On with the Letterpress!

I’m not one to find great interest in history, whether that includes learning about the subject in class or seeing an old building from years before. I’ve never really known why I don’t find an interest in it, but the thought of seeing really old items never appealed to me; I’ve always found antiques of any kind to be boring, and I find myself more interested in the clock than I do the artifact in front of me. For some reason I can’t explain, I didn’t feel this way in regard to the letterpress. 

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to visit Meshwork Press in Wilkinsburg, PA, a small independent letterpress business that creates greeting cards and postcards, with the Small Press Publishing class. Although the building itself was rather small, with the machines and letterpresses present in the room, the area somehow felt bigger than it truly was. 

Once we were told about each of the letterpresses, how they worked, and the different vocabulary and processes required to create a print, we were split into pairs and set off to make our own creations. Now, I’ve made hands-on artwork before, and one of the perks of Saint Vincent is that there’s so many opportunities to try something totally new, but I’ve never done something quite like letterpress before. 

A photo of one of the two presses at the Meshwork Press. Pictured above is a tabletop press. Photo taken by me.

Although the prints can sometimes look incredibly simple to make, and the process may appear to be easy, there’s so much work and thought that goes into the craft that I never cared to think of before. If you’re working with letters or specific images, you really have to think about how you want them placed, for you’ve got to ensure that they’re both backwards and in reverse so that the page will read correctly once you print them. You also have to consider the types of furniture you have to press them together, for while you may have a beautiful idea with a bunch of images and letters scattered about, having it all stick together can be a rather difficult task with the number of little spaces placed between them; granted, this doesn’t mean you can’t make a print such as the one mentioned, but a lot more thought and time may have to go into the process than before. 

A photo of one of the two presses at the Meshwork Press. Pictured above is a platen press. Photo taken by me.

Working with a letterpress is one of those activities that I for whatever reason could never have pictured myself ever getting the chance to do, mostly because it’s an activity I didn’t realize still existed, but now that I’ve done it once, I can’t wait to make even more! 

If you want to learn more about Meshwork Press or visit it yourself, click here!

Losing Letterpress

            A lot of letterpresses have shifted into a more automated system, one that removes the dedicated worker from the process, one that’s much quicker and easier to produce works with. The issue is that you lose that personal aspect when you begin to become more industrial or more online; you don’t get to see every little chip or nick in the paper, every little splotch of misplaced ink, every tiny mistake that tells the audience that the art was created by a human being. You also begin to slowly lose that physical piece that comes with using a letterpress. When using the machinery to craft your artwork, you have to grab each of the letters, put them together, shift them, rearrange them, really think about where they have to go. You have to press them firmly together to ensure they won’t fall apart before rolling ink onto the machine, and then you have to slip the paper in and push the ink onto the page; the same design, same font and page, could be created in about half the time with only a few buttons in today’s world, no letterpress needed. 

            That’s the difference though, for where the individual today could craft hundreds of the same print using only a simple machine and a computer, the one with the letterpress creates a few dozen, but there’s personal connection to each and every print that that letterpress crafts. Where the modern person has no attachment to the hundreds, possibly thousands, of prints they create, for they can easily make and pass out more if need be, every print that the letterpress makes at the hand of an individual will hold some sort of meaning to that individual. 

            Although I’ve never made prints using a letterpress, I have made linoleum/ linocut prints before utilizing a similar process. The idea of cutting out your art piece by piece, be it with a piece of linoleum or with lettered blocks, rolling over it with ink, and pressing it down on the paper is nearly identical. It’s an art form much like letter press that is also very slowly dying out (at least to my knowledge), and while it’s a little more common to see than letterpress, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s necessary to try and spark an interest for the craft in other people.

A photo of my linoleum/ linocut prints that I made a few years back! You can learn more about linocuts here and letterpresses here!

It’s not exactly the same, I know, but the weight is still there; nothing will ever beat the feeling of holding a piece of your work and being able to know that you no one else but you created it, that someone can enjoy a piece of your art and you’re the only one who can make it the way you do. 

A Little Look Into a Life

            A little over a week ago, on September 27th, 2021, an online poetry reading of Another Life, a book of poetry written by Daniel Lipara and translated by Robin Myers, was held over Zoom. To be honest, at first, I took the reading as another simple way to draw in extra credit for my class, a tiny measure to get a few points and quickly get out, but after sitting there for even just ten minutes, I quickly realized there was so much more to the reading than I had previously thought. I never truly understood how much work went into creating a book of this stature, small press or otherwise, until I went to the reading (of course, we’ve made a handful of books in our class, but nothing quite like Another Life). 

