A Return to Process and Dialogue


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First off, having recently returned from a most encouraging showing of my books at Oak Knoll this past week, I must say thank you to many who have followed this blog and whose friendships I continue to make and cement in the “real” world. I was amazed how many mentioned reading this or the social media bits of DWP’s online presence and I feel I must apologize for this blog having turned more into a PR tool or travelogue. It was my intention from the beginning for this to be more about process and dialogue. So let’s begin again and I will attempt to stay more on track though I will still mention new work or events but direct you to other sources for more details. This will be a somewhat longer post to get things rolling.

type hand-set on a curve

type hand-set on a curve

Dialogue – what is letterpress printing?

At these events and exhibits I have the pleasure of the company of fellow printers as well as a cultivated relationship with private and institutional collectors of my books. It is with interest I have noted a recurring theme of discussion which has been raging in the fine press world for over two decades but it seems the buying public is just starting to wonder: What is letterpress printing? Allow me a couple of paragraphs to cover the general process and history, neither exhaustive or fully concise:

  By definition I suppose it is printing from a relief surface via letterpress. Letterpress is a term that has only come into existence really in the past 50 years and has morphed into both verb and noun use. Prior to this time it was the only widely used reproductive process as innovated by Gutenberg in the 15th century and it was merely “printing” and those who printed were “Printers” Today, those of us who continue the tradition, draw on this legacy for better or worse.

  Gutenberg’s legacy is that of the matrix from which type is cast in a mould. Type is something you can pick up with your fingers and compose into words, form sentences, paragraphs and pages with. It is the famous “26 soldiers of lead” which conquers ignorance and tyrants. Type remained in this form until the late 19th century when machine composition became a possibility with the technology and resources made available by the industrial revolution and manifested by Monotype composition casting equipment and the Linotype and Intertype line casting innovations. Both of these new means of putting words into page form allowed for composition to be done via a keyboard and then cast into type metal from that action to form the composed page. With this innovation and increase in production some compromise was made in typography as compared to hand composition but refinements could be used to help negate and bridge the narrow gap. This technology remained in place essentially until the 1980’s with the advent of the ease of modern desktop publishing with the dark days of film composition enjoying a thankfully brief stay in the 60’s-70’s.

So why is the question being asked now – what is letterpress printing? What is new now and not part of the 500-year-old tradition of printing is the advent of polymer plate printing. Arguably this technology is what may have saved letterpress from near death and made it accessible and popular with small presses offering wedding invitations, business identities, packaging, ephemera and – books. Printing from plates is relatively easy and they are created predominantly on computers. No knowledge of the history or the art of printing is necessary nor are many of the skills ingrained in producing printing with metal types needed.

Nearly everyone with a computer can compose text, add illustration and even make a book. True also that anyone given a box of paint and a brush can paint a picture. The quality of the product created is the sum of the individual’s understanding of the process, their artistic abilities, level of craftsmanship and, I would add, their understanding of the history of their craft and those who shaped it. There are countless programs now in higher education across the US, the UK and beyond teaching letterpress and book arts courses in degree programs and, thankfully, almost all of them start teaching students the basics of hand typography – assembling type you can pick up from cases and composing the project as has been done since Gutenberg. The polymer machine sits in the corner biding it’s time and offering sweet promise of relative ease and speedy efficiency to be utilized later.

I fully acknowledge that now, at this point in time, it is very difficult to assemble a letterpress shop. The machines, fonts of type and supporting industry revolving around letterpress ceased to exist in the 60’s for the most part. Twenty two years ago when I started printing book forms I received the bulk of my equipment for free or little money merely to make room in more progressive established print shops for more storage or that new all-in-one color laser/dye sub/inkjet thing that did 90% of what their customers wanted. What is left now of the equipment is often quite expensive to purchase and, while type still exists, it is not the sturdy foundry type of the days of old and still commands a premium prices as well. Printing from plates also has the potential of producing work of the highest quality indistinguishable from metal type except maybe for being “too perfect” – not a guarantee but full potential if used by a typographer and designer skilled in better than average desktop publishing software.


Is it merely printing from a raised surface? Or is it more?

What is it to you? To what do you give value?

Off to Oak Knoll Bookfest XVIII


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This weekend, Oct 3rd-5th, I will be in New Castle, Delaware for Oak Knoll Fest XVIII. I ‘ll have plenty of my books, broadsides and a bit of ephemera along with me so if you are so inclined to make a journey to this little village that time forgot (George Washington slept here) come to the fest for a weekend of fine books from 39 other fine press printers from around the world.

The theme this year is “Craftsman to Collector: Selling and Buying the Fine Press Book.” Printers, librarians, booksellers, and collectors will discuss that theme in a free symposium (registration required) on Friday, focusing on the various avenues printers can use to share their work with the world.

