wood engravings printed at Greyweathers Press from the original boxwood blocks, all dating by my estimation circa 1875. The project grew into a book project, although I still refer to it as a portfolio, even in the title. It is the largest (in dimension, 12″ x 9.25″) book to date from the press, and the most ambitious in terms of illustration, complete with the aforementioned wood engravings, along with several half tones and images rendered digitally to magnesium plates.
The production has been sporadic to say the least, spread over two years in part due to pressing career and personal reasons. In all, it has been an exercise in frustration, but now at the cusp of completion, as the memory of back pain and aching feet fade into memory, I’m feeling better about it.
Printing was challenging, particularly the engravings, but satisfying. Most of the work came in cutting matte windows in the portfolio pages, double folding said pages and mounting the engravings. So far I have completed enough of these to finish 25 copies.
This over the next week the challenge will be to sew the book block, assemble and press the hard cover cases (standard hard cover binding, quartered with book cloth and wrapped in decorated papers by Holly), gluing in the block to the boards and finishing (spine label, possible a cover label too).
I’ve printed 100, and they will sell for CDN$160.
We spent two days on Draper Lake helping Jamie Brick put a room on the addition to his “hobbit house”. It wasn’t total altruism: the new roof will cover Holly and I when we exhibit there this weekend coming, at Jamie’s Fantasy in the Forest Show.
I enjoy construction. I like the satisfaction of progress. We had some good help, and most important, no pressure, particularly important when doing roof work. At the stage above, we had the 1x6s almost down. I’ve never had a problem with heights, but I don’t like feeling insecure. The angle on this roof is fairly shallow, easy to walk across so long as you stay on your feet; however, it was steep enough to slide easily if you lay across it. I felt much better after hammering two lengths of 2×6 along the fascia above the level of the roof line, allowing me to brace my feet if necessary, and strong enough to stop me if I slid fast, and to stop any tools that might side off the roof and brain somebody below. (Hat tip to father-in-law Bruce for teaching me that). After that, it was full steam ahead with the nail gun!
Jamie’s friend Art worked the other side: he opted for a rope tether anchored to the roof on my side. To each their own.
We tarped the entire roof after this, and that will hold any weather out for the short term. Sometime soon we’ll go back and lay down the shingles.