Navel Gazing and Power Tripping

The snow is falling again and I’m sitting here with my coffee feeling introspective. As the fifth year of Greyweathers Press draws to a close, I’m looking back and forward and puzzling over the usual questions: Why am I doing this? What am I trying to achieve? What is motivating me?

It is interesting that amongst my journals and notes from five to ten years ago, I can’t find any kind of mission statement or even an expression of intent. I had the vague notion of making beautiful books in four subject categories: classics; young, unpublished writers; my own words; and collaborations with Holly. I had thought four editions a year would suffice, although that goal was laughable considering I didn’t manage even four books in five years! And my interest has spread from those four rather broad categories to working with established writers, literary criticism, essays, other non-fiction and, surprisingly, illustration. But playing scatagories doesn’t really answer my questions.

Aside from three books, a couple of broadsides and about 50 linocuts, most of the first five years was taken up with practical problems relating to equipment: presses, rollers, cutters, blades, type, packing, etc. and how they all worked in relation to each other. Compared to what’s coming up in the future, these were all relatively simple questions with (in most cases) satisfying answers. The projects — Kubla Khan, Tenebrismo and the Vampire & the Seventh Daughter — served as practice pieces, or as I like to call them, my apprentice work, and I remain quite proud of them all, particularly Tenebrismo. There are the linocuts too — by far the most commercially successful aspect of the press, although the books have sold very well. In the end, I look at the first five years as gathering information and knowledge about printing (mostly), cutting my teeth on a few projects, and getting to know like-minded printers and artists in my area and beyond.

Now, pulling my head out of the hell-box, I have to think about the next five years, and what I’m going to do with them. And why.

I know that I get a certain thrill whenever I pull a proof, particularly a good one. I have come to think of this feeling as a kind of residual power: traces left over from the days when printers were considered powerful, even dangerous, and the press an engine of liberty, or Satan, depending of one’s point of view. It can’t be compared to clicking print for a perfect laser copy, or surfing the web or writing a blog. It may say more about me than anything else, which doesn’t make me entirely comfortable. Aside from a right to vote and a signature on a deed, I am a man virtually without power, which makes attractive even the memory of a dream of a vision of power, I suppose. In a world where monolithic interests act for their own inscrutable purposes, what is one poor man with a printing press?

This creative urge may also be fuelled by a need to ensure an ego-salving legacy, beyond the ephemeral scribbling and scratching that have already vanished into the ether, or soon will. In an article I wrote about Greyweathers Press early on, I expressed a need to create something that would endure beyond my limited time. I’m hardly a power-tripping egoist (at least, I hope I’m not) and I’m certainly not saying other printers are likewise motivated, but there it is.

So much for ‘why’. Such motivators can also lead to a spirit of competition, and this exists to some extent inside the fine press community. Mostly, I consider this a fairly healthy thing, although it can get ugly. I think if I complete enough volume of work, I can compete against myself, but it is unproductive, indeed unwise, to work entirely in a vacuum.

I’ll be posting some of my more tangible five-year goals in a later post, but a more careful study of the nuance of design will be high on my list of intangibles. I will try to open myself to fresh ideas, work like the devil and adopt conviction in my work, even to the point of prejudice. And again: work like the devil.

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One Comment on “Navel Gazing and Power Tripping”

  1. Sam Allen Says:

    Hi Larry, Thanks for the greetings, started to read your blog and as I progressed I realised that your description of printing, printers and the printed words are exactly what I have being trying to say ever since I was a “printers devil” way back in 1954. How I agree that producing a computer or a laser print will never give the satisfaction of a hand set piece printed letterpress (with the expected typographical error) and the satisfaction that you did not put too much impression on. SAM


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