            The entire meeting was hosted by both Dr. Gil Montero, one of the editors for Eulalia Books, the small press that helped to produce Another Life, and Anna from White Whale Bookstore, a small indie bookstore located in Pittsburgh, PA that is also selling Another Life. Both of them quickly said their piece, explained who they were, and how they came to help in the creation of Another Life, and then they swiftly passed the torch to both Lipara and Myers. Lipara told the story of how he came to writing Another Life, how he was inspired to write it after the death of his mother, to share a piece of his personal family life with the world through his poetry. Myers, then, shared how she came to translating the poetry, how she had to be careful when translating so as to not lose the meaning behind Lipara’s words, to keep the principles that the poetry was written upon. They each took turns reading the poetry, first in Spanish, then in English, before turning back to the audience to answer any questions and receive any comments the audience yearned to share; to say that the audience reception was anything but positive would be a lie. 

A photo of the cover of Another Life. Photo taken from eulaliabooks.com. If you’d like to purchase Another Life you can do so here or here!

Hearing how long it took to make a book of this caliber, how much time went into carefully picking each word of the poem, the precision at which the translation was made, is inspiring in a way. The entire reading was beautiful, and just seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces made attending so worth it. After now making books myself, small as they are, I know what it’s like to be able to hold something you helped to make, to watch your creation slowly come to life, to flip through the pages and be able to say “I did that”; I can only imagine the amount of joy both Daniel and Robin felt as they were able to hold their book for the first time. 

An Equine Accordion Book: A Creative and Critical Response

My object, my accordion book, is considered a book due to the matter that it contains, and rather, what it appears to lack. Although the object is without a title, it does contain both a front and a back cover, and though the book doesn’t follow the natural codex of today, it does work to pass along the information it possesses. The ‘book’, in this case, is more of a distributor of knowledge than a simple story book, a collection of visuals and data that allow the reader to leave with a better understanding of the subject at hand. Similar to the accordion books that were “produced in many scripts and languages, … [where the information was] copied and memorized as a form of devotion by scribes across Asia,” my accordion book follows a similar idea, where the body matter would be of utmost importance (Borsuk 36-38). The content, then, in the object is key, for without the content the book would be without a purpose. To best pass along the information, based on the format, it “both [requires and rewards] sounding aloud” the text inside; with the accordion formatting, it’s much easier to share the information with others by reading it aloud than reflecting on the content as a whole (Borsuk 54). Though the accordion book isn’t a format that I would normally consider when speaking on the matter of a ‘book’, I have no doubt that the accordion book I created counts as such. 

A photo of my book taken at an angle. This was taken to display the folds and how the book better fits under the category of object. Photo taken by me.

            When making my book, for some reason, I treated the creation of the object more like an art project rather than designing a new book; for that reason, my book doesn’t feel as ‘clean’ as it could’ve been. The materials used only aid in this sensation, since I used colored pencils, charcoal paper, book board, and felt as my main source of supplies. The interesting point, however, is that the materials I used easily reflect both the world that I’m experiencing and the materials that I have at my disposal; since I have an affinity for art, and I’m a studio art minor, naturally, I’m more inclined to turn a simple book-making project into one that’s a little more imaginative. There’s a plethora of art supplies in my dorm room, from sketchbooks, to markers, to colored pencils, and more, meaning that creating a book in this way was only a matter of time. Even in regard to the ideas that I came up with when designing my book were more art-inclined than others; my mind immediately looked at all of the ways in which I could craft the most aesthetically pleasing piece of art that would draw the appearance of a book, one that would pass along information of my choice while also using my creative abilities. Had art not been a part of my life, the accordion book that I crafted would have looked significantly different, and I have no doubt that the project would have employed totally different aspects of my life than the ones I chose to focus on. 

            Initially, the imagined reader or audience I perceived when creating my accordion book was myself, as I was under the assumption that I would be the only one to care about what my book would contain; after finishing my creation, I learned that my initial presumptions were false. My actual audience includes anyone with a wish to discover more about horses in general, or those people who yearn to learn information on the individual horses in the Equestrian Club and riding program. For example, anyone interested in joining the program just has to quickly flip through my accordion book to grasp basic material on each of the horses, along with what they look like and an exaggerated view of their personalities. In that sense, the accordion book I made can be treated more as an informational and visual pamphlet for the program, rather than a book you’d pick up off the shelf of a Barnes and Noble. 

            The language used in the book is simple and to the point, and there are few words in the book as only the few words placed in the content are necessary. In having such few words, however, and in keeping the language basic, grasping the information is much easier, for the individual can easily find what they’re looking for with a simple flicking of the pages. The text is also what connects the information to the images displayed on the page, for without them present, the audience would have no idea which horse was being discussed, what the purpose of the book was, or why the pictures were necessary in the first place. The text is what glues the book together (besides the actual bits of glue, of course), for without any text, the book would simply be another collection of pictures and drawings, and no information would be gained besides the idea of what a horse looks like. 

