Small, Colorful Wunders

Having perfected and streamlined her technique with the big copies, Barbara Hodgson practically tore through coloring & embellishing the eight miniature copies of The WunderCabinet. (Ten actually, with the two printer's proof copies she kindly undertook as well.) She sent along these photos of completed miniatures, displayed with their full-size progenitors. Still no definitive plan on what to do with them, except that a copy will accompany each of the authors' deluxe boxes, and the publisher's as well. That leaves five in play; watch this blog for details of how and when they will become available.

We asked her for a few comments about the book (in its two forms). She replied with the following:

"Who knows what drove me to tackle the creation of this 33%-of-full-size book, when most of my resources (motor control, eyesight, patience) had already been expended. Ultimately, it must have been the challenge, combined with an enduring fascination for miniscule handmade objects.

"The eight copies took about five days to embellish. The small version is an almost exact replica of the larger one and includes a pressed Dicksonia antarctica fern, a working volvelle and a magic lantern slide of natural history images.

"Claudia Cohen will be joining the madness and binding these copies once she has finished binding the full-size edition."

HM checked in with Claudia this week. The black leather has arrived from Harmatan for the deluxe copies, and the those boxes are well underway. We had expected to be debuting one of the regular (1/20) copies at Codex next February, but now Claudia's thinking that we may have a deluxe one (1/10) ready for display. Either way, the book will be at Vamp & Tramp's table when Codex opens on February 6.


Pressure Printing

Purely by happy coincidence, last weekend we stumbled across a passing mention of Pressure Printing, Brad Keech's studio specializing in fine prints by contemporary artists. HM's interest was piqued because most of the artists he has worked with are recruited from the worlds of graphic arts and comix, i.e. Jim Woodring, Tony Millionaire, Gary Baseman and Kim Deitch.

A fellow handpress printer (he uses an Albion), Brad's Denver studio is also capable of intaglio printing. His background is in marketing and design (he currently handles most of the design work for artist Mark Ryden's Porterhouse imprint & online shop), and he brings these talents to Pressure Printing, working with the artists not just on the technical aspects of the print, but also designing and making custom frames or packaging (for lack of a tony-er word) for each project, such as Mark Mothersbaugh's "Grandma Cyclops" (above & below; "Grandpa Cyclops" shown at top, appeared a few years earlier).

Pressure Printing's site offers an excellent overview of the its publications since starting, in 2002. Brad averages a few prints per year, with editions ranging from a handful to 100. He seems to have attracted a loyal following, as most are O.P. No books per se, but several portfolio collections, at least one of which (the deluxe edition of Baseman's Unattainable Beauty) could be described as an artist's book.

The site also links to a blog that is full of additional details and asides about projects. It's worth poking around in: the June 2009 archive includes details of a project that seems characteristic of Brad's interest in the exactitudes of printmaking. The print, titled "Kindling," was created by artist James Jean for a fundraiser held at Pixar Studios,  with director Hayao Miyazaki, to save the Totoro Forest. It's a diptych intaglio print, overprinted in relief (polymer) with a second color, issued in an edition of just 10 copies.

It's always energizing to encounter someone like Brad who is so clearly dedicated to the demands of traditional printmaking techniques, but using them to create contemporary work that pushes at the edges of form and content.


Small Wunders

Printing The WunderCabinet took three months in the HM studio earlier this year; one day last week we printed off eight more complete copies. Chalk and cheese: these latest copies are shrunk down to what felt like 2-pt type, pages small enough we could print two entire signatures (8 up) on one sheet (vs the 2-up folios printed for the edition).

Why? is the obvious question. The answer has faded from recollection, but ties back to Barbara & Claudia's first collaborative book, The Temperamental Rose (2007). For that book, Barbara had made a miniature mock-up as a reference for the printer. When the project was wrapping up and we were collecting all the bits, we asked if HM could keep the little dummy. Surprised by our interest, Barbara instead proposed making three proper miniatures, one each for HM, Claudia and herself. Here's what she came back with:

The book, which measures 2 x 3 inches, is complete in every aspect, right down to the hand coloring, embellishments, pop-ups and even the glass vial of dry pigment. But all that work on pages that were, at the end of the day, just printed digitally. Thus, in the early days of The WunderCabinet, some wise-ass suggested doing this again, but this time with the text printed letterpress. Always being up for a challenge like this, Barbara had polymer plates of each page made, shrunk down to about 30% of the original size. When Reg Lissel completed the paper for the book, we culled some of the 100% linen sheets that were particularly thin. And there it all sat, as HM avoided the issue and did other things. But a promise is a promise, so last week we finally set things up in the press, damped the tissue-thin paper, and got down to the work.

The type on the plates was so small that positioning the eight pages to ensure correct margins & back-up was tedious and strained the eyes. We weren't sure just how the very small pages, with lines that were already very fine in the full-size version, would print; perhaps not at all, or perhaps as a muddy stain.

One of the advantages of printing on dampened paper is that significantly less ink is required to achieve crisp letterforms, and this is especially important when the letters are so small. To our pleasant surprise, the plates printed wonderfully. The biggest challenge was that the paper would begin to dry in the short time between pulling the first impression, re-inking the type, and turning the sheet to back it up, so careful haste was required.

Seven signatures of two sheets each took about eight hours to print off (five sheets printed for each signature). Most of that time was taken up with just getting the pages correctly positioned. Two days later the sheets were dry, pressed, and ready for trimming and collating. Barbara and Claudia have plans to bind up eight copies, the pages hand-colored and enhanced just as they are in the life-sized edition. We hope they do not lose their eyesight on such distractions.


