My busy show season is really picking up, and I’m busy packing and prepping for the next one, so here we go again. If you are in or around Kingston between July 1 and 4, stop in at Artfest in City Park and say hello (booth B76).
I spent a very happy summer in St. John’s Newfoundland in 1988. My sister worked as a journalist there for the CBC-TV; she was transferred to The Journal in Toronto just for the summer, and offered to me her town house in downtown St. John’s and free use of her car. I sent a hulking K-Pro II computer ahead of me and brought a sketch book instead of a camera in the hopes of honing my artistic side a bit. I spent a lot of time writing a novel, wandering the city and the Avalon Peninsula, staring out to sea, drinking Guinness with the locals and smoking on my sister’s back porch – the latter a habit I shook off a year or so after returning to Ontario, I’m pleased to say. The back porch sketch was the best of the lot, and the original (more representational and less impressionistic than the print) ended up framed and given as a gift to my sister.
I kept a photocopy of it, thinking about a painting someday down the road, but my compass pointed to relief printmaking in the end. Also, 25 years on, I look back on my time in St. John’s with quite a lot of romance: wine, women, song and the production of a truly dreadful heroic fantasy novel, which I’ve never regretted and refuse to apologize about. I remember that summer being very windswept, and one of the best for weather in recent memory according to the locals, relatively dry but cool compared to Ontario, which in 1988 was undergoing a drought and a horrendously humid heat wave.
My sister returned in late August, and I extended my return ticket for two weeks to look for work — an utterly hilarious notion considering how little work there was in Nfld at the time, and that I was “From Away” and even people hiring viewed my inquiries with puzzled contempt. That, and in mid-September I could feel a very visceral change in the weather. My sis said “I’m going shopping for a winter coat; I’m not getting caught out this year!” She came out of the shop in a parka that made her resemble the Michelin Man from TV. A week later I was back in Ontario lining up work.
Last year, my sister and her husband made a return trip to St. John’s and checked out the place; the back lane is now completely overgrown with trees.
Categories: Book Design, Letterpress printing, Poetry, Wood Cuts
A Rabbit was called for, by the title alone. I found this old hand-coloured engraving, rendered it greyscale in Photoshop then did a sketch on tracing paper. I could flip the tracing paper before copying the image to the block, reversing it so that rabbit is running in the correct direction.
This was the only block in the project that was not cut from wood. It is Resingrave, a polymer compound that they’ve been tweaking for years and years to get it to emulate English boxwood. Still not quite there, but the block was the size and shape for what I needed, and worked sufficiently well for the subject matter.
When Hugh asked me for art direction as to where illustrations would go, I told him “just leave me some gaps” meaning I had no idea what illustrations I would come up with. My little rabbit fit nicely right in between title and author.
Categories: Letterpress printing, Presses, Teachers
Tags: Hugh Barclay, letterpress, letterpress printers, Thee Hellbox Press
I’m going to guess that it was 1997 when I first met Hugh Barclay. I had helped Holly set up for her first big booth show, in Kingston, Ontario as it happened. Or it may have been the second year she did the show. I can’t remember. I do remember this gentleman with small stature and large personality coming into the booth, buying one of Holly’s charming little books of calligraphic Thoreau quotes in Saint Armand wraps but adding that it would be better printed on a letterpress rather than a photocopier. He invited us to come by his studio and see his press. It took me two years, but we did eventually get there. And from that point, Hugh has been something of an inspiration to me.
In the fall, Hugh mentioned to me that his latest book would be his last, and I suggested that a collaboration between our two presses would have to be now or never. We agreed that he would design the book, set and print the type, and that I would cut the illustrations from wood and print those at my press. I did not know at the time that the author, Winona Linn, was a talented artist herself; she could have and perhaps should have illustrated the book, but the deal was made.
I think the old fox hoodwinked me. Even before The Truth About Rabbits had been launched, Hugh had another book on the press. And he laughed at me when I pointed it out. I think it was his plan all along to force me to write a colophon in the first person, one of Hugh’s many quirks. And I’m not aware of many private press books that contain two colophons, as this one does.
Regardless, I have referred to this book as a joyful collaboration between Hugh, Winona, myself, and others. It has been a blast, and I definitely felt that electric charge while turning out the illustrated sheets from my press: The thrill of the print.
And that, my friends, is what it should be all about.
Categories: Block Printing, Books, Poetry, Writing
Tags: illustration, poetry, private press, The Truth About Rabbits, Thee Hellbox Press, winona linn, Wood engravings
Periodically over future posts, I’ll be deconstructing the process I used for the illustrations of Winona Linn’s collection of poems, The Truth About Rabbits, but I thought I’d introduce you to the shakers and movers of this project.
First and foremost, we have Winona Linn, a young woman who is certainly making a name for herself. When I say she’s a Kingston-based poet, I beg you to take that in the loosest manner possible, since she floats between Kingston, Paris and other worldly points.
One of the benefits of having one’s own press is that one may print what one likes (and you have to say it like that, first person singular pronoun, with a really snobby accent). So I won’t go on and on about the quality of Winona’s poems; if I didn’t like them, I’d have passed on the opportunity to illustrate them. I will say that these poems are smart, sharp, poignant and witty with refreshingly light-hearted, self-deprecating moments. It is those latter aspects that conjured images for me from her verse. You see, it has been a very long and dark couple of years; if I had been writing and performing poetry during that time, I would have fit right in with most of the poetry scene – a lot of dark emoting. In fact, I only made one illustration for a book a year or so prior to Rabbits, also for Thee Hell Box Press. Here is that one:
Well. Enough said. There’s plenty in Winona’s vivid imagery to conjure dark images, but (to rip off another poet) ‘I am half-sick of shadows’, so instead I’ve done a lewd Starbuck’s logo, a crow who is about to (or has just) pooped cherries on our poet, a toaster slowly browning a copy of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, young lovers in a church etc. Periodically I’ll blog about the imagery that inspired the illustration, and the sometimes bizarre route I took to creating them.
I should note here that Winona does not only excel at writing and performing her own poetry, but she is an illustrator and artist of some force. Prior to her departure for Paris after Rabbits launched, she showed me some of her linocuts…. All I’ll say is that I’m hoping I get the chance to work again with this amazing artist.
Categories: Book Design, Books, Typography
Tags: book design, current book project, design, page design, private press, typography
Planning is ongoing for future projects, and so is the play-time associated with the design of the titles. Here are three examples; which one do you like?
I’m thinking the above works, but it begs the question: what is so important about the big E.S. (other than it fits in the middle and end)
Not bad, again it looks cool, but comprehension is somewhat lacking. Then again, if you don’t know Ecclesiastes from the first 3 or 4 letters, there’s another comprehension problem. This model at least begs for a long, thin engraving on the reverse page, as you can see the spread is shaping out.And this works as well, in that at least the change in direction does not follow in a “mid-word” crossover, like crossword puzzles. It opens the option for an illustration in the white space, or some text play, or just white space!