The Heavenly Monkey Edition!

That's my proposed artwork for a new Cocteau Twins album cover. Something with inky in the title seems apropos – Inky Reverb maybe. Last month I promised some photos illustrating the steps of inking & printing a (damp) sheet with a handpress. It needs some more work, but as a precursor, here’s a demonstration of one of the qualities that result from printing damp...


One of the best aspects of my work life is I spend all day, every day listening to music. It
s a very specific kind of music, and it seems unbound by country or culture. I recently heard a piece titled Music for Fields by sokpb avabodha, a musician who lives in Russia. It warranted more listening so I tried to find a copy. No surprise for someone who prints & binds books, I prefer to actually buy a physical thing (but not vinyl, too much hassle), i.e. a CD. Long story short, the CD version of Music for Fields sold out years ago, but Sokpb very kindly offered to burn me a copy and put it in a sleeve of his original design. You can see on his bandcamp page that he has created a number of releases in hand-crafted packages. He was sufficiently pleased with what he came up with for my CD that he asked if he could release it as a special version, the Heavenly Monkey edition! This will undoubtedly be the closest I ever get to actually releasing a CD. 

If youre interested in pursuing this specific musical thread, check out the streaming stations Drone Zone, Ambient Sleeping Pill and Planet Ambi (it was on one of these I would have heard Music for Fields). If youre interested in artists who span music and graphic arts, check out loscils recent (fantastic) release, Lux


Below is a detail of a sheet from HM=XX. The paper is 120 g Arches wove, the type is 12-pt Perpetua. The horizontal line printed here is exactly 4.5 inches long. When printing was completed, the sheets were dried by pressing between 1/32” thick coaster board for about 12 to 18 hours (depends when I get around to it the next day). 

Dampening a sheet of rag paper before printing softens the fibers, making them more receptive to the impression of the type and the ink. This means dampened paper requires (much) less ink and impression, and yields the sharpest possible representation of the type. That sharpness increases when the paper dries: dampening paper causes it to relax, i.e. the fibers expand. The entire sheet gets slightly larger. With mouldmades, the increases usually is entirely perpendicular to the grain direction, but with handmades (which have no grain) it’s in all directions. 

As the image shows, when completely dried, the 4.5-inch line on the Arches sheet contracted by about 1/16”, or roughly 1.5%, which is pretty much average. (A sheet that expanded a lot when dampened probably isn’t one you should be printing on.) Interestingly, the Arches also expanded about the same amount vertically. Some mouldmades don’t change at all in the grain direction. 

The result of all this expanding and shrinking is that the type gets a final slight crimp, sharpening the density and edges. According to Edwin Grabhorn, not damping good rag paper requires four times more impression and ink, resulting in a muddier, heavier result. As I’ve said before, I don’t understand why people printing letterpress in this day & age with the goal of “fine printing” use mid-20th century standards for commercial printing as their guide. I wrote a whole book about this.

One of the most useful tricks I learned from Gabriel Rummonds’ was using tape to build up sections of roller bearers to (ever so slightly) lessen the rollers’ pass over the edges of type blocks and the end of lines that extend beyond the bulk of the page. I’ll go into some details with the how-to post. 

I’ve all-but-finished printing Paper Botanists, and now it goes to the hand-embellishment phase, followed by binding. While I was printing Barbara was going through the 40 copies of HM=XX, adding various amendments and comments. Turns out you’re supposed to proofread before you print – who knew? It’ll be more fun this way. 


Xmas gift idea for the binder on your list: anything from Illtyd Perkins workshop. HM is getting a shiny new finishing press with stand! Beautiful work and very reasonably priced for what you get.