Big Printing

Over two days this past week we printed the broadside Uncommon Deities, with a text by David Sylvian and illustrations by Astushi Fukui. In a previous post about this project, we stated it was just our second attempt at a broadside. That's incorrect; it's our third. We'd forgotten about this lovely Alice broadside printed for Mariko Ando.

Uncommon Deities was, however, certainly the largest piece we've ever printed on the Washington. The sheet measures 22 x 15 inches; the text area is 16 x 9 inches. The set-up of the press had to be completely changed to accommodate the piece. The platen bearers had to be relocated to fall outside the area of the sheet, and the points had to be positioned on the far side of the tympan, where the top of the sheet would be (the top inch of each sheet, where the pin holes lie, will be trimmed off). None of our roller bearers were long enough for the form, so we had to cobble a straight run of 20 inches on either side of the forme from shorter pieces of 12-pt rule.

The text lies in two columns, each with one or two lines that extend well beyond the rest. This always makes even inking and impression a challenge, but five hours of makeready and using layers of tape to build up the roller bearers at the extremities of the forme evened things out. So, having started at 9:30 a.m., we were able to begin pulling usable impressions by 3 p.m. The edition is 30 copies, but with three runs per sheet and our general ineptitude, we printed 50 to allow for spoilage. We finished printing the black shortly after 8 p.m. on the first day. Nothing happens quickly at HM.

The text was set in 14-pt Dante and Dante Titling. The 200-g Arches paper was printed damp. Using quite a dry ink slab, the roller was charged twice for each impression (we ascribe to Harold McGrath's strategy of using as little ink as possible on the roller, and building it up on the letterforms with successive passes). The photo above shows part of the ink slab, the roller, and the two piles of paper during the last run: the sheets to be printed (covered by damp towel), and the printed sheets (stacked between blotters, the first step in drying them down).

The second day went more quickly, with just two lines of red in the second run, and two lines of small type (the copyright & limitation statements) printed in blind at the bottom. The photos above & below show a sheet in the press after the last run.

The sheets must now circle the globe to be signed first by David, and then Fukui. Will spent the weekend building a big box strong enough to protect them during their travels.


Beeing with Joe Average

You know Xmas is coming when you receive Joe Average's e-mail announcing his annual sale. Visitors to Vancouver Intl. Airport may have seen some of Joe's prints, such as the bees (below), or be familiar with the postage stamp he created for the XI International Conference on AIDS 1996. Older hipsters might even have noted his large canvas that hung behind the coffee bar in the television show Friends for a while.

Joe's art is unique, vibrant and joyful. And these are proper prints, not reproductions: the stone lithographs were, we think, printed at the now defunct Prior Street Editions gallery in the 1990s, and they skillfully translate the colors and tones characteristic of his paintings to a new medium. HM has long wanted to recruit Joe for some kind of book-ish project that drew on his talent and facility for printmaking. Perhaps our new Artist Pamphlet series would be a suitable forum to start...

Joe doesn't seem to have been as active, at least in printmaking, in recent years as he was in the 1990s. One day these editions will run out, and everyone will talk about how they could have bought one of his prints - on sale! - but kept putting it off....


Two Cool

Two new books that caught our attention recently...

The first is from Jason Dewinetz's Greenboathouse Press, Alphabetum Romanum, an instructional treatise on the correct rendering of Roman capital letters, writtten by Felice Feliciano in c.1460. The press' site includes a summary of the project, and Jason's journey through redrawing the letters and printing each in multiple colors.

Jason was in town for the Vancouver book fair a few weeks ago, and very kindly dropped off a copy of AR. It is by far the most substantial publication to date from his press, sewn by Jason and put into a stiff case of Reg Lissel's handmade paper. While Jason developed a reputation for his typography and design skills with his Greenboathouse Books imprint over the past decade, those books were all produced digitally; it is only in the past year or so (with the imprint renamed to Greenboathouse Press) that he has been working with letterpress, and his printing is admirably good and consistent for someone who has not yet logged that many hours at his press (much better than most of the HM books produced in our first few years).

Issued at C$300, this edition of Alphabetum Romanum is more affordable (& available) than the Officina Bodoni's 1960 version, and, being the first in a series of Renaissance alphabet books to come from GP, will no doubt become increasingly sought after as people attempt to assemble complete sets in the future. Copies are available directly from the press, with a discount offered for subscribers to the series.

The second new item is the latest from David Esslemont's Solmentes Press: Florilegium Solmentes, "a portfolio of 24 unique ‘digital’ flowers created from ‘nature prints’ of leaves, from scanned petals and from other parts of plants."

HM was first introduced to David and his work in the mid-1990s, when he came to Vancouver to talk about his work at the storied Gregynog Press, and give a workshop on the basics of bookmaking. He's an engaging and entertaining speaker under whose direction the press issued some stellar books. For reasons unknown to us, he & the press parted ways shortly after, and he has gone on to start his own imprint, Solmentes (and in our opinion, Gregynog has not since done work nearly so interesting or exacting as when David was there).

David is a rare commodity in the fine press world, in that he essentially is an artist who has developed a master's skills in the crafts of printing and binding (if you wonder at this, visit the Bookbinding pages at his Web site, solmentes.com).

(if you wonder at this, seek out any of the bindings he designed for deluxe copies of Gregynog books). While some may lack enthusiasm for digital printing, in David's hands the potential of the technology, and the unique possibilities it can offer, are undoubtedly fully explored to create prints that could not be made any other way. Which is, after all, what printmaking should always be about.

Florilegium Solmentes is available as a suite of prints accompanied by the book The Making of Florilegium Solmentes, priced at $4,500 (edition of 10 suites). The book alone, issued in an edition of 30 copies (10 to accompany the suites), is available for $300.