Gracchus Musings & Interpretations

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As I’ve been working on The Hunter Gracchus this past year or more I’ve read probably to much about Kafka from the terrible recounts of friend Max Brod to David Zane Mairowitz’s and R. Crumb’s musings on his life.

One of the most intriguing and humbling interpretations I’ve found is this short independent piece by Canadian film maker Glenn Stillar:

GracchusLink to view Glenn’s adaptation (20 minutes)

Perhaps it is the north woods sensibility that draws me to this adaptation – the dialogue is paraphrased and, out of necessity of place and time, the setting is altered but in a wonderful fashion. Filmed in three days and starring Stillar’s relatives it nonetheless captures an essence of Kafka’s story and — the burgomaster is a treasure.

A Long Absence

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It has been over a year since my last post, my apologies. A few things on the home front have complicated life in the studio tremendously since last spring.

But – I’m back. And there’s a few things I’d like to catch you up on.

First up, I will once again be in New York next month for the FPBA Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair on April 9th. It will be held at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer across the way from the New York Antiquarian Book Fair at the Park Avenue Armory. With luck, the new Kafka book, The Hunter Gracchus, will be completed and ready for viewing. All of the text is composed, corrected and ready to go in galleys, the paper is here, cover materials and presentation pretty well set. Just something funny about being an artist sometimes and the work doesn’t flow – I am not yet content with my intaglio prints that illustrate Gracchus and I won’t release the book until I am. That’s about it unfortunately.

I have a few small treasures to bring along regardless, a very small book by Robert Frost, Christmas Trees, which is a 100th anniversary printing of the title and a few small broadsides with artwork.

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A couple of the galleys of type ready to go for Kafka


An exciting forthcoming project is a new collaboration with my old partner James Dissette which will come out under our Chester River Press imprint. Moon as Bright as Water is a newly translated body of poems by Qin Guan dating from the 11th century Chinese Northern Song dynasty. Never before published, this translation is by William McNaughton and David Young with a foreword by William McNaughton. Jim and I first started talking about this project over 1o years ago and sometimes things just take a little longer to perk their way into existence. Look for it this summer as we are now doing page layouts with the final text editing completed now. Here is an early prototype of the title page for your amusement:

MoonTitle

I’ve also been busy here close to home, a collaboration with Blackbird Arts in Traverse City to create a new book arts center in Northern Michigan – Blackbird Book Arts & Press. Work began last fall with planning and moving presses into the space and I am pleased that our initial offerings have been a huge success. The space includes facilities for letterpress, intaglio, silk screen and workspace for bindery activities. Things will ramp up this summer with a variety of workshops and classes given by myself and other talented practitioners of the “black arts” from across the country.


I have been honored with being given one of the 2016 Michigan Traditional Arts Apprenticeship Awards. The grant is administered by Michigan State University Museum’s Michigan Traditional Arts Program. It was established with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and is sustained through a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. This years current apprentice is Daniel Schneider who started working with me last September. Some of you may have met him at the last couple Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum Wayzgooses where he has presented his research on worker skill and industrial wood type production.

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Daniel doing the Vandercook shuffle


More to come soon. Would love to “wow” you with something new in the next month.

Preview ~ Franz Kafka, The Hunter Gracchus

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Here is a small preview of my newest book project that will be available to view at Codex later this week. The latest working prototype for The Hunter Gracchus by Franz Kafka which is a short story I fell in love with decades ago and now, finally, I get to have my way with it.

I’ve already gone over most of the details of having a new English language version made in an earlier post but late last week I received the final working draft from my translator, Jamie Lee Searle. Now I can finally commit to some of the intaglio prints I’ve been working on for the book. Only one of them is ready to show and it is still just a proof but I think I’ve narrowed it down to 4 or 5 others that will be used in the book. They are all mostly moody and tonal created with mezzotint, roulette and stipple with a little bit of burin work. I will be using 14pt Weiss for body type and currently the page size is about 7 ¾ x 9 inches. I’ve been liking the results so far using 175gsm Somerset Book paper for the intaglio printing, the velvet surface and moderate sizing content is wonderful for tonal print work and text is beautiful with the dampened sheet.

All of this is subject to change of course, the margins, and title page particularly, will vary as I experiment some more but here are pictures for proof of concept. The fragility and delicacy of the intaglio prints will definitely make this a short edition of no more than 60 books if I’m lucky.

