Saturday, August 29, 2009

Finding My Prince of Fonts

Craftsman Table-top Printing Press

Now to decide on a font for 'Leonardo". Firstly, I should say that my comments are made in the context of this book and with the experience of my past mistakes and observation of what has worked well for others.

The font, or typeface used to print a work depends on a number of factors, including the method of printing, type of paper, and purpose of the piece, and is just as important as any other aspect of the book. Like the paper, the font carries a subliminal message, which can help to set the tone and add to the character of the book. It needs to be subtle, so that it doesn’t draw attention to itself and away from the meaning of the words it frames. It is part of the supporting cast for the message the text brings to the reader.

I’ll diverge here for a moment and talk about the method of printing I intend to use. I set the text on the computer, and send the digital files to a platemaker, who then makes photopolymer plates which I mount on a base. The base is then secured into the chase of the press. In my studio this is a Craftsman hand-operated iron press with a clamshell action, where pulling the handle brings the inked plate into contact with the paper. Above is a picture of the press. The words on the plate are raised, and press into the paper. Here is one of the plates I used for “The House that Jack Built” and here is an image of what the printed page looks like. (Hand coloured with watercolours.)

I chose to use this method for several reasons, one of them being that I only have the one life, as far as I know, and don’t have time to become an expert printer especially as I have probably already used up more than half of that life. Other considerations are that I tend to use a different font for each book (using that which I consider most suitable) and if I used movable metal type I would have to spend a great deal more on buying that type: with the small editions I make, the books would be prohibitively expensive. Photopolymer plates are for me, the next best thing to movable type.

There are some things to consider when using PPP. On a computer, the font is designed to be shown on a monitor, and is made to be visible in that medium. It is usually heavier in weight than the same font designed for letterpress. In addition, the physical action of printing on a press with ink, and the impression of the letters on the paper, add to the appearance of weight. This means that when choosing a computer font to use for PPP, it is better to choose one that is on the ‘anaemic’ side rather that something bold and beefy.

I wanted to find a suitable italic font, but most seemed to be either too compressed, or the letter-fit was too close, or they were too upright, or too sloping, or too formal...Having exhausted the selection on my computer, I turned to the internet to see what else I could find. On the Adobe site, I eventually found what I had been looking for. A font that is scaled (optimized for use in different sizes), and available in a ‘light’ weight, and one that is a lively italic, with movement, not too formal, not handwriting, well spaced and has quite open counters (spaces inside letters such as e) - just right in fact. The font is called Brioso, designed by Robert Slimbach of Minion fame, and I have high hopes for it. So that is what I bought. Well, of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and as I haven’t yet had the plates made up, I won’t rejoice too soon, but it is very promising. After kissing a lot of frogs, I was finally able to find a Prince of Fonts.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paper Trail II

After a wonderful three day workshop, (of which more later), I'm back on the paper trail. The image left (courtesy of Griffen Mill), shows hand papermaking. So, handmade, mouldmade or machine made? It's 'make your mind up' time.

This book involves three outstanding men, the legendary Leonardo Da Vinci, the brilliant composer Eric Whitacre, and the multi-talented poet and artist Charles Anthony Silvestri. To me, there is no better paper for this purpose than a handmade paper, because it not only looks and feels beautiful, it has no grain, it is strong and durable, and is archivally sound. It takes letterpress well (they were, after all, made for each other), and will contribute towards the character of the book, without taking centre stage.

Having decided on a handmade paper, I then went back and leafed through the samples from Griffen Mill again, feeling them between my fingers and trying to decide which to choose. Like Goldilocks, I found them "too this" or "too that", not enough of the other, or just plain ho hum. My paper had to have star quality. In the file I found an envelope containing a few pieces of a very nice paper, warm toned, and quite opaque for its lighter weight. Looking at the post-mark, I remembered receiving them a few years previously, and the colour didn't suit the project I was then working on. Now, I thought, it looked just right. I conditioned (dampened) a few pieces of it for a printing trial, and tried it out the next day. It printed beautifully. Now to see if it was available, as it was not one of the stock papers.

After a couple of emails, I found that no, this had been a Special Making and there was not enough left over to make my book edition. But if I wasn't in a hurry, I could commission a Special Making and they could perhaps improve on the opacity by adjusting the fibre content. The minimum quantity for Special Making is around the amount I need for this book, 25-30 sheets, and the price about the same as the average of their papers of this weight. What did Chris mean, 'if I wasn't in a hurry'? It transpired that the paper has to mature or condition over a period of twelve weeks after being made, and "during this time the stresses and strains dissipate and the surface closes up" to quote Chris. Well, having some months work ahead on illustrations and the rest of the book, waiting twelve weeks was no problem. Game on.

One slight hitch: they were not sure exactly which paper I was talking about, as they had made two or three similar papers around that time. Could I send them a sample of the paper I wanted? So that went off in the post. After posting the sample (of course), I discovered that I had sent it to the previous address. Luckily the postman knew them, and it was delivered a few days later. That done, it was plain sailing, for me at any rate. Mike collected some fibres from the U.K. and a few weeks later, the paper was made, and on its way across the Atlantic. Yesterday it arrived. Wow, what a beautiful paper, even better than I hoped, it is a creamy colour, with a soft smooth surface, like a hen's egg. It is now under the bed, between boards, relaxing and maturing. I can hardly wait to try it.

I asked Chris to write a few words about Special Makings and handmade paper, here is what she wrote:

"Paper is a one of the major elements in book construction and as such its character, or lack of, can have a major affect on the way a book functions. For example, a well constructed book should be able to open easily and its pages turn and lie flat. With miniature books in particular, many problems are more apparent and so the correct choice of paper is vital. The appearance of the paper in a miniature book is also more striking simply because the visual elements are stronger.

The way that a paper functions is also critical when it comes to book restoration and con-servation. Here the aim is to match the character of the original paper in a sympathetic and ethical manner.

Despite thousands of different papers being available today sometimes the only way to obtain a paper that works in the context of a particular project is to have one made. If one wants a small amount of sheets only then the sole recourse is to approach a handmade paper mill where paper can be made in relatively small quantities.

"Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine" will be made using just such a paper, commissioned from Griffen Mill in Ireland. The wove paper is made from a mixture of jute, cotton and hemp fibres and has a subtle “antique” tone that harks back to the colours of the handmade paper used by Michael Angelo. The paper is of archival quality and is unique to this edition."

So the Paper Trail for a text paper ends here. Chris Laver-Gibbs will be making a presentation to the Conference attendees at the Society of Bookbinders Conference at the University of Warwick, UK. If you get the chance, I recommend that you go, you don't often get the opportunity to listen to a handmade paper expert.

I'm happy to have found the right paper for this edition. It is such an important element and once decided upon, sets the tone for the whole book. The next element that has to be decided, also very important, is the font which I will use to lay out the text. This also makes a vital contribution to the feel and character of the book, and will take some research. The photo below shows my paper. I'm sorry that computers haven't yet managed 'feelies', so you will just have to content yourself with looking. See how nicely it drapes?