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DIY Poetry Publishing Cooperative

May 27, 2006

Printing the broadside, Wednesday & Thursday

Having set all my type, both the roman and italic blocks, I went to set up on the Vandercook Universal #4, a different model than the one we'd learned to operate on Monday. Similar, and basically the same in terms of the tympan cylinder, the crank and press bed, but with a few key differences it baffled me for several minutes until Nancy straightened me out. On this model, the trip/print lever is different, the rubber rollers adjust via screwdriver (instead of knobs), the inking rollers come completely off the carriage for cleaning (instead of raising on a hinged lever), and you need a wrench to change the packing or tympan paper, which also has to be taped to its winding rod (whereas the other model had a slot for the tab you cut into the paper). That's a pic of Uni 4, above.

I carefully moved the set type (which I'd secured with twine around the outside of the block to keep it more stable--all the little pieces can tumble if you're not careful!) to the press bed. After the type was on the bed, the twine is removed and the spaces around it are filled up with appropriately sized furniture. Like setting the type and adjusting spaces for a tight line, building the furniture in the bed is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, except all the pieces are rectangular. In the picture above, you can see the rectangular blocks of wood and a few metal ones, around a centered block of type. (I snapped this pic when another student was printing birthday cards.)

As you know from the last post, I chose to print the roman lines first. They begin higher on the page, right after the title. Since I was doing the title in a different color, I hadn't set it yet. And I needed to leave space for it on the page. So I used two blocks of furniture between the top of the press bed and the top of my first line. The furniture is based on a pica system, so placing pieces in combination will give you fairly precise measurements. Handy, no? So below the title space, I pushed the block of type up to be flush with the furniture. I also built some furniture over to the right, and pretty much centered the block on the press bed. (This doesn't have to be exact--you can adjust the paper position on the cylinder to center the printing later.)

Because I was printing the roman lines only in this first pass, I also needed to build in leading space for the italic lines to come between them on the next pass. I grabbed a bunch of 30 pica-long furniture pieces--the narrower ones called reglets--that were all the same pica-height. I'd laid the poem out on my computer in Quark the night before, and had printed a copy--in the same fonts and point size--to use as a guide. So I was able to measure the amount of leading between the roman lines there, and build the furniture to suit it on the bed. I even tried out some paper and ink colors in the electronic document (though I ended up changing my mind about the paper color later). After the leading was set on the press bed and the right side was built up, I built the left side, leaving space for the quoin--a metal spacing bar that expands by a turning key to lock everything into place. This press also had a lockup bar, which serves a similar purpose to the quoin, with a tension lever to exert pressure on the furniture and set block of type, from the bottom. I locked everything into place, and checked the stability of the type by wiggling it left/right with a fingertip at various points on each line. In a few cases, what had seemed tight on the composing stick was now a little loose. You don't want the letters to move at all, as the rubber rollers ink them, and as the paper rolls across them carried by the cylinder. So I inserted coppers or brasses in the appropriate spots (ends of lines, not between the words) with tweezers. When everything was sufficiently tight, I leveled the type gently with a wooden block called a plane. Here's a pic of another student planing their type, below. This step is to make sure all the letters are sitting flush on the press bed. It's imporant they're all at the same height, or they will impress differently onto the paper. Too high and they get too much ink (and the surrounding letters don't get as much) or even press clean through the paper.

Once the type was planed, I turned the quoin key and shifted the lever on the lockup bar, so all my pieces were stable and tight in the press bed. Cool. Then I inked the press. I turned the power on, which rotate a big metal roller in the base of the press, and also runs the gears on which the inking rollers turn with they are in the home position. The press is cranked by hand, so these are the only motorized elements. With the inking rollers disengaged, I dotted my ink along (which I'd mixed to match a Pantone swatch I'd selected earlier) on the front small metal roller with a palette knife. (The smallest roller, visible in the planing pic.) I engaged the rollers to let them turn together, and the ink was transfered to the larger metal rollers and the rubber rollers underneath, as well as the metal roller in the bottom of the press. I did this a few times, until all the rollers looked evenly inked. At that point, I'm ready to run my first proof, and check the impression, inking, and roller height.