Works Cited

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. The MIT Press, 2018. 

Turning a Barn into a Book

            Although I knew going into this class that it would require an art lab and include both English and the arts in some way, for some reason, I’m still surprised by how creative the class could truly be. I don’t know why, but when I was told we would be making books, my brain pictured paper-back and hard bound novels, the standard book that you’d see on a shelf in a Barnes and Nobles; I never imagined that I’d have the opportunity to create a book that both feels like a book while looking like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The accordion book project we’ve been working on for the last few weeks fits this idea, since the project appeared to be more of a piece of artwork that I helped to design rather than something someone would pick up to read (of course, you can read the book I created, but not in the same way I’d previously thought). 

Photo of my accordion book taken by me. You can learn to make accordion books here!

The book as a whole turned out much better than I thought it would, but it’s not without its flaws. It’s a small thing, which is all right, as the content is fitting for its size; any bigger and I don’t think I’d know what else to put in it. Inside, alongside a picture of each of the horses is their height, name, breed, age, and a drawing used to hopefully capture a bit of their personality. 

Photo of my accordion book taken by me.

Though I liked how the sketches turned out, after coloring them, I felt that a few of them were a bit difficult to distinguish, namely the darker colored ones. I believed it happened in part because of the paper and the color pencils I was using. I used charcoal paper, not really thinking much of it, but the paper isn’t really meant for colored pencils, especially the ones I used; it doesn’t help either that I pressed down hard with a lot of the darker colors to get the color to show, pressing more pigment onto the page and making more of a blob. Next time, I’ll just have to be more careful. 

Photo of my accordion book taken by me.

Some of the pages could’ve looked better if I’d done a little pre-planning beforehand, like what I did with Odie’s page, but besides the few mistakes here and there, I am happy with the overall product. It’s not perfect, but that’s all right, since I already know how to fix it next time. 

Brainstorming an Accordion Book

            In my opinion, brainstorming is one of the hardest parts of any creative process, especially when you’re given an incredibly open-ended prompt. Usually, I’ll struggle in any regard when it comes to brainstorming, for I’ll either have way too many ideas or none at all; rarely will I ever find that happy middle ground. In the case of our newest project, the accordion book, my creative process has been no different. 

            Thankfully, I had an issue with the former of the two problems, as I quickly became overwhelmed with ideas. As I flipped through examples, thought about my interests and passions, and considered what would look best in the format presented to us, I just continued to add idea after idea into my little list. I eventually managed to weed down my ideas to a small handful, but not without a lot of trial an error. 

A photo of the accordion books that I recently folded for the upcoming project. If you need a good tutorial on how to fold them, I used the one here. The photo was taken by me.

So, what were the ideas that I whittled down to? 

One of the first ideas that I came up with, and one that I thought would look really cool when finished, was an animation based accordion book. I’m currently learning how to animate in a separate class this semester, and we recently made flipbook animations earlier in the semester; I figured I could either reuse or create a flipbook and turn it into an accordion book. Each page could have a single notecard or piece of the animation, that way when you pull it out you can easily put it together. In a similar manner, I eventually considered making a comic book with each page as a panel, but that was much later in the week. 

Since I’m in one of the horsemanship classes, I decided I could make a book with each of the horses from the barn involved. Each page would carry brief bits of information for each one and little pictures alongside them; it would be something I could share with both small press and the horsemanship class should I choose to create it. I would be able to fit each page to the horse and their personalities, hopefully capturing them to the best of my ability.

Another popular idea I had was reusing old coloring book pages and cutting them to fit on the inside of each page. I could choose whether to follow each of the designs or create my own for each page, and I could essentially make my own “coloring book” out of others. When finished, it would be almost abstract in design with a flurry of colors to coincide with it. 

So, what was the winner? 

The horses! 

A work in progress photo of my design for the accordion book project. The photo was taken by me.

Although the horse accordion would be a little more complicated than the others, it’s more personal than the rest. When completed, it would have more meaning to me, and it’s a piece that I can look back on and reminisce about both the club itself and how I’ve grown in the sport. I’ll be able to make little designs for each of the horses, ones that will hopefully capture their individual personalities, and I can flip through it when I wish to see them again. 

I’m looking forward to seeing how it’ll turn out!

Trial and Error Through Stab-Book Binding

When I learned that we’d actually be making books in class, I quickly became intimidated by the course. Even one of the simplest ways of bookbinding appeared to be one of the most difficult concepts in the world, and naturally, I grew nervous at my performance in the class. Thankfully, the feeling didn’t last. 

