Last week I finally finished printing the twelve color design for proposition viii.15 from Interstices & Intersections. The print bleeds off three sides of the sheet and covers a total area of 11 x 13.5 inches. Ten of the plates register across the entire area, a fact that has been tormenting me since I first painted the design back in April. I have never tried to register two colors over so large an area, the thought of ten froze me in my tracks. I procrastinated for months before finally re-drawing the design in separation. Even then I tried to cut corners. In the lead up to printing I tried everything I could to find a more expedient approach to the printing, fooling myself for a couple of months that I would be able to get away with a mere six plates/colors. I would mix and remix colors but every proof looked flat and lifeless. When compared to the original painting the proofs were completely discouraging. My solution was to draw a series of pencil drawings that would be printed over the flat areas of color. I began by printing the outline in a purply black and the four principal flat colors in subtle tones of hand-ground inks: Venetian red, Bohemian green earth, yellow ochre, and burnt umber. I then printed the pencil drawings on top of these in darker inks of a slightly different hue. After these nine plates the white tops of the cubes took on an unsettling fluorescence which I toned down with a subtle cream, before filling in the center gray background with a warm putty overlaid with a bluish gray.
The original watercolor painting.
One of the six color proofs.
The final twelve color print.
A video of the state and progressive proofs leading to the final print.
In the run-up to the Oxford Fine Press Fair on November 2 and 3, I have been working flat out to have as much of Interstices & Intersections
printed (or proofed) for a new mock-up to show at the fair. The
schedule has made blogging nearly impossible. At the end of the day I'm
simply too tired to reflect and write about my process. With the dummy
sheets finally off to Daniel Kelm for binding the mock-up, Annie came by
the studio yesterday and photographed every state and progressive proof
to date, as well as the proofed images for the dummy. I'll write about a
few more of the images over the next few weeks but in the meantime I'll
just deal with the clover image from Proposition 6.30.
I begin by drawing an outline of my clover patch in pencil and then scanning and re-drawing it in outline in Illustrator.
I then divide the clover petals into four different densities
Creating four levels within the image
I then draw highlights for each level in separation
Re-combining and inverting them digitally
Producing a plate that prints as so
I then create a four-tiered shadow that I print in a gray made of equal parts orange and black
For the last two months I have been printing all out, cranking the Vandercook 5,000-7,000 times a week, trying to keep ahead of the curve on Interstices & Intersections. The first big deadline is approaching, The Oxford Fine Press Book Fair, and all of my energy has been geared toward preparing as complete a dummy of the book as possible to show at the fair. The schedule has been so tiring that it has been hard to take a moment and write clear-headed blog entries, a task I am still not up to. After I send the dummy sheets to the binder next week, though, I'll sift through all of the process photos and put together a more interesting post. In the meantime, here's a photo of the first text plates. I'll never tire of the seeing the transformation that text enacts on a page.
After a bit of a rocky start setting up, life in the studio is now moving at a steady pace. The day begins with a 7.5 mile bike ride downtown, over the Williamsburg Bridge, and on to the studio on Flushing Avenue, where I print for seven or eight hours, and then turn around and bike back home. As it stands now, my intention is to print for one month stretches, followed by a week of drawing and writing at home in preparation for the next month of printing. These breaks in the schedule are critical. By the end of the month, the print work begins to feel more like drudgery than creativity, and the prospect of being at my drawing table at home fills me with nostalgia. Once home, I throw myself into the chaos of tracing paper, tape, pencils, and pens that my table quickly becomes until, after a week or so, I get antsy to proof what I have done, to see if the colors of my separations work together on paper the way they do in mind (they rarely do). Even though I paint and draw more than I used to do, I still do not consider an image complete until it is printed. This casts my drawings in an interesting light—until they are printed my drawings are purely hypothetical, they are propositions for prints that often do not work in practice. When they do work, the process begins again and all I can do is print, print, print.
Unlike my drawing table, my print shop is kept in rigorous order for the duration of the project (though the order tends to slip noticeably in the final stretch). The book is composed of thirteen propositions, each of which carries over two spreads. Each spread is alotted one hundred sheets of Zerkall Litho 250gm paper for the standard edition; the requisite number of sheets for two complete sets of state and progressive proofs; and twenty to twenty-six sheets (depending on the spread's complexity) of Twinrocker Handmade Paper's cotton & abaca paper for the deluxe. Each proposition has a shelf, each spread a side of that shelf, and on and on it goes.
My approach to the book is to print the images first and the text last. I always prefer to print the most difficult thing first, in case of error there is less to reprint. I also want to give the text the most time to rest and germinate before committing it to paper. In the end, I am more confident in my ability to draw a triangle than I am in my ability to describe what that triangle means to me. All of the spreads pictured below are therefore lacking a critical element: the words. Without the words, many of the spreads can seem disjointed and out of place among one another. The images on them are just images and the key to their understanding is contained in the text. That text, in turn, is composed of thirteen shorter texts which are themselves each related to a book of Euclid's The Elements. So when looking at the photos below, try to imagine text where all of the large white spaces are. Some of it is shaped in unexpected ways, some in the way you might expect.