Fine Bindings for Codex & Events in Seattle

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In less than a week I will be in Berkeley California for the Codex International Book Fair & Symposium. Preparations have been going full force here at Deep Wood Press creating new presentation bindings of some of the most recent books and I now have the final draft of my new Kafka translation for The Hunter Gracchus that will preview at the Fair.

A couple of updates from the last post: Exquisite Editions – An International Exhibition of Finely Printed Books now has a web page, so if you happen to be in Dublin, Ireland March 4th – April 18th stop into the National Print Museum for what looks to be a beautiful show of contemporary letterpress book editions.

The lectures and workshop I’m giving for the Seattle Book Arts Guild now has web pages up for the events here. Lectures are Feb. 12th at 7pm at the University of Washington Library, Feb. 13th at Pacific Lutheran University at 4pm and the workshop is Feb 14th & 15th at Pacific Lutheran from 9am-5pm.

With luck I may be able to get one last post up before I leave this week of some pics of the Gracchus prototype but time is running short. I’ll leave you for now with some pictures of some of the presentation bindings I’ll be bringing with me to Codex. Hopefully I will see some of you there!

Kafka, Dublin, Berkeley, Seattle and leather bits….

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I wish I had some beautiful pictures of new work to add to this post but alas, sometimes running a business and being an artist has nothing to do with actually making art! Fear not, the pictures are coming soon.

 

The Hunter Gracchus

The most newsworthy part of “not actually making art” is probably the long negotiating process I recently concluded with a literary translator from the UK who I have retained to create a new rendition of Franz Kafka’s The Hunter Gracchus. Gracchus is a project I’ve been waiting on for at least a decade and after yet another round earlier this summerFranz Kafka trying to secure rights to reprint from Schocken/Random House was a bust. I needed permission to reprint the original translated version by the husband and wife team of Edwin and Willa Muir in the 1940’s. I decided to look further into Kafka’s estate and was happy to discover that his works are now considered out of copyright in both the EU and USA – in the German anyway.

Here’s where Jamie Lee Searle comes into the picture. There are more translators available for hire in the the EU for reasonable rates than the US, go figure, and most based in the US are busy academics so I had some research and inquiries to make before I could even approach someone I felt competent for the project. While I can’t read German I admired the breadth and selection of titles that Jamie has done and she is quite well regarded by her peers so I sent her an inquiry last October about the project. I am happy to say I will be getting the first drafts in the next few days and hope to have at least some prototype pages to show at Codex next month. I’ve recently acquired the matrices for casting the typeface Weiss in 4 sizes and with luck the Linotype will cooperate and give me 50 good lines as it is bitterly cold outside right now at 6º (-14 C) and it is difficult to convince any of these old cast iron and steel behemoths to perform well in these temps.

Dublin

I’ve also been working on a presentation binding for the last of the deluxe editions of The Heart of Darkness. This binding is for an exhibit at The National Print Museum in Dublin, Ireland which I am happy to be part of along with 24 other invited fine press printers from around the world. There are just a couple copies of this book left in the regular edition and this is the last of the deluxe copies for sale. A good run for a book that was finished 4 years ago and was probably the most fun project that I did in partnership with Chester River Press.

Berkeley − codex

I’ve been working on more presentation bindings/deluxe editions of my most recent books in preparation for the CODEX Book Fair and Symposium coming up in February 8th – 11th where I will be at my table full of Deep Wood Press books. There will definitely be pictures of unique bindings and books gracing this blog in the very near future as these projects near photo worthy stages so please stay tuned.

” Over 200 of the world’s most distinguished book artists and artisans, private presses, and fine art publishers will be exhibiting their work at the upcoming biennial CODEX International Book Fair. This is the largest book fair of its kind in the world today!

  There is no better place to find and collect the world’s greatest contemporary artist books, fine press books, and fine art editions than at CODEX. Now in it’s 10th year, CODEX has been acknowledged as the leading International Fine Press and Artist book fair. Exhibitors are coming from Germany, UK, Italy, France, South America, The Netherlands, Mexico, Israel, China, Austria, Poland, Australia, Russia, and Japan. The event also attracts special collections librarians, curators, and private collectors from all over the world. “This is THE place to see the latest work from ‘the best of the best’ “ states Peter Rutledge Koch, Founder of the CODEX Foundation.

