Sunday, December 5, 2010

Covering Leonardo Part III

Following on from the last post I now block the title onto the front cover, using real gold foil and a magnesium photoengraved die, made for me by Owosso Graphic Art. The art work for this is the same hand-drawn lettering I used for the title-page, only a little smaller. I send the digital file (scanned to my computer from the drawing) and then mount the resulting die onto a block. The total height of block plus die is type-high.  

The block is then locked into the chase, then the chase is heated on a stove, and put into the blocking press.
As you can see I use an old (antique even) Mackay blocking press. The modern equivalent of this is the Kwikprint, but the old press is much more versatile, there are two chases, the smaller one (shown) is the one I use the most, but the larger one can take very large dies.

This shows the title on the book. I will show fitting the ribbons and lining the flap in my next blog post.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Covering Leonardo Part II

After cutting out and marking up the cover, it is pared at head and tail of the spine to allow it to turn in and lie properly, otherwise the thickness of the leather will be too bulky. On this cover I haven't edge pared the turn-ins as it will look better to fill in the 'well' of the inside covers and that will accommodate the ends of the slips so that they don't show as ugly lumps under the end papers. I have pared the corners so that when they are turned they will also lie flat.
The lines are guides to where the boards will be positioned and will be checked and adjusted before actually adhering to the leather. It is important to ensure that the spine width is exactly right and that the boards are square, otherwise the cover will not be square. 
          I mentioned blind-tooling the flap and it is easiest to do this before attaching the boards. For this I used a double-line fillet wheel which I had made in a small size and is the centre tool of those shown below.

The tool is heated on a finishing stove and rolled along the place where you want a line to appear. Blind-tooling is done without gold, the heat and pressure of the tool make a permanent impression on the leather and darken it. The other tools shown are a single line fillet (above) and a dotted-line fillet below, both also made to order for using on small books. The dotted-line fillet was made from a cog wheel for a clock.
   After tooling the flap the prepared boards are adhered to the cover, edges turned in and corners made. After a light pressing, this will now be ready for the title to be blocked on the front cover. Here is a view of the inside of the cover, before the fore edge sides are turned in.

On the left edge of the left hand board (the front cover) you can see a small square where I have removed an 8mm x 8mm piece, this is to allow for the thickness of the ribbon which will be inserted through a slit in the turn-in and firmly glued down. By removing a little of the board the ribbon will not make a bump in the turn-in. 
In my next post I will show how the title is blocked onto the front cover. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Covering Leonardo; Art of the Book 08

Apologies for the long delay in posting, life intervened.
Having sewn the text block, the next step is to prepare the cover for "Leonardo Dreams"....
          In this binding the cover is made off the book, and laced on afterwards with the vellum slips. 
The first step is to make a template to use as a pattern to cut the leather. When the book is part of an edition I lay it out on the whole skin to make sure that I can cut enough covers to complete the whole edition. It is a mistake to assume that you will always be able to buy the same shade again as dyestuffs are sometimes discontinued or unavailable, as I have discovered in the past! 

          The template is marked up to show the turn-ins and the spine area. I usually cut one cover to make up a proof, and then when I'm satisfied that the binding works, I cut the covers for the whole edition. On this template you can see the projection on one side for the tab that will fold over the fore edge. This tab references the style of a portfolio and with the ribbon ties, protects the fore edge of the book. It will be lined with a thin piece of leather.

          On the cover itself I have marked out the turn-ins, the tab and the spine area. The shaded area will be cut off before I start to pare the leather. Leather for bookbinding, even on small books needs to be sufficiently substantial not to tear, so I don't use skiver leather. When the leather in the spine area is pared correctly it will fold over neatly at head and tail. The tab will be blind tooled with a double-line fillet wheel before the boards are adhered to the leather. 
          A note about book boards: binders board is hard-rolled and dense, and in the UK is called mill board and in the USA called Davey board. The boards need to be thick enough that they don't bend or warp when the leather is applied. I usually use not less than 1.6 mm thickness. Of course, for larger books heavier boards are necessary. After cutting the boards, on small books I often bevel the edges so that they look less heavy, but that is purely for appearance.

The Art of the Book 08 - CBBAG's 25th Anniversary Exhibition
          If you are anywhere near the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island between now and January 5th, be sure to check out this exhibition. It is in the McPherson Library, in the Maltwood Gallery, and is a juried international exhibition of books and the book arts. The exhibition is a five-yearly event staged by the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild, (known as CBBAG, pronounced 'cabbage') and includes fine bindings, fine printing, paper making, calligraphy, artists books, and  paper decoration. Entrance free - I highly recommend that you see it.

