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.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hungry Bibliophiles Complete!

A few weeks ago I hit the road for Iowa City to help Tim Barrett finish the gelatin sizing on the Hungry Bibliophiles paper, and to cart the sized sheets back to New York City for binding. Gaylord Schanilec and David Esslemont (both participants in the project) happened to be in New York for the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair, so we packed our gear in the car and headed for the prairie together. After seeing our many Facebook posts along the way, Peter Koch (another hungry bibliophile) hopped on a plane for Cedar Rapids and met up with us for a couple of days of work, student meetings, and socializing.

Gaylord Schanilec, Russell, Peter Koch, and David Esslemont enjoying refreshments at Emily Martin's house after a busy day at the UICB paper facility. Photo: Sara Sauers.

The paper that we used for the book is the University of Iowa Center for the Book's BHC 20-80 Chancery paper, which is made from 20 percent textile quality hemp and 80 percent textile quality cotton. The unbleached fibers are cooked in lime and washed during beating. Once the fibers are prepared, the complex process of sheet forming and sizing are as follows: 

1) The paper is usually made in batches of 300 sheets.
2) The sheets are parted from the felts and pack-pressed (damp sheets only with no felts) in a screw press until they weep.
3) The paper is separated sheet by sheet.
4) And the sheets are hung to dry in groups of 4 loose sheets.
5) If printing prior to sizing, the sheets are now printed. (If printing after sizing, this step is removed from the papermaking schedule.)
6) The sheets are dredged 10 at a time through a liquid solution of photo-grade gelatin. (In our case between 3-3.5% gelatin. [This step is done in batches of roughly 150 sheets.])

Tim Barrett submerging 10 sheets of paper in the gelatin bath. Photo: John Deason.

7) The gelatin-soaked sheets are stacked and kept under a warm-gelatin-infused felt to keep the gelatin from drying.

Tim and I stacking the gelatin-soaked sheets.

8) The sheets are pressed in a screw press to remove excess liquid.

 Tim and I placing the sized sheets into the screw press.

9) While the gelatin is still wet, the sheets are individually separated and gently fluttered in the air to set the gelatin. This prevents the sheets from sticking together.

 David, Tim, Gaylord, and I separating the sized sheets one at a time. Photo: John Deason.

10) The sheets are hung to dry.

Gaylord hanging the sized sheets.

 When dry, the sized sheets are rigid like potato chips.

11) The dry sheets are humidified in an enclosed area to soften the paper.

 Tim humidifying the sized sheets.

12) The softened sheets are then smoothed by hand and stacked inside a plastic bag.

 David and Tim placing the sheets in the plastic bag.

13) After which they are squeezed in a screw press for 30-60 minutes.

 Tim pressing the humidified sheets.

14) The sheets are then removed from the bag, jogged, and returned to the bag.
15) And pressed in the screw press overnight.
16) The sheets are removed from the press the next day and hung to dry.
17) After which they are taken down, jogged, and dry pressed.

Once these steps were complete, Tim put the sized and unsized sheets through a fold endurance test and found that the sized sheets endured an average of 1,528 folds before breaking, as opposed to the unsized which averaged only 351 folds.

The fold endurance tester.

With the paper sizing complete, I packed the sheets into the car and headed back east to fold and collate the books in anticipation of the whirlwind bind-a-thon we had scheduled. With each aspect of this project, speed has been a crucial element. Tim and I each believe—he with paper, and I with type design—that the element of non-Industrialized speed added a great deal of the character to which we respond in pre-Industrial books. Inspired by Tim's attempts to produce 100-200 sheets of handmade paper per hour, I designed the roman and italic typeface for the book (a revival of Peter de Walpergen's Cannon type) in sixteen hours, with no further revisions. Continuing on this theme, Maria Fredericks designed a historically inspired long stitch binding for the book, with the hope of binding the entire edition in two days. For this task we assembled a team of eight binders: Maria Fredericks, Anne Hillam, Yukari Hayashida, Nancy Loeber, Vasaré Rastonis, Gaylord Schanilec, Annie Schlechter, and me. Under Maria's careful direction, and fueled by Annie's sandwiches, the eight of us completed the seventy-nine books in sixteen hours of work.

The binding in process.

This week the books will ship out to the participants and we will all begin cooking. The goal is for each of us to cook all (or nearly all) of the recipes in the book in the space of one year, to do so with the books open on our countertops, and to annotate the recipes in the margins. At the end of the year, Annie will photograph the most interesting example of each spread and we will compile a print-on-demand facsimile.
*Tim Barrett contributed greatly to the content of this post.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Broadside for Parenthesis 29

I spent part of this week printing a broadside for the deluxe copies of Parenthesis 29, the Fine Press Book Association's semi-annual journal. The print gave me the opportunity to finally work with the fonts of Aleksandra Samulenkova's Pilot typeface that I have been hoarding for the last couple of years. Pilot won the titling face category in the FPBA's 2013 Student Type Design Competition and, as part of the prize, the face was engraved and cast as a new metal typeface by Ed Rayher at Swamp Press & Typefoundry.

