Byzantine Marbling in Miniature

I recently realized that inviting other people to write this blog would make my life a lot easier. The first installment of this exciting new strategy goes to Barbara Hodgson, long-time HM collaborator and now master of her own imprint, Byzantium. Her debut publication, Paper Botanists, was issued last year, continuing her long partnership with binder Claudia Cohen. They currently are at work on another major work, but during the interim will be issuing a book collecting Barbara’s recent experiments marbling in miniature...

In 1853, English marbler and author of The Whole Art of Marbling, Charles Woolnough, wrote of marbling as a kind of “dark” art. The process was kept so secret that apprentices were taught only one style, in order to keep them from opening up their own workshops. (The image above is French, or Shell, marble pattern, fig. 28a from his book.)  Woolnough declared that manuals published in the years before his own were so “utterly ridiculous” they must be “treat[ed] with contempt.” After the first edition of his book appeared, Woolnough was lambasted by master marblers, convinced that his clear instructions would bankrupt them.
Marbling is no longer held to be such an alchemical wonder. Esoteric ingredients such as ox gall—a product produced in the bladder of animals, which is bought from butchers and which is “none the worse for stinking,” as Woolnough claimed—has been replaced with commercial wetting agents to aid dispersal of the colours. Grinding colours is now a job only for purists, as modern prepared paints are as fine as any marbler could ask for. Collecting Scotch or Iceland moss and boiling and straining it to make the mucilaginous carrageenan for the marbling bath needs only a trip to an art store where it is found in powder form.
As a decorative book art, marbled papers are reserved for occasional use in limited edition publications; as a craft, they are found as wrapping for boxes and frames. But marbling continues to fascinate, partly because each piece produced is unique, and partly because of its inherent unpredictability. 
The following three images show a 5-1/2 x 3-1/2 inch marbling bath in three stages of preparation, with Prussian blue, burnt sienna, raw sienna, quinacridone red, chrome green and titanium white combined and drawn through. The fourth image shows the result on St Armand Old Master’s drawing paper.

It is the element of surprise that drew me to the idea of marbling a series of miniature samples on different papers (the image at top of this post shows a piece of Reg Lissel’s gampi, before & after marbling). I had already experimented with ebru, Turkish marbling, and suminagashi, Japanese marbling with ink, after finishing my part of Decorating Paper, a collaboration with Claudia Cohen, in 2014. Following a kind of tradition that began with a three-copy miniature version of our book, The Temperamental Rose, and continued with the more ambitious eight-copy mini WunderCabinet, it seemed fitting to make the suminagashi experiments in miniature form. The resulting book, in an edition of 12 copies, measured just 2-1/4 x 2-7/8 inches.

I planned to make Marbling: Paper & Colour, as it is tentatively titled, to be a same-sized companion to Suminagashi, with some 20 samples on a variety of papers, some single page; others double width for spreads or foldouts. The text would be a (very) brief description of the papers and colours used. This plan remained firmly in place until I made a mockup, at which time the idea fell apart. At the miniature size, the pages—which range from 1920s Airmail flimsies to Hahnemühle Ingres—are awkward to turn, the foldouts difficult to fold out and impossible to fold back in. 

Now Marbling has been resized to 7 x 9 inches, with two to four safely anchored samples per page. Multiple examples of some 25 to 30 different paper types will be included in each copy. There will be a short foreword and descriptions of the papers and colours, with all text to be printed at Heavenly Monkey. The edition will be a maximum of 20 copies, probably fewer, all uniformly bound in leather by Claudia Cohen. Publication is planned for late 2023.


A Lady, a Tiger, a Sword: What To Do?

Copies of what I’m calling the Stockton book will ship out this month. It includes two linked short stories, ‘The Lady, or the Tiger?’ and ‘The Discourager of Hesitancy’ by Frank L. Stockton. Although the latter story was ostensibly written as a sequel, they can be read in either order and the book is designed to encourage that choice: it has two fronts and no back. Like those paperback Ace doubles from the 1960s (the proper term is tête-bêche, not to be confused with dos-a-dos, an ungainly structure that has two spines). But in this case each story leads to the other, like a kind of ouroboros.
I was introduced to the stories in the mid-’80s by a recording (vinyl) with Toyah reading the text while Robert Fripp (her spouse; they were having fun together long before the covid kitchen sessions) noodled away in the backgroud. Unfortunately the flip side, with ‘The Discourager,’ was less aurally interesting, but the stories lodged in me somewhere. Here’s a link to the recording, but the stories are more fun to read first. 

