Posted tagged ‘Fine Press Printing’

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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Measure twice, print once

December 13, 2013

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There is always the temptation to just throw the type down and print. But for the last few days, I’ve been setting and dissing type on the zombie book, working out the letter and word length for the fully justified columns of text. No ink involved at all. It’s important because there is no way this time that I will be able to set the entire text with the limited type that I have; page one on the press may face page four, so working out all problems in advance is the way to go. Also, setting and dissing the odd paragraph in different sizes helps me get reacquainted with the medium — it has been awhile since I did much creative work on the press (year round-up report coming later in the month). The good news is that I seem to have worked out most of the typographic spacing issues, and that’s thanks in part to using Adobe software (Indesign) to create my page layout and dummy. It allows me to parse the type to match very closely the metal type and thus, if the moon and stars align, it becomes a simple way to impose and paginate the text. It should work; I’ll keep you posted!

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.

Small & Private Presses at the Fisher Library, U of Toronto

September 22, 2013
Five flights of WOW at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Five flights of WOW at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto. Taken at the exhibition level, and imagine turning another 45 degrees in each direction and seeing more of the same.

This past summer the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library ran an exhibition titled “A Death Greatly Exaggerated,” referencing the famous quote by Mark Twain who, one day, was amused to read his own obituary. For the exhibit, it refers to the printed book about which we have all heard dire pronouncements and grim prognostications. It featured examples from private presses and small presses from the past half century or so, culled from the Fisher’s own collections.

On the day that the exhibition was set to wrap, Saturday September 7th, the librarians decided to hold a show of private presses and small presses in the spacious room that literally lies at the bottom of a tower of books rising up five flights on almost all sides, these books being the Thomas Fisher Library collection — a collection that includes a First Folio of Shakespeare’s works, and a world-class collection of Alice books and ephemera. Yup, that’s Alice of Wonderland fame.

Greyweathers Press was very pleased and honoured to have been included in this fine show. My small table was nestled between Alan Stein on one side and Hugh Barclay (Thee Hellbox Press) on the other. Other notables from the fine press community included George Walker (who some years back illustrated a limited edition run of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass), Will Reuter of Aliquando Press, and Shanty Bay Press, amongst others. One thing I liked about this show was the presence of writers and publishers from the small press community. It made for a good mix, but reminded me how woefully ignorant I am of some of these presses, and of the important work they do to carry on a cultural and literary duty. Visitors to book arts show will know of Porcupine’s Quill, but also in attendance were poet-publishers such as Ottawa poet rob mclennan with poet-book conservator wife, Christine McNair.

In spite of inclement weather, a steady crowd streamed through all day, and everyone seemed to have a good time. But the real star of the day was the venue – the rare book collection all ’round us while we talked about and sold our books.

View from the show floor of the stacks, with Tintern Abbey on the left and Tenebrismo on the right, in the foreground.

View from the show floor of the stacks, with Tintern Abbey on the left and Tenebrismo on the right, in the foreground.

One visitor wondered if we (the exhibitors) had access to the books. I laughed, imagining the pandemonium that would ensue with two dozen crazed book fiends on the loose, were that ever to be permitted! No, the stacks are, very correctly, secured from public access. Requests are directed through staff who then retrieve the books to be – depending on the book – examined in a supervised reading room.

 

Exhibition opens at the General in Almonte

September 3, 2013

If it’s autumn, then it’s the season for shows and exhibits. Holly and I have our work at The General in Almonte, Ontario for the duration of an exhibition called “Text Me!” The theme is right up our alley. It is a beautiful shop/gallery. The opening is this coming Friday, September 6th.

For more information on the General, click HERE.

The General Storefront in Almonte, Ontario

The General storefront in Almonte, Ontario. How a village in rural 19th century Ontario came to be named for General Juan Almonte is a bit of a story, but the store in named in honour of him as well. There is a extraordinary glass etching of Almonte over the door.

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Grimsby Wayzgoose 2013!

April 24, 2013

“Wayzgoose” is one of those old words of mysterious origin, but what is certain is that it was a time of celebration for printers, and printers are people who particularly enjoy celebrating! Today, the term is applied to  book artists to exhibit and sell their beautiful hand crafted work. And yes,  to celebrate as well.

The Wayzgoose in Grimsby, Ontario is a venerable book arts show, founded by the renown Bill Poole, and one we’ve exhibited at for the past five or six years. Once again, we’ll have a table there offering books and prints. Hope to see you!

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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.

Binding Tintern Abbey

June 3, 2012

Part One: Folding, Piercing, Sewing

When printing is finished, the press room converts into a bindery. A custom made table top is fit over the press bed providing more table space. It is difficult to make the conversion smoothly, since a press room and a bindery are very different environments, but one adapts.

The above photo show the aftermath of the first phase of binding. I have used the piercing cradle to stab holes in the signatures, then sewed up the signatures on tapes into book blocks. After this, I’ll glue on the endsheets which pretty much hold the book to the covers. Once that is done, they go under weight for a few hours, as below:

Signatures weighted between boards.

I use almost nothing that would be considered professional bookbinding equipment. Even the needles I use for sewing aren’t “official” bookbinding needles. I do use a bone folder which is a traditional bookbinder’s tool, and I own a nipping press… very handy for nipping the cases after cloth and/or paper has been glued down on them. But most everything else is purloined or conscripted from other purposes. The boards I’m using to press the glued endpages are thin plywood, leftover from a rough shelving unit; they are a far cry from the lovely hardwood boards that professional binderies stock. The weight I’m using is a container of lead spacing material for type.