The exhibition opened in Toronto in October of 2008, and has travelled to many different venues across Canada, finishing at UVic. It is an extraordinary achievement, largely due to the hard work of two dedicated people, Shelagh Smith and Susan Corrigan, who have been organizing this for twenty-five years. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Leonardo Sewn Up

          I decided to sew the book on vellum slips, strips of vellum, which are then laced into the cover giving a secure board attachment. In a previous blog entry I described how I dyed the vellum red, and when this was dry, cut it into strips about 3mm wide and 70 mm long (I use metric measurements because of the small scale).

          Before sewing the sections must be pricked up, that is, holes must be made along the folds of each section, through which the needle will pass. This is done using a needle mounted in a handle, or sharp awl or similar tool and a pricking guide. The pricking guide is a strip of paper indicating the exact position of the holes for sewing the slips, tapes or cords, and the kettle stitches which are used at head and tail of the book to secure each section to the previous one. 
I then taped two of the slips to my litho stone (a large piece of limestone originally used for lithography but often used by bookbinders for paring leather, as it is a soft stone that doesn't dull the paring knife). You could equally well tape it to the edge of a counter top, table etc. The slips must be exactly positioned according to the pricking guide that you used to make the sewing holes. The book was then sewn all-along, going over the slips as if they were tapes and including the 'made' endpapers. The spine was then lightly glued up and left to dry. 

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine- the Binding. Ta da!

          As I'm in another time-crunch I decided to put some photos of the finished book up on the blog, and post the how-to steps when the opportunity presents. I just don't have the time to make a new web-page at the moment. Above is a view of the endpapers with two of Leonardo's sketches from his notebooks.
          I returned from the Miniature Book Conclave (highlight for me - James Reid-Cunningham's presentation) on Labor Day, having sold some books, and realized that I only have a couple of weeks to the Oak Knoll Book Fest, which I signed up for. So I'm making books for the next two weeks. I haven't attended this previously, it will be a new experience for me, which I'm looking forward to, - lots of Fine Press books, and maybe some artists' books. 
          Anyway, on to the book. I decided to sew it on vellum slips, as previously noted, dyed red to blend with the burgundy goatskin. The slips are laced into the cover giving a secure board attachment. I wanted to reference Leonardo's notebooks in the binding so extended the leather on the back board at the fore edge to form a flap, which folds over the text block and fastens with grosgrain ribbon ties. The flap is lined with a thin piece of leather and finished with a blind-tooled double line around the edge. 

 This design meant that there was really no need for a slipcase as the fore edge is protected by this extension. In turn this helps to keep the price of the book down, as boxes and slipcases are quite time-consuming to make. I used the same art-work for the title on the front cover as I had drawn for the title page, which gives the book a unity of design and the lettering is quite decorative in itself. This is a deceptively simple binding, as it involves quite a lot of work, which I shall describe at a later date.
Here are the details of the book:
Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine, 40 pages inclusive of blanks,almost 3 inches high by two and three eighths of an inch wide approx. It is a Limited Edition of 20 copies numbered, and signed by me, the poet Charles Anthony Silvestri and the composer Eric Whitacre, whose account of their collaboration also appears in the book.
          The book is printed on a special making of handmade paper from Griffen Mill in Ireland, using a Craftsman hand press and polymer plates, set digitally in Brioso Pro typeface designed by Robert Slimbach. The five full page illustrations were drawn especially for this book and transferred to polymer and printed on the press, onto handmade Japanese Bicchu Torinoko Gampi paper. Each illustration is individually hand-gilt and burnished using genuine gold leaf. There are five of Leonardo's studies of creatures that fly, from his notebooks, two as shown above, plus a bat, moth and flying fish. 
           This book is copyright Janet Kellett, and the words of the song are copyright Charles Anthony Silvestri, with the account of the collaboration being copyright Eric Whitacre. Please respect our copyrights.
           The price of this book is CD$450.00, which presently equates to US$425.00, plus shipping and insurance. Publication date was Sept 5th 2010, and the edition is half sold as of today. Please contact me through my website with your street address if you would like a hard-copy book announcement, or if you would like to purchase a copy of the book.
          I shall be attending the Oak Knoll Book Fest in Newcastle Delaware, on the first weekend in October, and you can see the book there, along with a few other titles of my books that are still in print.
I'll post at a later time with all the steps in making this binding. This book has been quite a journey and the discipline of writing this blog, trying to remember to take photos and explaining my thought processes has been also quite an experience. Thanks to all those who have followed along with me.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In a (book) Bind