The stories were published in The Century Magazine in the 1880s, and the first one’s unresolved ending made Stockton famous. Like Doyle killing off Holmes, however, he was constantly pestered by readers wanting to know “what happened?” Eventually he provided a sort-of answer with ‘The Discourager,’ and people realized he wasn’t going to give the kind of answer they wanted.
These two stories were the high points of Stockton’s writing career: they remained widely known and anthologized well into the first half of the 20th century. I was surprised to discover while working on this project that the author and these two stories are now barely known among American librarians, booksellers or readers.
When I started making books, I had the idea of printing the stories as two separate pieces that meet in a middle. I also had the idea for frontispieces that echoed this invertible presentation, like playing cards.
Over the years I approached one or two artists but the stories didn’t grab them, and the project remained at the bottom of the pile. I pulled it out again a few years ago and started poking around with the idea of maybe using early playing cards as the illustrations. That led me on a distracting but fun tour through the history of playing cards. I didn’t surface with any art I could pilfer, but I did have some examples that caught the spirit I was after. One of them in particular reminded me of someone, and after much head pounding, I realized it was Walter Bachinski.   
In June of 1997 I attended the first week-long letterpress intensive offered by Jan & Crispin Elsted, at their Barbarian Press. Janis Butler was one of the three other students. She and her partner Walter had come out from Ontario, and while she learned the basics of letterpress, Walter, a professional artist and teacher, roamed the area with a sketch pad. During that week he made a linocut, possibly his first, and the Elsteds pulled a proof. It was very cool.

Janis and Walter went home & began publishing books under the imprint Shanty Bay Press, which from the start enjoyed wide acclaim, particularly for Walter’s vibrant pochoir and relief prints. (Janis does the setting, printing & binding.) We weren’t really in touch during the intervening years, but it was always good to see them when our paths crossed.
So when out of the blue I sent Walter a note, with the stories attached and an outline of my concept, I tempered any hope that he might want to get involved – he doesn’t need HM if he wants to do a book project. But the stories did resonate, and better still, so did my idea for their presentation.

Initially the plan was for him to create and print just the two frontispieces, but as I got into the design I wanted to incorporate more Walter (and thus more color) to the text, and asked if he could do some simple drawings that I could play with. Again he happily (and promptly) agreed, sending 12 pieces that played with elements in the frontispieces. By coincidence the drawings could be ordered to reflect aspects of the stories ­– not illustrations but perhaps evocations?


Heres a brief description from Walter about the process for editioning pochoirs (printing isnt quite the right word) & an image of him at work:
“I have worked out a master drawing before I begin any pochoir. When I lay out the image on the page I first establish the rectangle with a light pencil outline. I then trace on mylar the different colours that make up the image. In this case there is a stencil cut for each colour. I print the colours using acrylic ink (Heavy Body Golden Acrylic Paint). The key block for each of your  frontispieces was a type high maple block that I cut out to establish the black border. I printed that at the end with an oil based relief ink.

“I use a variety of stencil brushes and it is a dabbing motion of strokes. Even though the areas are flat they are subtle irregularities  that reflect the brushstrokes. This makes it different from the  mechanical flatness of a silkscreen surface.

“Pochoir appeals to me because there are no limitations as to what you can do with the image. In my books the pochoirs have areas of flatness, areas of blending colour into colour, wash effects and much freehand drawing.  I prefer pochoir to lino for an image with multiple colours because I can control the overall effect of the image much better and in finer detail.”

I’ve wanted to use Weiss in a project for years but the right one hadn’t come along until now. It’s legible and has the kind of strong body I like to print, but it’s also just unusual enough to limit its use. The text was printed damp, on handmade Barcham Green Canterbury paper. The frontispiece pochoirs were done by the artist on Arches wove. The edition is 30 press-numbered copies (+ six hors commerce I – VI), all signed by the artist on a colophon found in the middle of the book
(6 x 9 inches, 15 leaves).