  Coinciding with the Book Fair is a two-day CODEX Symposium that takes place at the Anna Head Alumnae Hall in the mornings before the Book Fair on February 9 & 10. “

– see you in Berkeley at CODEX, come join the madness!

Seattle − workshop & lecture

I’ll also be teaching a workshop and giving a couple talks in Washington state  immediately following Codex on February 12th – 16th. I am teaching a workshop for the Seattle Book Arts Guild on the 14th & 15th from 9:00am-5:00pm Reduction and Multi-block Color Printing with Linoleum Blocks for Letterpress at Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, see here for contact information. I’ll be giving a talk which will be an overview of the evolution of Deep Wood Press over the past 23 years for the Guild on the 12th and also at the University of Puget Sound on the 13th.

 

A Broadside for Terrance Hayes ~ process

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I’ve admired the poetry of Terrance Hayes since a friend recommended him a couple of years ago so when I got word he was coming to my part of the world I took note, and made a few inquiries. I had done a broadside for Robert Hass when he came to Interlochen Center for the Arts in 2006 so had already set a precedence for the project to happen and they were very receptive. Then the game of working with an author and their publisher on a short schedule for selection and proper clearance began!

I was sent the piece Bower which is excerpted from the poem Arbor for Butch in the book Lighthead. I was familiar with the poem as a whole and struggled with what sort of art or ornamentation this fragment of a poem should/could have accompany it. In the end I decided to let these four lines of text stand on their own and this was probably influenced by the fact that I had a linocut I’d done but hadn’t used for anything “bookish” yet which fit well with the poem especially after hacking a bit off the top of the block. Also, time was short, I had to work with materials and paper I had on hand, no time to order anything in.

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So here it is as it turned out. Three colors on mould-made German Zerkall Frankfurt cream paper, 15 x 8.5 inches, hand set in Garamond in 24 and 72pt type and printed on my Vandercook 219OS with an additional bit of text on the back commemorating the evening and credits. The paper was not ideal, it is a beautiful sheet but the pronounced laid lines from the mould made printing the solids on the linoleum block quite difficult solved by being diligent with ink, a soft packing and running the sheet through the press twice. The Frankfurt paper was the only nice stock I had in enough quantity to do 100 broadsides so the dimensions of the broadside were more or less dictated by how the sheets could be divided and since it had such a lovely deckle edge from the mould, 100 is a small enough quantity to tear down by hand.

From the beginning I planned on the text running into the linocut so had made paper cut outs of the proofed text and moved it around with prints pulled from the linocut to plan my composition. I printed the lino first but now, to my eye, I feel the text crowds the image and would have benefitted from being moved a bit further away but stubbornly decided to keep my left margin equal − these are the hazards of only having a couple of days to devote to something. I prefer to have various proofs just hanging around the studio for a few days or a few weeks to look at. It’s fast enough to put some ink on the slab bust out a brayer and tweak the print or play with word spacing in the type, add leading, move elements around and “play”.

 

My approach on book and typographic composition comes from my fine art background first where typically a painting or print evolves over a period of time. Blocks of text are tones of color or shades of grey, how they work with whatever other non-typographic elements might be present and the space of the page spread and the overall book design. My early books were far more “experimental” with type I think but not always in a good way, so much forever to learn. I have an advantage, I think, in my book production because I do every part of the process here – I envision the whole of the book from the beginning from material selection to what the cover will look like. Knowledge of paper and bookbinding informs much information on creating the page layout and selection of stock for accompanying art, doing the artwork for the project gives me flexibility in design, and there is no reason why anything can’t change as the project progresses.

this is analog design.   this is letterpress.

 

For those who don’t know, (taken from Wikipedia) Terrance Hayes first book of poetry, Muscular Music (1999), won both the Whiting Writers Award and the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. His second collection, Hip Logic (2002), won the National Poetry Series, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award, and runner-up for the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. He won the National Book Award for Lighthead.

Hayes poems have appeared in literary journals and magazines including The New YorkerThe American Poetry ReviewPloughsharesFenceThe Kenyon ReviewJubilat Harvard ReviewWest Branch, and Poetry.

In September 2014, he was honored as one of the twenty-one  2014 fellows of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation – one of the most prestigious prizes that is awarded for artists, scholars and professionals.

 

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.

WHAT IS LETTERPRESS PRINTING?

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:

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