Talking and Walking….

Posted February 16, 2015 by Larry
Categories: Announcements, Art, Musings, Talks & Lectures, Teaching

 

It helps that people are asking me to speak as I assemble my thoughts for the 10th anniversary of the Press. The CBBAG folks seemed amused last Wednesday when I spoke about origins, and my rather hazy ideas on how I came to print books by letterpress. I’m looking forward to this coming Wednesday: I’m in Carp, Ontario talking the talk, only this time I’ll be focusing less on how I started and more on how I validate what I do as art. It’ll be interesting to see how I do that!

I’ll be bringing out some treasures from the private collection, some blocks and some type, so plenty to see and hear about.

Larry Thompson Greyweathers Press

 

 

Origins: The Beginning of Greyweathers Press

Posted February 15, 2015 by Larry
Categories: Musings

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The first logo for Greyweathers Press, a tiny linocut based on the view of a gnarled Scott’s pine through the gothic window in the studio. The tree has since died, and now we ponder a new press mark.

The question I most frequently get asked by astonished visitors to the studio, or to my booth at shows, is: “How on earth did you every get involved in… this!?”, meaning of course, letterpress, bookbinding, and creating wood cuts. More often than not, I respond by saying smart-ass things, like “kidnapped as a baby by traveling Romany printers,” or “abducted by aliens who may or may not have done things to me, and I’ve been feverishly compelled ever since to print.” The question is simply too vague, the circumstances too disparate, and those moments that seemed of no consequence at the time but in retrospect take on tremendous value, are never properly recorded. So it is with history and memory; it is easier to create fictions than try to grasp or pinpoint the moment I thought I would move a 2400 lb press and another tonnage of lead type into the studio. When did it happen? Was it sometime early in the 1970s, when I first read C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which set me on a fantastic reading journey. One can take it to ridiculous ends, but certainly it began an intense love of books – both in the architecture of imagination created by written words, but also the in vessels of paper and glue and leather that contained them. Time passes. I change high schools mid-way through, and the new one has a Graphic Arts course. Flipping through my old yearbooks, I find just one photo from Graphic Arts. 08.IMG_1984 This young woman is printing on what I believe to be the AB Dick offset press. Another large offset press sat just behind her, but in the background, barely visible is the magnificent Heidelberg windmill letterpress, a machine that hissed and made sucking noises, pulled up sheets of paper and deposited them neatly printed in a jogged pile, whilst gripper arms whirled about in a steam-punker’s dream. If you were careless, even for a moment, the windmilling arms could give you a resounding crack on the head. It was a thing of beauty! My teacher used hot type from a Ludlow, the cabinets and trays of cold metal type removed in the ever-dawning realization that letterpress was dying. Was it then? Another decade later, after university and a few years in an office, I found myself variously employed, but able to briefly pass muster on an AB Dick in a basement shop with the most stressed and uptight Caribbean guy I have ever met…. proving that even the most laid back and self-medicated persons can be driven to near madness by commercial printing. After meeting Holly, moving to Merrickville, and becoming familiar with the Calligraphy Society of Ottawa and the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, my friend Wendy and I took a workshop from a traveling bookbinder named Gavin Rookledge of Rook’s Books, which proved to be fun and quite cool, but even as a freelance writer, how many blank notebooks could one man use? Perhaps it was in 1996, the centenary of the death of William Morris, and a rather stunning exhibition which came to the National Gallery and featured some examples from the Kelmscott Press. Holly and I were invited to Queen’s University Library to flip through their copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer, a spread of which is shown here: kelmscott01 By this point, I must confess, the inspiration to print books had me. I began to read Morris on printing, and those others who likewise were inspired by him to ‘romance the press’ throughout the Gilded Age and onward into the mid-20th century. In good order, I discovered that the tradition had survived to the present day, with dozens, even hundreds of private presses operating in North America, Australia and Europe. Sometime around the turn of the millennium, I saw the work of Barbarian Press (Mission, B.C.) in the CBBAG newsletter, and ordered one of their stunning books. Not long after, I met George and Michelle Walker at a book arts show, and purchased their treatment of Poe’s The Raven. Those books were really all the encouragement I needed. The Press, then unnamed, now existed in my head, and the search for an actual printing press began.

Ten Years: Pondering a Decade of a Press

Posted February 12, 2015 by Larry
Categories: Fine Press Printing, Letterpress printing, Musings, Private Presses

Tags: , , ,

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Last night I had the very great privilege to speak to the Ottawa Valley Chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild on the origins of the Press.

In preparation for this, I realized that the topic is really quite vast, and could be broken down into several distinct topics. For example, every book printed off the press has its own story, worthy of an entire conversation. There is the business side, of showing and selling, pricing and marketing. And there is the whole messy matter of art. For CBBAG, I chose origins.

I set the start date of Greyweathers Press as 2005, the year that I printed the first book, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. However, the primary urges go back far earlier, rooted in a love of books and story. I loved comics when I was a kid, and still do although I do not collect nearly as much. In the early 1990s I took a bookbinding workshop but otherwise I just thought about producing books.

