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

Monday, 12 March 2018

Almost done: The Problem Woodblock

It was all going so well .. so well. I came back from Amsterdam and with a bit of faffing about with shimming and extra packing, printed 11 of the large Tree woodcuts.


“Alder” one of my favuorites,  with the charcoal burners and rooks.

Then the last one just would not print.


There is a low strip in the wood and sod’s law it is on a part of the block which really needs to print a nice even black.
All  day Friday and again on Monday I tried everything;  shims, extra strips on the back under the low spot, raising the grain with steam and sanding down the high spots but still it refuses to print. By lunch time on Monday I knew this was doomed so the only remedy was to cut another block.  Resigned,  I came home and promptly feel ill with an awful cold and I thought I had come through the winter pretty well!

Wednesday, still with my awful cold  but cheered by the arrival of frogs in the pond, I re-cut the block. What a pain. But as with all these setbacks there is something to learn. The dip in the wood was impossible to discern in its raw state but in future before starting I will run a block and sandpaper over the surface of the wood to flag up any serious flaws. To be fair this is cheap plywood and its done pretty well so far.


Eventually on Friday, still with the awful cold, I finally managed to print the last block.


“Willow”… at last.

Printing these blocks on the Western Press has been interesting and quite a challenge. They are big plates so need lots of ink.  I have double inked most of them and re-inked the rollers after every 2 or 3 prints. The tricky thing has been keeping the printing more or less consistent over the series; not too dark and not too light. It’s a balance of inking and pressure. Some blocks are slightly higher than others and need less packing, some need lots of packing and more re-inking. Each plate must be proofed individually. It’s a slow and painstaking business.

I decided early on that I would let the grain of the blocks show. It gives an added texture to the prints and of course, as they are about trees it is much more appropriate than slapping on a heavy black and obliterating all the fine grain texture.

I am hoping to make 20 books. 10 with these plates printed on the Western and 10 with images I print at home. I am hoping to add another colour to some.

But the next step is the binding.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Half the Hog: Part 2

Printing the Texts:

With the texts set, checked and the few changes made it was onto the press with them, locked up, positioned and ready to go.
Most of the pages have to be printed on both sides so it’s essential to have the dummy book to work from to make sure the pagination is right for the book. Because of the thickness of the paper I decided to have three folded sections, rather than just two, so that the book sits nicely in its binding and does not gape open.


The dummy pages pasted up with markupsfor positioning the text block on the press bed.

The paper grain is also essential to ascertain as the grain must run in the direction of the spine, again so that the book pages lie flat and fold much more easily. Both papers are Zerkall which print beautifully and complement each other very well.

Another consideration when cutting the paper was the question of the deckles. To keep or not to keep. We wanted to keep them, again as an addition to the whole tactile feel of the book. The cutting meant that some pages would have deckles and some not. Again, just part of the look of a special little book made with great care, by hand and with beautiful papers.


Adjusting the packing on the press

Because the type block consists of a light fine type and a heavier type the pressure on the packing was adjusted to allow more pressure for the large titles and less for the lighter text. The titles are set in a gorgeous original 1927 Futura. The big letters have the odd little chip here and there which just add to the character of the printing and the book.


The ‘Welsh’ text about to come off the press.

A day for the first sides to dry and then Thursday was finishing up the main texts.


Not a mistake but deliberate overprinting  to check for correct and consistent positioning of each consecutive textspot on!


Piles of printed texts with the trial page


Dry texts in neat labelled piles.

Friday was our final day to print the title page, copyright  and some extra images on larger sheets.



Chris printed the last few prints. This is his favourite, the Berkshire!
Behind him the other prints hanging up to dry.


And of course after each day the wash up. A strangely enjoyable task which marks an end to a good days work, the Vandercook clean and ordered and ready for the next task.

We came home with beautifully wrapped ( by Thomas) brown paper packets.
All I have to do now is design and print endpapers, design covers. collate, stitch, bind and tip in the plates !

Phew….. way to go Val….

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Half the Hog in Amsterdam: Part 1

Last week we were in Amsterdam to print the Pig Book, “Salute the Pig”. Its been a couple of years in the thinking stage, so it was very nice to see it at last become an almost reality.
I say almost because I now have to design end papers and cover and then bind them, but they are looking splendid.

We had booked a week with the excellent  Thomas Gravemaker at LetterpressAmsterdam. 5 days is a very short time to print even this small book and if Thomas had not done the typesetting we probably wouldn’t have made it.

4 of the texts tied up on the galley.

While Thomas was finishing the texts, I started printing the images from the mounted lino blocks. A little bit of extra shim was needed to get the block to just type high but they printed pretty well!


The Berkshire block locked up on the bed of the Vandercook

Proofing each block is important because a letterpress press can pick up the odd raised cut mark so a little bit of remedial cutting was made on some of the blocks, Due to the large amount of black in these prints it was necessary to double ink each image.Which means running the inking rollers over the blocks once prior to the print run. After printing the tree book pages for 5 weeks my right arm must be getting stronger??


The first rack of images..I am printing 30 of each for a book edition of 25 books. These plates will be trimmed by hand and then tipped in to the bound book.

Thomas finished the texts, then there was proofing and checking the texts again and again for spelling mistakes, spacings and incorrect letters. You think it is all OK and then you find another!


Texts ready for proofreading.

By the end of Tuesday all the 300 plus plates were printed and we started on the book pages. We printed page 1and page 24 first because these contain two small linocuts which will need to be dry before printing on the reverse.

Proofing the blocks,


and printing the edition.


Wednesday we started printing the texts!

Part Two tomorrow.

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.

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.

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.

IMG_2087 (Edited)
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:


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:



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:


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:


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


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


One of the tree name blocks set up for printing and


Two lines of type set…


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


and on the press bed perfectly positioned.


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.

blocks 1blocks2

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


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!

dogfrunning moon f