Bookbinding, Letterpress and Lino Cuts

Saturday was spent at MCBA with the other five MCBA/Jerome recipients and Jeff Rathermel, MCBA’s Executive Director. We learned about six different forms of binding and came away with an example of each that we had each made. The surprising thing to me was that it didn’t take as much time as I had thought to make any of these books, and that it doesn’t take much PVA glue to make them very strong. The glue just needs to be applied in the correct places.

The structures we worked with were an accordion book with joined sections, single sewn and double sewn pamphlets, a Meander fold book, Japanese/Stab binding and finally a drum leaf binding. I think we were all amazed at the speed we managed to complete this in!

Last night was another evening in the Letterpress I workshop. The lead type for the broadside has been set and will be proofed next week along with the lino cut, which has also been finished. For the paper I’ve chosen Zerkhall Frankfurt. We have a range of papers available to us, but of all the warmer papers this has the best balance of texture, colour and weight, although it’s perhaps a little thinner than I would like. The type I want to be a dark grey, but I’m still undecided on the colour of the image. I’ll probably wait and see what’s on the presses on the day.

We also covered setting up with furniture and quoins and the importance of getting the type firm and steady on the press bed.

Give them Helvetica


I could have chosen something larger for my (nearly) 51 year old eyes than Garamond 14pt. As Cy always says “Give them Helvetica. At least it’s not Goudy”.

Several hiccups tonight. Originally my layout had the copy centred (as an Englishman living in the United States, that spelling now looks so wrong), and although it looked good on paper, I soon realised that accurately lining up and centreing centering the lead type wasn’t necessarily going to be an easy job for the beginning typesetter. So I changed it to become ranged-left, which meant that I had to reorder the length of some of the sentences on the fly. Having a larger size leading cap wasn’t good either because it would mean two passes through the press. Therefore, tonight I’ll be back there again, setting type during MCBA’s Open Studio time.

Letterpress I – Week 1


Last night was the first evening of the seven week Letterpress I course at MCBA. Sara, our instructor, had us make artwork for pressure printing from self-adhesive sheets. The purpose was to show how, by layering and overlapping shapes cut out of the label material and stuck down onto plain paper, very little thickness is needed to change the density of a print in letterpress, as well as a way to produce quick and easy artwork. Even the addition of an extra sheet of paper as a backing can make a marked difference in the amount of ink laid down.

But I don’t paint, nor do I draw, so when it dawned on me that I’d have to create something freehand, I could just feel the blood draining from my head. The obvious solution here would have been to use simple graphic shapes, but, of course, I went for a more detailed approach using lots of curves, because that’s what I do, right? Make things difficult for myself. Halfway through I realised my mistake in choosing this option, but even my bad artwork didn’t fail to illustrate Sara’s point.

We were using a Vandercook No. 4 proof press which is about the same age as me (work it out). We learnt about the different parts of the press, especially the form rollers, the steps in pulling a print and the importance of the clean up procedure at the end. It’s like a GI getting to know his rifle. Soon I should be able to break the press down and reassemble it blindfolded. Other instructions are to tie long hair back and not wear frilly clothes. Damn, just as I was rediscovering the New Romantic look too.

During the next six weeks, as well as learning more about the press and its maintenance, we’ll be working on a broadside exchange. We’ll each set type of our choosing, use an image either printed as a pressure print or a linocut and print them in an edition of 12-15. That way we each get a small portfolio of nine prints made up of everyone’s broadside.

The California Job case, the rule of 5, furniture, quoins and keys. No, I don’t know what they are either, but I see all this in my future. Thanks Sara, I can’t wait until Mondays roll around now!