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DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative

May 24, 2006

Tuesday in Letterpress I . . .

. . . I spent most of my time setting type. (Even though I chose a relatively short poem for my first project, it's still longer and more complicated than some of the projects, all of which have been really cool to watch, and great to learn from.) As I mentioned in yesterday's post, Monday afternoon I'd decided on the poem "The Woman from the Public" for my first project: a broadside. It's a perfect piece for practicing spacing, because of the variable line lengths and indentions, a great exercise in getting to know the type case (also called a job case) because of the length of the poem and the repeated words and characters, and it's also a chance to do something typographically interesting without over- or underemphasizing any part of the poem: the lines were originally written to be treated in different styles, so the design would be following their cue, not vice versa. Because the poem alternates roman lines with indented italic lines, I had to choose two typefaces: one for the roman lines and one for the italic lines. (The terms "typeface" and "font" are used pretty much interchangeably these days, but traditionally speaking, a typeface is not only what you'd think of as a font--Palatino, for example--it's also the point size and character weight or style. So Palatino 18 and Palatino 12, though most of us digital designers would call them both the same font, in letterpress are two different typefaces. Each is sorted into its own type case drawer, as are the matching italic, bold, condensed versions, etc. The various Palatinos together are called a family, because, you know, they're related.)

A few concerns immediately presented themselves: the poem repeats the word "woman" (or "women's" in one case) twelve times and the word "public" seventeen times, not including the title (which will be set in a different typeface). So I couldn't just pick any old typeface. Some are more popular than others, and in addition to the classes at CBA, there are also former students and other book artists renting time in the studio, and some of the type is tied up in these other projects-in-progress. I wanted to stick with a classic serif style for the main body of the poem (usually considered easier to read in long sections, though this is changing somewhat, because digital environments adopted sans-serif type early on--easier to render, I guess--and folks are more used to reading them) and I wanted to use italic and roman of the same style. As for the abecedarium we did as a group demonstration, I wanted to use a point size that would be easily legible on a broadside, if it were, say, hanging on a wall in a frame: between 18 and 24 pt. So I hunted through the type-case drawers until I found likely candidates: Baskerville Roman 18 and Baskerville Italic 18. Both drawers were very full and heavy, and much of the type looked fairly new. I didn't think I'd have much trouble with nicked or worn letters, after a glance at the W/w's and P/p's and m's and b's, I felt confident choosing them.

When I arrived Tuesday, though, somebody else in the class had chosen to work with Baskerville Roman 18. We could have simply shared the case, but I wasn't sitting near enough to her to make that practical and I didn't want to ask anybody to move. So I decided to start on the italics. I consulted quickly with Nancy: would it be a pain to set the italic lines and then go back and put in the roman lines? She suggested that I just set the italics first, and print the broadsides up with enough leading between them for the roman lines to be printed in a second pass on the press. That would give me the opportunity to learn how to space leading on the press bed (as opposed to as I typeset on the composing stick) using the wooden reglets. There are many more reglets to work with than metal spacers, and because they're much bigger it would mean fewer pieces to puzzle together, etc. Of course! She pointed out that since I was doing two passes, I could do the italic lines in one color and the roman in another, an ideal opportunity to try out mixing inks with the Pantone system. (That sounds fun, but I am a still hesitating about this, and later I will tell you why.) Anyway, she helped me resolve my first issue, so I sat down and started to compose.

Between 10:30 and 3:30 or so, with a break for lunch, and another interruption to talk with the very curious tour group that came through, I set these lines:

School system. The woman from the public

Library. The woman from the public

Hospital. The woman elected to public

Office. The woman who claimed to own public

Property. The woman from the Public

Works Commission. The woman from the public

Park. The woman who in public

Wore gold jewelry even while jogging. Public

Sentiment against the woman who supported public

Stonings in an editorial. Public

Television's special 'Becoming a Woman.'” Public

Humiliation of a woman named Looney. Public

Appreciation of works on paper by female artists. Public

Lot number 3057. The woman from the Public

Defender's Office. The woman from the public

Pool. The women's action group against public


That's all of the italic lines. I only ran into three more issues as I set the lines (from left to right, but upside down, as I explained yesterday) transferring them in groups of 4 or 5 from the composing stick to my galley tray. First the spacing materials for 18 pt. type were also scarce, since a few different people were using them. But I learned to combine various pieces to get the space I needed. Second, the title of the PBS television special appears in the book in roman type, by way of contrast with the italic line around it. I set it in single quotation marks as a compromise, since the roman type was being used by another student. I guess I could reset that one word in place today. We'll see. Third, and most annoying, was that I kept coming across missorted type in my case, letters of the wrong point size or a totally different family. Barbarians!

[An aside: At one point a tour group came through the studio. I think some people were at lunch, and I was at a central spot at the worktable, so I was a popular person to quiz on just what the heck we were all doing. I will have to tell you more about that later, for sure!]

So what's on the schedule for today? I've chosen my paper and my ink color, so depending on who is doing what this morning, I will either set this block up on one of the presses and run the italics (so I can sort the type back into its case for someone else to use), or I will start setting the roman. Nancy may advise me one way or the other. I'm thinking it might be easier to have both blocks set before I print either, because we're doing most of the leading spacing on the press bed and it will be easier--it seems to me now, never having done this before!--to make the relative leading and indentation adjustments for the second block immediately after running the first block, so that most of the furniture would not have to be reset from scratch. If that's the case, I may not print today either! I'm really not in any hurry. I'm watching other people print, and oohing and aahhing over their results. And Nancy showed us how to mix custom ink colors (something I'll get to do later). Setting the type is as meditative for me as doing a jigsaw puzzle (I love them, buy one on most vacations, the more complicated the better).

Gotta run.



  • Are you going to post pics of the final product? I hope so - otherwise you're just teasing us!

    By Blogger jess rowan, at 11:40 AM  

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