Archive for the ‘Musings’ category

On humility….

March 2, 2016

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Yes, that’s a litter box under my press. As Tennyson fades into extreme old age, he chose the space where I kept my rags under my press as his salle de bain, so it seemed to make sense to move his litter there. Also, using an antique section of banister, we are able to keep the dogs from devouring the contents of the litter, which is simply gross and where I draw the line at humility. It means as I work on getting the type printing just right or fighting with make-ready on wood engravings, I catch the occasional whiff of…. Is it me? Surely not! Ahhh, the cat.

The press, being both the source of beauty, elegance and style – and Tennyson’s depository – does bring me down to earth when things are going well, as they have been for the past year or so. In 2015, I received word that the University of Toronto’s Fisher Library wanted to acquire all books and broadsides printed to date, with a keen interest in anything else I come up with.

The year also saw me blaze through 20 shows: indoor with table or booth, and outdoor under tent. These shows were on the whole very successful, and just a few changes I will be repeating the same number in 2016. Shows are a wonderful way to meet new people, and to keep up with friends and collectors.

As for what shows I’ll be doing, I’ll be adding a page to this blog, but a listing will also appear in my newly reinvigorated website, complete with an on-line store for prints, all to be found at www.greyweatherspress.com

The biggest news this year will be the release of the most ambitious project yet from the press: Ecclesiastes. Yes, Greyweathers Press is getting biblical, with a heft that will weigh in at an estimated 80 pages of beautiful Arches Text Wove, illustrated with 60 odd wood engravings. Stay tuned, a detailed announcement is forthcoming.

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An early draft of the title page design.

So with all of this activity, Tennyson’s periodic visits to my press keep me from getting too full of myself, and rightly so. It is all about the work, after all, and not the accolades.

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Talking and Walking….

February 16, 2015

 

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

February 15, 2015
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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

February 12, 2015

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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.

 

 

Show and Sell – Back from the shows

November 14, 2013

The Eagle Point Winery show proved a very good show for me. Part of this is the good company I had in the board room, with John Sorensen’s wonderful paintings on the walls and sharing the massive table with potter Linda Hynes. Both are friends of long standing so it made doing the show a lot of fun, but people were buying as well, so all good. This is in a way an extension of the table shows that make up the book arts scene. The usual tables (approx 6″ x 3″) don’t have a lot of room for prints, but I was able to use the great depth of this table to layer prints: standing at the back against Linda’s display, then propped, then flat and finally the books out in front. In a standing position before the table, customers have free access to the books, but a bird’s eye view of all the prints. Simple but effective. The show had a heavy mix of fine art and fine craft, twelve exhibitors in all, arranged around the impressive winery.

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All set up at the Eagle Point Winery show.

Back home from Eagle Point Winery, I had one day to turn around before setting up at the Nepean Sportsplex for the Nepean Craft Christmas Sale. This five day show is definitely in the craft domain, with mostly crafts, including a lots of jewellery and food – a definite trend in the craft circuit. I juried in promising to use our hard walls; they look amazing, with lighting nested into valances mounted atop 7 foot tall walls. Everything fastens together with clamps, however it was designed to fit into a 5 x 15 space. It will articulate, as in this case to a 10′ x 10′ space, but no matter what, it takes a lot of work to set up, particularly when two strongly opinionated people are involved. All of that, and a rental van to get the booth to the show, and back home again at the end. Also, we had to buy rugs to put down on the bare boards that are the only thing separating the booth and work from the arena ice surface. I stopped and wondered what it might be like to have the show right on the ice with everyone skating around to the booths – a reminder that not all ideas are good ones. It’s a chilly show to do, but now having seen the upper salons, admittedly warmer, I still much prefer the arena.

Hard walls decked with prints at the Nepean Craft Christmas Show.

Deck the hard walls with prints by Larry at the Nepean Craft Christmas Show.

