Posted tagged ‘typesetting’

Zombies at Greyweathers Press

December 8, 2013

Laser printed layout dummy for the first page. The square beneath the drop cap shows spacing for a long, narrow illustration.

And so production begins on The Necromancer and the Seventh Daughter, the sequel to the popular Vampire & the Seventh Daughter that we printed a few years ago. I didn’t start the press for vanity purposes, but once in a while it is satisfying to watch one’s own words roll of the press. These “Gothick Trifles” as I call them harken back to my reading and viewing roots in sci fi, horror and fantasy literature so I consider these works more than most personal projects.


This was the title page for the first book. In it, we are introduced to Septima who, being a 7th daughter of a 7th daughter, has some extraordinary powers, and a particular brand of pugnacious courage that is a particular nuisance and foil to baddies. The baddy in that story was the vampire princess who was eating through her serving staff, and for some reason her father the king didn’t seem all that alarmed. Enter Septima and, well, it’s a fable so I’m hardly spoiling it to say that things go poorly for the vampire. This is often the case.

The second Gothick Trifle is longer, about 2,000 words and a bit more complex. I wanted to play with the story of the golem, but also work in some kind of environmental comment, and zombies, because, well, you know, zombies are hot.It may have been a bit too many devices for once very short fable, but there you go. The first draft was about 3,500 words. Even after crunching it down and taking out all the stuff I really liked, it still took about about 700 words of back story before Septima even got mentioned, so I rewrote the whole so that she came in at the beginning, and a little sooner in the story.

The first one had four pretty simple linocuts. This one will have perhaps eight wood engravings, or so that is my intention now.  I’ve doubled the paper (it will be sixteen pages as opposed to the previous eight) but I still thought I’d have to set in 10 point, but as it turns out, a little more judicious editing (the first draft was 3,500 words) and cutting a couple of illustrations means 12 point will work, which makes the setting job easier. Naturally, it will be hand set lead type, our house face, Italian Oldstyle. While I work on the type and engravings and printing, I’ll be pondering the binding, which I may do the same as the last one, or try something different entirely. I’m hoping for an edition of 75.



Printing the Creative Process

March 9, 2013

Every year, for the past six years I have printed a ‘signature’ (in this case two sides of an 8×11 sheet folded)  as my contribution to the Grimsby Wayzgoose anthology.

It was last year when I sat down with my notebook and pencil and began to brainstorm a sequel to 2010’s The Vampire & the Seventh Daughter fable, bringing back the feisty young herione, Septima, from the first fable. For this year’s anthology, I decided to interpret my notes with metal type, lined paper, scribbled notes and pencil sketches.

My notebooks are rather chaotic affairs at best, so a bizarre mix of type faces was called for. It took a few hours sort out the make-ready, all those different faces and different sizes.

A rabble of faces....

A rabble of faces….

We set enough type for two sheets, or eight pages, along with some rough cut linos or engravings, but time constraints meant pulling out a lot of type, reducing the project down to one sheet, both sides and no block prints. I wanted to emulate the notebook further with the paper I used, and found large pads of graph paper at the office supply store. When I opened the packages, I learned that commercial paper today isn’t what I remember from 30 years ago. The graph paper was extremely thin, and I wondered if the ink  might even leach through. It printed well, however, and I even managed something close to a KISS impression.

Printing on graph paper about the thickness of onion skin.

Printing on graph paper about the thickness of onion skin.

From the start, I had wanted the piece to mix the traditional (letterpress) along with pencil sketches and handwritten scribbles. My notes are filled with sketches done while I think out problems, so I extracted some of these to use in the piece. This would require the digital laser printer, and help from Holly with some of the more technical aspects of layering images in Adobe Illustrator. Holly came up with the idea to have my ubiquitous pencil lying on the page, and to mess things up a bit with a coffee stain. Most of the handwriting is hers – you can read it!

2 photo 4

Mechanical pencil shot, later cropped in Photoshop.

Septima, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter

Septima, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter

Inside spread, colour laser print on bond without the type.

Inside spread, colour laser print on bond without the type. Holly’s handwriting. (Mine’s illegible!)

Outside spread: colour laser printing on bond

Outside spread: colour laser printing on bond

The combined result: letterpress & digital.

The combined result: letterpress & digital.