The edition was uniformly sewn and cased in quarter cloth, the boards covered in a sheet painted black. One side has a pattern printed in black, the other has two paper inlays. (The size & placement of the inlays will be consistent, but there will be a few variations of the inlays themselves, just for fun.) The slipcase is the same painted paper. To emphasize the where’s the front? design, only the slipcase has a spine label. (NOTE: when a book has a slipcase, shelve it with the book’s spine in, to prevent fading.)
Simple as the binding may seem, it’s taking me ages to get it done. Lots of fiddly bits. But this month...
p.s. Walter & Janis have recently finished a new Shanty Bay Press publication, My Landscape; see here for details.
Pradeep Sebastian, author of the bibliomystery The Book Hunters of Katpadi, has a new book out. The Book Beautiful (Hachette 2023) recounts some of his adventures with fine press & rare book collecting. More on that to come... 


Will, Might & Could Happen 2023


Not only is it the first of a month again, it’s the start of another year. Come back in December to see how much of the following happened...

Will Happen: In about a month HM will issue two short stories by Frank L. Stockton, each featuring an original color frontispiece by Walter Bachinski, plus illustrations by him throughout the text. Image above intentionally vague; I’ll post picture of a bound copy next month. 

Will Happen
: I’ve been invited to participate (virtually) in a panel discussion about Agrippa: A Book of the Dead, part of a two-day conference about the book/project/concept/thing being organized by a Cambridge PhD student in May. Four scholars and me; think I’ll mostly keep my mouth shut. I believe it’s being streamed, details to follow. 

Will Probably Happen:
Shortly after Jim Rimmer’s death, in 2010, I purchased a small collection of color linocuts from two of his publications, all initialed by Jim. I also acquired multiple copies from a set of 13 cards displaying the various rules and fleurons he could cast on order (date of issue unclear, possibly early 1980s). I’ve spent the years since pondering what to do with it all and have settled on a plan: a short book (about 24 pages) reprinting an article about Jim and his metal types by Will Rueter originally published in DA in 2003, plus a checklist of the books (only) issued by Jim’s Pie Tree Press, and samples of his metal and digital type designs. Each copy will include one of the initialed linocuts and several of the cards. 

Could Happen: I want to publish a short history on the above topic but need to find a German translator & it’s been proving difficult...

Might Happen (but probably not in ’23): I’m working on a chronological history of recorded (written or printed) references to printing with moveable type up to 1550. There’s a lot of Latin to cope with. 

The device at the top was used by the Wesleyan Art Laboratory in the 1940s. Students issued some interesting works on printing history & techniques. 

Happy 2023, let’s all try to do better.


Peace Out 2022

Merry merry to all, happy New Year, see you in January.



Cut It Out

Spent last month printing, now I have to get into the binding. One of the secret weapons in the studio is the acrylic (i.e. plastic) sheet. There’s a supplier nearby that will cut them to any dimension. I have 13 x 18" sheets for damping and drying sheets of paper while printing, and also just shuffling around stacks of sheets or leaving them under light weight while waiting to be collated. But it’s especially useful for making a jig when you have to trim a bunch of sheets or boards to exact dimensions with square edges. I always get 1/4" because the 1/8" has some flex that isn’t helpful when you’re wanting to press folded sheets flat. 

For the current book, for reasons that will be obvious later, all three edges will be trimmed, with the final size being 6 x 9 inches. Sections are collated and then trimmed, with the fold flush to a straight edge (I use long pieces of old metal furniture), the acrylic jig is laid over and the section is trimmed, one at a time. (I don’t have a guillotine because they aren’t precise enough.) No rulers or measuring required, which is good for me because I couldnt measure & cut two things to the same size if my life depended on it.

I have another jig for the boards, which are trimmed the same way (but slightly different dimensions). My board supplier won’t trim to dimensions below 1/8" (even then a batch won’t be consistent), and my boards usually end up having a 16th inch at least one direction, so I order them slightly over-sized and then trim down. 

So after I finish painting 160 sheets (both sides) for endsections, I’ll start collating and trimming sections, then get to work on the boards. Hopefully I’ll have a copy to show by the start of next year. Till then, be nice to everyone, especially the people who don’t make it easy. 


The Five Books That....