I’m starting up with craft shows because I want to increase the profile of my press in the region, and because I hope with prints my price point will be attractive to the clientele at these shows. So far, I’ve had mixed results. One thing is for certain, at Christmas shows, any sales I make are impulse buys and often, but not always, the customer is buying for themselves. I’ve been doing the book arts shows and studio tour much longer, seven or eight years now, and people are coming and buying because they expect me to be there. Given time, and better economic times, this should happen at the craft shows.

 

Family History – Part Six

October 15, 2013
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Family portrait of Dr. Charles Walden Thompson, Joshua’s son.

[READ PART FIVE]

Part Six

Joshua confesses some of his own faults – his quick temper, for example, apparently a family trait; others can be deduced through his writings – pride perhaps. Still, his tone is reflective and contemplative – that of a man looking back on his own and his family’s life in the hope of creating a legacy. His zealous pen cannot conceal the deeply felt grief for parents, siblings and children long dead, or his obvious pride in his surviving children and grandchildren. In undertaking this great task, Joshua’s motivation must have been love; indeed, he loved his family so much that he dedicated years of his life revisiting a great deal of loss and sorrow by creating a written record to preserve their legacy for them, and for their descendants. Some brief updates and notes appear in the manuscript, made by Joshua, and later by his son Dr. C. W. Thompson. They end around 1920.

Part One |Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

Family History – Part Four

October 15, 2013
Photo of Joshua placed near the end of the History.

Photo of Joshua placed near the end of the History.

[READ PART THREE]

Part Four

Joshua progresses very methodically though his family’s history, beginning with his own scant knowledge of his grandparents, stepping through parents, brothers and sisters, his own autobiography, children from two marriages and finishing with several addenda concerning his grandchildren. He writes sections based on the length of the blank journal page, beginning with a heading and subheading followed by a single page of text, whereupon he breaks the narrative flow and begins a new page with a new heading.

Joshua tells the story of an Old World working class Anglo-Irish family beginning anew in North America. He never fully explains why the Thompson family decided to make the arduous trek in 1819 from Mountrath, a village near Dublin, across a great ocean and vast tracts of wilderness to arrive, finally, in a farming community a few miles west of Kingston, Ontario. They hoped “to make a home and a fortune for their family,” Joshua writes, as he tells the remarkable tale of the challenges endured and chances taken by these settlers in the New World.

In his own words:

MY FATHER ONE YEAR AT KINGSTON
Ice In St. Lawrence Brakes Up – A Disappointment
Purchased a Farm

My Father did not find Canada as inviting a place for a home as he expected and consulted with my mother and they both concluded it was best to return to the states. I think he was at Mr. Baker’s two weeks. So he engaged two other teams to take them back to Cambridge [NY]. When they reached Kingston, a distance of thirty miles, they heard that the ice in the river St. Lawrence had broken up and it could not be crossed with teams so they did not proceed any further. He soon got a house for the family and unloaded the sleighs, settled with the teamsters and got the house arranged for the family.

He then searched and got employment in a shoeshop in town conducted by a man the name of William Carroll. My Father worked for him about a year and cleared some more than his expenses and began to think he could make a home for himself and his family in Upper Canada. He kept inquiring of those customers who got work done in the shop for a suitable place for his business and a home for the family and himself. He heard of fifty acres of land that could be bought cheap with a frame house and log barn on it and in a good neighborhood that needed a shoemaker. This place was twenty four miles north-west of Kingston and ten miles from John Baker’s in Richmond. My Father at once went to see it and the owner who lived in the same neighborhood. His name was Thomas Empey, Esquire, called “Squire Empey.” They soon made a bargain for the land. I think the price was $250, and my Father soon left Kingston and moved to his farm and new home in Ernestown in the spring of 1823. This was a good purchase (five dollars per acre) and was a good Christian society, but a poor farm to till. JT

Part One |Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

Brag Post – Alcuin Awards Ceremony, Toronto

October 11, 2013
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The quote on the right reads: “Book design is one of the excellencies by which a civilization can be measured.” – Munroe Wheeler

Holly and I made the journey to Toronto early this week to attend the Eastern Canadian presentation of the Alcuin awards for excellence in book design. Alcuin is Vancouver-based, so the west coast version took place the week prior in Vancouver. In Toronto, it was held at the storied Arts and Letters Club, where notable artists and writers, designers and architects and creative types have been hobnobbing since the early 20th century.