I was very pleased with the combined effect of letterpress and laser printing to create what is meant to appear as pages torn from of my journal. I was bothered by one thing: one of the digital layers did not have a pure transparent background, so it left a very faint tint on the page except were the white border an 1/8th inch around the perimeter of the sheet. While very subtle, I decided this was visible enough to make the whole thing look like it was spat out of a digital printer, which it was most certainly not! So the sheets were trimmed, making them somewhat smaller than the required 8.5×11, but still acceptable, I hope.

One side note: at least a half dozen times during the later stages of this project (folding, numbering etc), I found myself reaching over to swipe the pencil off the pile of printed sheets. That’s too funny!

I hope to launch the sequel to 2010’s The Vampire & the Seventh Daughter at this year’s Wayzgoose (April 27). Like the last one, it will be finely printed but accessibly priced, in an edition of 60 on Arches Text paper. The last one had lino cuts, but this time I want the illustrations to be wood engravings. We shall see.

Next job is to write the fable, cut the illustrations, print and bind, all by the end of April. I’ll announce it formally as soon as I decide on a title!

The Third & Elm Press

November 4, 2012

Click to view larger

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 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.

Sight Lines – A Greyweathers Press sampler

August 28, 2012

I’ve been thinking about printing a comprehensive type sampler for a while. I’ve been  pulling out drawers untouched for years, squinting at the characters cast in reverse and searching through reference books for its identity. When I got my press (2004) I did not require corrective lenses to see, and then the notion of  arranging the type samples as Snellen eye examination charts came to me.

The problem with this is that most of my type, with the exception of Italian Oldstyle, is one size only, meaning that to create charts I’d have to mix up the fonts. I did indeed do this for one of the type ‘illustrations’ in the finished sampler.

I printed 100 copies, with 60 destined for the OPG collaboration (delivery tomorrow!) and final 40 to be offered for sale at the Merrickville Studio Tour, the last two weekends in September.


A Sampling of Type for the Ottawa Press Gang

August 17, 2012

From the poster sized type sampler printed earlier in the year.

I’m my own worst enemy. I have ages to work on the most recent Ottawa Press Gang project. In this, participating members of the Gang supply a comprehensive sampling of types from their cabinets. My original goal was to do have the work done on this sampler form the foundation of a stand-alone type specimen of all the types in the studio – a kind of record before I send some of the display types off to other homes. But time has had its way, and now I have to rush, the deadline being one week hence.

I love these Press Gang projects; they keep the lead flowing. But I don’t like rushing to a deadline, even though I am utterly hard-wired that way. Having run through all of the 35 trays of type in my possession, and having set in some manner or another the type therein, I know my OPG contribution will be a bit compromised.

I had done the poster-sized sampler last year and learned a few lessons about setting up type specimens, and a few incongruities in the composition of several of my trays of type. Somewhere I described the trays of type that I have acquired from other sources as “quixotic” and I have no intent of changing the description. Having delved more or less exhaustively into all the cabinets, I have found some very intriguing variations on the lay of the California case.

Page layout for my Ottawa Press Gang (OPG) contribution.

Lord Tennyson, the shop foreman, is not pleased with my work. Or my working when he wants his dinner.

For this new project, even after planning the layout, I realized that some of the larger faces (e.g. 60 pt Cloister Black) would have trouble fitting into the prescribed format: 4.25″ wide x 11″ tall, or an 8.5×11 sheet folder lengthwise. So when I say this is a sampler, I really mean a sample – several samples do not include the complete font. Many of the smaller faces will be presented in their full glory, but constraint was necessary. Even thus restrained, my dummy rang in at 16 pages.

Garamond, set and ready to print.

In ideal circumstances, with oodles of time, I’d like to do a specimen with a little more scope. A consistent order. Careful selection of characters, with all of them represented. Spread out, give the layout room to breath, upper case, lower case, figures and small caps on their own lines, and the caps letterspaced. Perhaps opposite, in lieu of illustrations, designs created with the appropriate type. Get some colour into the mix. Well, food for thought, and probably a project down the road. Another thing I like about OPG projects is that they stand as a kind of think-piece or dry run for more ambitious future projects.

(Almost) everything I’ve got.

