Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Freedom and the Book

I've been thinking about power lately. And the kind of power that exists in book publishing. And our choices and what they mean to our freedom to read.

If you want to continue to have the freedom to read a paper book, you should actively buy one or go to the library and borrow one. If you believe libraries should have books available free to the public, you should use the library. If you believe discarded books should be shared and not sent to the landfill, you might want to start a Little Free Library or a Book Exchange. If you believe authors should be paid for their work, you should buy their books new. If you believe in brick-and-mortar bookstores, you should use them. Decisions about how books are created and sold are not made in the air; they are driven by our choices.

Those who moan about fate need to choose an area they care about and promote it in a way so that it is indispensable to users. Money drives a lot, but it doesn’t have to drive our spirit. We have to decide what we want as a culture, and instead of moving passively through life, we have to make decisions. In fact, we aren’t moving passively through life at all, we are constantly making decisions. And sometimes those decisions are to avoid making decisions, which always end up having consequences anyway. These are our freedoms.

The American Library Association promotes the freedom to read through Banned Books Week, among other activities. According to their website, parents are most often the challengers of books for these reasons (in descending order): sexually explicit; offensive language; unsuited for age group; other objections; occult/Satanism; violence; homosexuality, and so forth. In 2013 and 2012, the challenged book(s) at the top of the list was the series: Captain Underpants. While the ALA seems primarily concerned with the problems of censorship in its overt form, censorship is happening silently as certain companies reduce the availability of certain books and the purchasing of ebooks requires that you register or sign in, then agree not to copy or share them. An article by Richard Stallman called "The Right to Read" lists the issues that threaten our freedoms in detail. While you don’t have to stand and fight, you should at least know what is at stake.

Friday, October 17, 2014

This Is Not My Type

At California College of the Arts, we still teach letterpress the traditional way: by setting individual pieces of metal type by hand. When I was a student and then a teacher's aid there in the 1980s, I watched as the students delightedly printed their very first piece of paper by themselves. Today, I still see faces light up, but a little less frequently. More often I see confusion. What? You can run out of letters? The type gets mixed up in the job case? That's not an n but a u? And at the end of the semester, the final day of my class anyway, we strike type, otherwise known as redistributing it back into the job cases. Two other classes share the letterpress with us. And unknown people sneak in. Which leaves us with standing type. Sometimes it is pied, fallen over, jumbled. And sometimes it is really old. I found one galley with dust bunnies on it.

Type is set in a composing stick. Longer lines need a longer composing stick. We have several sizes.

Leads are the thin pieces of metal that go between the lines (where we get the term "leading"). Slugs are 3x thicker and are always used top and bottom, but can be used between lines as well.

Type is set from right to left, but in the correct order.

This is Univers 55.

And, unlike on the computer, you can run out of letters, which is why, when we share a shop, we need to redistribute the letters immediately after we print them.

Recently, I've begun sorting through the abandoned galleys again. I first picked out all the spacing material and lined it up. We can use that right away.

Then I started sorting the type by typeface. I rather like how this looked as I sorted. I haven't verified it, but I think the two typefacess are either Avant Garde or Futura (larger) and Phenix (thinner). The rest of the tray had 14 point Univers 75 and an as-yet-unidentified serif face, possibly Garamond.

Good thing Mr. Little made us memorize the job case in junior high Graphic Arts class.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Marie Dern's Big Book

Last Spring there was a retrospective of Marie Dern, Jungle Garden Press, at the San Francisco Center for the Book. The title of the show, and the title of the centerpiece of the show was, "Printers' Devils and Typographical Worries." The exhibition spanned forty years of Marie's book art and her collaborations, most often with her late husband Carl Dern.

Here is a book larger than your body. Printers' Devils and Typographical Worries is 6 feet tall by 8 feet wide, originally created for Marie's graduate exhibition at Mills College in 1986, and set out for contributions from the public. It has the feel of the 1000 Journals Project, only on a singular, grand scale. At an artist's talk and walk-through, Marie turned the pages.

