Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hungry Bibliophiles Facsimile

Over the course of a 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 discussed was this: sizing has a negative impact on print quality but a beneficial impact on the endurance and aesthetics of handmade paper. Tim’s research into pre-Industrial 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 after printing. For those of us who use expensive handmade paper to make even more expensive books, the thought of dipping our printed sheets into a vat of liquid gelatin is fraught with morbid possibilities. Despite this, after our initial conversation I sent Tim some sheets printed on waterleaf paper 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, the books that I make are used in ways that are not comparable with those in which a 16th century book was used. A contemporary press book that is printed on soft, unsized cotton paper, housed in a box, and stored inside a temperature-controlled library will bear its age well. If the same paper had been used to print pocketbooks 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.

One might reasonably ask then: If my books do not require the durable benefits of gelatin sizing, why would I deal with sizing at all, particularly with the risky proposition of adding sizing to printed sheets? But ultimately my interests in paper sizing are not utilitarian, they are aesthetic. My favorite sheets of handmade paper are crisp, like freshly ironed linen, and turning them in a book is a complex sensory experience. The papers quiver with a gentle rattle as they are turned, making it hard to resist drumming one’s fingertips against them. When bent they make a snapping sound, when shuffled they whisper like rustling leaves. These qualities are the accidental aesthetic benefits of gelatin sizing, and they are the qualities that I most want to have in the papers that I use for my books.

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. The paper they are making 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, and the speed with which it is made does not alter a paper’s perceived preciousness.

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 whose text would encourage people to remove it from the shelf and bring it 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 invited a group of printers, binders, and librarians to submit one or two recipes each for a small cookbook called Hungry Bibliophiles. In turn, each participant agreed to cook as many of the recipes as they can within the space of a year, to cook them with the book open on their countertop, and to take notes in ink on the pages. The book would be printed on waterleaf paper that would be gelatin sized after printing, and bound in a historically inspired paper binding designed by Maria Fredericks.
Maria Fredericks' copy of Hungry Bibliophiles

Every aspect of Hungry Bibliophiles was conceived in the spirit of Tim’s work in the papermill, primarily his experiments with speed. Tim, Maria, and I each respond viscerally to the imperfections that are the byproducts of pre-Industrial speed—those of a practiced hand working quickly, as opposed to a machine working efficiently—and Hungry Bibliophiles gave us a chance to explore them in practice. Following Tim’s lead, I designed a revival of a seventeenth century Dutch typeface for the text in two days. I allowed myself one drawing and one revision per letterform, aligned the letters by eye, and set each on a fixed width, in the hope of tapping in to the spirited irregularity of my model typeface. I then printed the book in twelve days, shipped any finished sheets to Tim for sizing at the end of each week, and drove the final batch out to Iowa City so that I could participate in the sizing and transport the sized sheets back to New York for binding.

Sandra and Harry Reese's copy of Hungry Bibliophiles

In keeping with the speed experiment, Maria Fredericks set a goal of binding all seventy-five books in the edition in two days. To accomplish this we assembled a crew of eight variously experienced binders and set aside a weekend for our experiment. (The crew consisted of Maria Fredericks, Anne Hillam, Vasaré Rastonis, Yukari Hayashida, Annie Schlechter, Nancy Loeber, Gaylord Schanilec, and me.) Maria designed a long stitch paper binding structure made entirely from UICB papers, and lead the production; Annie made sandwiches to fuel the workers; and by Sunday afternoon the eight of us had bound seventy-nine copies of the book. The books were distributed to the participants for cooking and annotating, and now the used books have been photographed by 42-Line to make this facsimile.Copies are available for purchase at russellmaret.com.

 Russell Maret and Annie Schlechter's copy of Hungry Bibliophiles

Paul F Gehl and Rob Carlson's copy of Hungry Bibliophiles

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Character Traits: The Argument

Letterforms are contingent on the technology by which they are created. Lettering technologies sort themselves into four basic categories—calligraphic, epigraphic, typographic, and digigraphic—and can be simplified for our purposes thus: letterforms that are drawn directly onto a surface using a hand-held tool are calligraphic; those that are incised directly into a surface, epigraphic; those that are cast from a matrix, or mechanically engraved, onto a body of fixed height and depth but flexible width, typographic; and those that are digitally outlined around pixelated clusters, digigraphic. Identifying a letterform’s generative technology gives us insight into the fact that although one variety of letterform may be made to look like another variety, it cannot be made to act like another without, at best, suffering significant loss. For instance, the printed form of a typographic letter may look calligraphic, but typography itself cannot accurately replicate the action of calligraphy. In incunable periods of new technologies, these distinctions take on a deeper relevance as the nascent technology attempts to differentiate itself from other available technologies. This is the period we find ourselves in today with digital letter design.

