Love Felt at Shakespeare & Co

Shakespeare & Co. founder George Whitman died two weeks ago. In the L.A. Times' obituary, he's quoted saying "I never had any money, and never needed it. I've been a bum all my life," which sounds about right for anyone involved in selling books.

Related only by chance, this past fall Spike Jonze released a short stop-animation film that takes place in Whitman's shop (Mourir Auprès de Toi). The film is a collaboration with designer Olympia Le-Tan, whose cut-felt and embroidered book bags inspired the story. No better way to be immortalized than in film.


You Should Collect

The Globe & Mail recently ran an article about Michael Torosian and his Lumiere Press. Online commenters (photo above of one caught in action; source unknown) being one of the lowest forms of (arguably) sentient life, as a rule we ignore their existence, but in this case our eyes happened across their blather. It was no surprise that their theme was the predictable "how can us regular folks afford books like this?" Profiles of painters, weavers, sculptors etc. never seem to generate this immediate & singular focus on the price of their works, but books do. They're just commodities, one no different than the next. A price that reflects the materials, craft and labor involved is elitist.

The Globe & Mail commenters also perpetuate the fallacy that book collectors are necessarily rolling in extra cash. Most of the people we know of who collect books are just working stiffs who make choices and sacrifices to obtain the books they have. As Gertrude Stein told Hemingway in Paris, if you don't eat out too often, and buy second-hand clothes, you'll have money to buy art and books.

And so, in the hope of recruiting a few from the hordes who think book collecting is only for the likes of Nelson Rockefeller and Montgomery Burns, some suggestions on where to jump in. Really good and interesting book collections often are the result not of capital resources but time, effort and creativity. It's easy to buy modern firsts or signed copies (and in this day & age, anyone who "collects" contemporary books that aren't signed is wasting their money); what's more interesting is figuring out something that people don't value or care about, but which will be of interest in the future. Our suggestion for an inexpensive collection in a field full of cheap pickings: pop-up and activity books (also, apparently, known as "feelies"). Some of the most inventive design and packaging work is being done here, but the books' interactivity (and usual focus toward a younger audience) often results in comparatively short lives. Just like the volvelle in George Wither's book.

A few examples: The Murder at Wayne Mansion, a sort-of comic containing various clues and items to help the reader join Batman in sleuthing. This kind of crime dossier was popular in the '30s. Dennis Wheatley did a few, including Murder Off Miami. No surprise that we were introduced to them by Barbara Hodgson, who has a couple of cool ones.

The Lady Gaga paper doll book. Just don't punch out any of the designer outfits. Or buy two copies, one to play with & one to shelve.

Recent tours through the bargain & discount sections of several local bookstores turned up a number of candidates for this kind of collecting, all priced under $10. So, the next time you hear someone whine about the price of a book, ask them when they last actually bought a book.


Pixie Meat is Good

Not much to say lately, no new books to show off, just stuck in the studio working away at Occupied By Colour. Today it finishes, we run the last sheet, an odd-sized insert that requires we tear apart the frisket window & completely change the lock-up.

And so, while enjoying the morning coffee, we spent a few minutes poking around for information on a comic called Pixie Meat, and found this post about the book. (That blog, The Oxen of the Sun, looks to have a lot of interesting posts on books & design.) It was printed by our friend Robert R. Reid and his partner, Terry Berger, in 1990, and features the combined talents of Gary Panter, Charles Burns and Tom DeHaven. The pages were reproduced with metal relief blocks and printed on Bob's Vandercook. He struck upon the idea of livening up the spreads by interleaving sheets of clear, colored cellophane (some copies are red, some yellow). A few more images from the book can be found on Bob's micro-site, here.

Most people who bought copies were impressed simply by the creators' signatures; people who would recognize and appreciate how the book was designed and printed, i.e. the usual "fine press" crowd, were much too proper to be interested in the content ("A comic?"). All this reminded us of our own plans to one day do a fine press comic, the narrative taken from a track on MC 900 Ft Jesus' album Hell With the Lid Off (which, coincidentally, features art by Charles Burns on the cover). We'll get to it eventually; have to track down the MC first and get permission. He's been MIA for many years, last reported working in air traffic control in Texas...