I’ve started printing the new book and don’t really have much to share, so in the time-honored fashion of new media, here are some lists, all pertaining to fine press books & printing....
A. The five books to have if you are interested in contemporary handpress printing:
1. Printing with the Iron Handpress (Oak Knoll, 1998). Anyone who claims to be interested in “fine printing” should at least skim this book.
2. Printing with the Handpress (Allen Press, 1969). Get the original if you, not the facsimile, so you can actually see what you’re reading about.
3. On Printing (BCC, 1992)
4. The Technology of Hand Printing (Abattoir Editions, 1980)
5. The Officina Bodoni: The Operation of a Hand-press... (At The Sign of The Pegasus, 1929).

B. The five books to have that people will have never seen: 
1. Seven Pillars of Wisdom (US copyright edition) 
2. Agrippa – A Book of the Dead. 
3. The Earthly Paradise, that complete edition with all of Burne-Jones’ illustrations. 
4. Kafka: An Ancient Manuscript (Aliquando Press, 1997). There are two books in this list I own; this is one of them. 
5. William Everson’s “Baby” Psalter. I had the “complete” version for a few years (eventually sold with some of the proceeds used to acquire F.3, below), of which there were 48. I saw a baby listed in a catalogue once, but never since & never an actual copy. 

C. The five books I should have bought in 1995 so I could reap the capital gains now:  
1. Moby-Dick (Arion Press, 1979). There was a copy for $6,000 I seriously considered for about a minute that year, but it probably would have precluded the down payment for a house a few years later. 
2. Neuromancer (Gollancz). I had a choice between this true first (in the boring Gollancz yellow jacket) & the much flashier American first, a limited edition. Both same price. I live with the shame of my choice (but not the book, it left years ago). 
3. Just about anything from Kelmscott or Doves. 
4. Any of the signed books from Michael J. Thompson’s catalogue of unique William Hope Hodgson books. 
5. The facsimile edition of Stehen King’s My Pretty Pony, which were being remaindered all over the place.

D. Five books I had & wish I hadn’t sold (or sold too soon): 
1. Frankenstein (Pennyroyal, 1983). I found a sort-of cheap copy at Powells back when you could take in a few boxes of decent books and get a grand in trade. But the quarter leather binding was a problem: where the cloth overlaid the leather, the edge was left exposed & it would fray easily. Poor workmanship for an otherwise monumental book. 
2. The Man Who Died (Yolla Bolly Press, 1992). I must have had a fever. 
3. Tower of Babel (Janus Press, 1975). Another fever. Found for a pittance on the shelves of Powell’s, back in the pre-Internet days when the shelves were stuffed with treasure.   
4. Shadow Over Innsmouth (2002 edition). I traded my last copy away for my first deluxe Gehenna publication, which turned out to be a pretty commonly found book.  
5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (UK first) truth be told, its endpapers had been renewed by the bookseller from whom I bought it. It was my first lesson in binding: he sliced the book out of its case, tipped new endpapers to the text block, then pasted them back into the case. I was agog.

E. The five books I should have not bought in 1995: 
1. Neuromancer (Phantasia Press, 1986). See above. One point, whether good or bad depends who in the family you ask: it was the first time I paid more than $100 for a book, and it took some time to talk myself into it. After that the flood gates opened... 
2. Typologia (U California Press, 1940; edition of 300 signed copies). I didn’t know it was supposed to have a (signed) colophon – these were early days for me. When I discovered the leaf had been sliced out, I contacted the (Seattle) bookseller – who’d priced it as if it were complete – but they told me to eat it. Unfortunately they’re still in business and their reputation has not improved. The book’s great but I wish I didn’t have a defective copy! 
3. (title withheld) I was still very new to printing & press books and was easily beguiled. This one was a very small edition, recently published, with etchings (yeah!), bound in a side-stab fashion between actual wood boards (completely inappropriate for the kind of paper used)... It was a learning experience. 
& etc. There were lots of others but most are long gone & forgotten.
F. If I could only keep five of the books on my shelves, they would be:
1. Printing with the Handpress 
2. The three Doves books in brown morocco: In Principio, Credo, and Laudes Creaturarum.
3. More Dark Than Shark (cloth edition, with print by Russell Mills). When I got the paperback version, in 1986, I noticed mention of a cloth version. That actually was one of my first instances of noticing not all books are equal.
4. An Essay on Typography (1931, Sheed & Ward). Even tho Gill was a despicable human, the content & production of this book are inspiring.
5. Zapf’s Civilité Disclosed (Gehenna, 1995). 
G. My five favorite HM books (in chronological order):
1. Iskandariya
2. XI LXImos
3. Aurora Teardrops
4. Pollard
5. Wither
5.1 Griffo
2015–2020 I had a good run.

