Creative Critical Response #2: Mary Laird and her influence

Mary Laird may be a letterpress publisher, but she is first and foremost an artist. This can be very easily noticed since she only prints a very limited amount of her books. In her interview in A Poetics of the Press, Laird speaks to this by saying her work is “slow and ornery (Laird interview 96-99)” and therefore reproducing it is time consuming. Making numerous copies of her works also takes away from the sentiment and attachment she creates with each work. Per our discussions so far in our publishing course, I strongly believe Laird views her books as art, poetry, literature, and vessels of communication…not so much as plain covers housing important content. See my pictures below to better understand my meaning of this. Laird works for days, even weeks at a time on one book instead of working in a production type fashion, tediously working one by one until she is satisfied with the placement of her multimedia content. Laird’s books consist of everything imaginable whether it’s wood, hand-painted images, hand-written words, leather, lacunose, and so much more.

Surprisingly enough, Mary Laird prefers to work alone. While Laird prefers to work alone and set her own projects, she currently teaches the art of letterpress at the San Francisco Center for the Book. As an artist myself, I understand her mentality. Over the years Laird has produced 40+ styles of chapbooks, each one different from the last; because while Ms. Laird teaches letterpress, she also teaches the art of bookbinding and various forms of it. This can be seen as an explanation for her varying styles of binding used in her books. It’s no wonder Laird describes her work as “slow and ornery” because she takes the time to do things by hand, and do them each perfectly. Additionally, Ms. Laird makes her own paper whenever possible! From personal experience in the world of book arts, papermaking alone adds a significant amount of time to any process whether it would be painting or drawing…or in this case, letterpress and bookbinding.

Laird, Mary. “Mary Laird: Quelquefois Press and The Perishable Press Limited.” A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers, By Kyle Schlesinger, Cuneiform Press and Ugly Duckling Presse, 2021, pp. 96-107.

“Mary Risala Laird & Quelquefois Press – Teaching and Printing Fine Letterpress Books: Master Teacher at the SF Center for the Book: Retreat Guide.” Mary Risala Laird Quelquefois Press,

Mary Laird: MFA, mother, wife, printmaker.

Mary Laird has been publishing letterpress books since the year 1969 as Quelquefois Press and became a partner in The Perishable Press Ltd from 1969-1984. Within the book A Poetics of the Press, I learned about a wide number of authors, but Mary Stood out the strongest to me.

Everything contained in Laird’s interview with the editor of A Poetics of the Press, Kyle Schlesinger, was inspirational to me. Our publishing course has previously watched a documentary film about the art of letterpress and I saw the themes presented in that film make a recurrence during Laird’s interview responses. Letterpress is a dwindling profession; perhaps not so much dwindling or struggling, but nonetheless, the community grows smaller every passing year. A large part of saving the masterful artform of letterpress is to learn by people, to learn by experience, to accept influence from your location, from travel, and from weather, as well as to accept that practice makes perfect. There is no possible way to get better at letterpress-to further your skill level-if one does not practice. If it doesn’t work the first time, try it again! And again, and again, and again-until you get it right, or create something in a style which you are satisfied with. The younger generation is the future of letterpress, and by learning the ways of the trade through those who are no longer able to preserve the craft themselves, we can, in a very real way, bring the art of letterpress with us into the next century.

Laird said it best in the conclusion of her interview with Schlesinger: “I think there is a wonderful abundance of emerging young artists and poets who bring, and will continue to bring, incredible vitality to the form of the book. Many of them are using the dinosaur letterpress machines. Just wait! They will surprise us all with their integrity, delight, originality, and prowess (Schlesinger 107).” This statement comes all but a page after Laird giving her input on how she struggles to marry old and new technology together. She says it has been a challenge to do so in a way which is satisfactory to her. Laird stated that she tried to mix print and paint onto etchings within her book Remember the Light, but she struggled through the act of mixing these processes together to create a cohesive piece. What I admired most about Laird’s work was no matter how much she struggled, or how much stood in her way, darn it, she was determined to make it work. Laird’s perseverance and strong will perfectly embodies, what I think, is the spirit of the world of letterpress in today’s world.

Schlesinger, Kyle, et al. A Poetics of the Press: Interviews with Poets, Printers, & Publishers. Cuneiform Press & Ugly Duckling Press, 2021.

Working at Meshwork

In a class full of exploration into the world of bookmaking, its only fair we decided to explore it out in the real world. I had no idea what to expect when we were first told about the trip. I’ll admit, I knew what a Chandler & Price letterpress looked like, but I had never seen one in person, only on TV. I didn’t even know how big of a studio space we would be walking in to.