Since part of the proofing process is making sure the type is impressing the paper evenly and with enough force, it's important to use the same weight and texture of paper on your proofs. I didn't have much of the Canson Lime--15 large sheets, cut lengthwise in half gave me only 30, and I figured some of those would be wasted in mistakes or misprints. I hoped for at least 20 perfect prints of the completed broadside. Since I had to run each broadside three times, once for roman lines, once for italic lines, and once for the title block, there were many opportunities to screw something up. So I used a more abundant color of the Canson paper, cut to the same size. I ran a test proof, and flipped it over to check the impression on the back. You could see each letter clearly, but not too much. So the packing paper under the tympan paper on the cylinder did not need to be adjusted. Lucky me. (If the impression had been too deep, I would have needed less packing paper on the cylinder. Too faint, and I would have needed to add a sheet or two.) So far, so good.

Next I checked the front of the proof. Ack. I had a b instead of a d in "The back stairs smelled like soup." I think it must have been missorted in the type case, or perhaps I grabbed from the wrong cubby. So that letter had to be switched out. Amazingly, otherwise the type looked good. No upside down s's or o's, no u's for n's, etc. (I realized later that it made perfect sense that the roman type had fewer mistakes on my part than the italic, since I'd set it second, after I was a little more experienced. The italics will be a different story, but I don't know that yet.) The roller height also seemed good--the type was clearly and evenly impressed and inked at both the beginning and end of the line. Had it not been, I would have had to adjust the roller height to vary the amount of contact the rubber rollers have with the block of type as they pass over the bed. There are two rubber rollers, and each adjusts at each end, so there are four variables when making these kind of adjustments.

However, I wasn't quite ready to start printing on my Canson Lime. I noticed the ends of the lines were higher on the page than the beginnings. In other words, not quite parallel to the top and bottom edges of the paper. The whole poem was canted. Also, I wanted to center the lines on the page, or mostly center them. I knew the poem's longest line was one of the italics lines, in the second pass, and that the italics were actually indented a bit from where the roman lines began. (See Quark layout pic above.) Hmm. It couldn't be the type that was off, because everything was flush in the bed. So it was the paper position that needed to be fixed.

At the top of the cylinder are grippers, to hold the paper in place as the cylinder is cranked across the bed. They are opened by means of a pedal at the base of the press, and snap open again when the cylinder carriage reaches the far end of the bed, so you can remove the printed paper before cranking the carriage back to home. Between the grippers (which look like giant nailheads, but slightly domed) are adjustable guides that the top of the paper sits against. Also on the paper-feed table is an adjustable side guide. I moved the side guide in a few times and ran a proof each time (on that blue practice paper shown two posts down, since I wasn't testing for impression or inking at this point), until I had the lines centered, and the left and right margins correct. Then I went to work on the top guides, to fix the canted line height. This was ridiculously confusing at first. The adjustable knobs have numbered hashes, but on this particular machine, much to my frustration, the numbers didn't bear much relation to each other. 7 on the far knob was not 7 on the center knob, etc. Sigh. Also, as with many elements of the letterpress process, you're required to visualize everything in mirror images. Lowering the right side of the page would raise the ends of the lines further. Oops. (I was totally frustrated at this point, and then suddenly, I got dizzy. What the? I looked at the clock. It was almost 3:00 and I'd been so absorbed, I forgot to eat lunch. Luckily I had a nutrition bar in my bag. I ate that and got a glass of water. I wasn't about to stop now! Ten minutes later I felt much better, and everything made sense again.) Raising the right side of the page lowers the line end. Ah ha, yes. Eventually I got the lines straight, which I confirmed with my trusty pica stick. Whew!

I cleared the paper feed table and got my Canson Lime ready. I started printing. It was really thrilling to take the first perfect print from the cynlinder!