I’m enthusiastic about the Group of Seven, a cabal of Canadian artists who painted the wilderness in a very impressionistic manner. (I’m particularly fascinated by Tom Thomson, who died in mysterious circumstances in Canada’s north country before the Group formed, but he had an immense influence on the other members. Toronto wood engraver George Walker has printed an amazing wordless novel about the life of Tom Thomson – check it out HERE). The only existing photograph of all seven artists together was taken in the room where Alcuin (east) met for dinner and a speech on Carl Dair’s Cartier typeface by type designer Rod McDonald.

From the Arts and Letters Club great hall: the massive hearth, gothic window and fanciful coats of arms representing the founders of the club.

From the Arts and Letters Club great hall: the massive hearth, gothic window and fanciful coats of arms representing the founders of the club.

I could go on and on, but I was equally in awe of the surroundings, and of the many sketches and paintings of Canadian artists on the walls, and in the talent in the room that evening. We sat with the above mentioned George Walker and his wife Michelle, and artist, wood engraver (and club member) Alan Stein. Andrew Steeves from Gaspereau Press came from Nova Scotia to collect several citations for his peerless book designs.

A bit about the Alcuin Awards: they are the only awards in Canada (that I know of) that celebrates how a book appears, how it’s construction and how it feels. It covers all books from all publishers, big and small with categories like pictorial, prose fiction and non-fiction, poetry, etc. The awards are normally first, second, third and an honourable mention, although these are at the discretion of the jury, which changes every year. A jury could (and has) rejected all books in a given category, or conversely award ties for first or second, or more than one honourable mentions.

Our Tintern Abbey picked up an honourable mention citation in the limited edition category for 2012. I say ‘our’ because the book was very much a collaborative effort by three people. The judges made a special note about Holly’s calligraphy in the book, and also my wood engravings. I know it would not have made it so far without Redbone Bindery‘s (Natasha Herman) elegant binding design for the regular edition, which incorporates Holly’s painted papers.

The title page spread.

The title page spread.

Perhaps my only regret about the evening was that I went up alone to claim the prize. Being the second award called, we weren’t aware that groups could go up, as others did thereafter. As you can see from the photo above in the calligraphy on the title page and the colour of the ink, Holly bears a lot of the  responsibility for the success of the book, and I am always grateful to have such a talent in my camp.

I don’t have a book for Alcuin for 2013; this has been a year of promoting and organizing and showing and selling. But I will hopefully have two in contention for the 2014 awards.

Family History – Part One

October 2, 2013

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My next several blogs will cover a personal book project that has been in the works now for about fifteen years. Over a hundred years ago, my great-great grandfather, Joshua,  wrote down his family’s history from their arrival in Canada in 1821 until 1907. He was 81 years old. The hand-written manuscript is 240 pages long, and he likely did as many as four copies, one for each of his living sons.

I remember seeing the old manuscript book under the side table that stood beside my grandfather’s armchair; I remember turning the pages, marveling a the delicate handwriting, and the ancient photographs of relatives now distant in time. Then, as now, it seemed extraordinary to me that anyone would undertake such a project.

The book had been handed down from son to son, then ultimately to my father. In the mid 1990s, during one of the periodic bouts of unemployment that the self-employed seem to experience, I pitched the idea to my father that we transcribe the History into text on the computer, then replicate it either as files or print-outs for the benefit of family and relatives who would undoubtedly be interested in their genealogy. Time passed and I revisited the project now and then. My interest in book design meant that, inevitably, the project would evolved from a mere transcription into a printed and bound edition, ultimately completed this fall.

The next few posts will be dedicated to the History, the man who wrote it, some of the information in it and a bit about the production of the new edition and the restoration of the original manuscript.

Part One |Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven | Part Eight | Part Nine

Private press in the great outdoors

July 10, 2013

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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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