Posted tagged ‘William Wordsworth’

The Book Beautiful

June 27, 2013

A few weeks ago, a very kind man, in the midst of down-sizing, came into the studio and gave me book titled Notes: Critical & Biographical by R.B. Gruelle. Collection of W.T. Walters“, published and edited by J.M. Bowles in 1895, Indianaoplis and printed by Carlon and Hollenbeck. More significantly for me, the book was designed by a young Bruce Rogers, pretty obviously in the thrall of the style of Morris’ Kelmscott Press. Rogers would go on to become a renown book designer typographer, designing the  Centaur typeface, based on type he saw in Nicholas Jenson’s 1470 printing of a work by Eusebius.

Notes: Critical and Biographical was published in a “limited” edition of 975 copies. Walters’ collection became the foundation to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore; both he and his son both had an insatiable desire for art and exuberant facial hair.

Title page of "Notes: Critical and Biographical," designed by Rogers

Title page of “Notes: Critical and Biographical,” designed by Rogers


Page spread of the same book. Rogers designed the decorated initials and headbands as well.

Page spread of the same book (slightly clipped by my scanner, so imagine marginally more generous margins). Rogers designed the decorated initials and headbands as well. The typeface is not his; it is either Antique Oldstyle or Stratford Oldstyle, both predecessors of Bookman, which can be found on most computers today.


A sampling of Rogers' beautiful Centaur type from "The Centaur"

A sampling of Rogers’ beautiful Centaur type from “The Centaur”


Centaur used again for the Oxford Lectern Bible.


This is what happens when you give blackletter type to Italians during the Renaissance: Clarity. Jenson’s new-fangled “Roman” typeface circa 1475. It inspired Rogers to create a widely respected modern equivalent with Centaur.

W. Walters & son H. Walters, distinguished collectors of art and well-groomed facial hair.

W. Walters & son H. Walters, distinguished collectors of art and get a load of those ‘staches!





Announcing Tintern Abbey

May 7, 2012

Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern
Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks
of the Wye during a
Tour, 13 July,


~ ~ ~

Five years have passed; five summers, with the length

Of five long winters! and again I hear

These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs

With a sweet inland murmur. —Once again

Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,

Which on a wild secluded scene impress

Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect

The landscape with the quiet of the sky.

~ ~ ~

A letterpress limited edition of 80 copies, 40 pages, hand set with cold type in Goudy’s Italian Oldstyle, with calligraphy rendered digitally to magnesium plates by designer Holly Dean. Illustrated with seven engravings by Larry Thompson. Printed on a Vandercook 219 onto St. Armand Canal paper. Dimensions: 9.5 inches tall x 5.5 inches wide.

REGULAR EDITION: Half bound in cloth with painted papers created by Holly Dean. $160.

DELUXE EDITION: Copies numbered one through fifteen quarter bound by Christine McNair in leather with painted papers created by Holly Dean, in slip cover. Complete with set of engravings printed on St. Armand Old Master paper. $260. SOLD OUT

Shipping and handling additional. Discounts to the trade.

Orders welcome at

~ ~ ~

More than five years have passed since Greyweathers Press published its first book, Coleridge’s popular poem Kubla Khan. Once again, we return to the Romantics to celebrate our first half decade and to commemorate a visit we made to the Wye Valley in the fall of 2008.

William Wordsworth wrote ‘Tintern Abbey’ to be the thoughtful and serious end-note for the poems assembled in Lyrical Ballads (1798), which included the work of his friend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. We are pleased to present ‘Tintern Abbey’ on its own, featuring an introduction by Professor Mark Jones of Queen’s University, Canada.


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.

Three Down, Five to Go

February 22, 2012

Finished the third block for the Tintern Abbey edition today, although I haven’t proofed it yet. This sequence should show the creative process. I liken it to sculpture, where the form seems to be freed from the stone or wood in stages. Likewise, as I cut, I push back the black (sometimes too far back). It’s no surprise the early wood engravers carved their names in the block, followed by “SC”, the abbreviation for “sculptor”.

As mentioned previously, with this series of blocks – the first that I have attempted – I am attempting to at least interpret the feeling of the work of the great late 18th century wood engraver, Thomas Bewick. Wordsworth was enough of a fan of Bewick’s work to mention him specifically in one of his poems. So here is the work of some one from the Bewick school of engraving (click on images for a closer look):

One can only admire the detail in the foreground figures, the graduations of tone in the hills and mountains, the fulsome texture of the trees, the clever use of “shades” of grey and the overall balance of dark and light, one defining the other. And this is by no means a masterpiece, but the “lofty cliffs” and gentle river reminded me of the Wye River valley.

So, I did my own rough, in pencils:

And began to cut, this time using endgrain maple block prepared for me by a friend. (I spend an entire day sanding a couple dozen of these blocks perfectly flat, and to a glass polish finish.) I washed the block with India ink, then used a white colour pencil to rough out the drawing. I had the finely worked period illustration before me as I worked.