The book fair follows on Saturday and Sunday. See this year’s exhibitors, including 40+ printers from North America and Europe, here.

We will also host talks by John Randle of the Whittington Press, Carolee Campbell of the Ninja Press, and Oak Knoll Books owner Bob Fleck, each speaking their own experiences in the world of books.

Here are some of the special goodies that I’ll be bringing along with me for the trip, the tan leather book with the fish is the only binding I didn’t do myself, it was done by Don Etherington:

PBS feature, new special bindings and being on the road.


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Again it seems like time flies and no updates to the blog. Fear not! I’m merely busy and not slacking much aside from the occasional foray on the river.


The opening sequence for A Craftsman’s Legacy. Look for me at around 38 seconds at the intaglio press with host Eric Gorges.

The biggest news would have to be that the television show, A Craftsmans’s Legacy, has started showing across the country. I will be the subject of episode 11 “The Bookmaker” so check your local or regional PBS television network listings as each affiliate creates their own programing schedule. The show is still being picked up across the country for the new fall season and if you happen to be near Palais des Festivals, Cannes, France next month APT Worldwide, the international sales arm of distributor American Public Television, will feature the series at the upcoming MIPCOM so there’s a chance it could be picked up for international viewing.

I’m happy to report that most all of the binding projects are finishing up – all of the edition binding work for The Mad Angler Poems and The Intruder are complete and many of the quite late presentation bindings and deluxe copies of the books are done. All this in preparation for Oak Knoll Bookfest coming up in less than a month on October 3rd-5th in Newcastle, DE as well as CODEX International Book Fair & Symposium coming up next February 8th-11th in Berkeley, CA. I’ve just returned from a long weekend in Ann Arbor, MI for the 12th annual Kerrytown BookFest which was lovely as usual. A special treat was being on a speaking panel with Ken Mikolowski who founded the Alternative Press in Detroit in the 1960s.

Some of the fine bindings recently completed

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This was a lot of hand work that I couldn’t have accomplished without my excellent assistant this past summer, Erin Murray, who is flying off to the UK tomorrow to start her MFA program in book conservation at University of the Arts London, Camberwell. Erin will be missed around here I assure you, she was my apprentice 2 years ago and came back to work for me this past summer to help out, learn some more and prepare for her future studies. Have a look at her website here to get an idea of the sort of creative talent she has.


I’m currently waiting for a new translation for the Kafka piece, finishing a couple commissioned works and getting prints ediitioned for the upcoming series of shows. Hopefully I’ll have a prototype of the Kafka for Oak Knoll.

Diana Gabaldon keepsake completed


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Finished the Diana Gabaldon broadside. 13×10″ sheet size, 2 colors. Additional bit of a tag line and credits tastefully printed on the back side. I had to print 200 of them as the event has been sold out. I wish I would have had more lead time on this and could have acquired type or had a plate made to composed the main display font in a more historically accurate font like Caslon but some beat up Americana will have to do, only off by about 200 years…


Diana Gabaldon keepsake

The Diana Gabaldon keepsake for the NWS event in Traverse City, July 7, 2014.

Post Event thoughts

A little update after last nights event. I don’t always like meeting authors or listening to them speak in public about their work but this was an exception. Diana is a genuine and real human being that, despite her amazing and deserved success, came off with wit and honesty about her process and was very engaging to the audience. She also liked the broadsides and was pleased with the additional copies I made for here on the nicer paper stock. It was a capacity sold out crowd at the Traverse City Opera House. I arrived late (of course) and was stunned to see the line for the door wrap around the block – that doesn’t happen in Northern Michigan very often. We got in, delivered the broadsides and settled for balcony seats which was pretty much all that was left. I always feel a little bad about the extra printed items I make for these events as then it is just one more thing that the author might be expected to sign but Diana was very gracious and stuck it out until the end of the line.

My wife and I got out early with still a long line behind us and went for dinner nearby. As serendipity and as luck would have it Diana, Doug Stanton and a few other people ended up at the same restaurant and asked us to join them, very nice end to the evening though already late. Ouch, how much do you pay your baby sitters? Not the best of pics here from the phone camera:

A keepsake for Diana Gabaldon


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Diana Gabaldon

Last fall I started doing occasional ephemeral printing for the National Writers Series and started with a poem for Nikki Giovanni. Now, with very short notice, I’ve received the “go ahead” from Diana Gabaldon’s publishers to do something for her evening of conversation at the Traverse City Opera House with the NWS.

But I only have 7 days to do it. Ah well, deadlines are fun, right? Right?

