Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The final image and the first copies of "Some Problems with Red"

For the fifth illustration in Some Problems with Red, I wanted to create an image that approximated the experience of red in real time; red as a phenomenon rather than red as an inert classification. I also wanted to experiment with my belief that "primary" colors are obtained through a process of extrusion and interference, rather than being foundational building blocks from which other colors are made. So the first step was to print three forms of an orangey-yellow, a green, and a purple before getting to the red.

 The first form is a random pattern of the orangey-yellow.

  The type form on the bed of my FAG Control 405 press.

On top of which is printed a slightly different random pattern of the green.

  Which produced this.

  Then another slightly different random pattern of purple.

  Which produced this.

As I printed the first three colors, I freely moved the registration micrometers throughout the press runs so that, by the end of the third run, each print was noticeably different than the others. For a printing surface, I chose a linear ornament that was cast for me by Nick Gill at Hand & Eye Press in London. The text that accompanies the illustration talks about color as an aggregate experience and I wanted to print from an image that would allow the other colors to be present while still giving the overall impression of redness.

 The ornament.

Once the three ground colors were laid down, I made a solid pattern of the type ornament and printed three press runs in warm red. I printed the first of these dead on (hitting all three registration points) and the following two at contrary angles. I then printed two more runs in a slightly darker red, each run also at different angles. This created final prints in which the red seems to be sprayed across the page, each of which is appreciably different from all the others.

 The overall linear pattern used for the red press runs.

 And three of the resulting prints.



Last week I received the first copies of the finished book back from the bindery, Book Lab II. Here are some of Annie Schlechter's photos of the finished work.

  The book is housed in a green plexiglass slipcase.

   The first illustration is printed from linoleum blocks. 

   The second from end-grain maple woodtype blanks.

   The third is drawn in ink with a compass.

   The fourth from linoleum.

  And the fifth from type ornaments.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Some Problems with Red


A couple of weeks ago I began printing a new book called Some Problems with Red encountered by Russell Maret while daydreaming in his studio and here explored with the aid of multichromatic letterpress. The book consists of five short texts dealing with the difficulties of describing and reproducing color, each of which is paired with an illustration. As suggested by the title, the book is a whimsical project that grew out of my "General Color Theory" from Æthelwold Etc., and continues my recent exploration of alternatives to the photo-polymer image making techniques that I have been using for the last eight years. Four of the five illustrations are printed from linoleum, end-grain maple, or metal type ornaments, while the fifth is drawn in ink with a compass. I should be done with the printing by the end of February, with the book debuting at the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair on April 9.

Like many of my texts, the core of Some Problems with Red was written on envelopes and napkins after waking up in the middle of the night. Below is the initial draft of the first text in the book, dearly in need of editing.


The text is hand set in Stymie Medium, a typeface that in the best circumstances is difficult to use. Its letterforms are wonderfully open and diverse—with a sizable compliment of alternate characters—but the typeface requires a considerable amount of massaging to bring out its letters' best qualities. The eccentric frankness that attracted me to Stymie easily transforms into a kind of dullard's scribbling if handled indelicately, so, despite the brevity of the text, I spent a couple of months proofing, editing, shifting, mitering, and mortising before going to press.

Below is a close up showing characters to be replaced with mortised pairs (circled) and word spacing to be adjusted. (The text correction was thrown out in place of a different solution.)

Each new section begins with a pilcrow, each of which is elevated one point for better alignment with the Stymie.


The text and images are printed on Zerkall Litho 270gm, a paper whose surface undergoes a remarkable transformation after it is dampened and dried, becoming much less smooth and more accepting of ink. Below left is a stack drying between blotters, while on right a stack is being dampened.


Once ready to print I assemble an imposition dummy of the book containing all pertinent information for printing. Each sheet is marked with the signature in which it appears (A=Signature 1; B=Signature 2, etc), its placement within that signature (A1, A2, etc), its page number (the circled numbers), whether it is printed on the felt or screen side of the sheet (F or S), what text or image gets printed on which page ("Websters", "Red", "Two Source Text", etc), which press it will be printed on (the Vandercook Universal III or the FAG Control 405), and then slashed through and dated when it is printed.


Both the FAG Control 405 and Vandercook Universal III are hand operated flatbed cylinder presses. I print metal type on my FAG.


And I print blocks and plates on my Vandercook.


Once the imposition dummy is made, the paper dampened and dried, the text re-read and proofed one last time, I begin printing. The first task of the first press run is to establish the "black master," the ideal example of what I want every page of type to look like. Throughout the printing of a book this master is often fiercely interrogated and questioned—one day it looks perfect, the next it looks terrible—, but despite the daily vagaries of vision, the master stays out on the table until the book is done.


A similar process of color control is undertaken with color prints, but there is a little more latitude because there is no instance in which a color is repeated in the book. I still work very hard to keep color consistency throughout a press run—I want all of my orange pages to look like the same orange, for instance—but with large areas of color I usually choose a selection of slightly varying prints as my "acceptable range" rather than having one single master. This is particularly important with large solid areas because the color of the ink changes dramatically as it dries. If a press run lasts four hours, your initial master will have changed color simply because the ink has dried during the process of the run, and freshly printed sheets that might be the same color as your master will look different until a similar amount of time has elapsed. Which brings me to why I wrote the book in the first place.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

Details from Linear A to Linear Z

Here is a selection of photos of details from Linear A to Linear Z.