Upon arriving at Meshwork press in Wilkinsburg, PA, I was pleasantly surprised at the lovely space awaiting us. While it was small, it was functional. Every drawer and shelf had its purpose and the resident artist, Haylee, made use of every inch of her studio. Her studio is full of various typography sets as well as large machinery and stacks of paper. The very air within the studio smelled of inks and inspiration.

Haylee gave a brief but thorough run through of how we would be operating the letterpress and then we got to work. We split off into pairs so as to speed the process along but also to provide the support of another person who was also new to the processes of letterpress. Setting type was not near as intimidating as I was making it out to be. Once we were shown how it all worked and operated, it made sense! My partner and I set a chase with a delicate yet simple design styled around summertime. We successfully made some prints of this set type and then we proceeded to try another arrangement, only this time, I got a good amount of things mixed up.

When you set type, it should be backwards and upside down, so when it comes out of the press, it’s oriented correctly and is legible. I did this entire process almost completely in reverse. My partner and I knew something was off, that something wasn’t done correctly, and even after consulting other classmates, we were convinced that we were overthinking the process and we had done it correctly…..but this was not true. While we did think the results were sort of funky and different, you couldn’t read the intended message. With assistance from both my professor and the resident artist Haylee, we were able to correct our mistake rather quickly and make a few successful prints.

This all just goes to show how much of an artform and a complicated process letterpress truly is. Just because you succeeded the first time doesn’t mean you’ll be able to pull off the next one as seamlessly. Letterpress is all about finding ways to make your text work with the space you have been allotted to work with. The process itself is rather straightforward, but to follow it through and get a satisfactory result takes a few tries.

Pressing On and pressing forward

At the start of the documentary, the audience meets a black screen but is greeted with the audio of an old Chandler & Price letterpress machine which is working at a fast pace. The funny thing is, that was one of the only things I knew about letterpress before the film: was how loud and clangy the machines are. Funnily enough, I learned about the sound the machine makes via another style of video, television. It may sound old fashioned, but I think it’s okay to be old fashioned at times, but I know the sound of a letterpress thanks to the tv show The Waltons. Johnboy Walton buys a letterpress, but it was very much used, whether it was second hand or more so than that.

The thing is, the Walton family doesn’t have a lot of money, and I forget the exact premise of how he acquires the machine, but he only acquires the machine. No fonts, no chases, as far as I can remember, he then has to look within his community to find additional materials to use. Johnboy had wanted to be a writer ever since he was a kid, but unlike today, unlike right now, if you write something, you have no way to distribute it. He would write with pencil on yellow legal pad paper, but then what? He had to then make better hand written copies in ink on better paper, but that’s still only one copy. Seeing the power the letterpress had for him really opened my eyes as a young kid, because that was my introduction to understanding how computers work! I saw him putting the letters together, grabbing each one individually from the tray, and making words out of thin air. That makes me better understand how each letter on this keyboard has been chosen with care and is the equivalency of a stamp on a page.

This movie really showed us what the world of letterpress is like within this modern world. It might not have the same level of practicality as it did when they were more common, but I truly loved the part of the documentary where the married couple who own a print shop were contacted by someone who had a press….but it was in a basement. A very important part of the film was to make it known that everyone knows someone who has a press. After talking about this film with my grandparents, their old neighbor used to have a press! A medium sized one, not full sized, and I never got to see it myself, but it just goes to prove the point that everyone know someone who has one. These machines are such permanent objects, they are made to be invincible. They are meant to last for incredibly long periods of time, and the proof is in this letterpress sitting in this person’s basement which needed removed by a tow truck.

Everything about this documentary is focused on merging the past and the present together, and cinematically speaking, its done perfectly. From start to finish, the movie is a compilation of letterpress from past, present, and future. If we didn’t know where it all started, how would we know what we are protecting? How would we appreciate the significance of it? That’s exactly what this documentary aimed to do-educate with the hopes of preservation.

Turkish Secrets: A Creative/Critical response

When approaching the concept of an accordion book, I went further and decided to make a book consisting of Turkish folds. In a previous blog post I spoke about how I was wary of making my book too busy, too much for a viewer to realize. The numerous folds and various directions presented by the layout of the pages can sometimes take away from the content of the book. While it may not precisely look like a traditional “book”, my creation absolutely is. It has a form of binding and it has pages, although they are small. The concept of my book originated from the ideology of a zine, but mainly the portion about how it can be circulated easily and transported easily. That being my intent, my Turkish fold book is 4 inches square and about a centimeter tall. It has a slender, black, fabric cover and a relatively sleek, white profile. My intent behind all these details was to create a discreet and unassuming book which didn’t elude much of what it contained.