Diana’s famed series began in 1991 with her first novel, Outlander, which became a wildly popular historical, sci-fi, adventure, romance, non-fiction, and fantasy series. Readers have been hanging on the edge of their seats ever since for the next thrilling installment of Claire and Jamie’s story. The seven book series has sold more than 20 million copies and a television series based on the Outlander series is currently filming and will premiere on Starz network later this year.

So here’s the deal, apparently I can pretty much use any of Diana’s writing that I want but I’ve not read her books. (sorry) My wife is a big fan, many other good friends too so I know some of the story – one thing I recall is that the heroine hooks up with a printer at some point in time which, obviously, piques my interest. So here it is from Voyager, book three in the Outlander series:


It was a longish, winding close, and the printshop was at the foot. There were thriving businesses and tenements on either side, but I had no attention to spare for anything beyond the neat white sign that hung by the door.

A. Malcolm

Printer and Bookseller

It said beneath this, Books, calling cards, pamphlets, broadsheets, letters, etc.

I stretched out my hand and touched the black letters of the name. A. Malcolm. Alexander Malcolm. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Perhaps.


What do you think? Captures enough of the essence of the series to be a memorable little bit with the first reunion between Jamie and Claire? Do you have a better suggestion? I need it quick to start playing with type and composition!

The Traverse City National Writers Series was started back in 2009. Since its inception over 70 writers of note from around the world have come to Northern Michigan to give readings in the Traverse City Opera House, meet the local book culture and perhaps ingest enough of our region to spark their imaginations in other creative ways. On July 7th Diana Gabaldon will have a conversation with a host and talk about her book series and then, of course, you can buy her books, chat a little and, if you’re lucky, get something signed. As a bonus for buying a book on this evening you will receive a copy of the little broadside I am making for Diana and the NWS in an edition of no more than 100.


The Mad Angler Poems – trout, ink and paper


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I’m happy to announce the arrival of The Mad Angler Poems, the latest book of verse by Michael Delp produced here at Deep Wood Press. Twenty four poems accompanied by 5 hand colored wood engravings by Chad Pastotnik and an introduction by Jack Driscoll.

Ever since last falls release of Mike’s poem The Mad Angler’s Manifesto which I produced as a large broadside I have been working on this updated and complete body of poems that embodies the habitat of trout as sacred places and the defilement, which is man, of the balance of nature. While the theme may be angling, trout specific and a little angry these poems transcend the niche and are just as much about how we interact with the natural world and the compromises and justifications we make to do it. Most often this is also done with coyote charm and devilish delight – excerpted from The Mad Angler Speaks Truth to Power:

I say that water is better than money,
something wet and smooth to be taken in and coveted.
I say that long ago we spoke to water and it spoke back.

Water is a form of being saved, lying down,
something wise in our cells seeking gradients,
places to run and places to rest.
I claim that once, in a dream, I walked on water.
Storms came.
I entered the clouds and when I came back down,
I spit the truth.

Michael Delp is a writer of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction whose works have appeared in numerous national publications. He is the author of the following five books from Wayne State University Press – Over the Graves of Horses (1989), Under the Influence of Water (1992), The Coast of Nowhere (1997), The Last Good Water (2003), and As If We Were Prey (2010) in addition to six chapbooks of poetry and being the co-editor of the Made In Michigan book series from Wayne State University Press. He taught creative writing at the Interlochen Arts Academy, has twice been the winner of the Passages North/NEH Poetry Competition, and has won a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award.

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The regular edition is quarter-bound with a brown Harmatan Moroccan goat with a cotton/linen Asahi book cloth. Gold title on spine with a varnished panel on the cover cloth overprinted with the brown drake fly wood engraving and Hahnemuhle Bugra in mocha colored flyleaves back up the book blocks which are hand sewn on straps. The book is composed in 11 and 14pt  Janson with Garamond in display sizes and printed in 2 colors on Magnani Revere Book cotton 120gsm paper. 8 7/8 x 6 7/8 x 1/2 inches, 33 pages.

Edition of 71 books, the first 5 are reserved for the deluxe edition and one special copy for the author. Signed, numbered and available for purchase on the Deep Wood Press website for $350.00.

from The Prayer of The Mad Angler:

“I pray that the water in the heart of Jesus might wash away the sins of fools who erect dams, channel rivers, build levies
and create false cataracts in the lobbies of hotels.

I pray for eddies, backwaters, the slow places where current cannot find its way and I pray for shallow riffles where gravel churns up new words constantly,
the river a book spoken in all kinds of weather.”