In 1996, an exhibit of the work of William Morris opened my eyes to the private presses, and it led me to the rich field of printing being done in Canada.

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I like Morris’ sensibility here, although it does grate a bit with the border and drop caps from his magnus opus, the Kelmscott Chaucer, in this keepsake created digitally some years ago then rendered into a magnesium plate: “a definite claim to beauty.”

From there, an understanding of letterpress came, but that’s a blog for another day.

Letterpress is an umbrella that that overhangs many differing motivations. Some are called to ‘old school’ printing for the romance associated with the history of printing. There are enthusiasts of the equipment, or those wild-eyed collectors of type of every kind. Commercial letterpress is still viable for high end printing jobs, and lino and woodcut artists love letterpress for its reproduction excellence. For myself, books brought me to letterpress and the desire to produce books keeps me printing. I’m also working in the so-called ‘fine press’ tradition, going to sometimes absurd ends to achieve  quality in printing, inking, impression and binding etc. In fact, there are elements of all these things built into my motivation to print.

 

 

2015: A Fresh Start

Posted January 10, 2015 by Larry
Categories: Books, Drawing, Letterpress printing, Uncategorized, Wood Engraving

Tags: , , , , ,

Ohhh, look! I’ve got a blog! I should really use it…

So, a new year and an energized press. By way of explanation, the last couple of (bookless) years have been a time of thought and entrenchment, crisis and recovery. With Greyweathers Press’ 10th anniversary this year, it is time to rip loose. For starters, I’m going back a couple of years to a project that ground to a halt in media res, a little Gothic Trifle with the rather clunky title of The Necromancer and the Seventh Daughter. A while back the title seemed fine, but now with the popularity of The Hobbit, the term ‘necromancer’ is known wide and far. Oh well. The original title used ‘sorcerer’, another word now famous, or rather infamous, considering real people burned with this brand are losing the heads in Saudi Arabia!

This is the second foray with Septima, her first being centered on dispatching a high-born vampire who was drinking her way though all the beautiful youth of the City. (There are still a couple of copies available.)

Now, keeping up with trends, it’s zombies, a festering golem, and something of an environmental message, along with Septima’s spunky “don’t fuss with me” girl-power attitude (a la Buffy & Joss Whedon). Setting type began just over a year ago, so that will resume, with my attention now on illustrations. Below are five of eight thumbnail sketches and an idea of what I’m thinking for Septima: The Sequel.

wraps

Sketches are very rough, the finishing will be done on the block. It is similar to what an inker does for the art in a comic book. In this case, it’s kind of hard seeing Septima standing there wearing an ironic look at something very tall. I added the stone cobbles behind her to help with perspective even though in this sketch it fights with the mummy-like wrappings she wears. I’ll work it out on the block.

Septima does a lot of running in this story. I found the image of a leaping runner going flat out; actually, this its more of a ballet prance than a sprint, but it looks as though she's goin' like stink! I may add a few zombie hands reaching out from the right side. We'll see.

Septima does a lot of running in this story. I found the image of a leaping runner going flat out; actually, this its more of a ballet leap than a sprint, but it looks as though she’s goin’ like stink! I may add a few zombie hands reaching out from the right side. We’ll see. The dress needs work – lots of ripples and wrinkles to show movement.

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The Ghost Fleet that threatens the City. A rough re-working of another image, probably of the Black Fleet, again from Tolkien. I will probably embellish the ships with dragon heads and skulls etc. The dramatic sky will give me a chance to try out my newly acquired multiple liner.

golem

And that’s just the eyes and forehead. So it’s really, really big, consideting there’s Septima, the wee little thing, down at the bottom. She’ll be tricky to get right… it only takes about six or eight tiny cuts to do a figure that small, so every one has to be perfect. Might use my big doughnut magnifier on this one. The letters on the forehead are backwards for a reason.

bath

Septima spends a lot of time in this installment crawling around in sewage, so her reward for saving the City and her family (AGAIN) is to be hustled off to a vigorous bath. I thought it was kind of funny at the time, until considering how to illustrate with propriety a 15 year old superhero in the bath. The solution is lots of bubbles, and just enough expression on her face to show her what she thinks about it. Of course, how I’m going to carve bubbles from wood is anybodies guess, but we’ll get there.

Measure twice, print once

Posted December 13, 2013 by Larry
Categories: Book Design, Fine Press Printing, Letterpress printing, Typography

Tags: , , , , ,

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There is always the temptation to just throw the type down and print. But for the last few days, I’ve been setting and dissing type on the zombie book, working out the letter and word length for the fully justified columns of text. No ink involved at all. It’s important because there is no way this time that I will be able to set the entire text with the limited type that I have; page one on the press may face page four, so working out all problems in advance is the way to go. Also, setting and dissing the odd paragraph in different sizes helps me get reacquainted with the medium — it has been awhile since I did much creative work on the press (year round-up report coming later in the month). The good news is that I seem to have worked out most of the typographic spacing issues, and that’s thanks in part to using Adobe software (Indesign) to create my page layout and dummy. It allows me to parse the type to match very closely the metal type and thus, if the moon and stars align, it becomes a simple way to impose and paginate the text. It should work; I’ll keep you posted!