This all came up because Terry recently sent a spare copy of Pixie Meat, and asked us to sell it to a good home. So if you know anyone...


Playing Games with Geo. Wither's Emblems

Next year HM will be publishing a book featuring leaves taken from a broken and incomplete copy of George Wither's A Collections of Emblemes (London, 1635). The book's full title is
A Collection of Emblemes, Ancient and Moderne Quickened With Metricall Illustrations, both Morall and Divine: And disposed into Lotteries, That Instruction, and Good Counsell, may bee furthered by an Honest and Pleasant Recreation
and those lotteries will be a featured part of our project. The book consists of four parts, each containing 50 "emblemes," which were exhortations in prose on various aspects of living a good and moral life. Each emblem (one per page) was printed beneath a detailed intaglio illustration. The page shown below is from Book 1.


At the publisher's (i.e. booksellers') request, Wither created a game ("recreation") that pointed readers first to one of the four books, and then to a specific emblem. This was done by using two volvelles with spinning pointers, printed on one page and bound into the back of each copy (sounds like something from a Hodgson/Cohen book...). Wither also provided instructions for how to play the lottery. Not surprisingly, most existing copies of the book lack the volvelle, which probably often was torn out for use.

The broken copy that will supply the leaves for HM's project came to us via Rare Books & Special Collections at the University of British Columbia, which received it as part of a donation. As the library already has a complete copy in a lovely early binding, with the volvelles, and has long been a supporter of HM's work, they suggested the broken copy might make an interesting leaf book.

We're still finalizing plans for the HM project, but it will definitely include a facsimile of the volvelle page, presented along with Wither's two introductory notes to the Reader (the first about the book in general, the second an apologetic explanation for how the lottery came to be included - to make the book more appealing to potential buyers!), and his instructions for playing the lottery.

The broken copy's leaves measure about 6 x 12 inches (they were brutally trimmed at some point in time, with loss to the head), so our page will be slightly larger than that. As per usual the edition will hover around 50 copies, with between two and four leaves included in each copy. Claudia Cohen has signed on to bind the edition. We hope to have copies issued before the end of 2012.


Colo[u]r Keeping Us Occupied

Spent the last bunch of weeks printing the third volume in Barbara Hodgson & Claudia Cohen's color series. (Apologies for the inconsistent use of the superfluous Oxford u in the title word on this blog and the HM site. We're Webster all the way, but Barbara is Canadian, & Canadians like to straddle Oxford and Webster. Claudia doesn't care either way.) Occupied By Colour is the first volume in the series to be printed at HM on the handpress; the first two were printed by David Clifford at Black Stone Press with a Heidelberg.

Like the previous two volumes in the series, the book is designed and set (in Fournier) by Barbara, and printed from polymer plates. Numerous illustrations are incorporated throughout, and once printed essentially serve as keylines for the subsequent coloring and embellishment Barbara does by hand for each page. The second volume in the series, After Image, required about three months of handwork after printing (and before binding; that was another few months of work); Occupied By Colour is expected to take at least the same amount of time to complete.

We're working off two sheets a week. Most are single black runs, but a few have illustrations with large black areas, so those are broken into two runs. Last weekend we printed a page that included a spectral representation of light. The text was printed first, then (same day) we lathered the ink onto the slab & printed the black bands.  Printing on dampened paper allows one to use much less ink than printing dry, and so when amping up for large black areas it can be alarming how much more ink than usual is required.

Semi-related, the CBC Radio show Ideas is currently running a three-part documentary on color. (Being the CBC, they'd probably want the u.) It's available by podcast from the show's site.


Oddball in Toronto

Oddball's author & artist Jim Westergard takes his show on the road this weekend, appearing at an event in Toronto tomorrow (Sunday 27 November). Jim will take part in panel discussions with author Jon Evans, whose book Beasts of New York Jim illustrated with original wood engravings; and with Toronto printmaker George Walker, about the art and craft of wood engraving. Details can be found here.

Beasts of New York was published by Porcupine's Quill, with the wood engravings reproduced offset. Fans of wood engraving, and Jim's wood engravings in particular, should note that copies of the original prints, pulled and signed by him (in editions of 25), are available. He also assembled ten complete sets of the prints, along with an original drawing, in a slipcase. A few of these are still available directly from Jim.


