"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.

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

Then the last one just would not print.

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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.

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

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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

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Piles of printed texts with the trial page

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Dry texts in neat labelled piles.

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

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

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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.

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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!

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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??

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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!

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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,

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and printing the edition.

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Wednesday we started printing the texts!

Part Two tomorrow.