Although it is generally assumed that contiguous technologies build upon one another, the relationship between them is often quite limited. Fifteenth century book hands provided the initial models for typographic lettering, for instance, but beyond outward appearance there is no meaningful technological connection between the models and their successors. Similarly, typographic lettering (ie. type) has provided the organizing principle for digigraphic lettering, but that is where the relationship ends. Typographic and digigraphic letterforms are subject to different technological limitations, and there is no reason for one to strictly imitate the other. Instead, the goal ought to be to identify and explore the specific technological limitations of digigraphic lettering. This will be achieved by pushing limits.

If we accept the division of letterforms into four general technological categories, then we must also acknowledge that typographic lettering is ontologically distinct from the other three. Every lettering technology has practical restraints, but typographic letterforms are the only ones that are restrained not only in the moment of their creation but in their succeeding existence. They remain subject to the demands of their physical quadratic bodies post partum, in eterno. By contrast, digigraphic lettering, like calligraphic and most epigraphic lettering, is unencumbered by the quadratic grid. (These letterforms may be willingly subjected to a quadratic system, but it is an aesthetic choice, not a technological necessity.) The ontological differences between typographic and other kinds of letterforms suggest that we might find more meaningful lessons for digigraphic lettering by looking to calligraphic and epigraphic models than we will by aping typographic ones.

Lettering technologies embody incumbent practical and aesthetic presumptions that appear universal when they are in fact technologically specific. The gravitational pull of these presumptions long outlasts the transition from one technology to another. An obvious example is the Industrial Age proposition that a single typeface, or a grouping of closely sympathetic designs, is sufficient for the conveyance of complex textual information. In the pre-typographic era it was taken for granted that different kinds of information would be presented in different lettering styles. Early typography imitated this variety in the convention of setting ecclesiastical texts in black letter and secular ones in roman types, in the use of structurally diverse typefaces (often determined by no other means than availability), and in the generational re-interpretation of historical styles. This variety quickly became impractical within the framework of Industrial typographic technology, giving rise to aesthetic presumptions that validated the technology. Such presumptions may have made sense within the framework of their native technologies, but the technological limitations from which they arose no longer exist.

These ideas will be explored in my forthcoming book,
Character Traits. Follow the book’s progress here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

'Ovid on Climate Change' by Eliza Griswold

I met the poet Eliza Griswold in 2009 while we were both fellows at the American Academy in Rome. Early on in our time there, we visited the tomb of the baker Eurysacis, a strikingly modern structure built in 30 BCE just outside the Porta Maggiore. It was a beautiful autumn morning—Annie was taking pictures of the tomb, the archaeologist Suzanna McFadden was reading about it from the Blue Guide. While I ogled the tomb's late Republican inscription, Eliza took out her notebook and wrote a poem about Eurysacis. Shortly afterward I designed a typeface based on the inscription.

 A detail of the tomb of Eurysacis and his wife.

The following year we all moved back to New York, and for years afterward Eliza and I had a semi-annual conversation about a book that we would someday make together. Her original poem was thrown out, we both pursued other books. Then a couple of years ago, Eliza completed a sizable poetry manuscript, Ovid on Climate Change. I had begun working with Ed Rayher at Swamp Press to make a metal version of my Baker typeface, and the time seemed right to actually make our book. Eliza wrote a new poem about Eurysacis, I found a large cache of Adrian Frutiger's Meridien typeface for the text, and we set to work choosing a selection of the poems for a small edition. (Read 'Poetry Magazine''s interview with Eliza about the poems.)

The Baker typeface.

In thinking of a visual component of the book, it was important to me that I not illustrate the poems. In general, I am timid about appending imagery to living people's words, but these poems in particular cover a diverse array of physical and emotional landscapes—one poem calls out for one kind of imagery, another wants something else entirely. Nevertheless, it was important for me to alter the page in some way, to visually link the poems without interfering with them. The solution I came up with was a modulating ground of sprayed acrylic paint running through the book, a kind of desert landscape from which the poems rise. Below are some process photos.

