Decorating Paper Interview #1: Why?

With the first copies of Decorating Paper due to be shipped out in about a month's time, I thought it would be interesting for people to hear from co-creators Barbara Hodgson and Claudia Cohen a little about how the book developed, and how some of the (many) challenges posed by the topic were addressed. Over the next five Mondays we'll post a series of discussions with them about specific aspects of the project, starting this week with the why of it all...

Why did you think that this project was worth all you’ve invested in it? Loving decorated paper isn’t enough; you have to have also felt you were adding something to subject, if not original information, then in what & how the information is presented. 

Barbara Hodgson: I am as interested in the techniques and history of decorated papers as in the end uses of the papers. Historically, decorated papers were created mainly to enliven objects such as books and boxes, while protecting them; they were also applied to walls and furniture, and, in some cases, were displayed as art for the ordinary person.

What especially intrigues me is that it's possible to replicate hand-decorated papers made centuries ago. In order to do this, one has to know how the papers were made: the printing technique, paper type, pigments, and so on. 

The more one studies the history of the techniques, the more the papers come alive as expressions of the artisans who made the papers.

Claudia Cohen: The kinds of papers in this books, all these different decorated papers that were once so ephemeral and common, really don’t exist anymore, except in the most precious way - salvaged samples and rescued fragments. The wonderful papers that were made by the big machines in the 19th century, these intensely pigmented wrapping and wall papers,

The wonderful big machines in the 19th century that made reproductions of marbled and airbrushed patterns, all kinds of book papers, and the intensely pigmented wrapping and wall papers - it’s finished, it’s gone. It’ll never happen again. That’s one reason I wanted to make a book exhibiting as many examples as possible, samples of papers that are never to be made again.

Also, there isn’t a good reference book in English on the subject. There’s Albert Haemmerle’s Buntpapier, or August Weichelt’s Buntpapier-Fabrikation, but nothing similar in scope & depth in English, and as a paper collector that’s been frustrating. Most of the books in English are about marbled papers, and those focus on identifying various types. I’m not interested in that.
I wanted to create a study collection of these techniques and papers, filled with actual examples.

I’m interested in asking the question, 
How were these papers made?  

Claudia made the comment while flipping thru the book that she loves how so often paper is pretending to be something it isn’t; expand on that: whato do you mean, & what are some examples? Put another way, what’s with your passion for paper?

BH: Decorated papers were cunningly used to emulate all kinds of other materials. They were patterned with swirls and streaks to imitate marbles, onyx, agate, and many other kinds of stone. They were decorated with representational images such as animals, people, plants to become faux tapestries or weavings. Textures were embossed into them to produce fake wood or leather. Someone who cannot afford to have a leather-bound book, can substitute a paper-leather binding. Depending on the skill of the maker of this paper, the substitution can be very convincing.

CC: Paper is cheap and plentiful, and it can be made to look like materials that are much more expensive or scarce. It's not trompe l'oeil, you're not fooling anyone, but it's an affordable substitution. Papers can pretend to be leather or cloth or wood, lithographed papers pretend to be marbled, it goes on and on. All because paper is such a versatile raw material. 

Whatever your initial reasons for/thinking around the project were, how did it develop or mutate in directions/ ways you hadn’t anticipated?

BH: One of the difficulties of this project was first defining, then limiting its scope. Claudia was the initiator, and her vision of it was organic, rather than academic. She developed the idea from using decorated papers in bookbinding; making decorated papers herself, especially paste papers and marbled papers; and collecting papers over a long period of time from many sources, in some instances knowing the maker, in others finding older examples with fascinating pedigrees.

As we began to organize her initial ideas, the fundamentals—the origins, the basic techniques, the development of styles and patterns—led to increasingly complex topics. From the start, I wanted to present the subject in an organized way, but I knew that anything to do with human creativity was going to challenge any such attempts. In reviewing other, noble efforts at organizing the history and techniques of decorated papers, I found repetition, detours, orphans, and many other obstacles to a straightforward presentation. Following chronology is usually a reliable method but, given that decorated papers have been made around the world, chronology meant moving back and forth through time, depending on where the paper was made.

We began the book with an overview of origins, techniques, and patterns. As for the specific techniques, we eventually settled on an organization by technique, starting with papers made by hand. First we looked at the simplest papers: those made with randomly-applied colours (by spraying, sprinkling or brushing, for example) or by crinkling. Next were papers decorated by manipulating the paper pulp itself. From there we moved to the more systematic production of paste papers and marbled papers, all still done by hand.

Printed papers were the next main category. These included those made by stencilling and resist techniques, lithography, embossing and relief printing.

Because of the large number of samples, we decided we had to break the book into two volumes. Dividing it into the two categories of hand-made and printed made the most sense, with the samples set in after each chapter.

CC: I’ve been collecting paper for over 30 years, but much of that was me as a bookbinder gathering as many raw materials as possible to use in binding. I did have to buy a fair bit of paper to make this a satisfactory book. And I couldn’t stop, I kept finding one more person I wanted to include.

