Archive for the ‘Organization’ category

Where I Work

June 1, 2012

(Click to enlarge.)

For the most part, the above photograph shows you my little kingdom. (This shot was taken in the midst of printing a keepsake for Canadian Notes & Queries). In the foreground right is a galley tray cabinet, holding fifty trays. These trays are used to move type and material from the compositing area to the press, and let’s admit it, for storing type waiting to be dissed back into the cabinets. There’s the press on the right, with a repurposed kitchen cupboard in the background holding the press “furniture” – or the metal bits that secure type and blocks on the press bed. On the left, is a long banker’s table that came from the office where I used to edit the Upper Canadian. Normally it is covered with detritus that has no home anywhere else. Under the long table I’ve built hasty cabinets to hold type and smaller sheets of paper, and printers waste. Out of sight are a couple of type cabinets to the left, and behind to the left is a big old Westman Baker paper cutter. The space beyond the edge of the press is the creative domain of the lovely and talented Holly Dean, to whom I am eternally devoted…. particularly for surrendering half of her studio to all my heavy metal and bookish dreams. And for other reasons.

And that’s it. I’m not complaining – I’m spoiled for space more than many letterpress printers, who are literally climbing over their equipment to get about their studios. But still, I am thinking…thinking…. More storage would make it much easier to keep the press tidier. A full floor to ceiling cabinet at the back to store more ink and other tools and equipment. Build a galley across the back of the long table to get all the typesetting material in one area. Decide about the odds&sods type now stored under the long desk and use the space for storage. Or build proper type storage there, and begin selectively acquire type that I will use. The back corner behind the bust — those are a couple of booth walls. Move those to the shed outside and build a tall cabinet for holding rolls of book cloth and paper.

We’re not really that far off from having a well-organized space. More on this as the summer progresses….

Busy Winter Days

February 25, 2011

This is a post simply to catch up all the little things that have been happening here in the studio.

Previously I posted about printing the labels for Graven Images, as I desperately try to finish off the 28 bound copies that had been standing around the press, in a state of undress:

So I used this monster from another age

to cut these wee things

(Doing delicate tiny work with old 19th century cutters is a tricky maneuver).

So, today I puddled about with glue brush and PVA resulting in this:

followed by gluing down the print mount flaps. All that’s left is the numbering of this particular portion of the edition, and another ten or so copies will be off into the big world.

I’ve been scheming about streamlining the studio, and took a baby step this week. For the last five years, I’ve used this plastic container to hold my coppers, brasses and thins (these being the names of the very thin pieces of metal that shim up the final gaps in a line of hand-set lead type.

It worked fine, but it has to be carried from another part of the studio, so I am always afraid of dropping it, which would represent another layer of hell that Danté never mentioned. So, I smiled sweetly and Holly kindly surrendered this awesome toolmaker’s bit chest, with miniature drawers that fit the thins beautifully, and fits perfectly on the desk, where it will remain.


Ten (or More) Things I (re)Learned Printing Graven Images

February 21, 2011

1. Settle on a binding design from the outset, and stick to it. The binding of Graven Images has been something of a problem. I didn’t have a set plan from the outset, and that created headaches all through production. Originally it was going to be a handsome envelope or folder with the prints loose inside, and it grew on its own from there. Plans to bind the edition myself evaporated in face of time constraints, so the job was handed off to a commercial binder. The results were adequate, but still full of small disappointments.

2. Set limits. At one point, there was some discussion around the dinner table about creating fictional text to accompany the illustrations. I guess that was my line of death, but it would have been an interesting endeavour. The painted covers are covered below, and the final binding of the edition was a compromise imposed by money and time.

3. Use tried and true papers on big projects. There’s a reason so many private presses use only a certain few commercially available papers; there’s no need for further experimentation. Sigh. Looking forward to St. Armand, Fabriano, Arches Text…. and insolvency trying to pay for them.

4. Smoother paper = better halftones. Better impression generally. Canson Mi Teintes paper proved problematic, with one side being rough, intended for pastels. I lost my nerve, and declined to print a large halftone of the box of wood engraving blocks when I realized it would be printed on the rough side, and the last page after already printing the three other pages. I’m telling ya, this racket takes nerves of steel!

5. I’m happier when I can work on the production of a book beginning to end in a concentrated period of time. Because of much going on in my life, I knew that Graven Images would be spread over a long period of time. Two years, in fact. I planned it that way, breaking all the work into its parts, and it all worked out according to plan. But I didn’t like it as much as working on a book every day, continuously for six or eight weeks.

6. I’ve mastered printing type. Just in time to see the early signs of age and wear on my precious lead type.

7. Think twice, maybe three time before betting on a lot of art work for any book. Holly and I planned to have her paint all the covers for Graven Images. What were we thinking?! Trying to reproduce her painted covers using digital laser printing added another dimension of frustration to the job, for everyone involved.

8. I need storage for unbound sheets. At one point, I had the makings of 75 copies of the edition laid out flat in one box. Very heavy! Very big! Always tripping over it.