In addition to its dynamic letterforms, the typeface is distinguished by an extremely tight fit; qualities that together result in an unusual urgency for such a bold face. The letters practically stumble over each other trying to get to the next word.

To maintain this tight fit, Ed had to cast the type so that nearly every character kerns off the side of it's body. This makes the casting and the setting of the type a little more challenging than usual, but the results are well worth the effort. 

If you would like a copy of the broadside, join the FPBA at the deluxe level. To order fonts of the type, contact Ed Rayher at Swamp Press.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A New Type for Hungry Bibliophiles

Pre-Industrial text pages are often described as being alive, full of movement and sparkle that is rarely seen in pages set in post-Industrial typefaces. The most obvious source of this liveliness is technological: every letter was hand engraved, hand cast, hand inked, and hand printed, resulting in unavoidable imperfections and variations. In addition to these technological determinants, most printers had typefaces that contained alternate or out of place letters in their character sets. Rather than a single Q or g, a printer would have two or three or more designs of certain letters and, as they set their pages, would pick and choose among these variant forms, either by preference, accident, or necessity. Any given letter, in other words, was understood to have many potential permutations, and their intermingling on the page added a further element of typographic surprise.

Various uses of the two "g" forms in De le Lettere Nuovamente Aggiunte Libro di Adriano Franci da Siena, printed by Lodovico Vicentino & Lautizio Perugino, Roma, 1525.

Beyond these sources of typographic variability lies another factor, one that would best fit under the rubric of commerce. Historically, most printers have purchased, rather than designed, the typefaces they used. In the pre-digital world, this meant that printers would acquire matrices or punches from a designer or agent, and use these tools to cast type in their own shop. When, as invariably happened, one or more of these tools broke, pre-Industrial printers would rely on local craftspeople to cut replacement letters. As these re-cut letters filtered into a printer's typecases, the formal qualities of the typeface changed in subtle but sudden ways, often occurring in the middle of a book or even a single page. Replacement punches, after all, were not typically commissioned in idle moments, but in a state of urgent necessity; they were cut when a printer ran out of, say, the letter "f" half way through the printing of a book, found that his matrix was worn out, and, when attempting to strike a new one, broke the punch. In a panic, a local punchcutter would be called, shown a model from which to cut a new punch, and the book could be finished and shipped off to market.* Speed, more than aesthetics, is the engine of such moments, and a workable letter quickly engraved trumped any aspirations to strict formal fidelity. I believe this element of speed, whether in the initial cutting or the recutting of letters, was critical to the feel of pre-Industrial pages.

Since I began designing type I have tried to find ways to recapture some of this pre-Industrial liveliness in my typefaces. Short of cutting my own punches or creating large sets of extra characters, I have found that speed is one aspect of historical type design in which I can partake without risking the wonky anachronism that often results from strict historical mimesis. I have also spent a lot of time attempting to redraw historical letterforms in an effort to tap into the gestalt of pre-Industrial letterforms, a pursuit that is frustratingly and consistently futile. If I redraw the same letter five times, I end up with five distinctly different letters, none of which looks quite like the original I was trying to imitate. At best I create a passable likeness. So when considering how to approach the type for Hungry Bibliophiles, I decided that I would put aside any pretensions of genetic accuracy and begin from the presumption that I am acting as a replacement punchcutter. In the spirit of Tim Barrett's experiments with high speed papermaking, I set myself a daily goal of between ten to thirty letters (as if that many punches had broken since I was last at work) and a speed of ten letters per hour, allowing myself only one drawing and one revision per letter.

As my model typeface I chose the Canon Roman and Italic of Peter de Walpergen that was acquired by Oxford University Press in 1686. I consciously chose a typeface that was neither Italian nor Renaissance in origin, one whose workaday forms would have sent Nicolaus Jenson leaping from the Ponte Rialto as if he were a corporeal bit of Doves type. The Dutch typefaces that Bishop Fell acquired for Oxford are full of irregularities—in weight, slope, stress, alignment, and spacing—, and they delight in unexpected pairings and ambiguities. They can be disconcerting in their proportions but they sparkle with life, as if they were coursed through with a dappling light. From a practical standpoint, De Walpergen's types also have a proportionally large x-height, making them eminently readable at a small size. His are typefaces that are ready-made to slog through the various trenches of partisan pamphleteering, Calvinistic tracts, and Uncle Pieter's kugel recipe. Perfect, in other words, for a book like Hungry Bibliophiles.
*Printers who design and manufacture their own type, such as Vicentino and Perugino, would obviously have re-cut a broken punch themselves.