I suppose my point is that everything in the studio must be prepared to serve in two (or more!) capacities, and this works pretty well for the most part. Sometimes I find it a problem when, after many months or even years between a certain conversion, I forget exactly what esoteric object I used to achieve a certain goal or effect. One begins to feel like McGyver.

What I miss most from a professional bindery are high tables that bring the work to just about chest height. In production binding, after many hours stooped over a regular height table, you begin to feel it. Sometimes I’ll drop a computer chair down to it’s lowest, but usually I set an old wooden tool chest up on the workspace, and set the work I’m doing on that, which helps my back and neck immensely!

The work show above is another ten copies of Tintern Abbey under way. the next step will be to glue up the spines, attach end bands and line the spines with mull (a kind of thin mesh) and paper.

 

Type on Tintern Abbey

May 26, 2012

I print my books using hand set lead type in much the same manner that Gutenberg used over 500 years ago. I would say the similarities end there: he not only had to found his own type, but invent a way to do it to make composing his bible a viable exercise. All I had to do was email Ed at Swamp Press, as I have done every year or so over the past seven years, and order lead type.

My order is always the same: Italian Oldstyle in roman and italic. It arrives carefully packed in a crate, and the process could be likened to unpacking an Egyptian mummy. Here’s an order that came shortly after work on Tintern Abbey finished. There’s an outer shipping box, then packing material in and around the inner sarcophagus…. er, I mean type packets:

Italian Oldstyle type, 10 pt roman and italic in four packages. (Note rule and Olfa knive to the right for scale)

Excitement builds as the outer layer comes away to reveal:

Kind of like Carter opening up Tut’s tomb. Then, the moment of truth:

A body of type.

There’s a reason for all this extraordinary packing. Ed and I have found, over the years, that lead type packets crossing the great divide between the USA and Canada tend to be violated… er, examined by curious border authorities of both nationalities, I presume. After fatally disrupting the packaging, the authorities send my type back out into the postal stream unsealed! This has happened on two previous orders. This time I asked Ed to send it via UPS; it costs more, but my type arrived in perfect order.

Swamp Press sells monotype which is somewhat softer than foundry type; the latter is an alloy, but there’s not much foundry type being made anymore. Monotype is really meant to be used for a while, then ultimately melted down and recast again, with some always kept on hand in the cabinets for small jobs and corrections. Monotype is fine for my purposes; I’m doing mostly book work, and very limited press runs. However, my 12 point roman takes the brunt of the press, and has been used repeatedly now over the last six or seven years. And it’s starting to show in certain of the most frequently used letters: e, l, r, g, h, i, s,  and t. Hairlines, breaks, wear-out, broken serifs, worn tails and balls etc. I’m spending a lot more time at the proofing stage stooped over the press, tweezering out offenders, tossing them in the hell box and replacing them. The problem is that after the book is finished, and I’m with a collector or at a show perusing the book, that’s when I see the broken piece of type that I missed during production! It’s frustrating, but it is a risk when working with even gently used type. The older and more worn the type, the more vigilant the printer must be.

Swamp Press has an amazing library of monotype faces available. Check out their site here.

Remembering Tintern Abbey

May 5, 2012

Tintern Abbey from inside the nave.

It all started with our trip to England, back in October 2008. Holly and I took a rambling jaunt around the English countryside that took us from Land’s End to Yorkshire. Along the way we dipped into Wales while following the Wye River, stayed in a village called Llandago and visited with Nicolas and Frances McDowall of Old Stile Press who live just up the road from the ruins of Tintern Abbey. About 10 years go they created a simply lovely book of the poem. All their books are stunning – hand printed sometimes on paper made on site. They have an image rich website worth exploring!

The lane way to Old Stile Press, mer-person sculpture at the hairpin.

I liked Nicholas’ idea of being a ‘book builder’,  of using letterpress, fine papers and bindings as an elegantly designed platform for presenting art – both in the design of the book, and in the overt and integral use of art as illustration. I think it would be over-wrought to say that the visit changed my life, but it greatly influenced the direction I intended to take Greyweathers Press. The trip to England came at a time when I was doing some heavy thinking about printing, books, writing, art and, not to be ignored, making a living! Not that I was planning to pack it in, but there are many applications for letterpress and I believe it helps to focus. The visit to Old Stile, and three or four other likewise inspirational destinations including Eagle Press, Strawberry Press and St. Bride Library in London, provided the needed inspiration to carry on printing books.

Contemplating books, printing and art amongst the ruins. The scenic Wye River Valley that inspired Wordsworth can be seen beyond the windows.

Unlike Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy, Holly and I didn’t walk “the sportive wood run wild.” Rather we stuck mostly to A466, and wandered leisurely through the roofless splendor of Tintern Abbey. The ruins of the Abbey served only to act as part of the title of Wordsworth’s poem, simply to locate him in context for his reader. However, for me they connected influential literary aspects of my distant past with present passions, forming a sort of conduit resulting ultimately in our take on Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey, making it, I suppose, the press’ legacy of our England tour.

The smallest room in Tintern Abbey was the library, about the size of a walk-in closet.


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