          I've been enjoying some fun family time and now I have to get down to serious work, if I am ever to finish this book before the Miniature Book Society Conclave in Lexington Kentucky. It takes place over the first weekend in September (Labour Day weekend) and I must have some books ready by then, less that four weeks to go! On the Sunday afternoon the Book Fair will be open to the public, at the Hyatt, Lexington. See the website for details. Hope to see you there!
          I finished off the last image, of the figure rising through the air towards the skies, using brass handle tools in the shape of a star and a dot. (They are really for gilding leather but also work well on paper.) The tools are heated to the right temperature to activate the adhesive on the foil carrier. This is a layer of real gold on a backing. The foil is placed on the surface to be gilded and the heated tool is impressed on to the foil, transferring the layer of gold to the substrate, in this case the paper. The shape of the tool appears in gold.
Here is the starry result. The next operation was to tip the five images into each book. This means that the image is adhered by a thin thread of glue or paste along one edge onto the page. I did this before trimming the pages, using the guillotine. In other types of binding (anything with a rounded and backed spine ) I would use a plough to trim the edges, but this is a thin book with a flat spine.
          After some consideration I have decided to bind this book by sewing on vellum slips. A vellum slip is a strip of vellum, and vellum is of course a piece of (usually) goat or calf skin that has gone through a special curing process to give it the particular qualities needed for writing or binding. It is very durable, and I adapted a traditional form of binding using the vellum slips when binding Old London Bridge. It enables the book to open well (which can be a problem with some forms of binding) and I like the appearance and the medieval reference to vellum bindings, which is probably what would have been on Leonardo Da Vinci's original notebooks if they were bound during his lifetime.
          I looked into my 'supplies store', well O.K., a drawer and found some vellum of a suitable thickness, that was dyed a tan brown colour, quite a good base to adapt to red, to tone with the leather of the cover. I used Fiebings Oil-based red dye, rubbing it into the surface with a pad of paper towel. It does not penetrate into the vellum, but rather sits on top, and takes a good few days for the dyestuff to oxidize and dry.Here's the before and after:

The vellum doesn't need to be an exact match for the leather as it will hardly show, it just needs to blend in. I have no idea why I originally bought this vellum, (twenty-five years ago at least) as it is much too thick for writing or binding a small book, but I was very pleased to find it, it's exactly what I needed for this job. The next process will be to sew the book, when the vellum is dry.
          I'm going to go 'underground' for the next few weeks as I'm really pushed for time to get some books finished, and also am preparing a presentation for the MBS Conclave, but I will be taking photos and will show all the stages in this binding when I return from Lexington.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Endpapers, gilded suns and non-drying ink

          With the main bulk of the printing out of the way, I turned my attention to the endpapers, an important item in the book as they the first thing you see when you lift the cover. I like to relate them to the content of the book in some way. I had decided to go with the tea-stained paper (see previous post Feb, The Real Leonardo) and overprint this with two of Leonardo's line drawings that relate to flight. One of these is the dragonfly, the other is his little drawing of a man hanging from his 'parachute', which he describes as a wooden frame covered in fine linen, and treated with flour paste to make it air-tight.
          It involved several applications of tea to get the depth of shade, then I dried them completely under weight, then re-dampened, printed, dried and pressed again. A bit fussy to do, but I was pleased with the result, and it is a way of incorporating more of Leonardo's delightful line drawings into the book.
          I've also been working on the illustrations, using the PVA gilding idea (see previous post, April, A Sticky Gilding Situation). This is how two of them look. You can see why they call gilding 'illumination'.
I had a bit of a set-back with one of my images, I printed a figure in a red oil-based ink, using a stencil and brayer. So far, so good. But it took weeks to dry, and even when seemingly dry the red came off when gently rubbed with a tissue. I did't want to risk it inside the book in case it offset onto the opposite page. 
          So what to do? I looked back through all my experiments with various papers and media and looked at the ones where I used the same paper and Akua Kolors. The colours I have are the ones used for wood and lino cut printing, they are quite liquid, but if you leave them out to air-dry then can be used with a brayer, or you can thicken them with tack thickener. As mentioned, I was low on paper for the images, so by this time I was working on small offcut pieces of paper. They were big enough for the image, but tricky to print on, and I intended to overprint the figure with a cloud image on polymer plate, which I did. To stop the little pieces of paper dropping off the press I used a dab of the roller non-permanent adhesive on the mylar sheet I have on top of the tympan, and that was sufficient to keep them in place and prevent them from sticking to the plate. This image goes with the words "the triumph of a human being ascending, in the dreaming of a mortal man", so I hope this looks sufficiently dream-like and insubstantial. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Let the Printing Games Begin