This is the opening spread of the book, for proposition i.19. Although it looks simple, the image required eighteen cranks of the press to achieve the thickly layered colors (the red is actually four coats of ink, two of solid red with two scumbles of yellow on top).
This comparatively pale image follows it, a five color rendition of a sheet of loose leaf paper showing the folding diagram for a paper football.
The opening spread for proposition iii.1 so far has six impressions (both the blue and yellow are double hit).
The second spread for iii.1 with six of the ten plates that will eventually be required. Many of the subtleties are lost in the digital reproduction but the blue ink on the basketweave is a particularly satisfying periwinkle color made from hand ground ultramarine deep and cobalt blue pigments.
The second spread for proposition iv.6 is printed with five plates using hand ground raw umber inks.
The second spread for proposition vi.30 with eight of the ten or eleven plates that will eventually be used.
The final spread of the book, two renderings of the dodecahedron for proposition xiii.17, comprising thirteen plates.
Editions Schlechter has just released a high resolution facsimile of my book Æthelwold Etc comprising the complete original standard edition as well as the diary of ink colors that accompanied the deluxe edition. It is available for purchase from my website. Get it while you can!
My last post that "over the next two weeks I'll be moving" has turned out to be overly optimistic. After five weeks my presses, cutters, and tables are only now able to be safely uncovered. The A/C and exhaust are connected, the electric wired and sub-meter installed, the cutter squared, the presses leveled. The final finish—the new espresso machine—was installed yesterday morning. But it has been a difficult process. My self-image erodes almost instantly during a move. Seeing my presses under drop cloths drives me a little nuts, and even with nothing to print I feel like I'm being locked out of something. Sitting at my table waiting for contractors to show up, driven to distraction by the heat, unable to work but unwilling to leave the workers alone with my equipment, it all combines to work me increasingly into a lather. Then the drop cloths come off and everything's fine, just like that.
A new wrinkle has come up, though. While Annie and I were on our vacation a couple of weeks ago I learned that my friends the Artale's, who have made my film for the last ten years, are moving studios next week and will no longer be making film. (Film is necessary for me to make the plates that I print from.) Luckily, the Artales are giving me all of the equipment required to make the film myself: two very old Mac computers, a laser printer the size of a Karmann ghia that exposes the film, and a large processor that requires a water hook-up for temperature control. The newly outfitted studio, of course, has no water but that can be fixed. The exciting part is that once all of this is figured out I will be completely in control of my work process for the first time, from design through printing everything will happen in one space.
All of these machinations have made working on Interstices & Intersections difficult but work progresses all the same. Most of the writing is now complete and nearly all the drawings are sketched and painted, if not yet drawn in separation. The first half of the custom Twinrocker paper for the deluxe edition will be shipped to me tomorrow so with any luck I'll be proofing next week and editioning by mid-August. Over the last couple of days I have been working on three of the more challenging prints for the book: a six color map of my childhood neighborhood, a four color drawing of three-leaf clover, and a floating chambered nautilus shell. The shell will require roughly ten colors but I will not be able to tell for certain until I get further into proofing. Attached are the original rough pencil sketch of the shell and a shot of my work table with actual shell, photographs, and a separation drawing. In the lower right corner you can see some of my color notations for one part of the shell print. The line that begins with "pppp pin" stands for pale pale pale pale pink, meaning a pink glaze composed of tint base with the smallest touch of pyrrol red. This glaze is meant to work together with one of yellow and one of gray to give warmth and depth to the darker sections of the shell.
Over the next two weeks I'll be moving shop for the tenth time since 1999. My new studio will be in the former Pfizer laboratory on Flushing Ave in Brooklyn, a hulking mass of a building peppered throughout with food prep kitchens, designers, and an NYPD training facility. The studio I am moving into is three times the size of my current studio and has an
enormous 16,000lb freight elevator directly in front of the door. Last year my landlord replaced the freight elevator in my current studio building with a small passenger car, forcing me to move my Vandercook Universal III into storage. Since then I have been printing on the FAG Control 405 press that I imported from Switzerland in 2011. The FAG is a good press but it's just not my Vandercook, it's unknowable somehow and I don't think we like each other all that much. After a year of printing with it, the FAG still feels like a stranger whereas my Vandercook is one of my oldest friends. I'm looking forward to our reunion.
Beyond the Vandercook, the move is necessary in order to print my forthcoming book, Interstices & Intersections. The book will require the storage and organization of 6,000 sheets of paper as they are printed, dried, curated, folded, and collated over the course of six months. So far I have received 5,000 sheets of the paper and it has rendered my current studio unusable, filling every shelf AND one of my two table top surfaces. There is no where to work and there would be no way to effectively edition a book in the space. The new studio will have two additional work tables and three times as many shelves. The shelves are critical because we will be printing two sets of state and progressive proofs for the entire book as well as printing the standard and deluxe editions on different papers. Organizing and keeping track of that many different sheets of paper, while keeping them off of table surfaces, is a huge task that does not usually figure into my plans for a new book. With Specimens of Diverse Characters this lack of consideration really tested the limits of the studio, as well as my and Nancy's ability to function in it. [See the last picture on this post] To give an idea of scale, Specimens required half as many sheets of paper as Interstices.