9. I need storage for bound copies. Graven Images is a big book, not just in terms of labour, but its actual size. And it is by no means even close to the largest folios done by some presses. Even binding up 25 copies a time requires some place to put them, when I even lack bookshelves for the books in my own collection!

10. I need to better organize my work area. Holly has caught me more than once this winter standing at the foot of my press, arms folded and staring into space. My space works very well indeed, but improvements can and will be made. Additional storage. Moving things further back that I seldom use; moving stuff I use frequently closer. A hanging wall cupboard is in the works. Perhaps some shelving.

11. I can print wood engravings. I can even print 130 year old wood engravings. It’s not as easy as it looks. And for the 130 year old engravings, apply lesson #2.

12. Promotion. Promotion. Promotion. I print books with the attitude that I would be happy to live with the entire edition until I pop off. But really, how sensible is that?

13. Live with the variables. There are far too many variables involved in producing a beautifully printed page to be able to control them all. So get over it, and find creative solutions.

14. I love printing, and there will be more books. Wordsworth’s famous poem Tintern Abbey is up next.

Pondering Reorganization

January 19, 2011

I knew from the beginning that it would be a challenge, and in many, many respects, it has worked out far better than it could have.

It’s not that I’m printing in an exceptionally small space: compared to other private press printers, I’ve got lots of room. A decent bench with lots of drawers, and space beneath for type and paper. A variety of cubby holes and spaces for the multitude of odds and ends required for printing. A huge drawer in a large antique storage cupboard for storage of prints. A reclaimed kitchen cupboard for solvents, cleaners etc. For the most part every space gets used. And yet, the space is constantly cluttered by homeless detritus that moves around from space to space as work requires. So, I’ve begun examining my space and how I use it.

The turn-of-the-19th century canted work bench, 10′ long with 6 drawers, replaced a kind of hodge podge of tables and surfaces I had before. It came originally from a Brockville bank, but we acquired it from the offices of The Upper Canadian, the antiques trade newspaper where I worked as an editor, so it has some sentimental value as well. It is more or less the same size as the press, and the two pieces run parallel with an aisle between. Beyond these behemoths is a narrow aisle to the door, and beside the door, the paper cutter. And that’s pretty much it. I have the “house” font, Italian Oldstyle, stored in a case under the stairs to the loft, and another 2/3 width type cabinet holding odds and ends which backs onto the back of the work bench. Here’s a quick sketch:

Looking around and thinking about what sort of material floats around homeless, I come up with a few items:

1) frames. A fair bit of work that I do on the press involves framing the prints I talk about periodically on this blog. Now, all the equipment needed to do the framing has a home, but I lack safe places to store frames. Currently, they are tucked here and there: small ones in the reclaimed red kitchen cabinet beside the press feed board, and others as shown (click thumbnails):

The frames are wrapped in plastic bags to protect them from dings and scrapes.

Frames really do need a home.

2) Rags and bags: I clean the press with rags, and no used rags are kept in the studio. I keep clean rags in a steel container that is kept in a cavity beneath the press feed board, and a bag of plastic bags used for disposal of rags hovers in the area, usually just crammed in with waste paper. (shown in image at top of blog)

3) Paper: there are three types of paper. The first, clean large sheets intended for printing or other art purposes has been solved when, almost a year ago, we acquired a couple of large, steel map drawers. I still keep extra paper stored under the work desk. The second type, and more problematic, is waste paper, or printer’s waste, which is the accumulation of proofs and tests made prior to running an edition. Like a farmer’s manure pile, printer’s waste is essential and requires management, and having a good pile (paper, not manure!) ensures less waste on all projects. Right now, the pile teeters precariously beneath the far end of the work bench. The third type: paper work. Mail. Shipping. Notes. Files. Books.

So, in surveying the problems, they don’t seem overly insurmountable. For starters, I’m setting up an office space in the old house, which will hopefully remove business matters from the press area. However, I have to fight my own inclination to consider that space as my universal work space.

Over the next while, I’ll blog about how I intend to solve these three problems at least, and other organization solutions for the press room.


November 23, 2010

With Graven Images out, and possessing great expectations for the coming year, now just a few weeks away, Holly and I have been taking some time to review the way we live and spend out time. Over the past several months, in the face of rising costs and stagnant revenues, we instituted an austere budget, have held to it with, in my humble opinion, admirable rigor, and with a substantial net benefit to our bottom line. Like money, time is a commodity, and how we spend it or waste it can be budgeted with a good schedule. When work from our Big Client is thick in the studio, everything is very straightforward; otherwise, a daily regiment is a good idea.

Some may think it a tad strange: artists subjecting themselves to all this discipline. In fact, artists need it more than most workers, who have schedules and work hours thrust upon them in office, store or factory, for good or ill.

I began this year with a schedule very similar to this new one before me, and did not much hold to it. In a life full of false starts, I have learned not to let this discourage me. Try again.

