Posted tagged ‘hand printing’

A Joyful Collaboration: The Truth About Rabbits

May 2, 2015

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It is our great pleasure to announce the release of a book of poems by Winona Linn, The Truth About Rabbits. These edgy, intelligent and humorous poems have been set by hand in metal type by Thee Hellbox Press in Kingston, with wood engravings  cut and printed by Larry Thompson of Greyweathers Press — a joyous collaboration of word, type and image.

The Truth About Rabbits
Poems by Winona Linn
Wood engravings by Larry ThompsonJointly published by Thee Hellbox Press and Greyweathers Press
Hand set in type in the Garamond face printed by Hugh Barclay at Thee Hellbox Press
Wood engravings printed by Larry Thompson at Greyweathers Press
Dimensions: 10.5 x 10″ tall. 20 pages on St. Armand paper
142 copies


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Printing on Old Iron at Massey College

August 8, 2012

Finally, I’m getting around to putting up the following photos, taken during a letterpress & typography symposium at the University of Toronto’s Massey College held this spring. This relatively young college possesses a fine, small library which comes complete with a veritable museum of a press room. I counted half a dozen iron presses, all seeming to be in working order. The print room was open and an Albion was set up for demonstrations. (Click on the pictures for a larger view).

Visitors to the symposium taking proofs off this fine old iron press (an Albion, I believe).


A Columbian iron press

An Imperial iron press, with another table-top iron press in the background.

A Washington iron press (apologies, a little fuzzy) of the size that would have done broadside sheets.

The Robertson Davies Library also had some fine examples of pages under glass from the days prior to the printing press, which were a treat to see.

And it was wonderful to see this elegant alphabet carved from stone, marble most likely… the letters are truly beautiful.


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.

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.

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.

Canadian Notes & Queries Keepsake

November 28, 2010

The latest edition of Canadian Notes & Queries

I’ve heard word that the most recent issue of Canadian Notes & Queries has come out complete with the article I wrote on William Morris and (to subscribers) the letterpress keepsake. My friends from Weathervane Press brought a copy to show me, and as I always do, I draw a comparison between the original submission and the final printed version. This was a habit I learned from a client years ago, not intended to generate outrage at changes to one’s pristine and sacrosanct text (ha!) but rather to learn the M.O. of the editor, what they liked or disliked in usage and grammar, what they prefer to cut etc in order to improve the next product you pass by their desk. In the end, doing this in conjunction with reading the periodical, I could custom write for each editor for whom I submitted work. Since editors changed like the hours, it became quite the task, but an invaluable learning tool.

In comparing the two text, I found that two paragraphs have been cut due to length. The first dealt with the challenges of printing large magnesium plates:

While this may seem to be a labour saving move, short cuts can often become long cuts. There are serious printing production issues with large plates, particularly when mixing large dark graphics with fine type. I bet that the fineness of the decorative border surrounding the type would not starve the plate of ink on each pass. Beneath this lie the issues surrounding the use of digital type for letterpress purposes. Fonts designed to print on laser or ink jet printers rarely convert to relief process with quality. We sourced the fonts from the digital font house P22 (, which specializes in restoring historical faces to the digital world, including Morris Golden and our own house font, Italian Oldstyle, designed by the great typographer Frederick Goudy.

The second qualified the Morris-love that infuses the piece. Not everyone holds the old guy with the same doe-eyed admiration that I harbour:

The private press movement did not begin with the Kelmscott Press, but it did inspire numerous typographers and other presses to carry on Morris’ mission in their own manner, albeit with a more stream-lined, less archaic sensibility perhaps. Morris’ aesthetics were definitely not the taste of modernism. Later critics considered him reactionary, which is ironic, since he thought of himself as a revolutionary.

And here is the keepsake:

CNQ keepsake inspired by William Morris

You know, it is ironic that, years ago, I spent a lot of energy trying to get published in Canadian (and American) literary journals, and I finally manage it once I ply my hand to another occupation altogether. Call it destiny, call it chance, call it what you will: it has a sense of humour.

Graven Images Bound, and Unleashed (at last)

October 1, 2010

One-fifth of the editon, freshly labeled.

It has been a long road, and in many ways there are still problems to solve, but for now, Graven Images is finished at last. Well, twenty copies at least. I pasted the face labels on this morning and the spine labels this afternoon.

Labels ready to be pasted onto the front cover of the book. The spine got a label also.

Also this afternoon my copy of Parenthesis (the Journal of the Fine Press Book Association) arrived like a portent to remind me just how far I have yet to go in my journey. *Sigh*  Graven Images will be but one of many, and even now as I begin to flog this book, I am looking forward and further on to the next project.

Once again, Graven Images is printed by hand on Canson Mi-Teintes paper in an edition of 100 copies. Included are thirteen mounted wood engravings, hand printed on Fabriano Accademia paper. One block perished on the press, and has been reproduced digitally from an early proof, rendered as a magnesium plate and printed as the title to the portfolio. Likewise, magnesium plates were used for two halftone illustrations. The type is Italian Oldstyle, set by hand. There is a forward describing the recent discovery and nature of the collection. Dimension: 9.25 x 12 inches, 30 pages including 14 plates. Quarter bound in cloth and paper. Price $160.

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