05 April 2012

Gaspereau Press Awarded for Design

Well, April may be the cruelest month, but more often than not it’s also the month when Gaspereau Press gets a gift or two from the fine folks at the Alcuin Society in Vancouver. And this year, Gaspereau Press is pleased to announce that three of its books were awarded citations for excellence in the 30th annual Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design in Canada. These books, which I designed, were among 35 winning titles selected from 252 entries by a panel of judges including Stan Bevington, Ingrid Paulson, and Bonne Zabolotney.

Curious Masonry

I was pleased to learn that we’d taken first place in the Poetry category for my design of Christopher Patton’s Curious Masonry: Three Translations from the Anglo-Saxon. This was a challenging book to design: A bilingual text, long footnotes, and a sort of concrete-poem remix of one of the translations that had to be eased from the manuscript page (8.5 × 11) to the book page (5.3 × 8.5) with minimal compromise. The type I used was Poliphilus and Blado, a roman and italic pairing first released by Monotype in 1923. The roman is based on a type cut by the Balognese punchcutter Francesco Griffo (d.1518); the italic is based on the work of Ludovico degli Arrighi (d.1527). Of course, the Anglo-saxon characters required to set this text were not present in the off-the-shelf version of the font and so I had to make them myself. I also created a slightly more robust version of the font which allowed me to set the footnotes in a smaller size while maintaining an even ‘colour’ to the text block. The jackets were handprinted on my vandercook, with a jumble of the two texts struck blind with a great deal of bite into the cover. I felt this conveyed the difficult and murky task of translation. All and all, this book represented all the sorts of challenges that get me excited when designing a book, and I was pleased it tickled the judges too.

The jacket was given a nice hard inkless whomp! with a letterpress

Anglo-Saxon on the left, English translation on the right

Patton’s creative rendering of “The Earthwalker”


Sean Howard’s Incitements also uses a classic British Monotype face: Plantin, a stout, richly coloured type based on the work of Robert Granjon (d.1590). My digital version of Plantin has been equipped with extended ascenders and descenders like those which Frances Meynell’s Nonesuch Press special-ordered from Monotype back in the days of metal type. Howard’s poems employ a sort of cut-up technique which clips and reorders a vocabulary from a source text to create a new work, and I tried to create a typographic title page and jacket that communicated that jumble. I also introduced a pilcrow more in keeping with the type’s sources.

The jacket for Incitements, stretched out

The title page spread

Folio location a problem as always on pages of modern poetry.

The Shell of the Tortoise

On the otherhand, Don McKay’s The Shell of the Tortoise used Deepdene, an original American typeface designed by Frederic Goudy, typographical advisor to the Lanston Monotype company. Goudy originally drew it in 1927, and like so many types designed with the sculptural bite of letterpress in mind, Deepdene has had a difficult time finding its place in the world of digital typesetting and offset printing. At least I’ve always had trouble making it sing. But it sings along pretty nicely in McKay’s The Shell of the Tortoise, a book which also just won Don the 2011 BMO Winterset Award.

The front of the jacket, with an illustration by Wesley Bates

The back of the jacket, with a paper bio-wrapper

A spread showing the trouble of balancing a folio, a chapter header, a subheading and footnotes. The footnotes are infrequent and so use traditional symbols instead of numbers

Anyway, thanks again to the Alcuin Society for the great work that they do to promote good book design in Canada. You can find a full list of winners by visting the Alcuin Society website.

And by the way, Gaspereau Press’s books are not the only well designed things you can find in Kentville. Earlier this year, the Kentville Police Department was awarded second place in a “best dressed police vehicles in Canada” competition, the results of which were published in the January 2012 issue of Blue Line Magazine. “From certain angles they add a bit of an Italian exotic flavour,” the magazine said of our cruisers. Hmm. Sounds like our typefaces. Seriously. Here’s a link to the story as published in the local newspaper.

Personally, I’m nostalgic for those old 1970 with the white doors with the crest and the single bubble-gum-machine light on top.


04 April 2012

Letterpress Symposium at Massey College

I’m back at my desk after a week on the road to Hamilton and Toronto. After returning home I was reminded why my career in journalism was shortlived. I had taken almost no photographs, despite the many interesting visits I paid. But here are a few snaps from the trip.

Before going into Toronto, I went to visit William Rueter’s Aliquando Press in Dundas and Tim & Elke Inkster’s The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin Village. Above is Inkster in motion in his front office and bindery.

The main destination of the trip was the iconic Massey College. I was excited to visit the printshop and library which my late friend Douglas Lochhead had been instrumental in establishing. The printshop houses a number of platen presses, including Albions, a Washington and a Colombian. I was also eager to get a closer look at the architecture. The college building was designed by Ron Thom. This photo of the central quadrangle is taken from the main gateway.

Pictured here are Massey’s resident printer, Brian Maloney (left), and the type designer Rod McDonald (right). They are standing beside a small Albion press which I believe once belonged to the Canadian designer Carl Dair.

As well as presses and type, the Massey printshop houses a great collection of books and artifacts related to print history. I was quite interested to have a chance to look at a collection of sketches and drawings related to the development of Carl Dair’s typeface Cartier. Dair’s typeface was later refined and extended by Rod McDonald into a digital typeface called Cartier Book.

I also spent time with some original type specimen sheets from the foundry of William Caslon (1692–1766). I don’t get to see much of this sort of thing in my neck of the woods.

Stan Bevington from Coach House Press also joined us at Massey, which is just around the corner from his own shop on bp nichol Lane. Stan can always be counted on when you need someone to mug for the camera.

The “Get the Lead Out” symposium itself (and my lecture on Ecology & The Book the following day) were well attended and sparked great questions and lively discussion. There is a short report and some photos posted on the Quill & Quire blog. After the symposium, we were invited to dine as guests of the Master in the Massey dining hall. The dining hall is an inspired space, full of air and light. Luckily, there was no ‘high table’ that evening, though the students all wore their gowns; Stan picked one up somewhere too, but the rest of us were content with our uncovered state. Pictured here are Stan Bevington, Will Rueter, myself, and Rod McDonald.

Anyway, thank you again to Massey College, the University of Toronto and everyone who contributed to making these events possible.