Saturday, June 11, 2011

Specimens: Week One

This past week I began printing Specimens. I am printing on a custom making of Velke Losiny paper, a beautiful handmade sheet made in the Czech Republic. In my experiments with the paper I have found that the print quality differs greatly between solid areas of ink and fine-lined type: small sizes of type print much better when the paper has been dampened whereas large areas of ink print equally well whether the paper has been dampened or not. Dampening the paper dramatically alters its surface quality, though, so even if only some of the paper needs to be dampened for printing, all of it needs to be dampened so that there will be a consistent page texture throughout the book. In making the prototype of the binding, Craig Jensen had expressed serious concerns about the way the paper reacted to dampness and this week all of his concerns have been justified.

On Sunday afternoon, I went into the shop to dampen the first two posts of paper, fully believing that I would be printing on both sheets on Monday. Whenever I dampen paper I first try Lewis and Dorothy Allen's method of dampening every fifth sheet of paper in a stack and leaving them under weight in plastic over night. From the outset there were signs that this would not work with the Velke Losiny. The sheets that I pulled through the water bath began to stretch and contort in bizarre and unpredictable ways—ways that made me doubt that they would flatten out over night—but I proceeded despite my concerns. 

At five the next morning I sat bolt upright in bed with worry and by six-thirty I was on my bike riding to the shop. When I arrived, I opened the packs of paper and found something closer to corrugated tin than fine European handmade paper. Over the course of the night the sheets had gotten just damp enough to distort them with neither enough moisture nor enough weight to make them relax. We salvaged the paper by submerging the sheets in a water bath for 20 minutes and interleaving them with blotters under more weight. By the afternoon I had judged a stack of sheets dry enough to print my two first press runs of the book while my assistant Nancy Loeber re-soaked and blotted the remaining sheets. Although the two press runs came out beautifully, over the course of printing the sheets stretched and contracted over 1/2" widthwise and 3/16" lengthwise. The only way that the multi-chromatic pages of Specimens will be able to be printed is if the paper is dampened and then thoroughly dried before printing. 

On Tuesday our next step was to construct a wind tunnel similar to one I used at Dieu Donné Papermill in 1996 after I disastrously dampened some of their abaca paper. Each sheet is soaked in a water bath, toweled off, and interleaved with blotter. Each 15 sheets is further interleaved with a sheet of corrugated plastic to increase air flow, every 30 sheets is topped with a melamine board, and the whole post is wrapped in plastic that is taped around a box fan. The fan is left blowing over night and the post is topped with about 60 pounds of aluminum. When we opened the contraption up on Wednesday morning the paper was much more promising but it was still way too damp, and 1/2" wider than the dry dimension. After leaving the paper to air dry all day, I stacked the sheets before leaving and on Thursday morning they were beautiful, flat, and somehow still damp.

Realizing that we would need to dry the sheets further on a drying rack of some kind and that there is no room in my shop for a commercial drying rack of any kind, Nancy and I began further experiments on how to best hang the sheets for drying. After a few tests we set out to the lumber store and began work making some light weight drying racks that could be easily moved around the shop and hold enough paper for two press runs. After a further hour hanging on the drying racks the paper was dry enough for printing.

The Allen Method stacks

The sheets after the Allen Method dampening

Nancy Loeber soaking and blotting the sheets after the Allen incident

Nancy soaking the sheets for the wind tunnel

Toweling off the sheet for the wind tunnel

The wind tunnel

Building the drying racks

Nancy stringing twine on the drying rack

Hanging sheets on the rack

The racks in the shop