 The poems tied up on galleys.

Tearing down the Twinrocker Handmade Paper.

Mock-up of the title page.

Proof of the title page, set in Baker and Meridien.

Proof of the poem "Libyan Proverbs." Copyright 2017 Eliza Griswold.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Announcing a New Book: Ornamental Digressions

In 2011 Joe Whitlock-Blundell asked me to design the binding for The Folio Society’s edition of The Sound and the Fury. Joe had liked the patterned paper I designed for Specimens of Diverse Characters and he asked me to emulate it for the Faulkner. In response I designed nine ornamental variations on a basic theme: a central pinwheel form with nine different fillers among the pinwheel’s arms. Joe chose the busiest of the nine designs as appropriate to the content of his book, and I spent a couple of years thinking about what else to do with the remaining ornaments. Eventually I decided to make a book of patterned papers, and I sent one of the designs, now called Pinwheel Ornaments, to Ed Rayher to have it made into new metal type ornaments.
 While the type was being made I began the obsessive process of designing ornamental patterns. I do most of this kind of work while lying awake in bed, and this time was no different. For months I worked out meticulous variations in the wee hours, unsure as to whether I would model the book on a type specimen, printing the designs in black ink on white paper, or on a fabric swatch book, printing the patterns in colors on a variety of papers.
 The more I thought about these patterns the more I realized that my mind was wandering. I love making patterns, but a book that only explored the patterning potential of the ornaments was not holding my interest. Instead, I began envisioning elaborate arrangements that were not inspired by what the ornaments could do but by what they were not supposed to do. While reading or walking around the city, texts and images would spark ideas for designs that made no practical sense at all, and my thoughts would digress into designs of eight, or nine, or more colors.
 The book that has developed, Ornamental Digressions, draws on all of these various sources. It begins with four black and gray designs that display the basic functions of the ornaments. This is followed by fifteen ornamental digressions, each of which is paired with a text and printed in a wide array of colors. The book ends with notes on the sources of the fifteen digressions. Additionally, twenty copies are accompanied by a swatch book of twenty patterned papers that are printed on variously colored handmade paper.
 The first sample bindings have arrived from Craig Jensen at Book Lab II, and copies will begin shipping this week. Below are some photos of the book and the process of making it. 

 Spine of the deluxe (left) and standard boxes.
 Title page.
Title page of Pinwheel Papers, the companion volume of patterned papers.

 Some of the patterned papers accompanying the deluxe copies.
 Celine Lombardi and Nancy Loeber tipping-in the patterned papers.
  Color map and type formes for the Shakespeare page.

  Close up of the image for Shakespeare's passage "...ornament is but the guilèd shore to a most dangerous sea."

 Another close up of the same image.

 A type forme and partial print of the William Morris page.

 Close up of the William Morris page.

 A type forme from the Henry James page.

 A type forme from the D. R. Hay page.

 A type forme from the Caleb Stower page.

 Separating the colors for the Man'yoshu page.

 The disastrous pile of type awaiting distribution.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Hungry Dutch: A Typographic Adventure

Last summer I visited Phil Abel and Nick Gill at Hand & Eye Letterpress in London. After lunch, Nick and I got to talking about the feasibility of making a new typeface for Monotype composition casting. Nick had been studying the finer points of typefounding at the Type Archive in south London and he had been unable to locate one specific piece of information that would make a new composition face possible: he could not find detailed instructions for the creation of patterns for the pantographic punchcutting machine used by Monotype. Unlike direct matrix engraving processes in which a letter’s fit and alignment can be determined after the engraving, the Monotype process requires each letter’s fit and alignment to be figured out in advance. Those calculations are manifest in the pattern used to engrave punches, and they are followed through to the punch, the matrix, and the final piece of type. If the letterform is not in the right place on the pattern, in other words, it will never be in the right place on the piece of type. The trick is in figuring out the specific relationship between the pattern and the resulting piece of type, and the literature on this relationship is lacking. Intrigued, I lightheartedly suggested that we try to figure it out—Why not?—and Nick and I agreed that he would discuss it with Duncan Avery at the Type Archive and get back to me.