            Creating a book using the Japanese stab book binding technique became the first assignment in the course, one that threw me for a loop initially. On the first day of learning about the concept, I grew weary. I didn’t understand how to loop the thread this way and that to bind it all together, how to make pretty patterns, how to tighten the string in just the right manner; I could barely thread the waxy string through the eye of a needle, and now I was expected to bind books and craft designs together? After the first day, to say many clouds of discouragement and nerves loomed over head would’ve been an understatement. 

            I refused to give up though. I googled different patterns, ones that were simple and manageable to craft, watched YouTube tutorials and time-lapses, and learned what I could before I’d be expected to try my hand at stab binding once more.

(If you need some good sources yourself, I found some good ones here!

Both are incredible tutorials that aided me a lot in in making my book, and they’re really easy to follow!)

The day came, and I successfully made my first book. Granted, I did spend most of my time attempting to thread the string through the needle, as it kept fraying and refused to go through the eye, but that’s to be expected when I’ve barely sewed. 

A photo taken by me of the spine of my book bound with the stab-book binding technique.

Of course, the project wasn’t without its goofs. A lot of my time at the end was spent attempting to untie my final knot, for I’d tied it in a way that left the binding too loose. I also had to go back and repeat a step or two in the beginning, for I hadn’t quite figured out the process just yet. I kept poking myself with the needle over and over too, since I wasn’t sure where it would pop out when binding, but If I can survive cutting my hand on glass over and over in a different class, I’ll live if I happen to poke myself with a needle once or twice; you do what you must for the arts, after all.

A photo taken by me of my final project using the stab-book binding technique.

Now, is the book I made anything amazing? Not really, but it’s a book, and it’s mine; I successfully made something I never had before, and that’s what counts. It’s something I can call my own and be proud of at the end of the day, and that’s all that really matters to me. I can work on honing my craft or improving when it comes to the next project.  

In Silence or Aloud: An Evolution of Reading

Reading is a notion that has been around for centuries, even before the idea of ‘reading’ came to truly exist. Before reading and writing, people shared stories through word of mouth, an oral tradition that allowed for the stories to changing with time, to morph and shift slowly with each generation; with writing, we were able to keep the same narrative across time with few inconsistencies. When writing was introduced as a more novel concept, so too did the “strange art of silent reading”, a topic which Jorge Luis Borges tackles in his essay “On the Cult of Books” (1951). Although the act of reading is the same, be it in silence or aloud, the way in which an individual interprets or processes the information varies.

Spaceship Earth Photos
[A photo from the early section of Spaceship Earth in Epcot taken by Robert Niles. The image depicts the beginnings of storytelling, of a people who shared stories through word of mouth and pictures drawn on cave walls. The photo was posted to themeparkinsider.com on September 15, 2017.]

Reading silently allows for more time with your thoughts, to attain more information in a swifter manner, to go back and reread what you’ve just seen to create the best possible mental picture. In the quiet, you’re better able to focus on the whole rather than the part, to envision the ideas and images that the words present. St Augustine commented on a similar idea in Book IV of his Confessions, for when he discovered his friend to be reading silently, he wondered if it was “to protect himself in case he had a hearer interested and intent on the matter,” to keep his thoughts on the topic his own. Augustine’s friend had realized that ‘omitting the sound’ when reading allowed for him to focus on the concepts at hand, to not be bothered by those wishing to comment on what remained in his novel; he could learn the information in his own way, at his own pace, without fear of criticism or concern. 

On the other hand, typically, when one reads aloud, it’s because the individual is attempting to make sense of what they’re reading, or to share the information on the page to another, like when a mother shares bedtime stories with their child. In that way, the reader is able to focus more on the words themselves, how they sound across their tongue, the way they crunch between their teeth; they can go slower with what they’re reading to ensure they have the right pronunciation and to be certain they’re grasping the concepts at hand. The work is more easily shared between friends or colleagues, and the act of reading aloud brings people back to their roots, to the days when storytelling through word of mouth was all they had. 

There’s no right or wrong way to read, and the way in which one does is entirely up to him or her, for he or she is the one to decide what is best for them based on the circumstances. Reading as a whole has shifted greatly throughout the ages, from purely storytelling to the distribution of intellectual topics, but regardless of how or what one decides to read, the purpose will always remain the same: to share with others a new world of ideas they hadn’t previously laid witness to before. 

Works Cited

Augustine, and Tobie Matthew. The Confessions of S. Augustine … Translated into English By S.T.M. I.e. Sir T. MATTHEW. the Second Edition. 1638. 

Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” Selected Non-Fictions. Translated by Eliot Weinberger, Penguin, 2000, 358-363.