Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Twisted sister

I've been spending a lot of time lately trying to set a poem into a square spiral. This little act of insane creativity is quite easy to do on a computer, as I proved to myself whilst doing a mockup in Indesign in about 15 minutes. Everything is quite easy on a computer. But I don't seem to like easy. I mean, I do like easy, but for some reason I keep finding ways to do things the hard way. I'm setting this poem in lead type, 8pt lead type, to be specific, which is very small. It's taken a fair while so far, at least 6 hours.
I set the type in a straight line first, then proceeded to work with tweezers and a bookbinding awl to layer the lines around a central block of furniture. Furniture is not a nice leather poof and a bit of a bookcase in letterpress. It is slabs of metal (either in bars or blocks) which provide stability to your set type. I actually finished my poetic spiral, and got it to the point of being able to lift it off the desktop (not a computer screen, a piece of furniture -- but not the metal block kind. Am I making sense yet?), held together by quoins (a kind of clamp, a great Scrabble word) in the chase (a metal frame). I proofed the type, which involved hand-rolling some ink on the type and printing it on some scrap paper, and looked at it. It was a bit disappointing, in that I'd overestimated the spacing, and there were the usual errors (not surprising, seeing that I'm setting it upside-down and back-to-front).
So I've had to redo the whole thing, and move all the letters closer and adjust all the leading. Leading, on the computer, is the amount of white space between the lines. You can have 10pt type on 12 pt space, and if you want to change it, you just type in a new number. But in letterpress, leading is actual thin strips of lead which sit between the rows of letters, and if you want to change it you have to use a lead cutting machine, a pair of tweezers and a lot of curses.
In fact, everything to do with letterpress takes a lot of cursing, but I get a kick out of doing something that I have to wrestle with to get right. I met someone else yesterday, a nice woman from Townsville, who has the same urge to play with filthy letters, and we got along swimmingly. So rare to find type nuts in Australia.

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