The book is nearly as big as a bed, which gives new meaning to "sheets" of paper. I started imagining what a book bed would look like, but, guess what, if you search for it, you'll already find one by Ruth Beale here, and a bed made out of books here

Two precedents for Marie's book are the installation Words by Allan Kaprow (who coined the term "Happenings") and  The Big Book by Alison Knowles. In 1962, and then reinvented in 2005, Words was presented as two rooms filled with writings and graffiti, sounds of Kaprow speaking, blinking lights,  chalk, and strips of torn sheets hanging from the ceiling to support pieces of blank paper that invited visitors to add to the installation. The Big Book was exhibited in 1967, and contained a typewriter, a hotplate, sound, and other intriguing features, meant to be experienced physically, but not a collaboration with the public. It apparently traveled to various venues and, after a lively run, finally disintegrated. At the time, both installations likely gave the visitors the feeling of being enveloped by a book, just as Marie's book did in 1986 and again in 2014.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Montages from the 1970s

Maybe it was my introduction to mandalas in elementary school. Maybe it was the artist Peter Max or the animation in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, designed by Heinz Edelmann (I did have a Yellow Submarine lunchbox). Whatever it was, my young self dug the style and colors and psychedelic patterns of the times, which included rainbows, colorful rivers, flowers, hearts, smiley faces, and peace signs. 

I was requested to clear out my old artwork from my parents' home, and here is a series I found from 1973-76. They won't last forever: I drew them with regular marking pens on 5 x 7" index cards. Because all of them, except one, was stored in the dark, the colors are still remarkably bright.

Most likely while listening to 93KHJ-AM, then Top 40 radio (now a Spanish language news station), I started with an organic outline and then added the sections.

June 1973

February 1974

February 1974

April 1974



October 10, 1976

Looking back, I see I also would have been interested in Gond art: Indian art that employs signature patterns developed from nature (see "Personal Patterns: Gond Art and Books from India" for details). Grounding a pattern in reality deepens the connection to the viewer; a shared experience. On the other hand, my patterns were taken from the aesthetic of 1970s popular culture, which, at age eleven, was quite real to me.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Collagraphs on a Sign Press, Letterpress & By Hand

A recent posting on the Book Arts ListServe prompted me to think again about what some people call "Sandragraphs," but are typically known in the printmaking community as "collagraphs" (a way to print raised collages) also spelled "collographs."

In Sandra and Harry Reese's version (hence the renaming after Sandra), low-relief objects such as coins, leaves, torn or cut paper, or string are attached to a wooden block with acrylic gel medium. A piece of muslin is stretched tightly over this assemblage and adhered with more gel medium. All is let dry, then inked up and printed, either by hand or on a press. Depending upon the block, paper may be needed to shim the block to type high so it can be printed on the letterpress.

In fact, the muslin can be omitted and only gel medium is necessary. I have several old and used linoleum blocks and by turning one over, I can adhere low-relief objects with a result that is pretty much type high so I can print it on my letterpress. You can, of course, ink it up with a brayer and print by hand as well. (Without a letterpress, collagraphs may be made by affixing objects with the gel medium to a piece of cardboard and printed by hand.)

Choose some low-relief objects (no thicker than a penny for letterpress printing) and find an old linoleum block or buy a new one and use the back.

Coat the back of the block with gel medium. (I use heavy gel.)

Adhere low-relief objects.

Coat with gel medium. 

Let dry.

Add another coat of gel medium. Let dry.
If objects seem to be poking out or not completely covered, add a third coat. Let dry.

Use a dab of relief ink (oil based or water based, such as from Daniel Smith, Inc.) and with a brayer, take a tiny bit and roll it out into a square, horizontally and vertically, until the ink patch is light and even. This photo uses oil-based relief printing ink and two colors in what is known as a rainbow roll or split-fountain (nicknamed split-fount).

Ink up the block (also known as the plate) by rolling over it one time horizontally and one time vertically. (Proceed in only one direction for a rainbow roll.) If it doesn't seem inked enough, pick up more ink from the inking stone and repeat the process.

If you want to place the print in a certain area on the paper, use one of your papers underneath the block as a registration guide. Here, the block on top of the guide paper is held in place on the metal press bed with strong magnets.

If you are printing by hand, place a piece of mulberry paper or other soft printmaking paper such as Rives Lightweight on the block. If you have a press of some kind, you can use most kinds of unsized or lightly sized paper (not watercolor paper); the pressure will nearly always yield a good print.

Use a clean brayer to roll over the back of the paper and/or rub with a baren or wooden spoon or other large, flat burnisher. At California College of the Arts, we have a sign press (shown in these photos) that provides the smooth pressure and functions like a big clean brayer.

A collagraphic print!

If you have access to a letterpress, place the block on the bed, lock up and ink as usual to print. Lighter inking and heavy impression works best.

Some details from a scroll I letterpress printed on mulberry paper in 1996. That "yellow" was originally a metallic gold, oil-based, Van Son ink; at the time, it did not look like this at all! But note the clarity of the printed objects. Like in the print above, you can see some brush strokes from the gel medium as well.