I didn't intend to give the impression that I had run away to America. The last two posts were old poems from my last trip there and I was simply reheating them before getting back in the Bibliophilia kitchen, having realised with shock that nearly a month had passed since my previous post. Poor hungry readers, I'm sorry for neglecting you! But trust me, most of that month would have been even more dreary to read about than it was to live*, so we are moving right along folks, into a fine future!
For a long time I have wanted to be able to print the text in my books manually rather than photographically/digitally. Earlier attempts to get ongoing access to letterpress tools and experience were unsuccessful, but my entrance to the Te Kowhai Print Trust (TKPT) illustrates the truism that when it's the right thing at the right time everything happens easily.
TKPT is located in a couple of good sized buildings in the Quarry, a fantastic arts complex tucked into the bush a few minutes walk from downtown Whangarei. TKPT has, amongst numerous treasures for print and paper makers, a goodly variety and quantity of lead type, a cabinet of delectable wooden type and a letterpress printing press. I get the impression that things in general have been a bit quiet lately at TKPT (which has been around for 20 years or more) and no one seems to have touched the type for quite a while.
This is me, near the end of my first full day of play and work at TKPT, thrilled to have printed one of my best words. I spend my first morning exploring Cabinet Two, the most accessible of the 5-6 cabinets of lead type, and beginning to clean and sort its contents. I familiarised myself with trays of dusty spacers and furniture (slivers of metal and blocks of wood used to keep the letters wedged in the right place for printing). Some of these were glued into sticky masses by some unidentified substance that proved no match for vegetable turps and a lot of rubbing. Most of the filth was eventually transferred to my skin and clothes as I became intimately familiar with these useful little things.
Unfortunately, the press designed for the lead type needs a bit of fiddling with before I can start printing so I hadn't expected to actually be able to produce anything on my first day. But the lovely Shonah Scott, who was coaching me, suggested that I have a go with the wooden type that can be printed on the fully operational etching press (pictured below).
The wooden type are poster sized fonts carved out of blocks of hard wood, ranging from 12cm sans serif caps down to a cute chunky 4cm Goudy. I have an idea for a large format book, or perhaps a series of posters, showcasing the big wooden type with a poem called Best Words, so I didn't hesitate in deciding to try laying out the first page. Unfortunately, I discovered that these wooden founts come with only 3 'A's and I needed five for what I was planning. No problem, I had a plan B for a layout which is probably more interesting anyway, involving overprinting. So I spelled out CAPACIOUS backwards in the biggest typeface only to discover that it didn't fit the available tray. The nice thing about playing with these big letters is the lack of fiddly-ness in undoing one approach and trying another.
My next layout was good to go, and Shonah showed me how to set up the etching press and roll out the ink. Because I plan to overprint in black, I wanted a light colour for this first layer of text. Shonah suggested grey and I instantly visualised a kind of dull metalic grey that would compliment the letters' size and shape (think old fashioned newspaper posters). This looked grand on the various bits of coloured paper we tried, especially the leaf green.
By then it was growing late, I was pooped and Shonah had places to go and people to see, so we called it a day. I left with the kind of exhausted contentment that only comes from working very hard at exactly the thing you want to be doing. I can't wait for next Friday (my regular day for playing at TKPT) so I might have to pop in during the week and visit with my lovely sheets of CAPACIOUS and perhaps open a cabinet drawer and let some letters run through my fingers.
*No offence to all those lovely people whose company illuminated the general dreariness.