"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Tree Book Break and Pigs in Amsterdam

I printed the last text page of 12 Trees yesterday. Phew.. it was very tricky and time consuming, but all the text is now done!
I “just” have the 12 main images to print now but they will have to wait until I am back from Amsterdam where I am printing Chris’ “Salute the Pig” book with Thomas Gravemaker at Letterpress Amsterdam again. I printed my Masters project, Hortus Medicus Seedbook with Thomas and so I know the results will be great.

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Proofs for the pig book

The book is a tribute to 10 favourite pig breeds with lino cuts and a short text by Chris. He is also preparing an accompanying recipe book, one dish per pig with a bit of extra info about these lovely animals.

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Pigs on the Block.

I have cut the blocks and proofed them, made up a three section dummy for the pagination and a quick InDesign document as a guide to margins etc. However, letterpress printing, as I have learnt, in the last few weeks has certain constraints and so one has to be flexible about the design especially when hand setting the type.

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Part of the 3 section dummy pasted up with text and images.

As with the !2 Trees book we are just printing the body of the book. endpapers and binding will be done later.It will be a small edition of just 20 .. which I think is about all we can print in 5 days! It’s all so very different from pressing the print button on the computer.. and to be honest much more fun.

More from Amsterdam soon.

I am also posting on Instagram now if you want to see some more snaps of pigs and trees and lovely type.You can find me here….@vallittlewood

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Still printing.. and a snag

We finally coaxed the hand cut title page plate to print the following day and it was fine! It is sometimes bizarre how things work out. Here is the last one on top of the pile of completed sheets:

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Then this week we starting printing the handset text

There are only a few lines of text because I am doing all the handsetting and  I am not an expert typesetter. Maybe for the next book I might increase the amount but it is a very slow process. The text is only a couple of lines for each tree and based on an old homily or weather lore saying.

The Maple tree text, set and in position on the press and the print:

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maple-text

There are two different founts, 24pt Modern 20 and a nice chunky italic face for the Latin names of the trees which says Modern 20 Italic 18pt on the case. Who knows but it suits well.

I am painfully slow at this. Each letter and each space is an effort, often involving tweezers and a bit of swearing and even after what I thought was the utmost care I have some letters upside down and some spellings incorrect, even after checking and checking. But progress was made and by Thursday I had all the main texts printed.

Then the snag:

As I was about to print the title page text, contents and copyright texts, the top oscillating ink roller stopped oscillating which means the ink just forms lines on the roller instead of being smoothly distributed so printing had to stop. Hopefully to resume next week.
The type is just about all set… note to self don’t use 11pt again….

11.pt type

More progress next week I hope!

Friday, 2 February 2018

12 Trees Book: More Printing

Day Four: Monday: 

Today more printing of the name blocks. Having printed one side of the separate sheets we are onto the reverse. It is Monday and over the weekend I had managed to forget the position of the deckle. Rather crucial for the finished book. Only 10 wrongly printed sheets, so could have been worse! Its just a matter of learning by mistakes but hey that’s printmaking.

Printing this way needs intense concentration as every sheet is hand fed. Every sheet has to be kept pristine and taken off the cylinder at the end of the impression very carefully to avoid getting ink on the deckles. Mostly I succeed.

Positioning the paper exactly in the gripper…the right way up is the first potential pitfall:

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This one is just fine!  If wrongly positioned it will cause incorrect registration on the sheet, which then has a knock on effect on the subsequent printings.. not good.
Then comes the impression:

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Here the “Oak” print, still on the cylinder, block perfectly positioned on the print bed by Patrick and then perfectly printed by me (the easy bit). The press inks up the block as it goes which is the joy of it. There are 4 ink rollers.. and therefore 4 opportunities for ink to transfer to somewhere it shouldn’t be or for me to catch the edge of the paper in a moment of lost concentration. Hmmm.