A Thoroughly Bad Decision at Oxford

Earlier this week book dealer Oliver Clark sent out an exhaustive report from the recent Oxford Fine Press Fair, highlighting the books that received recognition, and providing his own thoughts on what the judges got right and what they got wrong. "The Parrot prize for the best illustration in any medium is worth a real and sweaty £500 and this year was awarded by Leo de Freitas and John “Fawkes” Vernon Lord in what was a thoroughly bad decision." The newsletter is not directly downloadable from his site, so you'll have to send an email request to get on the list to read the rest of his thoughts on the Parrot Prize.

Oliver also reports that the organizer, "based on return slips, [said] this fair did better than the last – but only just. That was not the impression many had. Indeed, with some presses trying every trick short of gluing feathers onto their books in order to get them noticed in recessionary Oxford, many felt that the fair was struggling just a little in money terms, a shame for what is normally a hot-ticket event."

Whether fully plumed or plucked, press fairs usually seem to be dominated by the usual suspects, and so it was with Oxford. But Oliver's missive also includes notes on a few names that might be less widely known, at least on this side of the Atlantic. He mentions a new book from Susan Allix (Myth, shown above), whose work has been generating much interest & enthusiasm among those deeply in the know for some time.


Printing in the Third Dimension

This post isn't about impression, although most of you should be printing with a bit more impression than you are. If it was good enough for Harold McGrath (him up there)...

Before launching into the printing of Occupied By Colour, we finally got around to an upgrade of the speaker system in the studio. Retrieving one of the many old speakers from the attic, we ginned up this trick first learned from our vinyl copy of Eno's On Land, way back when it came out:

The two stereo speakers in the HM studio are over the bench, at the end opposite from the press. Printing a sheet entails two round trips from the press to the bench & back (getting the roller, returning with the roller & getting a sheet). We placed the third speaker over the press, playing the mixed signal back at the stereo pair. So now, while walking to and from the press, the aural mix of a song changes as you move through the space, and the overall sound is more three-dimensional (no more walking towards & away from the music).
Music is the fuel that keeps the press running at HM. This probably is true for most printers. (Or at least some distraction: for Jim Rimmer, it was VHS copies of movies from the '30s and '40s.) At HM, there actually are two categories of music, depending on what's happening. While setting things up, doing makeready, figuring out problems etc, we prefer glacial and expansive compositions. Stars of the Lid, most of Harold Budd's albums (check out his latest, above; an inspiration for those who strive to never repeat themselves), Johann Johannsson & William Basinksi are frequently called upon. When all cylinders are firing and we're just into production (remember, however, that "production" on a handpress in a one-man shop is still a pretty sedate activity), the BPM can creep up to a saunter, and the pace can liquify from permafrast to tundra. Harold's album with Eraldo Bernocchi, Music for "Fragments from the Inside" keeps things moving. So does the Orb. On particularly belligerent days, G!YBE.

There are a few artists whose work can fit both needs. All of Loscil's recordings. Bill Laswell, but you have to pick your albums carefully. And now we have a new double-CD for the shortlist: Bloemfontein's The Longer Now. This was a $1 gamble from a shop's discard bin, noted for its sleeve design, chosen because the mix of instruments promised to appeal (especially the lack of vocals). Wonderful stuff. Eight compositions, each about 15 minutes long. All of them can be heard here. Sadly, it seems the band ceased to exist with no other releases.


A New Magazine Called Codex

Moving at the speed of a handpress (which is this & only this:

Not this, [which is a common press, i.e. similar design & operation, but made from wood]:

Nor any of these, which are presses operated by hand, but that does not make them a handpress:

A handpress is something like this, made from iron, with whatever you're printing inked by hand and then rolled under a platen lowered by pulling a bar:

And preferably it's something exactly like the above, what we use at HM, an Ostrander-Seymour Extra-Heavy. But that photo isn't ours. It's much prettier than ours. Probably not a spot of oil or grease on the thing...)

