Monday, June 27, 2005

lead weight

starry starry type, originally uploaded by Ampersand Duck.

I've spent a lot of time in the last few days playing with letterpress. It's been a while since I could do some of my own stuff, rather than printing for other people. I love the process, and I love getting my hands on the actual letters, but then after a few hours I start to think how much easier I could do the job with a computer and a printer.

Especially on days like today, when I braved the tarp-covered depths of my type collection in the garage awaiting the magic day when we build a studio. I'm printing labels for my handbound sketchbooks on a little desk-top press bought a number of years ago from a bushy man whom I mentally call Mad Merv from Mittagong. Today I moved a tray of type and pulled a muscle in my neck, bringing back memories of when I bought the type and the press and my dad did his back in helping me load his ute to bring it all home. And the day when I bought more type and a Vandercook proofing press and needed four big men, a truck and a hydraulic lift to get it into the garage (where it's been living in sin with a lovely blue tarp, and will stay there for a while yet).

Letterpress is not for the weak or the bad of back. It is for people who like jigsaw puzzles that fall apart at the slightest movement before being locked together, people who don't care about nice-looking nails and people who can lift a heavy wooden drawer full of metal type from a below-the-knees position. Some days I am one of those people, and other days I am not. Today I'm looking forward to a hot soak, some Tiger Balm, and a few hours on the computer setting type the easy way.

Oh -- and happy birthday, crazybrave...


harry said...

Hey, I was reading a book last night and one of the characters has a Shakesperean play that was hand written for her.
It got me thinking that that would be an immense amount of work, but that doing a one-off type-setting of a play would be similarly a total labour of love too.

What's the longest thing you've type-set?

Ampersand Duck said...

Easily the poetry book I did for my honours year. It was four x one poem set in four different translations on the same page (including Russian), but I only had enough actual letters to set two poems at a time, so I'd set, print enough sheets to allow for mistakes, pull it apart, set another version, print and hopefully not make so many mistakes, pull apart, set etc etc. I did make a fair few mistakes, so while I printed lots of copies, I ended up with about only 15 copies of the book! Mind you, the final product was worth it.

I'm designing a volume at the moment which involves about thirty-five poems, but it's a regular poetry book, not a fancy artist's book like the last one. It's still going to involve a phenomenal amount of setting and printing. The poems are also shorter, so I should have enough type to print a set-up of eight poems (one whole side of a sheet) at a time, which is the traditional way of printing books.

I like the sound of the book you're reading -- what's it called?

harry said...

"I like the sound of the book you're reading -- what's it called?"

# Earthquake Weather by Tim Powers.
I am not yet far enough into it to know if the reference to the Shakespear is relevant. He starts most chapters with a quote from Troilus and Cressida, so possibly it will.
Tim Powers was recommmended to me by Fyodor. This is the second of three that I bought.

Anonymous said...

Hi there,

I just found your blog, it has been a great read! Thought it may be of some interest to you to know, a while back i managed to find a british labels company who print many types of labels. They printed me some labels for a really low cost, i also ordered a label dispenser as i had been in need of one for a while and they were so cheap.