Sunday, March 04, 2007


Reflecting on my second LetterPress Friday I can see at this point I am learning more about myself than I am about printing. And I'm learning a lot about printing. And cleaning.

Practically the first thing I did when I arrived was devise a filter for the vacuum cleaner nozzle (isn't nozzle a great word?) which enabled me to vacuum the dust out of cases of lead type without ending up with a vacuum bag full of pied type. This was a much quicker and cleaner method than the others I considered (e.g. tipping it all out to brush clean) or tried (e.g. blowing with a hairdryer). It still took the better part of four hours to clean 13 drawers of one cabinet. Oh, but that cabinet is not only usable but positively inviting now (especially since Shonah cleaned the outside while I did the insides).

After that exercise I am, inevitably, much more comfortable with finding my way around the cases of type now. I had imagined that learning to typeset would be like learning to touch type but it turns out that the type drawers are not necessarily arranged identically. The lowercase letters are consistent but the uppercase, punctuation and numbers seem a bit more random. Finished with cleaning for the day, I set four lines of type, in a conveniently generous 30pt Univers (sans serif much like the big wooden blocks I used last week).

Ah, this is what I'd been waiting and working for: An encounter with my text slowed down to a thoughtful search for each letter. Remember your first attempt to write with a keyboard? Imagine that initial hunt and peck exercise slowed by a lack of labels, and the requirement to make sure each piece of type is oriented correctly. Imagine putting together words and sentences backwards. Imagine handling slivers of punctuation the width of matchsticks. Imagine having to insert tiny blocks of lead between words and line to make spaces. It's slow, labourious, painstaking work, especially the first time. Not coincidentally these are the qualities of craft I most like to ground my imaginative work with.

Thanks to Shonah's proofreading (note to self: don't try this without a proofreader who can read backwards) I was ready to try overprinting onto the big grey CAPACIOUS I printed last week. There are a lot of variables to consider in printing and registration was the one I was least interested in, since (perhaps erroneously) I didn't anticipate overprinting to play a big role in my letterpress future. The sugar paper to hand last week when I had my first go at printing is perhaps too rough for the fine detail of lead type, and is such poor quality that I felt little of the perfectionism that drives me when working with $4 sheets of paper. Then there was the mid-afternoon Northland summer heat drying up the ink and making me feel hot and bothered. Suffice to say I wasn't getting the results I wanted and I couldn't/wouldn't/didn't figure out what to change.

Nothing is ever wasted and forty-eight hours of subsequent reflection have milked extraordinary value from my second LetterPress Friday. In response to the technical experience and challenges of the day I have developed a detailed plan for the book that will contain CAPACIOUS and my other powerful words, including paper, structure, size, type and (loosely) colours; and game plan for making it.

Mulling over my feelings, reactions and decisions during the day I had an insight about my art practice. I like to work alone and this is how I've always made the books I care about. When I work alone I have clarity and focus, courage and insight. I set my own pace and rhythm. But I also enjoy company during some aspects of book making. Particularly while learning this new skill I need and appreciate being around people with knowledge who can help and advise me. And I like Shonah and Toa and the other people who hang out at TKPT. So my challenge is to bring into the shared studio all my own clarity and focus, courage and insight, and a commitment to trusting my own pace and rhythm. I have a feeling that if I can achieve that, there will be a ripple effect enhancing many other areas of my life.

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