The wild flurry that is DWP


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Ok, so I’m a bad blogger but I’ve been busy enough. I am currently wrapping up the new book The Mad Angler Poems by Michael Delp (details of which will appear in a blog post this coming week) having just finished the wood engraving press run last Friday. I’ve got company for the summer in the studio – my old apprentice, Erin Murray, is here to help before she heads off to graduate work at the University of the Arts London, Camberwell this fall. Erin is a big help in the studio, I trust her skills and judgement in the bindery and she is creating her own little wonders of paper and ink while she’s here as well. That is another future blog post – I will feature some of the apprentices I’ve had here at DWP from the last 15 years. I’ve lost touch with some of them but many are still kicking out some wonderful prints, bindings or books and are making their own way in the art world.

Probably the biggest news since New York is the PBS film crew that came to shoot a segment for a new national series that will premiere this fall – A Craftsman’s Legacy. No idea when it will air on television and a quick internet search doesn’t turn anything up yet either. I’ll be sure to let you know when I know. It was a long day of shooting, not sure what parts of the 11+ hours will make the show. Here’s a couple pics of the host, Eric Gorges, and some of the crew in action.


On another note, last fall I had a visit from James Spica who is the editor for Michigan’s Trout Unlimited magazine Michigan Trout. James was amused enough to write a story about the visit and I’m happy to say it will be appearing in The Flyfish Journal in this falls issue along with some artwork or studio pics that FFJ requested which will help cement some of the mythology surrounding DWP. James stopped in again a couple weeks ago when he was back from Philly, we got out on the water and were properly skunked. It’s been a slow start for trout here in the north this summer.


A Deep Wood Journal is also coming along nicely though there is still nothing to show for it that I can share at the moment. Let’s just say that the quality of writing and the writers themselves won’t disappoint you and I’m anxious to be able to disclose more information with you as soon as some more details are taken care of. Can I tempt you with a new translation by Daniel Mark Epstein?

This fall I have a couple events lined up. On September 7th I’ll be part of the 12th annual Kerrytown Bookfest again in Ann Arbor, MI and will be on a panel of Michigan based independent presses in addition to demonstrating intaglio printing throughout the day. In October I’ll be in Newcastle, Delaware for Oak Knoll Fest XVIII from the 3rd-5th. Oak Knoll Fest is another show sponsored by the Fine Press Book Association and, like our NY show, will draw fine printers from around the world to once again gather to sell our books and have a small symposium, a few drinks and a lovely time in this village that time forgot.

new castle


Once again, for those of you who aren’t smitten, sorry for all the trouty stuff that makes the recurring visit on these pages. Regular literature that everyone enjoys is coming soon. Ok, here’s one teaser prototype title page for the new book before it comes out this week:


New Literary Journal ~ we’ve got a name!


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It’s been some time now since the announcement of this project back in October of 2013 and the solicitation of name ideas. I wanted a name that “zinged” and though there were many responses both here and off the blog for suggestions none of them really hit me and after all these months I’ve decided to go with my first thoughts on the idea. I didn’t want to appear to be vainglorious of Deep Wood Press but in this age of SEO nonsense and our inundation of ephemeral media it just makes sense to go with the flow. So without further ado let me introduce the forthcoming

A Deep Wood Journal


In these months of silence on the subject progress has been made – my editorial partners on this project and I have been going over layout ideas, talking to some of our favorite writers and artists and working out a way that this can be done and not be overwhelmed by it – I’ve other books to print as well! I’ve talked to other publishers of such journals also, most recently in New York during the FPBA fair I had the good fortune of having a table next to John Randal and he was very helpful with some suggestions and experience based on his 31 issues of Matrix. We’ve decided to make this an annual publication and are working towards a tentative release date for this December or January 2015. I am working with a talented young designer to put together a web presence for the journal which will, hopefully, be online and have some content as well as subscription information. At this point we are not taking submissions but that will most likely change with time as I plan to be in this for the long haul. I will say that the author and artist list we have now will blow your socks off with the melding of prose, poetry and art in a luscious little finely printed gem. Aesthetics will be as important as content as far as I’m concerned.

It looks like a commenter back in October has won a prize as well but his avatar is currently not linking to an email so if Mark Mansfield is still reading this blog please contact me about your free copy of A Deep Wood Journal #1!

And finally, just so no one thinks I’m a complete slacker, here’s a little project that was cranked out last week for musician friend Seth Bernard. Not something I do on a regular basis here at DWP but since I’ve done his previous 2 albums and he’s such a good guy, comes to help the process along, plus we always have a good time and take the occasional break to strum a guitar – why not. With only a few days to design, layout and set the type I’m fairly pleased except for the broken serifs on the italic lower case “y”s on the front cover. The image on the right of the inside jacket is difficult to photograph because it is a metallic copper colored ink but in “real life” it comes off quite well and yes, that old wood engraving on the cover is getting quite a lot of extended use. All run through the old 1911 8×12 C&P platen press 4 times plus the foil stamp run – 2 solid days of printing for 1250 CD packages.



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