Monday, January 26, 2015

Week 4: You are here

   Sometimes, life comes to the fore-front and a person is forced to accept how tenuous existence is. This happens most often when experiencing the death of a loved one. Amid the profound sadness and sense of loss, there is also an acute awareness of life... of living and breathing right that minute.  So, mixed with the memories of a loved one is the sense to reach out to others, to live in the present, to avoid procrastination, and to truly live this exact moment in timeThat is the basis of this week's book-of-the-week, You are here.
the set
   You are here is expressed as a set of cards.. (which are handed out), a box to house them, and an edition of eight small accordion books. The title comes from the term, "you are here" which is often seen on maps which are standing in a place.. like a large building or tourist attraction. These maps all have a starting point. When a death occurs, sometimes the only positive is the idea that this moment is all we really have... It is a starting point, as well as an end.

the bookish box that holds the cards...
edition of 8 accordion books

the accordion books sprung open..

an accordion book... Raleigh map on the cover
   You are here was printed on a Vandercook letterpress using antique lead type with Sans Serif typeface. Paper used  for the cards was Mohawk cover and for the books was Magnani Velata. A 2009 North Carolina road map was used for the cover of the box and the accordion books.

type and furniture locked in the press bed
The type was set in the press bed so multiple cards (and pages) could be printed at once.

type: all locked up in the press bed
When setting movable type, one learns to read upside down and backwards... Is this another way to live in the present? Maybe.

type, upside down and backwards...
When printing on an antique letterpress, only one ink color can be printed at a time. So for multiple colors (like last week's book of 5 colors), each new color must be applied to a new run. For You are here, over 100 cards and 8 accordion books were printed twice.. once in black, and once in red.

first printing of the black ink

accordion book, printed with black
Because the ink is wet, it's best to let it dry in a rack overnight before adding the new color.. That way, no smudges!

first run, drying in the rack...
Part of hand-printing is mixing the ink colors. A Pantone Color Guide has every hue imaginable and very easy directions for getting just the right shade.

the Pantone color guide for #187C
A spatula and glass sheet are all that are needed to mix ink.

mixing the right hue of red ink
Once the ink is applied to the letterpress rollers, the job is ready to run!

pretty red inked rollers
Tricks can be found to lessen the amount of papers that must be fed through the press.. In this case, the paper was cut double-wide so it could be rotated and rerun on the opposite side of the paper. In the image below, the red stars have been printed on one side and the paper is ready to be rotated 180ยบ.. to print the red stars on the other side.

sheet on the roller, printing color 2 
When the cards and books were printed with both colors and the ink had dried,  the edition of eight accordion books was folded and assembled into tiny 1-inch x 3-inch books. The map covers were specifically chosen to match the home base of certain loved ones.

maps for the covers...

completed and all stretched out
The final step involved fabrication of the box to house the cards. Bookboard, black linen bookcloth, and the North Carolina roadmap completed the job. When all the cards are handed out, maybe more cards will be printed.. or the box can be used to hold some mementos.. Who knows? ...That is another week.

a card for you..
A side note about this week's blog focusing on loss through death and embracing the present... It isn't always easy to move out of the fog of grief.. sometimes time is the only thing that moves one out of that fog. On the first day of printing, the area around the letterpress studio was one foggy mass. Perhaps it was realities' way of tempering the ideal.

fog outside the studio
Sometimes living in a fog is part of being in the present too... as well as reflecting on all that we are missing...

reflections in the letterpress studio

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Week 3: Sometimes You Can't see the Forest for the TREES

Penland School of Crafts... behind the trees
   A scenic mountain top, a beautiful sky, and a phenomenal place called Penland School of Crafts... This past week, this artist has been lucky to have begun a 4-week artist residency in the letterpress studio at Penland School of Crafts ( The book-of-the-week, Sometimes You Can't see the Forest for the TREES is a 5-color poster created with the excellent equipment and materials available here at Penland. An edition of 10 posters was made.  The press work was completed on a Vandercook cylinder press using several methods to achieve the 5-color design: pressure prints, stencils, and wooden type. All ink colors were mixed by hand, using a Pantone color guide.
a map to awareness...
   The initial printing of the pale green background was achieved using a pressure-print method of cut paper stencils placed behind the poster paper as it was rolled over an inked plexiglass plate. Next, 5 different tree stencils were cut and hand inked with an olive-green ink. The olive-inked tree stencils were placed on a clean plexiglass plate which had been locked into the pressbed. Their placement on the plexiglass was traced with a Sharpie marker, so subsiquent editions would register the exact placement. After each poster was run through the press, the stencils were removed from the plexiglass plate and re-inked, then placed back on the plexiglass plate in the exact spot before the next poster paper was run. This process was repeated 10 times for each complete the edition of 10. There were 3 colors of trees: olive green, dark blue, and gray-green. Each time the trees' color changed, the stencils' placement on the plexiglass plate also changed.

"Sunshine" the Vandercook press, inked (from a different project) and ready for a pressure print
   The final step was printing the phrase.. Sometimes You Can't see the Forest for the TREES. Antique wood type from the remarkable Penland letterpress studio was the perfect fit for the natural motif. After tedious setting... and re-setting the type into the pressbed so that it meandered across the poster like a path... the wooden type was finally ready to print. The fifth color, a shade of brown ink was mixed and then applied to the letterpress rollers... And the 10 posters were run through the press... to complete the edition and the book-of-the-week, Sometimes You Can't see the Forest for the TREES.

five colors...
close up.. the path through the trees
After all 10 prints of the edition were complete, they were laid out on the counter for inspection.

an edition of 10
And then rearranged...
the edition, as a tree...
   Canadian artist Emily Carr (1871-1945) is known for her oil paintings of trees.  Born in Victoria, British Columbia she studied painting at the San Francisco Institute, London, and Paris before returning to BC to create work in a modernist and post-impressionist painting style. Her early work was heavily inspired by the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast; but eventually her work morphed into primarily trees and forest landscapes. The Vancouver Art Gallery has a huge collection of her beautiful paintings... One huge green, blue and brown oil painting of a grove of evergreen trees still shines in this artist's memory... This example of her work was in a solo exhibition titled Deep Forest in Vancouver, Canada and London in 2014.