Once I got started with the actual printing, things were a breeze. I loaded each sheet on the cylinder underneath the grippers, cranked the carriage to the end, and removed a perfect print. I noticed at one point that the penultimate line was printing a little lighter than the others. I couldn't figure out why this would be, since I'd checked the packing to make sure the sheets were long enough to accommodate my long narrow page shape. Hmm. I inked the machine a little more, and that helped some. Nancy taught me a great trick the next day, when I was printing the italic lines, that I could have used to fix this problem: cut another piece of tympan paper, a little longer than the line you want to emphasize, and a little taller than the line, but not so tall as to overlap with the lines above or below. With a printed copy of the broadside on the cylinder, you tape this piece to the top sheet of tympan paper on the cylinder, right under where your light line will hit the cylinder. As a result, the force is greater for that one line, by virtue of the additional paper thickness. Voila!

I ran 28 clean copies of my roman lines and it was time to break down and clean the machine. The next day, I'd be first on the press, to do the italics lines. I'd decided to do these in the same color, but a slightly darker shade of the same teal ink I'd mixed before, so I adjusted it by adding a touch more black ink. (The difference is actually pretty subtle in the finished piece--I could have stepped down another degree. But as I mentioned before, I didn't want to do a whole new color. I was afraid the italics would be overemphasized.) It was a bit more work to set the italics up on the press, because I had to adjust the position of the block on the bed, inserting leading as before, but with a little additional space at the top so that the first italic line would come midway between the first and second roman lines. I managed that fairly easily, with the reglets and furniture, but I had the same problem with the lines being canted, so had to fiddle with the gripper guides again. I also had to adjust the roller heights on one side, raising them to deliver less ink to the beginnings of each line, which were getting more ink. Nancy taught me the trick for the lighter penultimate line (which we figured out was because of the length of my piece--it almost maxed out the tympan circumference and the end of the page was slapping a bit at the end, instead of rolling gently. The extra piece of custom-cut packing paper did the trick. At one spot, about two-thirds down the page, the roman and italics lines suddenly shifted in relation to each other. Nancy and I checked the italics in the bed and all looked good. We switched out a couple of the leading reglets and got the same results. There must have been a reglet off in the roman pass the day before--sometimes the wooden reglets get a bit compressed over time, from use and the pressures of the quions and lockup bar, etc. So we cheated the leading there a bit, with some very thin metal leaders. It's still slightly off in the finished piece, but really only detectable with a pica stick. Most people wouldn't notice it with the naked eye.

Since I set the italics first, there were all kinds of goofy errors, my own and those of the missorted-type variety. (Click for a bigger image.) I had placed the l in "School" and an a in "woman" upside down, used a d instead of a b in one instance of "public," used a 1 instead of a 7 in "Lot 3057," and an ffl instead of an ffi in the second "Office." (The letter combination ffi, ffl, and ff are available as single blocks, because the tails for the two f's would overlap problematically if set as separate letters, and the dot on the i would also come too close to the top tip of the f. Some of those were cases of missorted type, as was the capital W in the seventh line--it was a totally different typeface and had been erroneously mixed in with Baskerville. One P was also another typeface, as were several lowercase f's. Three y's had broken tails (though it doesn't look like I caught those until a later proof. But you can see it in "system" in the first line, compared to the one in "Nudity" on the last line, for instance.) So all of those had to be switched out, and the type replaned and reproofed. The upside down letters I certainly could have caught by looking more closely at the type block itself, but the mismatched typefaces are more difficult to spot without a test proof, if the typefaces are similar, since everything it backwards and upside while you're setting it! And alas, letterpress has no spellcheck function.

Those things fixed, I worked on setting the position on the page, relative to the roman lines. I used some of the roman test proofs, which I'd saved from the day before. I got eveything how I wanted it, using the gripper guides and side guide on the paper feed table, and started printing the italic lines. Again, the set up takes much more time than the actual printing, unless you're doing many more copies than I was attempting. (I could have done more, I guess on a different color paper, but my project was so complicated, I didn't want to hog the machine more than necessary while others were waiting.) With the italics done, I just had the title block to set and print. It was short, so I'd done it that morning before I got on the press, and I'd also mixed my ink, a reddish orange. I pulled the italics off the machine and set the title block, up at top of the press bed, but leaving much of the furniture on the sides as it was (since it was already centered). I didn't need all of the furniture at the bottom, since the title block was much shorter than the roman or itals, so I put those pieces away.