 A few months later I was back in London for a meeting at the Type Archive. In the time that had passed since our discussion at Hand & Eye, Nick had assembled an impressive, multi-generational group of collaborators to assess the feasibility of the project and, hopefully, to figure out the missing pattern information. The assembled group included Duncan Avery, who worked for Monotype from 1945 until 1992, at which point he initiated the Type Museum; Graham Sheppard, whose tenure at Monotype spanned 1952–1995 and included work in the Type Drawing and Type Development Groups; Parminder Kumar Rajput, who began at Monotype in 1965 and is now the only person qualified to operate every machine used in the production of matrices; Doug Ellis, who began as an apprentice at Monotype in 1955 before eventually becoming foreman of the Monotype Toolroom in 1991; Thomas Mayo, a printer who has been making a name for himself through his innovative use of laser cutting, the technology he will use to cut the patterns for our type; and finally Nick himself, a printer and typefounder who is the only person other than Kumar Rajput qualified to cut punches and make matrices for Monotype Composition Casters.

 After a brief tour of the Type Archive’s facility, we found ourselves in front of the punchcutting machine where Nick and I were hoping to begin the long, arduous process of discovering the missing pattern measurements. Kumar pointed out the various parts and functions of the punchcutter for my benefit and then Nick posed the thousand dollar question: How do we figure out the relationship between the pattern and the piece of type? It is difficult in retrospect to capture the comedy of the ensuing exchange, but imagine our surprise when, rather than getting a long bibliography of hints and sources, Graham Sheppard chimed in from behind us with a list of precise measurements from the top of his head.  Sometimes all you need to do is ask the right person the right question. In an instant the focal point of the day changed from figuring out how to make a single piece of type to endeavoring to make a complete typeface, Hungry Dutch.

The job ticket, pattern, punch, matrix, type, and print from the "proof of concept" Hungry Dutch "H"

Since that meeting in October there have been many fits and starts. Discussing the abstract idea of type manufacture over lunch is quite different from actually manufacturing type, and my learning curve has been long and steep. But nearly six months to the day after our meeting at the Type Archive, Duncan Avery sent me a packet containing newly made type, matrix, punch, and pattern, all derived from my drawing of a letter H. The thrill of opening that packet is one that has no equivalent in my experience—in my hand was evidence of something I had assumed was utterly impossible.

 The thought that we might be able to manufacture new composition typefaces is almost too exciting to bear but the excitement is tempered by the enormity of the undertaking. At the current working schedule of the Type Archive, it is estimated that making Hungry Dutch would require nearly two years. It is not, in all honesty, a project that is likely to be completed. But completion is not always the most rewarding outcome of creative work. Instead, the process of making the new type is the aspect of the project that promises to bear the most enduring fruit. We are at a jump or fall moment in the history of this technology. The four men involved in the manufacture of the Hungry Dutch matrices—Duncan, Graham, Kumar, and Doug—are the brain trust of the Monotype Corporation. The only way to fully access the knowledge that they have acquired is by going through the process of manufacture with them. The only way we can preserve that knowledge is by documenting everything we can along the way.

 I propose to make this a communal endeavor. I will work with the Type Archive to go as far as we can, and to collect as much information as we can. I will print fun ephemera as we progress and, eventually, a book about the process. The first step it to make the thirteen “medial trial letters”—a, C, e, f, g, H, h, i, n, O, o, p, t—and proceed from there. What I am looking for are supporters who are willing to sponsor the making of a letter or two (or more), at a cost of $600 each. In exchange for your support you will receive a pattern, matrix, and piece of type for each letter you sponsor*; copies of all ephemera printed from the type; and a discount on the resulting book that I publish, in which you will be listed as a patron. This project is conceived as a typographic adventure, and, in the spirit of all real adventures, it is undertaken without a clear idea of what will result. All that is required is people who are willing to come along for the ride. If you would like to sponsor a letter, please email, call, or visit the “Books in Print” section of my website and click on HungryDutch

*An important part of this project is that we follow Monotype's in-house procedures as closely as possible. Those procedures necessitate the manufacture of what are called the thirteen "medial trial letters" before moving on to the full face. From these letters—a, C, e, f, g, H, h, i, n, O, o, p, t—the head of drawings, Graham Sheppard, and the head of punch cutting, Kumar Rajput, are able to glean the necessary information for production of the remaining letters. In the spirit of this project, I am reticent to promise sponsors that they will receive letters other than the initial thirteen. However, due to the response thus far it does seem certain that we will be able to go beyond them. So this is what I propose: choose your letter or letters from the thirteen medial letters: a, C, e, f, g, H, h, i, n, O, o, p, t. If you would prefer different letters, let me know and, if we get as far as making them, they will happily be yours.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Effie Gray page from Ornamental Digressions

