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Monthly ArchiveFebruary 2009



Studio projects Friday February 27 2009 11:17 am

Facebook-inspired notecards

In 2004 my teaching colleague, Hendrik-Jan Francke, brought designer Stefan Sagmeister in for a workshop. Stephan mentioned that every Monday morning from 9 to noon he produced a layout for a CD cover just to give him the chance to play and experiment. And Stefan does great CD covers.

That reminds me of a mantra  Jill and I read in the U.S. Olympic Skiing team book—Smooth. Natural. Fast.

This is a quote from Stephan. “I’m not interested in surface or in styling. That is something that comes long after the concept, at the very end of each project—often at the last minute. Then you push it to look as good as possible. What I’m interested in—it all sounds so simple-minded—is strong imagery, design that actually works.” - Stefan Sagmeister / Print

. . .

Facebook notifies me of friends who have changed their profile images. I’ve decided to try Stephan’s project every week (or at least every other week depending on if friends actually change their profile images) to produce a dozen notecards for the friend based on one of their images, which I’ll use as a point-of-departure. I’ll try something—hopefully new, hopefully experimental, hopefully typographic. But then we’ll have to see how it turns out.

Here is winner #1 which we refer as the “O” card.

Details about the letterpress part.

Paper: American Masters Black

Size: A2 (5.5″ x 4.125″)

Runs: two press runs + handrolling

Edition: 24 (12 for Kristen supplied with envelopes, 1 for Stephan, 2 for the archives, 9 to promote)

Production notes: 1) The Os are wood type blind impressed into the paper. 2) Then, I carefully registered the h! to align with the bottom of the left O (no small task with deckle-edged paper). 3) using our Vandercook Universal III (which was still inked with white from the h!), I would reink a 2″ hand roller, which could be done very smoothly by pressing the hand roller against the press rollers. This helped keep the inking very even across the two dozen cards. Then the roller was lightly rolled across the paper so as to not ink the edges from the wood type. Then the accents (the V shape in this instance) were added by using the edge of the hand roller.

Lead Graffiti congratulations go out to Kristen and the cake that followed her.

inventory / important type & trips Tuesday February 24 2009 12:52 am

Be careful what you wish for, especially if it’s heavy

It’s strange how an experience can seem inconsequential, but over time can mutate into an obsession. We have two such letterpress experiences involving large pages of large metal type, both occurring in England. And while I took dozens of photos at both spaces I didn’t take a single one of the images of the type that would come to haunt us.

The first experience came in 2004 when we were taking a week-long letterpress workshop with Claire Bolton at Alembic Press, just outside of Oxford, England. She would print large book pages for the Reuters news service each time a Reuters journalists was killed in the line of duty. Reuters would write a short biography and Claire would print ten copies of the bio on two sheets. These would be distributed to the various Reuters offices and placed in an unfortunately ever-expanding book. The typography was 30 point Garamond with 18 points of leading set on a 75 pica measure and printed on her Albion iron hand press. The field of type was stunning.

Claire Bolton (right) during one of our visits with a group of my students.

The second experience came on a visit to the studio of London letterpress printer, Ian Mortimer. He printed a large sheet listing important donors to the Royal Academy of Art. As I remember, there was the year in red, followed by names of important donors in black. The next year he would add the new year in red and continue down the sheet. The whole page was treated as one continuous paragraph with the texture of those colorful years sprinkled down through the sheet. The page might have been as large as 24″ x 30″ or so, printed on Ian’s Albion.

Ian Mortimer (center) showing type specimen sheets from his book Ornamented Types which was the catalyst for us starting our lives as letterpress printers.

When we first started looking for an iron handpress, we had these two projects in mind. We wanted to do large pages of type. Speeches, dedications, opening sheets in large portfolios, etc. So, finally we got both a 25″ x 38″ Hoe and a 21″ x 29″ Albion iron handpress which shifted our focus to obtaining large metal type. We could do one of these pages in photopolymer, but we wanted to be able to do it in metal.

On Thursday, February 19th we traveled to Washington, D.C. to see Roland Hoover at his Pembroke Press to pick up that large type that we think will realize our field of dream type. Roland was in desperate need of some space in his crowded shop to accommodate a number of cases of wood type and had offered to sell Lead Graffiti a run of Garamond (roman & italic) from 14 point to 72 point. Additionally, he was willing to part with 72, 84, and 96 point Caslon (roman & italic). Almost all of the large type is foundry metal.

A sample of the 96 point Caslon.

For some photos of moving the type, click here.

Studio projects Sunday February 22 2009 06:22 pm

Our first ink to paper

People often ask what the first piece we printed was.

It was this 6″ x 4″ postcard for an exhibition we were putting on in the Visual Communications Group at the University of Delaware.

We had a Chandler & Price 10 x 15 given to us and we wanted to print this postcard. We used photopolymer plates and wanted to do it in two colors so we could get a little experience in registration. You can see we designed it so the registration wasn’t exactly critical. It is a long story about getting this piece done and we really looked like clowns doing it. Jill and I couldn’t keep up with the 750 an hour speed so I was putting paper and she was taking it out.

Our friend, Mike Kaylor, was up a week or two later showing us how some things worked. At that speed he was printing and then in the middle of printing started cleaning his glasses and never missed a beat.