ANYHOW, moving at the speed of a handpress, our friend David at Black Stone Press tipped us to the arrival on the scene of a new mag about type, printing, calligraphy etc etc titled Codex. At the risk of confirming exactly how hors courant we are by posting this a few months after its publication, here's the site. Take a look, think about ordering a copy. All of us who appreciate the printed word have to admire a group of people who go the old-fashioned, ink-on-paper route.


Ink Should Be Sticky, Not Bouncy

Surprised and a little alarmed to recently learn that a number of "fine press" (awful term) printers are using rubber-based inks. Some claim they achieve better results than with oil-based ink (hmmm), some admit they just like being able to leave the ink on the rollers for a few days.

Ink, as a contributing element to printing, probably doesn't get as much attention as it should. Wondering if our prejudice against rubber ink was warranted or not, we did some snooping around. Preliminary results tumbled us to Brian Donnell's excellent primer site on letterpress, which includes a short but insightful comment on oil vs rubber inks:

"Use oil-base inks for quality work. Rubber-base inks may print satisfactorily, but their drying properties make them suitable only for imprinting business forms, numbering, proofing, etc., and they do not dry on coated stock."

That's just an excerpt; the site offers more details. Coated stock isn't really a concern or issue at HM, but we wonder if the same drying problem would result on the highly sized paper we prefer for printing damp.

We'll be spending the rest of 2011 printing the third volume in the Hodgson/Cohen color series, Occupied By Colour. (The self-portrait above was taken while rolling out the ink for today's run, a page on the development of hair dyes.) But when we get a few days off, we're thinking of getting a can of rubber ink and doing some comparison printing. Be interesting to see how the rubber stuff works when printing damp... Meanwhile, we will reread Colin Bloy's A History of Printing Ink.


Lumiere's Shining New Light

Received notice of a new book from Michael Torosian's Lumiere Press, Steichen: Eduard et Voulangis. The book publishes for the first time 16 photographs taken by Edward Steichen between 1915 and 1923, with an accompanying text by Torosian. (Factoid: Steichen was the most-published photographer in Alfred Stieglitz's journal Camera Work, for which he also designed a logo and typeface.)

Over the past three decades Lumiere Press has established a reputation for publishing books with and about 20th century photographers, designed, printed letterpress and bound by Torosian at his Toronto shop. Although Lumiere Press doesn't seem to come up often within the narrow context of discussions about contemporary fine press activity in Canada (a short discussion at best), Torosian has been consistently publishing some of the country's most interesting and beautiful limited edition letterpress books. He's also one of very few people combining a passion for traditional book arts with a deep interest in photography, a field that has been at the center of contemporary art in exactly the way "fine press" publishing hasn't. The Lumiere Press site also has excellent images and information about its books and methods of work. Worth a look.


Making an Exhibition of Ourselves

Another post from last weekend's Wayzgoose printing fair, this one all about us (mostly). Jim Westergard and his wife flew in from Red Deer to accompany Oddballs' first (& only, at least by us) exhibition in Canada, and it was brilliant to have them on hand. As previously mentioned, we printed up 10 copies of a poster ganging all 40 (plus one) of the oddballs together, which Jim signed and numbered with assistance from the HM devil, before the doors opened. These are 22 x 30 inches (image area is about 12 x 21 inches), giclée printed on 180 g all-rag paper. A few copies of these remain, priced at $60. 

Barbara Hodgson was on hand to discuss The WunderCabinet, a display of which occupied most of HM's second table. As shown above, she didn't get a minute's rest all day, in large part due to an interview with her about the project which aired on CBC Radio's North By Northwest show that morning. As proven in previous years, a mention of the wayzgoose on Sheryl McKay's show assures a significant boost in attendance at the show, and this year was no different: many people came in specifically to see the book and meet Barbara, having heard the interview that morning. A podcast of can be found here.

Jim was diligent about pulling his weight as an exhibitor, but he did manage to make a few circuits of the room over the course of the day. Below he's talking to HM's secret weapon, Reg Lissel, who was demonstrating how to make paste papers. 

Jim brought along a number of the trade books that feature his artwork, and lucky people snapped these up (and got them signed). Jim's off to Toronto in late November for an event organized by Beasts of New York publisher The Porcupine's Quill. It will be an evening's discussion between/among Jim, author Jon Evans, and Toronto printmaker George Walker. 