In terms of the techniques covered in the book, we've tried to be as comprehensive as possible  - we’ve included all of the major techniques used over the past 300 years. Then the question became, What samples do you include for each process? For the ones that really are obsolete now, it was a function of what we could source. For techniques still being practised, it was completely subjective on my part. While the book is comprehensive in terms of techniques, it was never intended to be a compendium of every living person practising these methods. I wanted the best examples of what I liked that I could get. For example, with marbled papers I could have gone in many directions, but I focused on the work of Karli Frigge and Eva von Breughel because they’re my favorites.

So the book is one binder’s favorite papers. I couldn’t include everyone. I could have kept collection for another 30 years, but then there’d never be a book. Finally Barbara had to say No more paper! But I kept sneaking some in. The last sheet [below] just arrived from Copenhagen. It’s from the 1950s, by Ingeborg Borjesson, who practised in Stockholm. It just finishes the book off perfectly. It’s a resist paste paper, which is sort of a combination of a mixture of batik and traditional paste paper. No one is doing it anymore.

What’s the difference, or value, of showing people actual samples vs photographs?

CC: Reproductions aren’t good enough: there’s no way to understand how the papers were created unless you’ve got an actual sample in front of. You need to be able to handle it, and we designed the book so that people can see both sides of the samples. It’s important to see the back because it helps explain how the sheet was created. 

BH: A number of very useful books have been produced with reproduction samples. We decided that the most valuable aspect of Decorating Paper is the combination of description and actual samples. Being able to see and touch the paper itself is more than just a sensory addition. With the real samples, one can see precisely how the papers were printed, how pigments were applied, the depth of the embossing or crinkling, and what the reverse side looks like.

Decorating Paper is being published in an edition of 30 two-volume numbered sets uniformly bound. Each of the two volumes contains well over 200 samples, accompanied by a separate sheet identifying each sample by type (i.e. method of decoration) and, when possible, maker. If you are interested in knowing more, please contact one of HM's booksellers, listed at right. 

Next week's post will be focus on exactly what Decorating Paper presents and contains, and some of the related design and production challenges. 


Someone Found a Copy

Almost two years to the day since this blog posted a piece about a privately-printed limited edition titled Shepherd's Trade, a copy has been found and we have photographic proof of its existence. Not that we doubted it had been published, but the main point of that post was that no copy could be found anywhere, for sale or in a collection. That's not such an easy trick these days.

The two-volume set, readers may recall, was written by a shadowy character named Robert J. Berman. It consists of an "incomprehensibly dense" novel and a companion gloss to help readers penetrate the density.

This copy was found at a used book sale in New York state, and the new owner kindly sent along the photos posted here today. It doesn't really answer any of the questions posed about its production: who or how. No more details about who Pelion Press was. Working from the photos...

It looks to have been printed offset, not so much for how the type looks (it could be the usual no-impression commercial letterpress) but because of the reproduced images.

Based on the opening to Chapter 1, it was not well designed or set. Look at the word spacing! And the type - ugly even if it wasn't anemic.

Unusual that it is signed on the verso of the flyleaf. Is it really a "special edition" if it's the only edition?

Based on these images, I would debate New Yorker writer Marc Fisher's description of the set being "beautifully published."
The person who found this copy reported that she was "intrigued by how completely indecipherable it is." Beyond that, not much more to report.


Starting next week, we'll have a series of posts about Decorating Paper, including images of the completed copies and comments from the creators about how the book was planned and organized.


HM Prophecy Discovered

Still finding things to unpack, but less & less frequently, & smaller packages. One from last week has been around since even before HM actually existed. It was marked "10-pt sorts (replacements)." I'd never bothered to see replacements for exactly what, until last week, and surprise! How's that for a 60-pt coincidence? There also was another M majuscule, in a different face. Not sure how that fits into the prophecy.

More intentionally I found these two brass stencils recently. Be useful if I want to start tagging.


A status report on Decorating Paper: binding & boxmaking proceed. We'll be a few weeks later than our anticipated release/publication target of this month, only because Claudia & Barbara continue to gild the lily by repeatedly adding "just one more sample." So, should the delay cause anyone undue distress, take comfort in knowing that ultimately you will end up with even more than was initially promised.


That Kind of Type

Heard an interview yesterday with the terminally kool Henry Winkler, who has dyslexia. He's co-authored a very popular series of books for young readers about a kid (Hank Zipzer) with dyslexia. In the interview he mentioned that one of the books had been set in a face designed specifically to be more easily read by people with the condition. I needed to see what that would look like:

Dyslexie was designed by Christian Boer. Dezeen magazine ran a short piece about it last fall. According to Boer, "With a heavy base line, alternating stick/tail lengths [stick ?], larger-than-normal openings, and a semi-cursive slant, the dyslexia font ensures that each character has a unique form.