We’ve gotten a lot better since then.

Studio projects & important equipment Thursday February 12 2009 12:46 pm

Long printing / 8′ letterpress possibilities

We’ve been wanting to do some long printing via letterpress. We finally got around to building something that allows us to do it. Below is the first test print of about 70 inches.

You can see our second attempt at printing long for Birthdayscape 2009 here.

Above, Ray and Jill hold a birthday card which gives you some idea of the scale. We used a handrolling technique with about 6 colors on the type.

Below is a schematic of what we ended up building.

All of the materials were bought from a local Home Depot.

We used the roller from a C&P proofing press. You might notice that it has an outer edge that is slightly raised. We aren’t sure this is standard for this kind of roller. We think that when the proofing press was new there was some kind of cloth tympan wrapped around the roller. We are printing directly on the metal without using any kind of packing.

The material indicated in light grey is 3/4″ particle board with white melamine coating (often used for shelving). We bought a 24″ x 8′ piece and cut it down using a table saw.

The black L-shapes are angle iron we bought in 4′ lengths (4 total). This material might be different in different stores. As it turns out the thickness of the metal was exactly right for our first try. The thickness of the lip on the roller and the thickness of the angle iron was almost exactly 1 pica. That plus the 3/4″ thickness of the particle board plus the white melamine coating gave us a printing height of 0.917″. We produced our first test prints without any additional packing.

We’ll want to try putting something under the angle iron to raise it a bit on our next try which would allow us to sandwich a second piece of paper to cushion the pressure between the paper we are printing on and the roller. I think we were so surprised at how close it was to the height we wanted, we just went with it, as is.

Only the sides and bottom were screwed together. The 1″ strips of particle board were held in place by the type, furniture and quoins. The angle iron was kept in place by the pressure and width of the roller. We were careful as we rolled from one piece of angle iron to the other, but honestly, it was no problem at all. When we cut the piece for the bottom of the press, we calculated the width so there was only 1/16″ gap between the roller and the angle iron. The roller stayed in alignment along the printing path without any problems.

The paper we used was from a roll of photographic seamless paper (9 feet wide by 36 feet long- $71 when we bought the roll about a year ago - and enough paper to produce about 72 pieces like shown above). We cut about 8 inches off the roll using a radial arm saw and then cut that into two 9-foot lengths to give us  room to hold the paper at the ends as we printed.

This image shows Tray and Jill locking in the type. We used 1″ x 2″ wood as wood furniture. We cut the 1″ x 2″ in one place to accommodate the comma. We screwed the side pieces to the bottom every 4″. When we tightened the quoins snuggly, but didn’t push it.

We utilized a technique we use quite often by inking with multiple small rollers and multiple colors. Below shows the type after the third of the four pieces we printed. In the lower right is just a piece of corrugated cardboard that’s keeping the roller from rolling to the left.

The paper process worked like this. We would put one end of the paper under the roller and hold it tight against the floor. The other end was held about 1′ above the other end of the type. As the roller moved across we moved the unprinted end closer to the type, but let the roller actually push the paper against it.

The best results we got in this first try was leaving the paper stuck to the wood type as it was printed. Then once we got to the middle of the last letter and while the roller still had pressure on the paper we lifted the printed paper. Once it was up to the roller we tried to carefully print the last half letter and freed the paper.

We will likely work out a better process after a couple more tries on a book project we are just starting. We’ll show photos of that result in a few days.

Once it was dry we trimmed the piece square as shown in the top photo.

You can see our first attempt at edition printing here.

trips Wednesday February 11 2009 06:05 pm

Millersville University iron handpress

We like being a place you call when you’ve got some problem with letterpress.

We got a call from a friend who teaches at Millersville University in Millersville, PA. They had obtained two R. Hoe iron handpresses, but couldn’t get one to work. The bed was too wide to get through the vertical ‘cheeks’. Jill and Ray traveled up to spend a morning working on the press. There ended up being two problems.

First was that with the ‘rails’ (what the ‘bed’ rides on as it slides from the front to the back of the press), one of the pins which keep it oriented correctly was not in its slot which put the rails at a slight angle to the frame of the press. Second, the bed was rotated 180°. This was an easy mistake to make as the only difference in the two ends seemed to be the thickness of the head of the bolts that stuck out from the sides making it a mere 1/8″ too wide on each side.

Once those two things were corrected we attached the leather straps to the ‘ronce’ and the ends of the bed, oiled the rails thoroughly so the bed would slide in and out very smoothly and nearly effortlessly, and the press was once again ready to print.

inventory / miscellaneous & workshops Sunday February 08 2009 03:36 pm

Delaware College of Art & Design workshop

close-up of final broadside

A group of 24 students and faculty from the Delaware College of Art & Design came by Lead Graffiti in Newark, Delaware on February 5, 2009 to get some first hand experience at setting type the old-fashioned way and then printing it on our Vandercook SP-15. Each student took one letter from the poem Alpha by Edwin Morgan to set. Those were put together and printed as a broadside each student could take with them. It looked like the students had a good time.

Click here to see the whole 2009 story.

Click here to see their 2008 workshop story.