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.

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.