Zombies at Greyweathers Press

Posted December 8, 2013 by Larry
Categories: Book Design, Book Making, Books, Letterpress printing, Typography, Writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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Laser printed layout dummy for the first page. The square beneath the drop cap shows spacing for a long, narrow illustration.

And so production begins on The Necromancer and the Seventh Daughter, the sequel to the popular Vampire & the Seventh Daughter that we printed a few years ago. I didn’t start the press for vanity purposes, but once in a while it is satisfying to watch one’s own words roll of the press. These “Gothick Trifles” as I call them harken back to my reading and viewing roots in sci fi, horror and fantasy literature so I consider these works more than most personal projects.

firstpage

This was the title page for the first book. In it, we are introduced to Septima who, being a 7th daughter of a 7th daughter, has some extraordinary powers, and a particular brand of pugnacious courage that is a particular nuisance and foil to baddies. The baddy in that story was the vampire princess who was eating through her serving staff, and for some reason her father the king didn’t seem all that alarmed. Enter Septima and, well, it’s a fable so I’m hardly spoiling it to say that things go poorly for the vampire. This is often the case.

The second Gothick Trifle is longer, about 2,000 words and a bit more complex. I wanted to play with the story of the golem, but also work in some kind of environmental comment, and zombies, because, well, you know, zombies are hot.It may have been a bit too many devices for once very short fable, but there you go. The first draft was about 3,500 words. Even after crunching it down and taking out all the stuff I really liked, it still took about about 700 words of back story before Septima even got mentioned, so I rewrote the whole so that she came in at the beginning, and a little sooner in the story.

The first one had four pretty simple linocuts. This one will have perhaps eight wood engravings, or so that is my intention now.  I’ve doubled the paper (it will be sixteen pages as opposed to the previous eight) but I still thought I’d have to set in 10 point, but as it turns out, a little more judicious editing (the first draft was 3,500 words) and cutting a couple of illustrations means 12 point will work, which makes the setting job easier. Naturally, it will be hand set lead type, our house face, Italian Oldstyle. While I work on the type and engravings and printing, I’ll be pondering the binding, which I may do the same as the last one, or try something different entirely. I’m hoping for an edition of 75.

 

 

Wood Engraving – Craft Show Productivity

Posted November 15, 2013 by Larry
Categories: Selling, Shows, Wood Engraving

At the most recent craft sale, Holly and I set the booth up so I would have a little table to work on for cutting engravings or linoleum. I will always do this in the future, if there is any room at all in the booth. People are interested and astonished by the process, it makes the shows bearable during the lulls and it looks more productive than thumbing away on an iPhone. I suppose the amount of cutting that gets done is directly proportional to the truck and trade passing thought the aisles, but so it goes. I finished three engravings during the five day show: one was a demo block that I had been chopping away at  through the summer and fall shows, and finally ‘finished’ into a kind of abstract.

1.25" x 4" size

1.25″ x 4″ size cut on resingrave block

My next exercise was to explore the relation of light and dark in skin tones using lines, with interesting effect but needing more attention.

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Proof and endgrain maple block  2.25″ x 3.25″

And finally, those who follow this blog may have read about a recent personal project involving my family history. Earlier in the summer, I sketched a pencil drawing of my ancestor, based on his photograph, onto a block. While idling at the show, I inked in the pencil drawing to indicate areas of black, gray and white, while ignoring the background for the moment.

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Following the advise of some wise engravers, I began with the most difficult areas first, the face, hands and the lines of the coat, and the wrinkles in the bent arm. For the arm in particular, I went in with the fine tipped marker and clarified precisely the wrinkles. After completing the figure, I cut the chair and table, then had my fanciful way with the background. My only agenda there was to create a contrasting backdrop that was somewhat lighter and more graphic than the very tonal figure and face.

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Block size 2″ x 3.25″

And the result:

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I like it, although it needs some work still. The background work fine, and I am very pleased with the face, beard and hands — faces and hands are tricky. I wish I had left more shadow in the crook of the arm and along the breast, the contours of which seem wrong. The lower portion of the coat is almost perfect, and the pants worked out pretty well. There are some amateur errors — my graver slipped more than once along old Joshua’s forehead, which I assure you pained me more than it did him. In retrospect I might have done something more with the white space behind the chair, even just some visual noise, but there you go. In the original photo, Joshua has some unruly bed-head action going on, clearly a familial trait that has passed on to his great-great-grandson, so I preserved that element.

I cut myself some slack, since this is only the ninth or tenth illustrative engraving I’ve tried my hand at, and am still flailing around a bit as I adjust to the tools and the new medium. But it’s definitely coming along, and the possibilities in detail offered by the medium are pretty exciting.


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