I realize now I should have had my own sketch, then referred to Bewick’s for technique. As a result, I have lost some of the definition of the “hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows” or clumps of brush and foliage clinging to the hills. What Bewick makes look so simple is incredibly hard to emulate!

It’s coming along. I like the cliffs, and the plume of smoke coming up from the homestead. I decided to pursue the background, since I judged that to be the more challenging area. I used the lozenge graver to cut the horizontal lines in the sky. One of these days I’ll get a lining tool, which will help create those neat parallel lines scene in the Bewick print. But I like the cluttered messy look of the hand drawn lines; it’s less clinical, more natural, and after all, this is an interpretation of period work, not an exact copy.

Once again, on the right I’m struggling to understand the need for dark to define light. In my efforts to emulate Bewick I over lighted these stands of trees. There is something about the graver that pulls me into the mid-tones. It’s odd, because I have no problem with this concept in my lino work. However, the patterns create the suggestion of pastoral business at least. I think I’ll go back in and lighten or remove entirely some of the tone lines around these bushes and trees. It may help define them.The old rule of block cutting: you can always take more away, but it is very, very hard to put back again…. It involves cutting the entire block again.

Now, here again, like with the first one I did, I really like the deep black of the river just like it is, but it unbalances the design, so….

The finished block, keeping the middle dark in homage to the original period cut. The foreground was supposed to possess more floral elegance. But leafy will suffice. The end result does have a certain charm to it, I think. Of course, it will print in reverse.

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.

Wood Engraving Part 2 – A Subtle Knife

January 12, 2012

Continuing on with the wood engraving (not on actual wood, but rather Resingrave, a synthetic plastic that emulates the nature of English boxwood), I worked up the background and puttered about with the middle foreground, more or less composing on the block. Reminding myself that this was supposed to be “play,” and that it was a first effort, I kind of let loose.

Next I tackled the ruined arch on the right. Initially I intended to just cut masonry blocks, but oh no! had to go for a carved multiple column with a mid break leading into a carved riser, and I experimented with marks that would define these features. This is the finished block:

It looked OK on the block, but would it print? Here is a decent proof, done on the same paper (St. Armand’s Canal paper) that will be used for the Wordsworth book.

Still more work to be done, clearing some of the white areas and lightening up here and there. It ain’t Bewick, but I like it. And I am totally and completely hooked on wood engraving, and gearing up to try out some engrain maple.

Here are a few things I learned, in no particular order:

  1. While working on the block, the stress level increased the further I got into it. Wesley Bates once told me that he starts with the toughest parts of the block first, and finishes off with easy areas. Makes sense.
  2. Handling the tools is tricky. It takes a while to get in the zone: not holding the graver too high or too low.
  3. Sharpening is essential. I’d return to the sharpening stones after about 15 minutes of cutting. And there’s a knack to learn about that too. The angle of sharping has to be pretty much dab on, or the blade and cutting point can be damaged.
  4. White marks define dark areas. That’s it. Bend your brain around that and you’ve got it made. Do enough of this kind of work and suddenly your brain will go “Click!” and it all falls into place. I’ve been there. I’ve done a lot of this type of work on lino, but I’ve still got a lot to learn about defining light and dark with engraving tools.
  5. “This little cut makes a tree. This little cut makes a stone.” Hard metal tool, hard flat surface, but a master can make it seem as though a semi-substantial ghost is emerging from a design. The whole idea of different marks for soft things as opposed to hard things in the illustration introduces a sea of technique possibilities. Very exciting!
  6. As you may have deigned, I am in a little bit of awe of wood engraving. It is a very subtle art. In many respects, I was over-heavy with the graver, doubting that some marks would even show. But even the tiniest prick on the surface shows up in the printing. That is a lot of potential. And I only really used three tools: graver, spitsticker and a small chisel for clear the white areas.

The graver is indeed a subtle knife!


Note: I’ll print a limited edition hopefully in March, when the book is complete, and will offer it for sale at that time.

Wordsworth for Wayzgoose

March 20, 2011

This year, and as per tradition, at the last moment, I set about to design and print our modest submission to the annual Grimsby Wayzgoose Anthology.

I wanted to try a few ideas around the upcoming Wordsworth book, and a designer title page done in multiple passes using lead type, not magnesium plates.

So here’s the result of the first pass:

And lined up on the press for the second pass:

And after the second pass, including the back page colophon:

Then the third pass, in red:

And then the fourth pass in red to finish the cover:

A fifth and sixth pass for the inside spread, one for the illustration, the other for the text:

It gives Tintern Abbey a rather spooky feel, does it not! I like it. Holly’s design, my cutting work.

But not done yet! Holly insisted I print the Greyweathers Press logo on the back between the colophon and the copyright line. So a seventh pull, at 150 copies made for 1,050 impressions, not including proofs and test runs.

That’s just four pages. Just wait until I print the entire book!

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