Gaspereau Press just got word that it has been awarded five prizes in 28th annual Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. I designed all of Gaspereau’s winning books, with the exception of one which I co-designed with Robert Bringhurst. All the books were produced here at the printshop by Gary Dunfield and I and our small but able staff. According to the Society’s press release, judges Marian Bantjes, Linda Gustafson, and Peter Koch selected 30 winning titles in eight categories from the 252 entries published in 2009. Gaspereau Press submitted books in three of eight categories and was awarded first place in all three.
You can find out more about the Vancouver-based Alcuin Society and read their full press release by visiting their web site.
GASPEREAU’S WINNING DESIGNS
Robert Bringhurst’s Selected Poems
(First Prize, Poetry)
I always enjoy working with Robert Bringhurst on design projects. We manage to keep the cross-continental arm wrestling to a minimum, and I think that the only thing either of us like nearly so much as typesetting a book ourselves is watching what typographic solutions the other fellow can come up with. Robert is one of the most able typographers on in the country, and the author of the modern typographer’s bible, The Elements of Typographic Style. On Selected Poems, Robert did the heavy lifting on the text design, setting as he selected and edited the poems, with input from me along the way. I took the lead on the jacket and cover, which are printed letterpress, black and silver ink on black felt-finish paper. It's one of my usual tricks, designing an object that plays with light. You hold the book in your hands in order to get the full effect. A photocopy or photograph won't cut it, nor will Kindle. The main type used in this book was Robert Slimbach’s Arno, issued by Adobe.
Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen’s Lean-To
(Second Prize, Poetry)
Tonja Gunvaldsen Klaassen’s Lean-To posed some interesting problems, namely that some of the poems set quite wide. I used Rod McDonald’s Laurentian types to set the book, which is narrow without seeming so and reads well between 9 and 10 points. The jacket was printed letterpress on paper that was handmade by the good folks at Saint-Armand in Montreal. I’m always reluctant to introduce ‘pictorial elements’ to collections of stories or poems as I find them too documentary and reductive. Images have a tendency to take over, after all, and only rarely can one image represent a whole book of poems. There is a lazy stock-photo approach to poetry book covers that presently dominates the trade. I’ve written about this tendency in a book about design and literary publishing that I'm slowly putting together, entitled Smoke Proofs (likely release date to be 2012). In this book, I employed a simple tent-shaped triangle as an icon, and a ‘lean-to’ splash of yellow on the title page. The triangle on the jacket is printed in white ink on yellow paper, an unusual move in a world where most printing start with white paper and print the yellow on top of it. This book is also nominated for the Atlantic Poetry Prize.
Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists
(First Prize, Prose Fiction)
Last summer, I found myself reworking the off-the-shelf digital version of Eric Gill’s typeface Joanna, which I intend to use in a letterpress book we’re producing about the artist Alex Colville. Basically, I was reviving some of the elements (like a set of taller capital letters) which were present in Gill’s 1930 foundry version of the type but which were not adopted when the typeface was revised for commercial release by Monotype. I decided to use this tuned-up version of the type in Johanna’s The Sentimentalists. Wesley Bates had met Johanna at our wayzgoose in 2008, and was keen to work on her next book. We printed his pencil drawing on a letterpress using a photopolymer plate, which gives it a really gritty look. The book is set with a ragged right margin, with a nod to Gill’s Essay on Typography. The jacket paper is Neenah Classic Laid Camel Hair.
Anne Simpson’s The Marram Grass
(First Prize, Prose Non-Fiction)
Anne Simpson’s collection of essays, The Marram Grass, is set in a digital version of Fournier. I made a slightly heavier version of the Fournier for use in the footnotes. Anne provided wonderful drawing for the book, which we printed in blue. The one pictured above depicts the cemetery in Great Village, Nova Scotia, near the Elizabeth Bishop house. I designed this book in one of my favorite trim sizes (5 × 8 inches), a size that nestles nicely in the hand, and even fits in some pockets. The jacket was printed letterpress in black and silver ink on Domtar Feltweave Blue paper, which gives the effect of a night scene.
Soren Bondrup-Nielsen’s A Sound Like Water Dripping
(Third Prize, Prose Non-Fiction)
Last by not least is Soren Bondrup-Nielsen’s A Sound Like Water Dripping, the story of his adventures search for the Boreal Owl in the woods of Northern Ontario and Alberta when he was a young graduate student. This book was typeset in a digital revival of F.W. Goudy’s Garamont types which was made by my late friend, Jim Rimmer. For me, Goudy’s types are a sort of comfort food, and, when handled carefully, they work every bit as well in the world of offset printing as they do in traditional letterpress printing. The jacket artwork was executed by Wolfville artists and calligrapher Jack McMaster. It was great fun to elbow Jack away from his usual style and see what resulted.
I must admit that I view awards and prizes as a bit of a mug’s game. I don’t put much stock in their importance when we lose, so I ought not put much more stock in them when we win either. However, it’s always gratifying when your peers recognize that the work you are doing has some merit. What the Alcuin Society is saying by running this competition and awarding these prizes is that the design of books can make a significant contribution to our culture, and that’s a statement I can agree with wholeheartedly.
ANDREW STEEVES ¶ PRINTER & PUBLISHER