I never thought I'd say this, but printing with an iron handpress really feels like *real* letterpress printing. It's certainly harder than the sort of printing I do at home.
I've been printing all afternoon, and have to stop before I make more mistakes. When you're editioning, that is, trying to make each print look the same as the first, and rolling up the type by hand, you have to use all your senses:
Touch: the roller has to skim across the type lightly but not too lightly, not bumping on the type, and not missing any letters. (I know the best way to use rollers is with guide rails, but this project just can't allow for them... i don't have large enough rollers, and I'm printing big surfaces)
Hearing: you have to listen while you refresh the ink on the rollers. Too much hiss, and the print will be sloppy. Not enough hiss, and there won't be enough ink and the letters will print faded.
Sight: you need to watch carefully as you ink, and you need to be constantly mindful of the trouble spots: the letter that is slightly worn (and you don't have a replacement!) that needs special attention.
Taste... well, almost all the senses.
A couple of hours of moving back and forth between the ink slab and the paper pile and pulling the press and checking your success or failure is completely exhausting. So. I will take some time out to sit here and write to you, before I get whisked off to the pub by some keen Thank-God-Its-Friday librarians (the best sort! ;) ).
So. Here's where I'm working:
This is a view from the back of the room looking towards the door, which is on the left. You can see the Albion press and the Vandercook press (like mine, but the rollers have been removed from it so that students won't hurt themselves) and the custom-built drawers , each holding a typetray.
Here's the same side of the room, looking towards the large wall of window and more type.
Here's the other side of the room, with the grand Columbian iron handpress, the one I'm working with at the moment. These presses are AMAZING. The people who designed them didn't have any clean-line modernist notions, no sirree. This baby has floral enhancements, a portrait of Socrates on the back, an eagle counterweight and -- get this -- DRAGONS winding over the ironwork. As I print, the eagle bobs up and down. A roomful of these printing a newspaper in the 19th century would have been fantastic, with the eagles bobbing up & down at different rhythms.
This is the view out of the studio window:
You can see the Otago Museum across the road, and a path full of hurrying students. I've seen nearly every kind of weather out of this window this week. I like the rainy days best, we don't get a lot of those in Canberra.
This is the view out of the internal window:
There are desks outside where the students all sit with their laptops and ignore me. It's amazing, when I look out at them, how few of them are actually working.
Donald the Special Collections Library, my host, has been telling everyone he knows that I'm here, and has even advertised me on the Library bulletin thingy (can't call it a board anymore):
Donald is lovely, and a hard working man of routine, so we never fail to have morning tea, afternoon tea, and lunch at the same times. I am meeting lots of librarians, and some students, and there is a lovel ex-printer called John who comes by and helps me solve problems. Shef, the bibliography teacher in the English Dept, is the only other regular user of the Columbian, and he, too, is invaluable.
When I was getting my bearings, and trying out the various presses, I had a play with some ampersands (of course!).
Then I got my bearings, and now I'm working on my first proper piece, a shape-poem by Dunedin poet Sue Wotton. Here's my progress, from this
which is what I'm now editioning, so I'm printing 100 of them.
I have to design and print six more, by various poets, and then they will be put together in a folio and sold off, only as a folio, not individually. I don't see the money, I only get one copy for myself, and the rest are sold ridiculously cheaply to fund the next visiting printer. If you'd like to buy a folio, I think the going price is between NZ$250 and $300, and they will go fast. You can contact me at ampersand duck (all one word) at gmail and I'll forward you to Donald.
(rest of images at flickr)