"Traditional fonts are designed soley from an aesthetic point of view, which means they often have characteristics that make characters difficult to recognise for people with dyslexia."

Interesting that one of the core concepts behind type design since Gutenberg has been familial harmony & consistency among the letterforms, and that this ideal exacerbates the challenge to people with dyslexia. Dyslexie certainly wasn't designed with aesthetics in mind, but if it works, function before form.

By pure coincidence, the Dezeen page linked above also includes a link to this short stop-motion film illustrating the history of type. It was made by a Canadian designer (!), Ben Barrett-Forrest.  


Finally got around to unwrapping all that Deepdene I got last year. Project pending, depatils to follow...

Personal to D: sorry we didn't connect before you took off. Kept meaning to call but the kid kept distracting me. Have fun, talk soon.


RRR's Campaign to Redesign Everything

That smart looking young man must be reading the latest issue of UBC Alumni Chronicle, the one that features a profile of Commerce grad-turned typography guru Robert R. Reid. Ran across this while looking through UBC's online archives. Interesting to learn that (according to the scribbler) Kuthan's Menagerie was a kid's book. The article's best part is the coda in which Bob is invited to critique the magazine's layout: leave it to Bob to hijack design for his own profile. This was right around when he was printing John Newlove's Grave Sirs: and it shows. Jazzy.


The phrase mooched about doesn't get used enough anymore. Explains a lot of what's been going on around here...


Some Things Fishy

Got a note from oddball Jim Westergard reporting a recent flood of online interest in The Intruder, which features his wood engravings published by Deep Wood Press in 2012. My question is, why is this the first time I'm hearing about it at all?

The book, by Robert Traver, falls in the angling category (which probably has a larger audience than books on books by a factor of ten). Jim's note made me realize that, despite having no interest in fishing, I have a number of books on the subject...

Alison's Fishing Birds, the first piece of printing by Jim Rimmer I got.

A 1997 reprint of Pool & Rapid, published by the (Roderick) Haig Brown Fly Fishing Association on Vancouver Island. I got this because it was designed Bev Leech and is one of the last letterpress books printed at Morriss Printing. But haven't actually, like, read it. But you can if you want to: the association still has copies & they're available at half the issue price!

And the jewel in the fishy crown, selections from the diary of Roderick Haig-Brow, published in five volumes by Beaverdam Press in 1992. I wrote about this before. Stunning piece of work.

There are lots of other stunning examples of fine press publishing that, despite being about fishing, I would add to the collection if the right copy came along. The first two publications from D. R. Wakefield's Chevington Press were about trout. His work is fantastic. One guy doing everything, intaglio and letterpress combined.


Alan James Robinson did at least two books about angling. I think it had a fly incorporated to the binding or box. Others have done that as well. Don't like it.

Coincidentally, one of the titles in the selected bibliography of publisher Kevin Begos Jr included at the back of About Agrippa is an angling title: In Praise of Trout - & Also Me. (As if the trout wasn't enough, we get the personal history larded on; thanx Oprah.) I suspect this was a commission book for Begos...


A bookseller once tried very hard to convince me to buy a copy of the Ashendene Treatyse of Fysshynge printed on vellum. It was priced to sell, but I kept saying, I just don't are about the topic, especially in olde englishe.

Anyway, despite the fishiness of it, I'm sure Jim's new book is very kool.


The Private Press of Roy A. Squires

For more than a decade I have toyed with the idea of writing some kind of article about Roy A. Squires, "private pressman." Given California's long tradition of private press publishing and fine printing, I could never understand why Squires was all but unknown to collectors and even printers who were his contemporaries (part of the reason undoubtedly was his "genre" literary tastes). 

Many of the people who collaborated with Squires were dead by the time I started asking around, and he didn't leave any kind of an archive. The few people I could contact who had known him either didn't have much specific information about his printing, or (in one case) didn't want to answer any questions at all. My "research" ended up consisting primarily of amassing a more-or-less complete collection of his publications (more if you count simply having a copy of each title; less if you insist on the more scarce and obscure variants). I also managed to gather a number of his letters to subscribers, which are full of wit and interesting details.

I'm not sure if it's instead of or in preparation for, I've started a blog about Squires' press. I'm going to do one post for each of his publications with images, in chronological order, plus any interesting bibliographic details culled from his letters or other sources.

There isn't much in common between what HM gets up to and Squires' publishing, so I don't anticipate an overlap in readership. I'm challenged to explain why I've been interested in his work for so long. Perhaps because it was some of the first letterpress printing I ever saw (and to this day it may be the only letterpress printing young collectors encounter, whether they're aware of it or not), and perhaps also because the modest scope of his publications made the whole endeavor seem possible to a beginner. Inspiring others is the greatest accomplishment for artists or craftsmen.


A new, ongoing feature coming soon: the HM Garage Sale! Mostly (non-HM) books being culled from the my private collection, priced to move. Even with the move over, I'm into shedding weight...