Day 5 Tuesday

A bit of a slow day due to a problem with some ink transferring to the paper from somewhere in the press. Fixed eventually by some dismantling and deep cleaning. But today we finished all the tree name plates. Hurrahhh

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Press being cleaned… slow job.

I am printing 25 copies of the book in the hopes of achieving 20 good ones. Each sheet will have to go through the press at least 4 times.  Keeping the sheets pristine is a challenge.

At least 5 extra copies of each sheet are also printed as set up guides for the registration of the next element.

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These are my two working paper stacks. It is the whole of the edition plus the extra make ready sheets for positioning.

Day 5 Wednesday

Today we finished printing most of the small image blocks.
All the name blocks are done plus the small birds.

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The last name plate and small bird spot illustration.

Then the last small block, for the title page caused a headache due to the inconsistencies of the wood plate. The grain falls away slightly on one side which is a real pain. On the wood itself it is barely noticeable and I would not have known when cutting the ply. I might next time though!

Patrick has enormous patience in continuing to try various ways of adding packing, and repositioning the block to try to improve things. It will be fine, some things are hard won though.


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Patrick being very patient

Small strips of paper are put under the large block of low base to try to raise the low point just a millimetre. Trial and error is the only way. Tomorrow we will print it.

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My checklist of print runs completed.. almost half way.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Starting to Print 12 Trees

This week the printing of my 12 Trees book got underway.  I am printing the book at Logan Press with of course much help and guidance from everyone there, especially Patrick Roe, who owns the company, Tom who is an apprentice there and Bob the excellent compositor.
Before edition printing can start there is much to do in the way of testing paper, print quality, setting up the press etc etc. This takes quite a long time. Letterpress printing is not for the impatient.

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Firstly the plywood plates have to be made up to type high. Here Patrick  is setting up  a test plate using low base and small clips to hold the plates in place. Getting the correct printing pressure is a mix of packing the plate and packing the paper and a sprinkling of magic dust.
Because the plywood can vary very slightly each and every plate..30 in all… have to be both set up and printed individually.


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The plate must also be positioned correctly on the press bed to print in exactly the right place on the paper… each and every time.

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Once the positioning and pressure were set up we made some test prints but found snags due to the length of the press bed, the roller, the positioning of the large plates on the page etc etc. We achieved a lovely print but the paper flipped up at the end of printing and caught on the block leaving marks on the margin of the paper. How frustrating!!  Everything else was perfect. We tried many ways round this but in the end the decision was made to print the large images separately. There are often compromises in letterpress printing. Sometimes that can lead to a better result…? I am hoping this will be the case.

Day two was setting  up some test type and the tree name blocks to make sure the press could cope with the paper size, the position of the title blocks and texts and to see how the paper would print these two elements.  I am hoping to use lovely Somerset paper produced by St Cuthbert’s Mill in Somerset which has a soft matt surface which will complement the woodcuts perfectly.


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One of the tree name blocks set up for printing and

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Two lines of type set…

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then locked up in the chase with the help of Bob,


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and on the press bed perfectly positioned.


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One of the test prints on the Somerset which worked out beautifully.

Day three, yesterday, we started to print the edition. This involves taking apart the dummy to get the correct pagination. The dummy is crucial as a guide as is page numbering!

Patrick set up the tree name blocks, looked after the individual packing and the press and I eventually took over the printing. I am printing 20 of each page hoping for an edition of 15 books, plus some extra sheets on cheaper paper for positioning the type/other images for the next print run.
Each piece of paper will go through the press 4 times so there are quite a few opportunities for error.. especially as I am doing some of the actual printing! Each sheet is hand fed through the press so concentration on the correct position of the paper in the gripper is essential.

I calculated I printed 120 sheets yesterday ! …only 75 to go for the initial print run. Then do it all another three times, then print the large plates only, another 240 more impressions. After all that I will have the body of the books completed ! Hurrahh.

Next it will be on to designing the endpapers, covers and then binding the edition..Phew… maybe they will be done by Xmas!




Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Almost done…part two…

I have almost finished the woodblocks for the tree book. Hurraah.. It has been a long haul and a steep learning curve. Deciding to do this book has perhaps been a rather rash way to learn about woodcuts but I am so far down the road now that it really should be completed.

Today has been trimming the text  blocks, neatening edges, sanding and cleaning up the blocks before final proofing tomorrow. Then there is finalising the dummy book, layouts and pagination before hopefully printing next week.

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Below two rather pleasing piles of blocks, 12 trees and 12 text blocks kept flat under weights.

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It is at the stage where I am not fond of anything about it, seeing only errors and compromises.  But that is an inevitable part of the process and what actually spurs me on to do better next time!

The proofing and printing will be more interesting to blog about than a pile pf woodchips so more very soon!

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

A New Year and A Wolf Moon

What could be better than to start this New Year with a magnificent Wolf Moon. It’s the first full moon in January, so called because wolves are thought to howl louder at this time of the year. Not only is it a full moon,it’s also a supermoon. I woke up at 12 midnight to see my workroom flooded with moonlight casting shadows of the trees on the door and walls.

So, to celebrate, 2 monoprint moons from my Moon book, still waiting to be bound. Maybe this year!

Happy New Year!

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Thursday, 21 December 2017

Almost done…

It would be very boring to keep posting yet another woodcut in progress but I am pleased to say I’m just a few days away from completing the set of 12 trees and their text panels. Then there will be proofing and the inevitable last adjustments. Then the start of more decisions, title page, endpapers, colophon etc etc. Then hopefully printing in January… then binding.

blocks

Xmas will just come and go as not only have I this book to complete, but also a set of delightful pig linocuts…more of that very soon.

So, a very Happy Christmas to all my readers. There may well be a” Wassail print” to welcome in the New Year. 2018 is looking busy!!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Cutting the Wood. Inevitable Dilemmas.

Cutting these blocks is challenging. In my new printmaking journey there have been only a few woodcuts, so I knew this would be a learning process. However I chose wood to match my subject. It is the most appropriate and sympathetic material for trying to catch the essence of trees and that’s my main aim.

I am using very basic ply wood so cutting it is tricky because, as with all media, it has its own qualities and drawbacks. Unlike wood engraving blocks or quality solid woodblocks, it chips easily, does not take fine details and has a mind of its own, sometimes taking the cut in a different direction to the knife and it snags horribly if the knife is not sharp. The plus side is that it is easy to physically cut.
The most intimidating aspect though is the “when its gone, its gone” problem. One slip of the knife, one thoughtless cut cannot be easily rectified, so there has to be some planning. But over-planning and following a careful drawing can make for a still, formal image … very good for some subjects but not for my trees! They need life and character.

My tools are very simple. So far I have used 3 main cutters, 2 x V points and a U shaped gouge. I keep a trial cutting block on the desk to try out ideas for cuts.

I spend probably too long looking at the rough drawing, trying  to work out some basic lights and darks and the day slips by. Plans for careful cutting and planning go out of the window and I have to “ just do it”.
Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. At this stage, about half way through the series I have made the main cuts on 8 of the blocks. The plan then is to proof them and see what I have and how they work as a series. Then I will work on the details to adjust the tones and clean up the blocks. If I have cut away too much I will have to start again…angst levels are high.

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A pile of rough working drawings.

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And taking the block out again, this time to the field maples.There is nothing like working direct.

A series of anything are interesting to work with and I love the design stage. You need variety but also something to link the images, style, subject etc. This will be a simple  book with minimum text, so each turning page needs to bring some delight, something visually interesting, and intriguing, which makes you look forward to the next turn, each image adding something new to the “treeness” of the book. Ideally the complete book, the paper, the binding,  the endpapers and the printing, will become a thing greater than the sum of its parts.

As I said, it is all a challenge and I am finding the fear of the pristine wood surface is even greater than that of blank white paper. I never thought I would find something more intimidating than that!