Preserving Letterpress- Pressing on: The Letterpress Film

The film Pressing On (linked here) explores the method of letterpress printing and all the people behind it that are painstakingly working to preserve this medium. It was these people running the presses who stood out the most to me throughout the film because of their evident passion for the craft. The organizers of these small print shops run out of basements and garages are completely devoted to the entire process of letterpress—from the physical process of printing to the design of the type. Because of this, it is clear that both the physical and design components are necessary for letterpress printing; a thorough understanding of one enhances the other.

The film’s interviewees also discussed the importance of preserving the legacy of printing. Letterpress is a trade, and as such, it must be passed down from generation to generation by teaching and experience. Because of the physical aspects of the press, it’s not something that can be entirely taught in school, and without the hands-on aspect of legacy printing, it will ultimately become a lost art. Having members of younger generations who are excited to learn from skilled older generations works to preserve the intricate innerworkings of the press that are only learned through experience.

[Image Description] A case of individual pieces of hand set metal type used in letterpress to make the designs on the print. Image taken from The Paper Assembly website

Like older technology, printing presses are often tucked away in basements because many people don’t know how to use them. One of the small independent printmakers in the video explained that many of their presses are from people who had them but weren’t sure what to do with them. So, instead of letting the presses go unused and forgotten, they rescued them to be used. Technology such as these presses should be preserved in a way that grants them use so as to preserve the art of letterpress. If presses continue to be left in basements or stored in museums, the method of letterpress publishing will find itself obsolete. Letterpress is an important part of printmaking that shouldn’t be forgotten about, and it’s up to our generation to preserve it.

Works Cited

Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, 2017, http://www.letterpressfilm.com/. Accessed 12 October 2021.

The Paper Assembly, http://www.thepaperassembly.com/blog/2015/4/12/letterpress-type-fact-and-fiction/. Accessed 12 October 2021.

Lifelines: A Creative/Critical Response

When making my accordion book, I wanted it to function both as a traditional book and as an artist book. It’s traditional in the way that the accordion folds form pages that can be flipped through the same way one would flip the pages of a textbook, it has a front and back cover, a title, and text and images that make up a story. However, it also functions as an artist book through the way that the content within it is “interrogated and integrated into the way the work makes meaning” (Borsuk 115). The form of the book allows it to be read in a variety of different ways, which can enhance of distract from the overall meaning of the piece. The artist book form serves as a reminder that books are not merely static outlets to share information from. Rather, they can be “a negotiation, a performance, [or] an event” that invites the reader in a way that reminds them of their role in its content (Borsuk 147).

[Top Image] The front side of my accordion book. [Botton Image] The back side of my accordion book. Both pictures taken by author.

The concept behind my book is to explore the themes of connection and relationship through those in my life that are part of my present as well as my past and future. These relationships are represented through a variety of lines, with mine being highlighted in red and the lines of those around me in black. Each line comes from an image of someone who is connected to me in some way: great grandparents, grandparents, parents, sister, cousins, old friends, new friends, and so on. In keeping with the color scheme of the older images of my grandparents and great grandparents I decided to reduce the saturation of the more modern images, which allows my lifeline to stand out more prominently. The redness of my line almost functions as a vein of blood inside the other entanglements evoking a sense of being alive.

A second angle of the book, showing another way it can be read. Photo by author

The content within the accordion book reflects the deeper desires that every person has for connection. Human beings are social creatures, and as such, we long to be close to those around us in some capacity. The themes present within my book seek to capture the chaotic knot of the ever-evolving relationships present within our lives. We are all connected to so many people around us, and the images and text of the book encourages those who read it to contemplate their own lifelines and the paths they have taken.

The form of the accordion book highlights the intimacy and sentiment of the content, which is best expressed when the book is fully expanded to reveal the continuous lifeline that stretches across the entire project, never breaking even when it continues onto the other side. These concepts are further realized by the language of the text which explores the relationship and intimacy the lines convey. Artists books such as my accordion book utilize all the book elements to convey meaning, forcing the reader to redefine their concept of the book. In the chapter “The New Art of Making Books,” Amaranth Borsuk discusses Ulises Carrion’s concept of the “bookwork” as “a conceptual approach to book making, and one that relies on the viewer’s interactions with the object to make meaning” (Borsuk 145). These kinds of artist books “separate the idea of the book from the object,” allowing for a richer interpretation of the content as a whole, which is what the strategic integration of content and form in my book aimed to accomplish (Borsuk 145).

Work Cited

Borsuk, Amaranth. The Book. Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 2018. 

“The Cards We Were Dealt”

The Women’s Studio Workshop artist book collection (linked here) is filled with amazing pieces, and among them is one by Kingston High School Senior Art Seminar Students titled “The Cards We Were Dealt.” This book object has a variety of different features that makes it stand out from the rest, namely the way the content is displayed as a deck of playing cards.

According to the description from the students presented on the WSW website, the inspiration for the project came from the face cards in a traditional deck of playing cards which represent the hierarchy of medieval societies. The students took this idea further to create a book object depicting the hierarchy of the modern society we live in today. As a result, the book object created by the Kingston High School students parallels a traditional deck of cards while making a statement about the roles we fill today.

[Image Description] Some of the cards present within the project. Kingston High School Senior Art Seminar Students, 2021.