The first state of the type for Hungry Bibliophiles, based on the canon roman and italic of Peter de Walpergen. In the coming weeks the letter spacing will be adjusted but this gives a good sense of the letterforms and how they work together. The type will also look considerably different when printed letterpress, as it is designed to be.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Hungry Bibliophiles: An Experiment in Utilitarian Bookmaking

Over the last couple of years Tim Barrett and I have engaged in a conversation about the role of gelatin sizing in papermaking and printing. The central issue we have been discussing is this: sizing has a negative impact on print quality but a beneficial impact on the longevity and endurance of paper. Tim’s research into 15th and 16th century European papermaking processes has suggested that some, and perhaps many, post-15th century books were printed on waterleaf (unsized) paper to which the books’ printers, or someone else, added sizing prior to binding. For those of us who use very expensive handmade paper to make even more expensive books, the thought of dipping our printed sheets into a vat of liquid gelatin is a ripe topic for contemplation on a dark night of the soul. Despite this, after our initial conversation I sent Tim some printed sheets from which I had removed the sizing so that he could re-size them. The results were intriguing but not entirely persuasive. Although the increased durability that sizing can lend to paper is appealing—books are meant to last beyond a single user or century—the books that I make are used in ways that are not comparable with those that a 16th century book had to endure. A contemporary press book that is printed on soft, unsized cotton paper, housed in a box, and stored inside a temperature-controlled vault will bear its age well. If the same paper had been used to print pocket books for traveling Humanists, the books would not have withstood the demands of their owners.

The repeated physical use to which many early printed books were subjected lent them a patina similar to that of well-used tools, full of shine and scuff. In addition to the frequency of opening or the method of storing their books, early modern bibliophiles differentiated themselves in one important way from their 21st century avatars: they wrote in their books. They wrote in the margins, between the lines, in the voids of woodcuts, on fly leaves and paste downs. They parsed, debated, excised, and amended their texts in ways that are unthinkable to contemporary private press printers, but that were certainly expected by the printers of the day. If the paper in their books had not been sized, the ink of their pens would have bled into the paper fibers rather than holding a crisp line. The expectation of marginalia was another determining factor in the sizing of book paper after printing. Just as it is today, use was the arbiter of process.

An example of ink bleed on paper that had its sizing washed off in a flood.

With many of these issues in mind, Tim Barrett and his students at the University of Iowa Center for the Book have been trying to recreate the working conditions of a pre-Industrial papermill, employing a three person team to make 100-200 sheets of handmade paper per hour. (A video of this process may be viewed here.) The paper is not meant to be perfect or precious but well-made and serviceable, to invite contact and annotation. With this paper, Tim and his colleagues are attempting an intriguing sleight of hand, engaging an historical process in the hope that it will arbitrate contemporary use. The problem, of course, is that once a craftsperson puts something out into the world, he/she cannot control how that object is used. It's all well and good to want people to use paper in a certain way, it's another matter altogether to get them to actually do it. Handmade paper, however quickly made, instills a certain amount of fear in bibliophiles. The speed with which it is made does not alter its perceived preciousness. The missing element is content.

In thinking about how to get people to use Tim's paper more aggressively, it occurred to me that I would have to make a book whose content would tilt the scales; a book that would encourage people to take the book off the shelf and into the messy world of their daily lives. No book satisfied this requirement better than a cookbook. In the hope of finding people who would be willing to put a fine book through the paces, I have invited a group of bibliophiles to submit one or two recipes each for a small cookbook. In turn, each participant has agreed to cook as many of the recipes in the book as they can within the space of a year, to cook them with the book on their counter top, and to take notes in ink on the pages of the book. At the end of the year Annie will photograph the books for a comparative digital catalogue and I will coordinate an exhibit of the used books. To fund the project I will print an edition of fifty additional copies for sale at a reasonable price.

The text will be set in a new typeface of mine (to be discussed in a future blog post) and printed on unsized sheets of UICB paper. Once printed, I will ship the sheets back to Iowa for sizing. Maria Fredericks, the Drue Heinz Book Conservator at the Morgan Library & Museum, has designed a paper binding typical of inexpensive book production in the European handpress period. A team of binders, overseen by Maria, will attempt a high-speed production process for the binding similar to the one that Tim uses for the paper. The book should be completed by summer 2015.

The Particpants
Walter Bachinsky & Janis Butler
Bob Baris & Freddy Scott
Timothy Barrett & Jodie Plumert
Carolee Campbell
Dan DeSimone
David Esslemont
Susan Filter & Peter Koch
Maria Fredericks
Paul Gehl & Rob Carlson
Ian Kahn & Suzanne Hamlin
Nancy Loeber
Russell Maret & Annie Schlechter
Robert & Margaret McCamant, Jack Croucher
Sandra & Harry Reese
Liv Rockefeller & Kenneth Shure
Frank Rothkamm & Nina Schneider
Sara Sauers & Mike Lewis-Beck
Gaylord Schanilec
Richard Seibert
Jane & Cary Siegel
Mina Takahashi & Marco Breuer