 Title page set in Pilot Black Italic and Gill Sans.

 The letter F.

 The letter G.


 The letter J.

 The letter M.

The letter O.

 The letter P.

The letter S.

 The letter U.

 The block and print of the letter X..

 The prospectus on press.

 The binding in process.

 Spine detail of the first six copies.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Announcing a new book: Linear A to Linear Z

Last autumn I found myself daydreaming about lines. This was not terribly surprising—I had spent the previous few years concentrating on color to the near exclusion of line—but it felt unusual in that it was such a sharp break in my thinking. There was no color involved in my fantasies, all of my dreamed lines were black and white. Specifically I was thinking about letterforms composed of intersecting horizontal and vertical lines, and in my off hours I made some digitally drawn experiments: a bifolium for the Codex Foundation's publication, Alchimie du Verbe, and my MMXV new year's card. The results were satisfying, particularly the Alchimie du Verbe print, but they did not quite capture what I had in mind. The lines that I wanted were neither digital nor were they black. Instead, I kept imagining white lines hand cut from a black surface, and a printed book of the blocks titled Linear A to Z. I chose 4 x 6 inch linoleum blocks as the ideal proportion and medium, and I began making thumbnail sketches, always stalling at certain key letters that seemed to resist the linearity, or the proportion, or both.

Detail of Alchimie du Verbe print.

Quick thumbnail sketches of linear letterforms.

Full scale sketch of linear Q from Linear A to Linear Z.

 The Q block in process.

A few months later I began sketching the letterforms at actual size, working through the alphabet fairly quickly with the exception of those same obstinate letters. During the process I found myself wanting to use an awl to make circular dot marks in a block. My mind revolted against the thought. No, no, you can't do that! This is an alphabet of lines! This resistance to intuition after a system has been developed is the most challenging hurdle in designing an alphabet, particularly when the alphabet is based so clearly on geometric forms. In every geometric alphabet I have drawn there has been a similar moment of reckoning, a crescendo of head-banging-against-wall until the wall finally breaks, and the rigid geometric system is either loosened or abandoned all together. Despite their gathering into a seemingly homogeneous alphabetical group, letterforms are diverse. They have individual histories, potentials, and, on a basic level, they have different parts: horizontals/verticals, diagonals, and curves. Different letters need to be approached differently.

As if to prove the point, the first block I cut of my linear alphabet was an O composed of hundreds of tiny round dots, with nary a line in sight. Eventually I settled on three kinds of marks that gave me enough flexibility to produce the twenty-six letterforms: the line; the dot; and the wedge (a cuneiform-like mark made by driving a V-shaped cutting tool deeper into the block). For some letters these marks are used in ways that might be expected—the dot for the O, the line for the L, etc. For others they are not. In any case, the use of these different marks required a re-visiting of the title. Linear A to Z implied that all of the letters were composed of lines, which was no longer true. Linear A to Linear Z, on the other hand, described the marks used to make the A and Z while leaving room for the intermediary letters to be constructed by other means.

Detail of lines used on the A block.

Detail of dot marks used on the F block.

Detail of wedge marks used on the X block.

Linear A is the earliest known Aegean script, discovered by Sir Arthur Evans while excavating in Crete in 1900. Used by the Minoans in the early second millenium BCE, Linear A shares many characters in common with the later Linear B script of the Mycenaeans but, unlike Linear B, Linear A remains undeciphered. As the Mycenaeans succeeded the Minoans as the region's dominant culture, it is not too great a stretch to search for a link between the two scripts, but attempts to apply character values from Linear B to the same characters in Linear A results in gibberish. That a familiar form can have multiple meanings, or be legible in one instance and inaccessible in another, strikes me as an illuminating insight into the struggle of mark making in general, and letter design in particular. It is also a model for the letterforms I designed for the book, which are not intended to be immediately recognizable as the A, B, Cs we commonly use, but as forms and shapes that evoke the twenty-six Roman capitals. They are meant to be A, B, Cs that can also be something else entirely.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

First participant photos from Hungry Bibliophiles

The Hungry Bibliophiles participants have received their books (for the most part) and are ready to begin cooking. Here's a selection of early photos.

 Tim Barrett's celebratory selfie.

 Liv Rockefeller & Ken Shure ready to grill.

 Annie & my annotations of Tim Barrett and Jodie Plumert's Dinner for Tofu Haters recipe.

 Carolee Campbell with her doll and Grandma Tygeson. Grandma Tygeson's Lamb Shank Stew is one of Carolee's recipes.

Richard Seibert received an appropriately Berkeley-esque copy, with a double print of Jane Seigel's recipe for Aunt Gert's Lemon Tarts.

 Paul Gehl & Rob Carlson have their priorities straight.