The book object itself really challenges the traditional conceptions of the book. The project lacks many of the features commonly attributed to books, with each “playing card” consisting of two panels connected together to house the content in the inside—similar to the structure of a folder. The front of each “folder” depicts the images present on a traditional deck of cards, while the back contains their modern counterparts. The cards then can be stacked on top of each other to represent the class systems and hierarchies we find within modern society.

[Image Description] The cards displayed in their hierarchal stacking structure. Kingston High School Senior Art Seminar Students, 2021.

This piece stood out to me the most because I would never initially think of it as a type of book. Instead, I more likely would view it as a sort of statement piece far removed from the book world. However, as I discover more book objects and become accustomed to ways artists challenge familiar concepts, it’s easier to see projects such as “The Cards We Were Dealt” as incredibly creative and inspiring combinations of art and literature.

Work Cited:

Kingston High School Senior Art Seminar Students. (2021). The Cards We Were Dealt. Women’s Studio Workshop. Retrieved September 28, 2021, from https://wsworkshop.org/collection/the-cards-we-were-dealt/.

From Folds to Book

Our current class project is to make an accordion book, which differs from the traditional idea of the book through the way the pages are formed by folding a long piece of paper in an accordion style shape. Here is a link to a blog showing a cool example of a finished book. My book is still in the very beginning stages of its creation, and the process of that creation is a very fun one to be a part of.

I wanted my book to carry a more personal connection, so I decided to center it around the idea of relationships and connectedness—specifically the relationships in my own life. The current plan is to add various pictures of the people connected to me in some way, including people such as my great-grandparents or friends I don’t see all that often anymore. The blank space of the pages surrounding the pictures will feature an entanglement of continuous lines representing each person’s connection to me. My own line will stand out to red, while the lines of others will appear in black ink.

A photo of my folded book taken by me

I’m incredibly sentimental and have a habit of saving every single handwritten letter ever given to me, so I decided to include a few of the letters from my “collection” in the accordion book as well. It is my hope that the letters will make the book all the more personal to me. I even had to involve my mother in the project since all the photos and letters are at my house back in my hometown and I’m here at college.

Some of the photographs I plan to use in my project, photo taken by me.

Even though I’ve only been working on the accordion book project for a few days, it has already begun to challenge my perception of the book. Books can be any type of codex, not just the traditional novel that immediately comes to mind when I hear the word “book.” In my case, a book can be as simple as pages of lines and photographs.

A Reflection on Japanese Stab Binding

The bookbinding process took me back to elementary and middle school when I would spend the day eagerly awaiting art class because of the chance to make something that was my own. College has afforded me few opportunities to do this, so there was something rather nostalgic and relaxing about this assignment.

As a self-proclaimed bibliophile, the chance to make my own book felt exciting, as the assignment allowed me to create the entire book from beginning to end. I was able to tear the page shapes, create the template, add the holes, and sew the binding. The tutorial I used is linked here. All of this came together to create my very own book, and the process was so fun to see.

I also enjoyed observing the creations of those around me. Each book was unique and creative in its own way, which showed a lot about each person’s creative space. Seeing the different books was like looking at individual concepts and ideas as a physical creation, and it was interesting to see how other concepts of the stab binding book differed from my own. I ended up learning a lot about the concept of the book just by looking at the work of my classmates, which was somewhat surprising.

A photo of my completed project taken by me

Unlike the creative work of some of my classmates, my book is rather simple. The binding itself doesn’t stray very far from that of the book in the tutorial and I chose not to take very many artistic liberties. Despite this, I love my humble little book simply because I made it and its mine. There’s something rewarding about creating, and I found myself completely immersed in the creative process. The process of Japanese stab binding helped transform the book into something familiar and attainable by allowing me to be part of the book’s creation, and as a result, my own concept of the book is beginning to transform.

Silence and Sound

Silence is something that I find I cannot live without. It allows my mind to decompress, my imagination to run wild, and brings my thoughts to order. Jorge Luis Borges’ essay “On the Cult of Books” points out this idea of silence through discussing the transition from oral storytelling to silent reading in a way that transforms the concept of the book.  

[Image description: A collection of old books stacked on top of each other. Posted to discovermagazine.com on December 8, 2006. Credit: stevemart/Shutterstock]

As I am one for silence, reading a page of the essay out loud felt strange and foreign. I noticed that I was so focused on the pronunciation of the words and the formations of my mouth that I forgot to comprehend the actual meanings. I found that I actually had to go over each passage a few times until my mind became distant and unattached from my voice. Only then was it that I was able to engage with the meaning of the text. When I read the same page silently, I was able to dive deeper into the text without the distraction of my voice. I felt my mind engage with the text in a way that reading out loud did not allow, and in this way, the silent words had a much greater impact than the spoken ones.

Borges mentions a passage from Book IV of St. Augustine’s “Confessions” which details his shock at St. Ambrose’s silent reading. Just as Ambrose might have read silently to “protect himself,” I feel that my preference of silent reading stems from a similar idea. The silence protects me from distraction, from stumbling over words, or from being caught up in phonetics.

While silent reading is the most common way to engage a text, oral tradition still has a strong presence in modern society. Stories such as Bible readings, accounts from older family members, or poetry are best heard aloud. Oral tradition is an important part of the storytelling experience, as it has the ability to add to the richness of the piece. Regardless of silent versus spoken reading, words and stories will always hold an important place in the culture of the world.

Works Cited

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