Before I could start printing, however, I had to change the ink color. That meant I had to clean the entire machine and re-ink the rollers. That takes about a half hour. But printing the title itself was relatively easy. I'd changed the styling of it a bit from the Quark version, because the Baskerville italics I'd wanted wasn't available in the point size I'd chosen. I mean CBA just didn't have it in that size. So I stepped down to the next largest size of the Spartan Black Condensed (48 pt.) and used 36 pt. Baskerville Italics and built up the spacing as necessary to make the block square. I also decided to put my name up at the top--this was mostly for expediency. I was going to put it at the bottom, as is traditional, but I would have had to build more furniture in the press bed, etc. The bigger point sizes and thick bodies of the letters in the title required a little more pressure than the italic type had, so I added a sheet or two of packing under the tympan paper. I also adjusted the rollers on the side corresponding to the ends of the lines, so that those largest, densest letters would get more ink. It was fairly easy to get the title placed on the page, since I knew the grippers were already correctly aligned from my last pass. All I had to do was fiddle with the side guid on the paper-feed table until I got the title lined up with the edge of the roman lines. I did have the S in my name upside down at first. Sheesh.

But after that, all went pretty smoothly. And yes, I did do a little dance when the first perfect print came off the press.

[Monday, I'll put up some more photos of other people's work, show you the napkins and notepaper I made on Friday, and wrap up the letterpress report.]


Kate Greenstreet asks, Matthew Thorburn answers

What advice do you wish someone had given you before your book came out? What was the best advice you got?

Probably the most helpful thing, in a way, was that the folks at New Issues told me very clearly what they could and couldn't do for me, in terms of promotion. They could (and did) advertise a lot in Poets & Writers and The Writer's Chronicle and places like that, and they sent out a slew of review copies, but they didn't have the people power to set up readings (aside from at the AWP Conference, which unfortunately I couldn't attend). I think most poetry publishers don't. So I knew well in advance that it'd be up to me to do that kind of legwork.

The good advice I didn't exactly get, but soon figured out, is that in most cases you really do have to sell poetry books face to face, one at a time--at readings or school visits or book fairs or wherever you can. So the advice I would give is to get out there, to the degree that you are able to and comfortable doing so, and do readings and go to these other events. Something else New Issues is great about (and a lot of other publishers probably are too) is letting their authors buy copies of their books at half price to sell at readings. Clearly no one is getting rich here, but I found this helps a lot with make-ends-meet money for the logistical expenses of whatever kind of readings you're able to do.

Read the rest here.

May 26, 2006

I finished my broadside yesterday!

It came out pretty well, too, I gotta say, for being so ridiculously complicated. Now I understand why letterpress work is so expensive. (One woman in the class registered with the express purpose of printing her own wedding invitations. The class is not exactly cheap, but she managed to save several hundred dollars over what she would have paid somebody to do the letterpress invitations for her, plus she's enjoyed making them and her family will be impressed (ahem) by their handmade quality. I sniff a bridal magazine article.)

I'm not sure how many "fair" copies I managed to get yet. A few are missing the terminal period (it was there, but not inking) and a few have a y with a broken tail or a slightly fainter penultimate line. I learned the whys and wherefores of all of these things, and shall spill later. No time this morning, unfortunately. I need to get there on time so I can get one last turn at the press.

I didn't bring home the finished prints last night, so no pic yet. Today's the last class day and I'll be making something very very simple. I've designed custom cocktail napkins for some friends' housewarming. I got the idea from a woman who came and set up one of the machines as we were cleaning up yesterday. She was printing luncheon napkins for somebody's party or wedding.) So I picked up some napkins at Target on the way home--just plain white--and they will say Your brilliant idea goes here: across the top. (He's a graphic designer and we hang out talking and drinking, somebody invariably reaches for a notepad.) Their new house is mid-century modern, so I'll choose an appropriate typeface, etc.


May 25, 2006

On the third day, I got to take a turn at the press.