Things We Saw

A few things we saw at the Wayzgoose printing fair in Vancouver....

Marlene Yuen's A Haunting History of Vancouver. A collection of short ghost stories that Marlene culled from and about neighborhoods in Vancouver (the book, published this year, also commemorates the city's 125th anniversary). The text and images were silkscreened, with additional glow-in-the-dark colors printed on the images. Marlene had a haunted house set up on her table, with a dormer window that let you peek in and see one of her pages glowing. Very cool. Accordion fold in printed boards, edition of just eight copies, a steal at $300. See more about the book and Marlene's other work here.

Peter Braune created an etching that he and Lesley Anderson editioned at their table (next to HM). Quite lovely. An addition to Peter's large collection of frog art. (We must ask him about the origins of his frog fascination.) Among the many imaginative cut-outs and pop-ups at Judy Ng's table, the HM devil (below, being shown by Peter how to ink the plate) found a card that opens to reveal a croaking frog, so she got it for Peter.

Emma Lehto's work stood out from the crowd (look under Typography, page 2). In concept and execution, it reminded us of the books Cara Barer creates for her photographs. While the Danielle Steel paperbacks that had been blasted with shotgun and rifle (the spent shells on display in a Lucite box) where dramatic (the paperbacks proved surprisingly resilient), her most sublime work on display with a completely deconstructed copy of a Lemony Snicket book: she cut out each individual work in the book (she must have used two copies, one for the recto words and one for the verso), and then assembled these on letter-sized sheets of paper in alphabetical order, i.e. all of the word "after" glued down in neat rows, then "and," then... Thus, the entire story was there to flip through.

Polly Elsted, daughter of Jan & Crispin (a.k.a. Barbarian Press) was there with a prospectus for a new book from her Horse Whisper Press, featuring wood engravings by former BP collaborator Peter Lazarov. Balancing production with her undergrad in English, she hopes to have the book completed in early 2012... Greenboathouse Press was there with copies of the latest books on hand, including poet Robert Kroetsch's last work... Reg Lissel was making paste papers, and a mess... Phyllis Greenwood was making marbled papers, and a bit of a mess but not as much as Reg... Finally met Marcus Fahrner. He had a small book on hand called Hell Box - The Book, which, if we got the story straight, is a sort-of reduced reprint version of an extensively illustrated text detailing the development of printing technologies. That's probably not quite right. It looked intriguing, but the Fahrner & Farhner Web site is somewhat inscrutable, so we'll have to track Marcus down again in person... The Bowler Press continues its descent into the depths of Jane Austen, a voyage that is heading toward a three-volume edition (with text set by hand) of Pride and Prejudice... Lucie Lambert has a new book, but every time we went by her table there were people clustered around, so we didn't get a chance to see it or talk to her... Andrea Taylor had just completed her second suite of prints in the Artists' Portrait series. HM assisted with production of the first suite, in 2009, but our schedules didn't match up for this one, so Andrea set and printed the text pages herself. More beautiful intaglio portraits of (mostly) 20th century artists. Lucien, shown below, is from the first series.

There was more to see, but attending to our own tables prevented us from getting around to everyone. Perhaps in future years we can think of a way to introduce a social aspect to the event, to allow us to mix and mingle more. For whatever reason, Vancouver seems to have book arts silos, as opposed to a book arts community.


Get Your 'Goose

The bi-annual Alcuin Society Wayzgoose in Vancouver this coming weekend. Seems to be some attrition among the local printing scene, never a good thing but most particularly unfortunate here that it's among the younger (i.e. under 40) members. But HM will be there: Barbara Hodgson will be laying out a mini-exhibit with a copy of The WunderCabinet on one table, and Jim Westergard will be traveling in from Red Deer to show off Oddballs. Our Oddballs poster (10 copies, signed & numbered by Jim) will be on display & available. The New Leaf Editions crew will be there, pulling copies of an original etching created for the fair, and showing copies of a new book created by artist Kitty Blandy. Reg Lissel will be there, showing people simple ways to create paste papers. Saturday 22 October, main branch of the public library, 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.. Free admission to all.