This week, I’ve been churning through spacing material, leading and quads, filling up half a dozen galley trays with 60+ uppercase and lowercase type. And not done yet: title page, two pages using the type in a design, and a colophon (and my weekend is toast!). I own adequate spacing material for 10, 12, 14 and 24 pt, with barely enough to get by on in 18 pt. Sure enough, eight faces had to be set in that size, and the larger faces – 30, 36, 42, & 60 – require 18 pt spacers in combination with other sizes (e.g. 18 pt + 12 pt spacers works for 30 pt type etc.). And I burned through my supply of 20 pica leading – at least a couple hundred lines, then. I’ll have to cut some more.

Next week: morning, noon, and night on the press.

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….

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.

Setting Type Part One: The lay of the case

March 27, 2012

The type compositor is shown on the left side of the illustration.

Over 500 years ago, the first European printers set type from either a very large segmented tray or, later on, two trays: an “upper case” for the majuscule characters, and a “lower case” for the miniscule characters. Later, industrial efficiency demanded that these large or double trays merge. In North America, the tray is known as the “California Job Case,” and all my type is held in cases with this configurarion.

As you can see, what used to be the lower case fills the left and the middle of the case, and the upper case has been added onto the right side. Thin strips of wood form the divisions and segregates the various sorts (‘sort’ is the term for a single piece of lead type). One of these trays would be used for a single font size of a specific type face. Thus, to have one font in roman and italic, in seven sizes (10, 12, 14, 18, 24, 30, 36 point) you would need a cabinet with at least 14 drawers, but you would also need a drawer for special characters and figures, small caps and other obscurities.

Compositing station with 'Tintern Abbey' under way. (Click to enlarge)

It takes more than type to lay out a form. In most applications, but particularly book work, leading and spacing material is required. ‘Leading’ are strips of lead that lie between the rows of type to add white space between the printed lines. Spacing material (I call them “thicks” and “thins”) are just like pieces of type, but shorter and, of course, with no letter in reverse on its top. These are used to space words or letters, and to firm up the line of type in the compositing stick. The four drawers at the top hold my 12 point “thins”: the first two are copper and brass, very thin piece of metal to shim into the form to keep the lines from wobbling around when being printed.  I use a plastic fishing tackle case for my 12 point spacing material; I have similar containers for six other sizes of type. On the far right is a galley tray with forms of type (i.e. already set and ready to print, or, in this case, ready to dis), two pages from the introduction to the book.

In the type tray is a font of 12 point Italian Oldstyle type. Most of this type face that I own is new, but this lot I bought second hand and it has seen some use. I keep it separate and as I use it and proof the characters, I am able to weed out the worn, broken and hair-lined sorts. I could just assemble the entire font in a chase and print it at once, but that is a heck of a lot of work for someone with a lot of time on their hands. I prefer to do it gradually while working on projects.

Pondering the Type Sampler

December 10, 2011

Between the studio tour weekends in late September, I set type in a fairly random fashion on a large poster of types sampled from the drawers in the studio. I got this far with it [click to make larger]:

You may even be able to see red correction marks indicating just some of the many sins contained within. However, it is dramatic, measuring approx. 16 x 22 in. That, for a press that has absolutely no wood type and just marginal amounts of mid-range lead type in large sizes. It works on the premise that many small letters can conspire to make a larger statement. It also seems to embody my own rather scattered focus and schedule.

Now, with Christmas nearly upon us, and feeling an urgent need to produce some kind of seasonal greeting on the press,  so I have to decide: a) dis the type and keep the proof as a plan for a future effort; b) break up the type onto composing trays and reassemble it on the press later; or c) clean up the obvious errors, make some quick fixes and print off 50 or a 100, then get down to Christmas obligations. What to do, what to do….

The home stretch… finally.

August 13, 2010

This morning, I finished the last of typesetting on Graven Images. Fourteen captions for the wood engravings themselves. This is what the type looks like after setting but before assembling on the press (click on it for more detail):

I work with the composing stick (shown on the top left of the galley tray above) in my left hand, feed type into it from the type trays with my right hand. After completing three or four lines, I transfer the contents of the stick to the galley tray, and repeat.

These captions will be spread over several pages, but for efficiency, I set the type at once, or I should say in brief spurts over a period of a few days – headers in 14 pt italic, body in 12 point, all in our Italian Oldstyle house font. It looks simple enough, but the small amount of type set out and shown above will represent about 800 passes on the press in the end. I’ll be proofing the form tomorrow, then the rest of the weekend is pretty much clobbered. So next week will be very busy on the press as I try to push this project to its conclusion. Once printed, there is the challenge of binding, but first things first.

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