31 August 2010

What happened to August?

What happened to August?! For a good portion of July I seemed merely to be a Vandercook proof press mechanism, hand-cranking sheet after sheet through the press to complete a number of big jobs. August, on the other hand, has been hour after hour at the desk, putting the final touches on our fall books. Being understaffed as we are, the year’s been one long unrelenting production deadline for a while now, so I’m thankful that the work is rewarding.

For about a week and a half I found myself submerged in typesetting the 900-some-page, two-volume revised edition of Jan Zwicky’s Lyric Philosophy. The text is a persnickety one to set, partly because of Zwicky’s exacting sensibilities, but also because of the broad range of material that LP references. It seemed that several times a day I was shutting down InDesign and opening FontLab to modify the typeface or create missing glyphs. I love a book that demands that level of engagement, but I could have used less of it all in one sitting. Those interested in the process of editing Zwicky should read Clare Goulet’s essay “Reading Thisness” in the recently published Zwicky tribute book Lyric Ecology (Cormorant Books). It talks about the work Clare and I did with Jan on Wisdom & Metaphor and stars that oft abused punctuation mark, the em dash.

After packaging the Zwicky proofs up for their transcontinental trek, I turned to finishing up four other books. One is another revival of a book initiated at another press: a new George Elliott Clarke’s Whylah Falls, which we’re trying to have available in time for fall university courses. We’ve also got two novels which couldn’t be more different. Norman Ravvin’s The Joyful Child takes a narrative approach to tell the story of a father and his young son, while Bruce Johnson’s Firmament has more in common with an impressionist painting than it does with your usual novel about a Newfoundland outport. Rounding out the list is Tim Bowling’s powerful look at middle-age bibliomania, Twentieth-century American poetry and a particular copy of Wallace Steven’s Ideas of Order which was owned by the lesser-known poet and Golden-Gate bridge jumper Weldon Kees.

These books are due to start appearing in Mid-September, likely starting with Clarke and Ravvin in September, Bowling and Johnson in October, and Zwicky, well, that book’s like 60 lifts through the press, eh? Maybe in time for under Jan’s Christmas tree. Not all of these books will preceed the catalogue, but it’s been that sort of year.

I was disturbed to arrive at work one morning to discover that former Humber College intern and present bindery überchick Laura MacDonald had perhaps taken the term “bed of the press” too literally. After suggesting that safety requires the removal of cleaning bottles before bedding down for the night, she reassured me that while she was indeed a rambling hobo, between apartments, that she was not actually sleeping in the printshop, but merely preparing for a road trip to Nashville next week. Time off was granted on the condition that she visit Hatch Show Printers and bring us back a nice poster.


13 August 2010


Well, I scored the jackets for Parenthesis on the big Golding jobber yesterday. When scoring, I'm able to feed a 26-inch-wide sheet into the Golding so long as the impression area is well back from the edges. Now that my part in the production of the Fine Press Book Association’s publication is complete, I’ve moved on to catching up on some administrative work and starting in on the backlog of typesettinig I have to complete on our own fall books. But Parenthesis is still occupying much of our time as we work to ship copies early next week.

Laura and Basma have been feeding journals through the three-pocket Sulby binder while Gary and Connie have wrestled with a very grumpy Smyth sewer.

Novelist Susan Haley came in to fold Parentheis jackets behind a mountain of untrimmed copies of the journal.

Susan was also hand-inserting an original silkscreen print (produced at Tara Books in India) into each copy of Parenthesis.There’s an article on Tara Books in the Presses section of the journal.

Meanwhile, we’ve got other print jobs to keep moving, like printing the summer issue of the Blomidon Naturalists Society’s quarterly newsletter (with a cover that features enlarged leaf ornaments by Jack McMaster) and typsetting a paper on the stratigraphy of the Lower Paleozoic Goldenville and Halifax groups in southwestern Nova Scotia for the journal Atlantic Geology. I’m beginning to feel like all we ever get to do around here is produce journals. Time to get back to some books!


09 August 2010


Today, I started printing the final colour on the jackets for Parenthesis. I mixed this blue by eye using mix of yellow, rubine red, reflex blue, and transparent white. I usually ignore colour matching systems like Pantone® when I’m mixing inks for my own letterpress jobs. I neither need nor desire perfectly matched colour. I don't want to be able to reproduce this again, exactly the same, six months from now. A letterpress printer never dips his pallet knife in the same ink twice, Heraclitus might have said.


06 August 2010

Press-side design

I’m still chained to my press today, cranking out Parenthesis covers. Hand-cranking 1200 sheets of paper through a Vandercook, watching the same inked form flash by over and over, gives you time to think about things. If there are problems with the job which are beyond your control to repair, it makes for a long and depressing run, knowing that what you are making falls short of your intentions. But if the work is sound and the press is running well, there is joy and fresh discovery to be found in each sheet through the press.

Although I had originally intended to print the body text in black, the decision to run the text in a separate pass from the ornaments (which required massive amounts of ink) opened up the opportunity to introduce a third colour. I’ve selected Warm Grey no. 4. This flexibility, this ability to alter a design to suit what occurs on the press, is one of the reasons that I like printing the things I design personally. This is not to say that you shouldn't plan a job carefully, only that you should be attentive and responsive to opportunities and challenges as they present themselves.


05 August 2010

Jackets for Parenthesis 19

One of the great challenges this month is balancing the editorial work with the shop work. My next few days will pretty much be spent printing letterpress jackets for the next issue of Parenthesis, which is presently moving through the bindery. This jacket will be printed in two colours, but will require three press passes. The black text will be printed separately from the Memorial Hall ornaments in order to avoid over-inking the type. Sometimes it’s these invisible little bits of extra effort that make the difference on a job.