Deep Forest, Lighted, oil on paper, 1935, 
Emily Carr
In the real world, finding the path through an unfamiliar place can feel like being lost in a wild jungle of trees. That's when it helps to have a map.
in the Laurel thicket behind Penland.. lost the path again!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Week 2: Digging to China

   This week's book touches on the idea of culture, goals, perspective, reality, and daydreams by use of a map... Last week's book, Within the Forbidden City alluded to the wealth and power of 500 years of the vast country of China. This week's book-of-the-week borrows from that culture by reusing the map as the backdrop to form another perspective. Digging to China contemplates the vast complexity of growing up... by looking through the eyes of a child playing in their North Carolina backyard while daydreaming about China.
the wrapper cover
   A cloth covered 5-panel board wrap case with magnet closure is the cover for Digging to China. The title plate is inkjet printed with Papyrus font onto a card that has been hand-stamped with china-red acrylic paints. 

what's inside?
Nested inside the wrapper is an authentic National Geographic map of China and the Forbidden City. The map makes up the body of the book... and can be removed from the wrapper, unfolded and viewed on both sides.

opening up...
The lining of the wrapper is a digital copy of the National Geographic map of the Forbidden City.

vintage National Geographic article on China...
One side has a full map of China.
the map...
 The cities, towns, provinces, and topography are labeled.. but the reality of what is China can't be read on a map. Still, it's fascinating to imagine.
a small view of a huge country...
On the other side of the map, which shows the layout of the Forbidden City, is a childlike drawing of a deep hole and a grassy lawn of buttercups and clover. Between the layers of imagery is the story of a child who spends the morning digging a hole to China.
Once upon a time...
the hole to China...
dreams and goals...
reality ... not always getting what you expect
   The origin of the phrase "digging to China" is a little confusing. One reference states it first appeared in the mid 1800's in a literary journal.. another site says Henry Thoreau coined the phrase about a neighbor's yard... another source states it has origins in Great Britain... and another declares it was in an 1850's article about beavers and engineers! Strangely, though the source is obscure... it has become a lexicon of American parlance meaning attempting something that will never be achieved

   So it's true... in North Carolina, where this week's book Digging to China takes place, a hole dug directly through the earth's core would actually end up at the bottom of an ocean rather than China. ...Somehow that doesn't have the same journey-like effect as imagining exotic China! The fact that reality isn't even close to the perception of the endpoint doesn't seem to bother the child, however. The story ends with the hole abandoned and the child building towns, roads and mountains of China in the nearby sandbox. 

   Childhood is the time when it's easy to believe that daydreams are real... and impossible situations can happen. It's also a time when we learn to adapt to change and transformation... to move along that map called growing up. Regrettably, it is also a time for making mistakes, learning from them, and moving on. That learning can be the most significant lessons of our lives. No matter what our age, sometimes we should all spend a sunny morning in the backyard Digging to China.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Week 1: Within the Forbidden City

   From the early 15th century until the end of the Qing dynasty in 1911, the Forbidden City was the royal  residence of 24 emperors of China. During this time fourteen emperors of the Ming dynasty and ten emperors of the Qing dynasty lived and ruled within this mammoth complex in the heart of Bejing. Constructed between 1406 and 1420 by Emperor Zhu Di Yongle, the third emperor of the Ming dynasty, it was erected on the same site as the palace of the Yuan emperor Kublai Khan. Over 1 million builders and architects followed 1500 year-old specifications set by Confucian text to construct the largely wood, ceramic, and marble complex. Designed on a central axis with a symmetrical grid, the huge facility is like a curio cabinet of walls within walls of craftsmanship and beautiful art. It is now open to the public as a museum. The complex consists of 980 buildings and covers 180 acres. With over 8000 rooms, the Forbidden City most certainly requires a map to navigate its maze of crimson walls and yellow tile roofs. This beautiful and fascinating structure is the basis of the first book-of-the-week for 2015, a box titled Within the Forbidden City.

the cover...
The cover of the cigar-style box has a vintage National Geographic map of the Forbidden City, and a hand-carved bone clasp and satin ribbon closure. The box measures 5 x 5 inches square by 1 inch tall. Handprinted Japanese paper covers the outer walls of the box. Moss green silk bookcloth is used for the box hinge and to cover the partitioned tray inside.

the map
   Glued to the inner lid of the box is a map legend which identifies the major temples, halls, and structures marked on the map. Inside the box is a 4-section tray with a unique object in each compartment... a tiny porcelain vase, a butterfly, a carved ivory sail on a crystal geode, and a tea-dyed paper scroll tied with a silk thread. The four objects are more than tactile illustrations... they are symbolic representations of the untold stories of 500 years of the Forbidden City as a thriving complex of Chinese power, government, and culture. 

treasures tell the story...
Ivory and crystal boat
a butterfly
a tiny vase
The treasures can stay inside their book/box or they can be taken out and examined. 

the objects can be held or played with...
The Forbidden City was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987. Read more about it at this link:
View some of the artworks housed inside the Forbidden City National Palace Museum at

box of carved ivory combs and hair pins, Qing Dynasty, 1800's
Ming vase, 1368-1644
It's interesting to think of objects as pages of a book...