H. The five books I hope to acquire in the next year:
No comment, but there aren’t five, just two.
Dont take parts B thru F too seriously. Next month: maybe some images of the new project.


Faking It (A Different One)

Ever since I first heard about Robert Green’s project to create a digital version of the Doves type, I’d wondered if anyone (besides Green, presumably) had used it to recreate an original Doves letterpress page, to see how the two compare. If anyone has, I don’t know about it. So I finally decided to give it a try, partly as a limbering-up exercise before starting to print the next HM project (I haven’t done any extended printing since the end of last year).
The first question was, how to conduct the experiment. Ideally my facsimile setting could be directly compared to the original. Since part of the experiment is for people to see how the digital compares to the metal original, it seemed appropriate to pick a work that was reasonably well known. I thought about Credo (1908), but all those I believes get tiresome. So I settled on The Ideal Book. It’s just 10 pages, so three sheets.

But the idea of being able to compare my facsimile directly to the original lingered. Some years ago I acquired a few dozen copies of Cobden-Sanderson’s “Note on a Passage in Anthony and Cleopatra” (1913) This is one of the ephemeral parerga C-S issued over the years. The copies have been lost & rediscovered on my shelves a few times, and I finally had an idea for putting them to use: I could set the first page in facsimile, and present it opposite a copy of the original. I have 25 copies of the Note...so it will be included in that many copies of my Ideal Book facsimile. 

I grabbed the text for Ideal Book from a digitized copy online, then went through and found all the scanning errors. The digital text conveniently had breaks at the end of each printed line, so that work was already done for me. I pulled out my copy of the original, and measured the page, the margins, the line measure, the type size, and the leading. 
In using these measurements to create a digital version, I had to take into consideration the shrinkage of the paper after printing. Like all good handpress printers, Cobden-Sanderson’s paper was dampened for printing, which causes it to expand. When dry it contracts, thereby shrinking whatever was printed ever so slightly. In general I have found paper shrinks 1 – 1.5%. The text line in the book measured exactly 4 inches, so I made the measure in my file 4-1/16 inches to allow for the shrinkage.

The photos above illustrate the shrinkage. For each the ruler’s 4-inch mark is centered under the period at the end of the line (despite what the first image suggests). The second image shows the line on a sheet of proofing paper (i.e. printed dry), measuring just past the 8-inch mark (i.e. a little over 4 inches long). The third image is a sheet of the Saunders paper, printed damp and then dried; it shows the same line ending just under the 8 inch mark, a difference of about 1/16 inch.The fourth is the Barcham Green paper, likewise just under 4 inches. The last picture is the Doves original.  
I use Affinity Publisher for doing layouts, & its a poor substitute for InDesign. I created a document with page size 6.5 x 9.25 inches. By my estimate, the printed (metal) type equated to 16.1 pt in digital; the leading was 15.4 pt. Kerning was off (I never use auto or font kerning), just as it would be when setting metal.  
I dumped the digital text into the text boxes, and was surprised at how well it all fit right off the bat. When it didn’t it was because the word spacing resisted (there are some very tightly-set lines), so I had to make those adjustments as required.  
While all of the lines fell into the measure easily enough, what I noticed was very slight variations in where a given letter in the line fell with relation to the ones above and below. Sometimes a hair or two ahead, sometimes behind. Much of this I put down to discrepancies in the word spacing, and I wasn’t going to attempt a facsimile setting to that degree of detail. 
The italic words in “Note...” posed a problem: As everyone knows, there is no italic companion to the Doves roman. When an italic was required, C-S used one provided by the Miller & Richard foundry. The closest approximation of it I could find (digitally) was Garamond; without the actual face, my setting can’t really be called a facsimile. 
I also had to come up with a pilcrow. Green’s font doesn’t include one, so I simply scanned one from “Note...” and dropped it in.  
When output to my cheap Epson inkjet printer, the text looked a little heavy, but I put that down to the printer.  
As with all my polymer printing, the plates are KF 95 plastic backed. The slim plates (vs the thicker 152 used by most letterpress shops) allow for sharper details (e.g. serifs) and finer lines without risk of breaking. I have my plates made by a nearby commercial letterpress shop that I’m not naming because they do it as a favor to me and don’t want to be in the plate-making business.  
I pulled plate proofs on newsprint with no makeready or particular care, I’m just looking to see if there are any flaws. The type in the proofs looked noticeably heavier than the metal original. I hoped this was due to my offhand proofing, but knew it could also be a result of decisions Green made.

