Archive for the ‘Teachers’ category

Rabbits Unwrapped – Hugh Barclay

May 18, 2015

IMG_1118I’m going to guess that it was 1997 when I first met Hugh Barclay. I had helped Holly set up for her first big booth show, in Kingston, Ontario as it happened. Or it may have been the second year she did the show. I can’t remember. I do remember this gentleman with small stature and large personality coming into the booth, buying one of Holly’s charming little books of calligraphic Thoreau quotes in Saint Armand wraps but adding that it would be better printed on a letterpress rather than a photocopier. He invited us to come by his studio and see his press. It took me two years, but we did eventually get there. And from that point, Hugh has been something of an inspiration to me.

In the fall, Hugh mentioned to me that his latest book would be his last, and I suggested that a collaboration between our two presses would have to be now or never. We agreed that he would design the book, set and print the type, and that I would cut the illustrations from wood and print those at my press. I did not know at the time that the author, Winona Linn, was a talented artist herself; she could have and perhaps should have illustrated the book, but the deal was made.

I think the old fox hoodwinked me. Even before The Truth About Rabbits had been launched, Hugh had another book on the press. And he laughed at me when I pointed it out. I think it was his plan all along to force me to write a colophon in the first person, one of Hugh’s many quirks. And I’m not aware of many private press books that contain two colophons, as this one does.

Regardless, I have referred to this book as a joyful collaboration between Hugh, Winona, myself, and others. It has been a blast, and I definitely felt that electric charge while turning out the illustrated sheets from my press: The thrill of the print.

And that, my friends, is what it should be all about.

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The Third & Elm Press

November 4, 2012

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Business and good fortune had us visiting Newport, Rhode Island a couple of weeks prior to Hurricane Sandy. The weather was extraordinarily beautiful and temperate, literally a calm before a storm. When I travel with Holly, I try not to schedule too much press activity, which can easily usurp a timetable. But destiny took a hand. While visiting a photography gallery called Blink, we learned that the owner’s mother ran a letterpress in the heart of Newport. On our last day there, Holly and I made sure to visit The Third and Elm Press, named (as you probably surmised) for the corner on which Ilse Burchert Nesbitt’s shop is located.

The home of the Third and Elm Press, located at Third and Elm in Newport, Rhode Island.

Ilse came to America from Germany in 1960, and set up the press with her husband, a calligrapher and book designer, in 1965. There are details and sample of her work on her website at www.thirdandelm.com. She is now 80 years old and not showing much sign of slowing down.

Isle has a very nicely organized studio. It is not large, but it holds an early 19th century “acorn” iron press, a good sized floor standing platin press, a cutter and several banks of type. While she has printed several books over the years, her primary focus these days is in making wood cut prints. In the long-established German tradition, she cuts her blocks using knives, as opposed to gouges and gravers.

A relief wood cut carved with knives on the plank.

The style of knives that Ilse uses for cutting her blocks.

Close-up of the plaque on the ‘acorn’ iron press.

A close-up of Ilse’s work-horse platin press, with a rainbow hue of inks on the underside of the inking disk.

I admired Ilse’s cutting desk, which folds down elegantly when not in use. Most print studios need space-saving solutions like this. (Mine certainly does!)

All the type drawers have beautiful calligraphy labels. Since I live with a calligrapher of some note, I have put Holly on notice that I would like this treatment for my type cabinets as well.

I make a habit of carrying samples of my books and prints with me where ever I go, so I was able to show them to Ilse and recieve a critique. She was refreshingly frank, or perhaps I should say refreshingly Teutonic. She thought my lines might “open up” and become more naturalistic if I abandoned gouges and gravers and adopted the knife as my principal tool, something I will certainly try when I turn my hand to cutting on the plank. She felt that my lines were too clean, that they followed each other too closely, that I needed to “loosen up.” All good advise, and in a sense, that’s the direction my linos had been going prior to my jump into wood engraving.

We spent a very enjoyable afternoon visiting with Ilse, hearing her thoughts on the ‘business’ and dropped some money in her gallery upstairs on a book and two prints. Most of all, it was simply inspiring to meet a fellow printer and print-maker who is steadily pursuing her passion and not letting anything, least of all aging, get in the way.

Typesetting Begins on Tintern Abbey

January 29, 2012

I cleaned up the press room and then got out the lead to begin setting type on the next book, a fine press version of Tintern Abbey. In spite of having already played with some ideas on the computer, I still changed the size and style of the introduction title (10 pt italic caps from 14 pt roman small caps), and had already consulted the the bible (Robert Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style) for some guiding doctrine. And that’s just one line into it!

The letters ‘INTERN ABBEY’ are set in 12 pt small caps, and you guessed it, the missing “T” will show up curing another printing in red (or green) as a raised capital, probably 18 pt. The third word in (first) brought me quickly to another quandry: to use dipthongs, or not to use dipthongs, that is the question. And Hamlet thought he had it bad. The dipthongs in my font of Italian Oldstyle include fused versions of “st”, “ct” “oe” and “ae”. Ligatures (ffi, fi, ffl, fl, ff) are standard in the font and in common use, but dipthongs can be consider a bit twee, if not downright pretentious. Since the poem is getting on over two hundred years old, I think I can get away with dipthongs, so the word “first” is made up of just three pieces of lead, the “r” being the only single character.

My original plan was to fully justify the text, but when I examined my reasons for doing so it came pretty much down to “cuz I want to” which is not necessarily acceptable. I took some time earlier today and flipped though my own small collection of finely printed books, and noticed that in most of these (but not all) designers fully justified the text block when the block was quite large, perhaps as wide as 6″. Most of the smaller books had flush left, or jagged right if you will. It looks better in these books, so I’m fairly certain it will in Tintern Abbey. I’ll know when I proof the first spread of type. These other fine presses were using smaller type, which may be a factor. (Note to self: pick up a truck load of 10 pt type in next type order!)

The introduction is written by Queen’s University Professor Mark Jones, and I expect it may be the first time his words have ever been set in metal.

Letterpress Workshop in Kingston

December 4, 2011

Margaret Lock of Locks Press taught me how to set and print type, and she’s offering a workshop in her home studio in Kingston, Ontario on 10-11 March, 2012. All the details are in her flyer below. I can’t recommend enough this workshop; Margaret is a printer and artist of impeccable quality. I can’t stress the importance to start off on the road with the right and proper directions, particularly in an activity as esoteric as letterpress printing. The workshop is open to just three people; if you can’t get in to this one, get on a waiting list for the next!


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