Yesterday, on the way to class, I decided I was right about what I'd guessed below. It'd be much simpler to have both blocks of text built and ready once I got to the press, so that I wouldn't have to rebuild all the furniture in the bed. I'd also decided not to do the roman and italic lines in two completely different colors: the poem's lines are meant to be equally emphasized and I was afraid putting them in two different colors would over- or underemphasize one or the other set. As a compromise, I decided to use two shades of the same color, one dark for the roman, one a little lighter for the italics. The italics lines are the foundation or background to the poem and the roman lines are kind of superimposed on top, the way I as a female child felt my young life's narrative was being superimposed over the preexisting narratives of these other women. Roman type is always a little heavier looking--the letter shapes more substantial--while the italics feel slighter, a little more fluid or something, and more graceful. Two shades of the same color, I decided, would heighten the contrast between the typefaces, without disrupting the balance I was striving for between them.

So! When I got to class, I sat and started setting the roman lines of the poem. Pretty much everybody else was ready to print something, and some students were looking at printing a second pass on a piece, or even working on a second project. Not I. When Nancy came around to check on everybody, so she could make a press schedule for the day (there are 7 students and 4 presses) I'd just gotten started, told her what I'd decided, and said I didn't think I'd even get to the press today, since it took me most of yesterday to set the italics block.

However! Once I got my type case, composing stick and knee on the table and started to go to town, I found I was much faster than the day before. All that repetition of Tuesday had pretty much enabled me to reach for the appropriate letter without having to consult the map very often. I spelled one word, three words, a whole line without referring to it. It's very similar to learning typing. I sorted my 3-em spacers (the ones I'd had trouble finding on Tuesday) out in advance, so I had a pile of them to reach for between each word), and by lunch, I had only 6 lines of 17 left. (Except I was so absorbed in what I was doing, I forgot all about lunch, with consequences to be related later.) Nancy came round again (I was the only student at the typesetting table at this point) and I told her I would in fact be ready for some press time in a little bit. She said I could have the Vandercook Uni #4 (a Vandercook Universal flatbed press) as soon as the student who was currently on it was finished. [I haven't asked folks beyond Nancy if I can use their names here, so I am not, in case anybody feels funny about that.]

The student on Uni #4 finished up just as I was setting my final word: Nudity.

I'd love to tell you what happened next, about my time on the press. But I overslept a bit and have to get going. Suffice to say at this point, that I managed to print the roman lines of my broadside: 28 copies on Canson Lime in a custom mixed Pantone dark teal blue (16 pts. Process Blue + 6 pts. Black). [You can see the ink color on the practice proof above--click it for a bigger image--but the paper there is not the real deal. A swatch of Canson Lime is shown at left.] I'll be doing exactly the same thing today, for the italic lines, so those notes will explain the press set up, ink mixing, printing process, and how to clean the machine. I got more practice on the type case because I had to sort all of my roman lines back into the drawer before I left!

I may finish the broadside today. After I run the italics, I have to set and print the title and my name in yet another color (a totally different color), but it's going to be in a large display font and is just a few words. That shouldn't take long.

I told Nancy yesterday I could set type all day every day forever and be quite content. That's mostly true.

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.


May 23, 2006

So I had my first letterpress class yesterday.

It's a good thing we're planning to move outta the city soon to a place with more space, because I've been trying to figure out how to get several cases of lead type and a machine weighing in at over a ton into my apartment. (I'll probably have to settle for a tabletop platen press or simple tabletop proof press, but hey, a girl can dream...of barns with concrete foundations. O the boom it would take to relocate such a beast!)

In other words: bitten, smitten, hooked, lined, and sunk.

I arrived at the Center for Book Arts fifteen minutes early (if you know me, you know I generally err on the other side of the appointed hour), ready to jump in and get started with Letterpress I, lead by Nancy Loeber. Oops. Somehow I flubbed the class info and managed to be almost an hour late: the official class start time was 10 A.M. (I registered back in December for the March class, but then had to postpone because of AWP. Six months later, the details were foggy.) A trip through the main gallery (where there's a really interesting soap-opera comics exhibit up right now) brought me to the printshop, in a wide, lofty room, sectioned by shelving, with 5 or 6 big letterpresses along a wall of tall windows. In one corner, a guy was cutting leather for a binding class going on simultaneously in the bindery, on the opposite side of the main gallery.