A view of my book closed and laying flat.

I’ve played with different types of covers in the past and since I was going more untraditional for this project, I kept rolling with that idea. This means I used a different paper than I typically would have. I used bristol board for my pages and glued the sections together using pH balanced glue. For my cover I used two layers of watercolor paper I also glued together, and then wrapped as usual with black book cover fabric. I think this reflects what was available to me, in my academic setting, because while we have a plethora of materials available in our classroom, I’ve played with a lot of them before….but I decided to go on a scavenger hunt and find materials so similar yet different that that of what was provided. On page 62 of The Book by Amaranth Borsuk, Borsuk says the book is a mere vessel for the information it contains, and that is exactly what my book is. When you open my book, the pages can be a bit overwhelming, but I believe that is a part of my book. Instead of me avoiding chaos or trying to reduce it as much as possible, I just went with it.

This is my book opened and laying flat. the front cover is on the right side of the screen. The content begins on the left and is written in English so it should be read from left to right, top to bottom. I labeled each individual diamond to aid with comprehension.

The content on these pages are the lyrics from a song which is important to me. While it may be cheesy to say, this song is extremely important to me. It has to do with betrayal and unfaithfulness and the struggle of living everyday life as the “bigger person” even though you really don’t want to be nice. We’ve all been that person, it doesn’t matter who you are, even if it hasn’t happened since you were a kid, maybe you were forced, but you were the bigger person. This song is about that, all of that. While I do anticipate my audience to be mostly artists, I don’t have a strict outline for what an “artist” is. Just because you’re a science major who dabbles in writing poetry doesn’t disqualify you from being an artist. And vice versa, just because you’re a fantastic painter or whatnot doesn’t mean you have the true mind of an artist….so truth be told, this book could work for any audience. That being said. I still think a younger audience would better enjoy this book. Why? Because of the excessive swearing! Not just that, but the sexual innuendos and the language used, it just is aimed at a younger audience.

Another view of my pages.

A photo displaying the general folded direction of the pages.

The reason I embraced the chaos of this book with the splattered paint and the words scrambled around the pages is because that’s how I feel when I listen to that song. Not only is that how I feel when I listen to that song, but that’s how I felt when I experienced everything this song discusses. One important thing I wish to express is that I did not write this song. I give explicit credit to everyone involved in the writing of the book on the last page.

Fracturing a Nation: A WSW artist book

It still remains unclear to me as to why this book caught my eye, but nonetheless, it did. “4 3 2 CRY” is an artist book which exposes the effects of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. “4 3 2 CRY” was written by Kathy T. Hettinga in 2014. Natural gas fracking is a plague upon the families, land, air and water of the United States. The book is a meditation on the personal loss experienced by Hettinga as well as an outpouring of sorrow for communities transformed by drilling operations. The book on a whole discusses environmental degradation within the United States.

Image of book cover taken from WSW website, resembles a truck placard with a diamond formation with smaller inner diamonds colored blue, red, and yellow, paired with numbers 4, 3, 2.

My eyes were immediately drawn to this book on the Women’s Studio Workshop because of the colorufl placards on the thumbnail image. I live in a highly agricultural area and I am surrounded by farms. One day while driving home, I was at an intersection with an 18 wheeler and I wondered what the placards meant…fast forward me down the rabbit hole of Google and I discovered the 6 main components of the HAZMAT signage utilized by the DOT within the United States. All this is a very long winded way of me saying I believe my intrigue was peaked when I saw the “4 3 2 CRY” thumbnaik image. HAZMAT signs utilize various symbols to communicate the contents of trucks and to see this used on the cover a book….I just had to click to see what it was.

Individual to me, I understood what the placards meant! Even though I knew what the placards meant, what does that mean for what I would find in the book? What does “CRY” mean in relation to the placards? I just had to know…so I clicked on it and even proceeded to view the PDF available for the book.

Image pulled from WSW website PDF provided for the book. Pages pair images with text and deliver facts regarding health hazards and faults of big energy companies.

In terms of written content, this book is almost a scrapbook or collage of information regarding the subject matter, and I think that is one of the best possible ways the artist could have presented this material. This is a subject many companies and agencies have tried to stifle and silence, so there is this entire untapped spring of facts just waiting to burst free-and this artist did that! This book makes very personal this world of fracking which is all too personal to the artist themselves.