To make the comparison as accurate as possible, the digital version needed to be printed the same way the original was – inked by hand, and printed on a handpress – on paper as close as possible to the original used. The image above shows (l to r) the roller, ink slab, and pile of damp paper under a towel waiting to be printed. 
The Doves books were printed on a laid sheet made by Batchelor & Son. I couldn’t get any of that. I did have paper that the (old) wrapping in which it was found claimed to be Saunders c.1950s, but there is no watermark. It’s more cream than the Doves, which might be described as off-white, but it has a similar weight and finish. It was dampened in the usual manner, with blotters, five printing sheets per blotter. I also had a few sheets of Barcham Green Bodleain, also more cream than white, laid, and with a little more tooth than the Doves or Saunders sheets. I printed five copies on this paper. 
I started printing with the facsimile page from “Note...” Because of the potential thickening issue, I’d decided to print with as little ink as possible, which thus might require more impression than normal. I rolled out a minimal amount of ink – less than I have ever used to print – and pulled an impression. It was essentially perfect. This never happens for me; there are always agonies and torments getting a form to print well. The impression was good – about the same as on the Doves original – and the ink coverage was solid. And the type still looked thicker than the original. 
I checked with the person who made the plates, in case something in how the plate was made (i.e. exposed) would noticeably affect a type’s weight. She compared what I’d printed with a digital print from their good printer, and the two were the same – the type was printing as it was designed to look. So Green had thickened up the strokes, which is not an unusual decision when adapting a metal face for use in offset, digital or Web use. 

The image above shows a form being printed. The four red squares at the corners highlight the platen bearers, the two rectanular squares show the roller bearers with tape added in places to adjust the inking in those areas.
Printing a sheet at HM typically take two days, one for each side. It takes two to three hours in the morning to get a form set up and the makeready settled (sample below), then I average about 15 impressions an hour. I have printed up to 120 impressions in a day, but am not good for much the next day. After backing up, the sheets are (gently) pressed between blotting boards overnight, to dry. They usually require drying in a second set of boards for another day. (Note that it’s not the ink that’s drying – it’s dry almost as soon as it’s printed – it’s a question of extracting the moisture that was added to the fibers for printing.)

The 25 copies with the “Note...” facsimile and leaf (above) will be cased in printed blue paper over thin boards. I ended up with another 13 copies, which have been sewn into a painted handmade paper wrap (see top for both versions). 
So that’s the experiment. My conclusion is that, if you wanted to use the digital Doves font to make a truly accurate facsimile, you’d have to make some alterations to the font to decrease the stroke weight. And I can’t really think of a legitimate use for the font outside a facsimile. Cobden-Sanderson went to such lengths to prevent its use by others (unscrupulously, given the agreement he had made, in my opinion), that appropriating it for some other use would be jarring. I considered using it for the Pollard project, for about a minute, before realizing it was just a bad idea. 

Attempting to replicate someone else’s setting of type ended up being an interesting exercise. It resulted in a deeper understanding of C-S’s aesthetic through all the small decisions involved. Several of his lines are set so tight the words have to be picked apart, while others employ an ampersand when there was plenty of room for the word and. I imagine it’s similar to young writers typing out their favorite novel, to gain some insight to the author’s process. 
I feel limbered up and am looking forward to the new project, which will entail printing more colors than any five previous HM books combined! 
I’m sorry for all of you not in Vancouver tonight because you’ll miss the loscil/RafaelAnton Irisarri double bill. An ambient mega-bash.