Six other students (all mid 20s-mid 30s women) were already setting type for our first group project, an abecedarium based on an old children's book. Nancy kindly ran through, in abbreviated form, what I had missed in the first 45 minutes, and introduced herself (she's been letterpressing and bookbinding for 6 yrs. and teaching for several of those). She handed me a type case map with a pica-spacing chart as a visual aid, a composing stick with an accompanying knee, and briefly summed up the project. She pointed out where the spacing materials were kept. For kerning between words there are slugs, for leading between lines, leaders, and for filling out lines for a really tight block or indentions quads (lead blocks), brasses (thinner and of brass) and coppers (thinnest yet). When she asked me about my background and related experience, I told her I'd worked as a book designer so we skipped the typeface and pica/point talk--that helped catch me up quicker. (I also told her I was a poet, and bless her, she actually looked pleased.) The letters Y and Z fell to me, the only two left.

Around the central large work table were flat-files with type cases as drawers. I chose Caslon 18 pt. (Follow that link and scroll down a bit for a Caslon sample and design notes. Caslon is a classic typeface for book printing, but I wanted a big-enough point size to hold its own on a broadside, like the one we were making.) I lugged the type case to the table & started setting my first line.

composing stickThe composing stick is a tray with high sides on the bottom and right and open at the top and left. The top is ruled, and the removable knee slides along the bottom edge and has a tension lever to help you keep your set type in place as you compose. One begins at the top of a block of type, setting the type with the letters upside down. My first line to set, then, was the penultimate line of our poem, the one for the letter Y. (I'd missed the part where Nancy said we could make up new text for our letters if we chose, so I just followed the book. Even though I hadn't read the rest, I could tell from this line, the object of the book was not only to teach the alphabet, but to entertain via rhyme and rhythm, as well as function as a kind of which-of-these-does-not-belong game.) Going from left to right, but facing my letters upside down and looking at their backwards forms, I composed: YELLOWHAMMER, Eagle, Hyena, Lark. Conveniently, the line and spacing I chose fit perfectly on the 30-pica (that's 12.7 centimeters) limit Nancy had set.

type caseI stacked up a couple of leaders, for space between the lines, and set my second line: ZEBRA, Chamelon, Butterfly, Shark. The type case map was extremely handy for us newbies. Think of it kind of like a keyboard: the letters are arranged in positions related to their frequency of use. Vowels get bigger cubbies--with the lowercase e getting the biggest, and numbers and skinny letters like lowercase l make their homes in narrower pockets. (Luckily, the type case maps Nancy gave us were not printed with reverse images of the letters like the example above. It's tough enough to be sure you're spelling chameleon correctly upside down and backwards without having to use a topsy-turvy case map! Soon enough, we'll all be reading backwards. I may even take up mirror writing.)

galleySince I only had two lines to set (others had 4), I also set the X and W lines, just for more practice judging spacing to fill out lines and to get more familiar with the type case. My fingertips were grey, at this point, from the metal and probably ink residue (though the type is cleaned with alcohol after each use). Everybody finished up around the same time, I pulled my two extra lines and sorted the type back into the case. Nancy came around with a galley--a tray to collect all the set type. It's got raised rims on all but one side, and holds your composed type as you arrange it in a completed block, tranferring a few lines at a time from your composing stick. Then we learned how to tie the block, wrapping twine around the outside of the type (while it was still on the galley) and tucking one corner with a copper. We transferred the block to the bed of the press and broke for lunch.

[An aside: WTF is the deal with roving salesmen in urban parks? I'm not sure if it was Our Lord or something else I didn't want to hear about right then, but dude-in-a-crisp-white-shirt-and-tie, when I'm chowing down on my seven-grain-and-smoked-turkey sandwich in Madison Square park gazing at (my fave) the Flatiron Bldg., it's just not a good time.]

pantoneAfter lunch, Nancy showed us the shelves where the rubber-based ink for the letterpresses are kept. The colors are organized on a Pantone system! Very groovy. She opted for basic black as a demo, and showed us the ink's body, moving it around on a plexiglass plate with a palette knife. It's very thick, and a little goes a long way.