I guess some schedules, like in academia, education, factories etc are fixed, while management or sales schedules must be flexible and contently reworked, even daily, as new challenges and upheavals of fortune present themselves for remedy. A working artist is both manager and labourer, so the schedule has to serve both realms. It must be rigid enough to provide structure, and flexible enough to bend without breaking.

My schedule begins at 6:30 in the morning and ends at 10:00 in the evening. Don’t think for a second that all the vast hours between are scheduled for work. Indeed, only 5 hours of the day are earmarked for artistic production, whatever that may entail. There are generous slots given over to meals: half hour for breakfast, an hour for lunch and 1.5 hours for dinner. My schedule is tailor-made and reflects my personal goals: printing, exercise, writing time, social media, marketing and promotion, blogging, reading and drawing.

So, it includes a half hour after breakfast for doing the dishes from the previous day, a half hour after lunch spent drawing, followed by another half hour spent “Filling the Well” — interpret that as you may: meditation, reading, a nap — whatever inspires. After the afternoon’s labour, yoga and light weight work on alternating days, and after dinner an hour’s walk, outside or on the treadmill. I prefer to exercise in the evening; unlike all these those hyper tuned athletes out there who bounce into work like balls of energy after their morning workouts, contrary as ever, I find it drains me of energy, and my workouts seem to be best a half hour or more after eating a decent meal, i.e. more than an energy bar. Evenings are for TV or reading, but always reading prior to bed.

As for the actual work, more creative endeavors take pride of place in the morning, while more commercial or production work is done in the afternoon. I think most working people can relate to this phenomenon.

Along with the schedule, I’m looking at my studio with a mind to reorganizing (no, I won’t be moving the press!). The furniture is staying where it is, but I may reorganize the way drawers and cupboards are used, and add some more storage in the studio, and purge stuff I haven’t touched for years. On the whole, the wee space I have works pretty well, but it could be better.

And why all of this discipline and rigor, when the very notion of an artist’s life is supposedly founded on artistic freedom (clearly an assumption created by someone who never worked as an artist). Part of being an artist is about control — of one’s self, of one’s work and of one’s environment. Over the years, I have found greater peace of mind creating inside some kind of framework; it almost seems to be an antidote to lethargy and depression, in my experience. It is manage with a notion of control, and getting important things done, even if they are not the “money” work. That work always takes priority, and will always get done, often at the expense of exercise and daily creative development. That’s life. But seeing all the other stuff there in black and white, saying “Here, between this time and this time, you sit down and write something, or draw something, or stretch seized-up hamstrings” gives it a little more clarity.

This morning I’ve already overrun my time semi-weekly blog time, so I’d better get into the studio and get to work.

Pre-New Year Reorganization

December 24, 2009

For years now we have stored much of our paper under the studio stairwell, trapped behind a loaded type cabinet and two reassigned doors fastened to the stairwell, serving as wall display space. So it’s a chore to go in and find the paper, stored upright in cardboard folders or film boxes. Needless to say it’s almost easier to drive into the city to the art store than attempt to crack open the stairwell.

Fortune landed us with two map drawer cases, one large and one small, so the time came to pull all the stuff out from under the stairwell and give it a good cleaning. Our dog Sneak was delighted — perhaps he thought we were preparing a lair for him….

And here’s a taste of what the studio looked like:

And after:

Sorry Sneak.

We’re still thinking about what to do with the area above. Eventually, there will be a trap door on the landing to utilize the space under there.

Wednesday was a big recycle day.

What I’ve Been Doing With My Summer

August 21, 2008

Working mostly. The summer orders shipped last week, and that’s all we have on the books for now, although we have been told to expect more orders soon. Good news!

While I’ve been working hard making money these past four months, I have been thinking about the press, something I have in common with so many other letterpress printers who must also work for a living. I’m still no confident enough yet to begin a major book project without devoting every hour of the day to it. Instead, I’ve taken the odd day off to deal with organization.

In an earlier blog I talked about paper storage beneath the long oak desk opposite the press. It was a change in direction to store more type rather than store paper. There are still about four bankers boxes full of paper that hasn’t been used in years, and may not be for years yet. I bought new, rather pricey paper for the Vampire project, and I think that more or less demonstrated to me the futility of trying to store large supplies of paper. So henceforth, get paper when I need it, in the quantity that I require for the job, and sell off or give away the off-cuts.

Here it is in the midst of being cleared out:

I got rid of the white shelves, took some measurements, bought some rough pine siding (still relatively cheap at $1 per linear foot) and built two cabinets like this:

Those slats inside are held on with just three 1″ finishing nails. It remains to be seen how long they will last with type trays resting on them. Ah well, repairs will be made on the fly, as always. The cabinets just fit under the desk, and fit in a lot of this stuff:

Now, most of these trays of type went off to other worthy homes, but the few I kept reside beneath the desk now. As well, a kept a couple trays that had the ribbing knocked out of them, creating a more multi-purpose space for storing the stuff that always seems to float up after print jobs: unmounted lino cuts, magnesium or copper plates, sundry tools, compositing sticks, other sundry tools and important little pieces of paper with numbers or dates written on them.

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