n. infantile pattern of suckle-swallow movement in which the tongue is placed between incisor teeth or between alveolar ridges during initial stage of swallowing (if persistent can lead to various dental abnormalities) v. [content removed due to Bush campaign to clean up the internet] n. act of nyah-nyah v. pursuing with relentless abandon the need to masticate and thrust the world into every bodily incarnation in order to transform it, via the act of salivation, into nutritive agency

Thursday, May 18, 2006

drag queen on the wall

Q on the street has been “where the hell are you?” and the answer comes in three parts:

1) Letterpress is a long, long practice. I’ve been meaning to go into the intricacies of letterpressing because I’ve done a few projects and have posted the results on here, so shouldn’t I be forced to explain what all the big fuss is about? Anyhow, I was going to do a very very long version, but I think I’ll just try to condense it (very un-letterpressian of me).

Letterpress book-making is like film production in that it consists of pre- and post- production with a lot of action in between. In the pre-production stages, you basically decide both what you want to “say,” and what form of words, binding, layout, paper, etc would best hold or create what it is you decide you want to say.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in this class is that most people have come to view language as the content generated by a systemized production of words. That is, we tend to read novels without looking at the cover, and try to believe the maxim that “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover” because the author usually has no say in the cover image, and little say over the layout, both of which are handed over to graphic design artists and marketers in order to maximize customer appeal and thus $$$$.

In contrast, the book made in letterpress is completely and totally in the hands of the author-artist or a democratic collaboration of author-artists. In this modus operundi, you can judge a book by its cover because the cover is as much a part of the book as the words are. And the words are not just words themselves (the content they generate via translated signification), but also images arranged both typographically (placement) but also in the choice of fonts, each of which has its own history and reverberation.

So the author-artist has a lot to think about in the pre-production stages, because the book has expanded immensely from the arena of writing. Beyond this, there are also the thoughts of what will work best on the presses… what fonts are available in sufficient bulk, what size leading you need, etc. The above picture shows the California cases that hold all the different fonts. You choose from these drawers and then start hand-setting all the individual letters into a mini-tray that holds them.

For me, setting is the step that takes the longest because one has to get the words just right (and backwards, so I learned to read backwards and now I’m convinced that d’s and b’s are really sliced-apart siamese twins with their hearts mirrored). Then you have to hand-set all the spacing between words, and between lines and so forth. Lots of little pieces of metal that you try not to drop or let shift around or put upside down.

As I’m working on this, I tend to proof on the proofing beds several times, making sure I don’t have the letters upside down, or I didn’t grab a g with it’s tail shaved off, and so forth. Once it’s set though, one shoves the lines off onto a galley tray and ties them up with a little piece of string. When you have enough, you then stir up your ink, get it just right, line it into little ridges on the print rollers, get it evenly distributed, line up your tied-off lines on the printing bed, hold it all in place with block of wood that’s called “furniture,” use clamps to tighten everything, arrange the paper just right, and then, spin:


After printing, which by the end I got down to about 3 hours for 200 pieces of paper and a few different pages, the ink needs to dry for a while and then ya just keep on printing (each color gets its own run, and also some of the different elements might be run separately rather than all at once. For example, the ornamentation at the bottom of my pages I printed on a separate run). When you’re done with the action, you move right on into post-production, which as you might expect, involves making the covers, folding paper, and binding everything up. But it also involves cleaning up the mess you made… putting all the letters back in their spots in the drawers, cleaning up the ink, etc.

All in all, I think I was putting about 40hrs a week *at least* into letterpress for those last three weeks, and by the end I was getting dizzy and my eyes were blurred. I *am* happy with the result though, especially as it was the first book that I’ve done… and I will have to take pictures soon (I haven’t done so) of how it turned out in post it up. But that’s part 1 of where I’ve been. And I think it was a darn good place to be… right smack in the middle of being all the way inside a book, from the guts to the type to the motion to the glory…

2) Internet has been cut off at home, so I just haven’t been on the internet. Which also means that email has ceased to be the best way to get ahold of me.

3) School’s oooooooooooooooooooooout. Hallelujah and praise the lord, not that I dislike Chicago or am ungrateful for the opportunity to be attending an art school, but I got myself all tired out and am happy that the summer months are about to be shaking their leaves at me.

Which means I’ve been spending a lot of time sitting by my neglected window in the kitchen. Amazed by how spring landed and scraped things up like a meteorite coming down from the sky.

All the leaves are back on my window tree, and all the other trees, and Chicago looks so different that it takes my breath away sometimes, not with its beauty, although there is that, but because I forget where I am and have the sense that I’m in a book somewhere, in someone else’s book, in a tree grows in Brooklyn, or a place where Jazz walked sassy, or a Paretsky novel, or someplace else. I just didn’t really realize but without all its trees, Chicago is like a pile of tiles that have been laid out but not really paved together yet. The leaves make this place, and I’m riding along on the el sometimes and feel all gaspy and amazed… people live here, this is a lived-in place, and not just a business/artist hive that resembles a building made out of a spine and a nervous system.

Outside my window, I’ve been watching all those little helo-seeds sent spinning from the maple trees. I ended up thinking about a biology experiment we had in undergrad where we climbed a ladder and dropped a whole bunch of those helo’s and then measured how far they traveled, made a chart, and did some kind of discussion or another on seed distributions in a forest populace. But I realized what exactly was missing from the assignment when I watched the Chicago winds reef those seeds along at maybe 10mph, both dropping them down *and* lifting them up; and I realized I bet those seeds can travel miles and miles in that kind of wind. I couldn’t help rooting for them as the spiraled and shuttered and rattled like ufo’s entering a new atmosphere and hunting around for a good landing zone.

Aside from spending much time at my window, I’ve gone to a few galleries, eaten good grub with friends, watched some of said friends try on new summer dresses, had gin and tonics with b, had rum and cokes with my roomie (who just turned 22 yesterday, little babe that she is), packed up lots of boxes, walked and walked around, decided to buy new shoes pretty soon, read four or five trashy novels, and most importantly: I bought myself a hoorah-you-finished-up the-year present. See the entry below.
Yay, school's out!!!!!!:')
Congrats girl!!
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