Then we went over the parts of the press, learning the names for each part and how to engage the rollers, how to change the tympan paper (which is heavyweight and oiled on one side) and packing sheets underneath (which can be adjusted according to how much impression you want to make in the paper), how to set the grippers and roller heights, how to center the paper on press, and of course how to set up the block of type on the bed, using funiture (wooden bars--though they also make metal ones) reglets (smaller, but similar), the quoin and quoin key, and the lockup bar (kind of like the knee on the composing stick, but for the press bed, with a tension lever to hold the block and all the furniture in place on the bed). [For pics for some of these items, see this glossary.] Finally, we were ready to print!

flatbed pressI forgot to note the model number, but we were using a Vandercook, similar to the one at left. It's got two sets of rollers, in addition to the tympan cylinder, which carries the paper. Nancy inked the press by dotting just a teeny bit of ink from the corner of her palette knife (this may have a more official name in printing, but it's a basic putty or palette knife with a flat squared shape, maybe an inch or so wide) onto the smallest front roller, which is metal. She flipped the switch for the roller motor (the press is cranked by hand, but the rollers are motorized to enure even inking) and the ink from the small front roller was transferred to the larger metal roller, the one that will come into contact with the type on the bed. Then she ran a couple of test prints, and showed us on each how to look at the impression on the back of the paper (apparently fine letterpress artists used to try to minimize the impression, but people came to value the raised effect on the back of the letterpressed page as a distinctive quality!), and where we might need to tighten lines with brasses and coppers or replace type that was worn or nicked. A couple of folks got letters like S's and O's upside down. She adjusted the height of the rollers and showed us how to measure roller height with a metal tool called a lollipop. The rubber rollers determine the amount of contact and pressure between the paper and the inked letters. Some of our letters were coming out faint or not inked at all, but the impression was good, so we knew we had enough packing (paper padding on the tympan) but needed the rollers to be adjusted. After 5 or 6 test prints, everything was set to her liking, and we each took a turn cranking the press. (Did I mention we signed liability wavers? Yeah, you could injure yourself on one these things, but they're really not all that scary.)

I printed this broadside. If you look at the third staza closely (click for a larger jpg), you can see the O in LION is actually a zero. Some of the s's and o's elsewhere are upside down, one O is nicked, and at least one person got hold of a missorted case (that's a case of "pied type") with a nonmatching r. Still, I think we were unanimously thrilled.

We spent the remaining classtime rummaging through type cases and flat files, designing our first individual projects, which we'll start today. I'm going to print up a small broadside of my poem "The Woman from the Public" since it has alternating lines of roman and italic type. That'll make an interesting print, I think.

Before I go, here's a link to the wonderfully thorough Five Roses letterpress site, by letterpress printer and graphic designer David S. Rose. (Nancy recommendeds it highly.) & also, you should check out some of Nancy's work at the CBA's bookstore, here. I fondled so many beautiful things yesterday I felt positively lecherous.


May 21, 2006

Amy King satisfies Kate Greenstreet's curiosity

How has your life been different since your book came out?

I am quite famous now. Rock stars ask for my lyrical assistance. Fortune 500 companies court me regularly for major advertising campaigns. David Lynch will soon use the book as a treatment for his next script. Of course, this only makes sense since I've long been an admirer of his films.

Finally, one of the biggest changes happens in seemingly small ways: fellow poets and readers contact me through my website to send kudos or ask a question about poetry. I love that kind of written-word induced conversation. Derrida has long attested to an inversion of the spoken-trumps-the-written binary. I am walking proof: I don't particularly enjoy talking poetics in person, but I adore going back and forth with individuals in private emails.

Read the rest here.

NB: Amy's publisher, BlazeVox Books, uses POD technology to produce their books. Check 'em out, & pick up Antidotes for an Alibi while you're at it!