In August 1848 Effie Gray arrived in Abbeville, France with her husband of four months, John Ruskin. While there, John scurried about measuring and drawing from dawn to dusk while Effie often found herself alone to take in the sights. It is easy to imagine that Effie's days in Abbeville were colored, if not dominated, by the shock and humiliation of their wedding night, and all the nights since, as it became clearer and clearer that something was seriously wrong with John. But whatever Effie's mental state during her time in Abbevile, she was particularly struck by the facade of the "the magnificent Cathedral of St. Wilfran," about which she wrote, "I was very much confounded with the mixture of the grand and the ridiculous in the whole scene..." Whether or not she was making an allusion to her marriage in this observation, and it is doubtful that she was, it is hard not to see some connection in retrospect. Being married to John Ruskin was nothing if not publicly grand and privately ridiculous.

In thinking about a design for Ornamental Digressions inspired by Effie's description of St. Wilfran, I wanted to make a design that would be part rose window, part carnival ride, and be printed in day-glo colors to raise the alarm: Warning! Get out while you can, Effie! I opted for a sixteen arm design because Why not?, and it would let me play with my extra-fancy angular lock-up furniture. The text was too long for a single line of type, so my first thought was to break it in two and place the design between the text.

The result was disappointing for two reasons: 1) the design appeared to be squished in a vice of the text and 2) the central section of the design felt unresolved. Each of the sixteen arms is composed of three spurs, and in the first proof the central spur of each arm is too short and the exterior spur too long. The central spur feels too far away from the center; the exterior spur too close to its neighbor.

Although the Pinwheel Ornament set includes 14 pieces, it clearly wasn't enough. The lovely concentric wave that was created by the longest spur of each arm was interrupted by the central and outer spurs being the wrong length. There was no option but to mortise some of the ornaments in half to correct the problem.


Here's the mortised type locked up in the forme.

Once printed, the central section felt much more cohesive. I also moved the design up on the page and brought both lines of text together at the bottom, separated by a day-glo orange Warning! rule.

Below is a close up of the print in sunlight to give a better idea of the colors, and a shot of one of the lock ups in my extra-fancy lock-up furniture.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Announcing a new metal typeface: Baker

The first trial casting of my new metal typeface, Baker, has arrived from Swamp Press & Letterfoundry, where the matrices were engraved by Ed Rayher. After proofing the type, I am revising the short T, the S, and the Z, but we are nearly there. We now expect the type to be complete and ready to ship in July.

 A close-up of the first casting of Baker.

The type design is based on the late Republican inscription on the tomb of M. Vergilius Eurysaces, a contract baker in the first century BCE. The tomb is located just outside the Porta Maggiore in Rome. Its facade is notable as "a pure experiment in geometrical forms*," an experiment that is carried through to its letterforms. Few classical monuments are so modern in their design or so fully integrated in the design of their architecture and their lettering. The tomb appears to straddle millenia, or to exist outside of time altogether, a quality that is accentuated by its proximity to the comparatively fussy and rusticated Porta Maggiore.

A detail of the Baker's tomb, showing the geometrical facade and a section of the inscription.

Baker is a 24pt type. It consists of the twenty-six majuscules, a tall T and tall I (both cast on a  30pt body), the ten figures, period, comma, semi-colon, colon, exclamation, question, hyphen, en dash, single open quote, single closed quote/apostrophe, ampersand, dollar sign, and three center dots: a triangle-esque, a diamond, and a shadow circle (not pictured in the image below). The A, R, T, V, W, Y will all come in kerning and non-kerning characters. The fonts will be standard 16 A half-jobbing fonts, but the figures will be reduced by a quarter because no one really needs that many figures and it will allow for the alternate kerning characters. If you are interested in purchasing a font, email me at russellmaret (at) me.com.

A proof of the first casting of Baker. The short T, S, and Z will be revised.

*L. Richardson A New Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome (1992) 355.
Photo of Eurysaces' tomb by Annie Schlechter.