Works Cited

Hettinga, Kathy T. “4 3 2 Cry.” Women’s Studio Workshop, 19 Jan. 2018,

Turkish accordion sentiments

Accordion books are such an abstract concept of a “book”. They can be very overwhelming if not approached correctly, whether you’ve the viewer or the artist. I’m not sure whether its the folding or the lack of a true spine, but something about an accordion book puts people off their rhythm. They don’t know how to hold it, let alone open it. There is a hint of delicacy to this concept of books I suppose…but in reality how “rough” are we on books anyway? I’m not sure how many people really hold a paperback or hardback book by just the cover or just one page, are people really that careless? If so, then I suppose I understand their ignorance toward this new type of book, but I honestly think there’s something more to these books.

When someone is studying for a test, a common method of studying is “flashcards”. I think of an accordion book in the same way. I also think of accordion books as a special type of scrapbook or journal where you can store things away for later, and then open up your book, unfold it, and see all of it at once, or flip the pages one by one. The fluidity of an accordion book is truly baffling to me, it can be anything from fabric, to cardboard, to printer paper, to thick cardstock….quite literally anything can be made into an accordion book!

I’ve made a few accordion books in the past, but they were all very simple, or plainer. They were just peaks and valleys, which is nice and even sometimes the more complementary option for a book…..but this time around I’m attempting something a little more visually interesting. Is it actually more complicated? No, it’s really not. I’m going to work with Turkish folds and their collapsibility. Turkish folds probably have as much folding as a standard fold for accordion books, but they look much more different than a typical book, and that’s what I want to play with. After this project, I want to try and make the areas which “pop-out” even bigger, or make the design a bit more complicated to allow for even more sheets of paper to be added? Overall, I’m going to fill my pages with various drawings, polaroids, doodles, ticket stubs, pressed flowers…I haven’t exactly figured it all out yet, but it’s going to be handled tastefully and simply so as to NOT overwhelm the viewer.

“Book” or other

The word “book” is as multi-purpose as is the word “good”. “Good” can mean anything from nice, pretty, beautiful, satisfactory, average, okay, alright, or even subpar. Just as “good” is an umbrella for a wide spectrum of things, so is the word “book”. This little booklet I’ve made is an example of just that. While I’ve attempted to hone my book arts skills for close to two years now, this is one of the simplest books I’ve made. There are no folios, no spine, no fly pages…this is a book in its purest form: cut paper held together by something to form it into pages. It even occurred to me as I was stitching my pages together that even just clipping papers together with a binder clip or paper clips would count as a “book”. If I went out to my yard right now and grabbed some maple leaves, stitched them together with thread, they would be a “book”. Borsuk said, on page 18, that our own codex book has been normalized to such a degree that we question the “bookness” of anything that challenges our expected reading experience. This is exactly what I mean when I say I could use leaves for my pages, literally anything can be a book, it just depends on what someone personally identifies or accepts as a “book”.

This book I made is quite “plain” in terms of creativity and expression, but I think I find even more creativity in the void left behind. This is plain, simple, and pure. Virgin pages of charcoal paper, waiting to be marked by a pen-wielding hand. Borsuk and I share the same view on the value of blank pages because on page 3, Borsuk says content does not simply necessitate a book’s form. Amen and hallelujah!! While I do know various forms of book binding, even down to how to make paper, I still think of this book as a clean slate for myself; a sort of training wheels before I get back into the vast world of book binding. The sheer blank-ness of the pages gives the impression it’s waiting to be filled with information. I imagine someone picking up this little book and saying, “Huh, I wonder what I could use this for?”.

I decided that I would keep the pages plain for this book, but once I did that I knew I wanted to further some other aspect of the book…and that would be the binding! I could have done a simple version of stab and bind but I decided to try and replicate one I’ve done in the past, a tri-hole punch. I’ve done it before, somewhere along the lines of a year ago, but I ended up running out of thread halfway through so I had to get a new piece of thread and tie them together and join them and of course the colors didn’t match one another and I just hated the look of it. It turned out fine, but personally, I still didn’t enjoy the final look of it. So this was my round 2 attempt! All in all this turned out fine, but I still prefer working with hardcover binding methods, because I always end up screwing up stab and bind methods. They look fine on the top, but the flipside doesn’t look near as good as the front/topside. I’d still like to get better at doing these, but for now, I don’t think this looks too shabby.