Private press in the great outdoors

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This is a shot from the Ravenswing show in downtown Ottawa earlier this summer. A lovely park and beautiful fair weather greeted those who came to check out our work. It’s what I might call a show for the 99 percent — there’s even a requirement for vendors to have a substantial portion of their stock priced $20 or lower (a challenge for me – most of my work is decidedly not priced for impoverished youth, but we rose to it). As a result, the show had an edgy but friendly vibe to it, and the vital and predominantly youthful exhibitors seemed to be having a good time. The combination of these elements, and the hard work of volunteer promoters, brought steady crowds all day long.

But this little missive isn’t about Ravenswing in particular; it’s about the things that go through the mind of private press printers who bring their work into the great outdoors.

Everything I make – everything – involves paper, book board, book cloth, paste, glue and other materials. I’ve been known to brag that my books are made to doggedly endure the passage of the ages. It is a conceit, of course. There’s the great destroyer, fire, and perhaps coming in a close second is that occasional human need to rend objects of beauty or wisdom, particularly books.

When I exhibit outside, I am at the very least under tent. I leave my books exposed to the air – they seem quite happy there so long as there is no prolonged direct daylight. I don’t want to even chance them being caught for a moment in plastic sleeves in the sun. Condensation forms inside the bag.  Anything that comes out of the studio will have collected a wee bit of moisture, nothing serious, just the usual to and fro, give and take of normal humidity that you will get in any household climate that is not completely hermetically sealed. Likewise framed prints. The same issue applies for the unframed prints, which are housed in ‘peel-n-stick’ clear plastic sleeves. Of course, rain is a big concern.There’s also wind and heat.

In these strange days of climatic change, water rising ankle high or driving horizontally into the booth is no fiction. There is nothing so despairing than the wails of a watercolour artist watching pigments puddle in painterly swirls at the base of an easel. My point is that, unless you deal in stone sculpture, outdoor shows are not for the faint of heart. It doesn’t take even a hurricane force wind to lift a booth heavenward, which could leave a potter in a suicidal state (or worse, if they hang on and go up with it) and while the encaustic (wax) paintings laugh (haha!) at rain, heat can have devastating results.

I suppose some printers could hang out broadsides printed on cotton rag paper, laugh at the gods and let them get soaked, then leave them hanging and dry out. But even that is fraught with danger. If they are not completely dry when packed away, one may find when unpacking many exuberantly colourful blooms of mould, and the hateful whiff of mildew. And this can happen even without rain, if the outdoor venue is sufficiently dank. You know, like “art in the swamp” or some such in the Florida biyous, or anywhere out-of-doors in Britain.

All this being said, we take our chances. All endeavors entail risk, and if we want to sell our work, we must show. Outdoor shows tend to be affordable for vendors, and they are popular with the public. All I can do is prepare insofar as it is practical, and accept what nature doles out with a philosophical grace…. and perhaps a calming  beverage.

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One Comment on “Private press in the great outdoors”

  1. Brent Buckner Says:

    Thanks for the glimpse!
    (“Fire bad!”)


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