Ahhh...the scent of printers' ink and press wash....nothing quite like it. The plates arrived and after checking them over, I cut them apart and started planning the printing. I decided to print the full page images first, and spent the rest of the afternoon cutting up paper. I found there was only just enough, as after ordering, I had decided to include an extra image. Oops! I shall have to be extra careful. 

The plates for the images have some larger solid printed areas which made adjustments necessary. My old table-top Craftsman press was built as a jobbing press, for printing small jobs such as tickets, and invitations. Because of its clamshell action, it is not ideally suited for printing large solid areas, not usually an issue for me. So for these images, I had to make several adjustments to rollers, ink and packing in order to get the solid black areas to print well. I then had to print with my full weight on the handle to get enough pressure. I printed dry on this handmade 30 gsm Japanese paper, as I didn't want to spoil the beautiful surface by dampening it. Anyway, the alterations worked. Looking at the handle of this press, which has been welded  at some time in its career, my guess is that I'm not the first to throw my full weight on it. I just hope it holds out.

The text printing went well, the damp paper gives a lovely crisp impression and again, as this was the Griffen Mill handmade paper I proceeded extra slowly and carefully. This paper has a watermark in the corner of each sheet, with the letters GM, the infinity sign (to indicate its archival status) and the initials MG for Mike Gibbs, the papermaker. I love the thought that I'm making a book with paper made by a real person, a person I have actually met, and that the paper could last for hundreds of years. I have a bible dating back to 1589, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. It is beautifully printed, the presswork is amazing and although it is pretty beaten up, still an object of my admiration for the skill that went into making the paper and printing it all those 400+ years ago.

Because the paper had been dampened I let it dry off a little and when it showed signs of curling, finished the drying process between blotters under a light weight.
 During the time I was printing, my leather arrived! I had chosen it from a swatch on a card, so was not really surprised to find that it was slightly different in colour from what I had expected. One batch of leather never dyes the same as the next, it's a fact of life. This skin was a little brighter and redder than I expected, but still a very nice skin, as you can see. 

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gathering the Threads

          Making up the dummy book, as in my last post, is quite exciting as the book gradually emerges from a morass of experiments, maybes and possibilities. I'm temperamentally unable to visualize a book in its entirety from start to finish because there are so many variables and because I want the book to be the best that it can be, so I leave lots of options open.
          Unexpected things always happen, for example I thought I was ordering the leather in good time, from J Hewit in Scotland, but when I contacted them, discovered that they are moving the tannery twelve miles to another location in July, so certain colours may not be available. I have ordered a sort of 'old burgundy' colour which I will show you when it arrives. And would you believe, businesses actually have holidays and some close down for a week or two in the summer??? They will be paying people salaries next. 

Shown here is a mock-up of the title page and frontispiece for 'Leonardo'..., it really is taking shape at last. As you can see, a rough and ready paste-up, but it is enough to show whether the size of text and image are good, or what needs tweaking. 

          I have also ordered the magnesium die from a company called Owosso Graphic Arts, this will be used to gold block the title on the cover. The handmade Japanese paper for the illustrations is safely stored in my old map chest, now everything is waiting for the polymer plates to arrive so I can start printing. I have tracked the parcel of plates to Vancouver Customs is a holiday, so I'm hoping for delivery tomorrow or Wednesday. 
          One other little but very important detail: I asked Tony Silvestri and Eric Whitacre if they would like to sign the book, and they have both agreed - happy dance-this will make a very special book! Now we just have to fit this into their busy schedules....I am so pleased they want to do this.

Friday, May 14, 2010

And so to Text...Layout, that is.

Having completed the five full-page images (yes, I'm saving two as a surprise), I'm now in a position to lay out the text properly. I should mention that way back last summer, when I was searching for a suitable paper, I did a very rough layout calculation to ascertain the number of pages (and the amount of paper) that I would need. I ordered the paper to be custom-made at Griffin Mill (see Paper Trails) and it is now sitting under my bed, well-matured by now.
          I always make a rough mock-up of the book, starting with the number of pages I think I will need. This book came out to about thirty-six pages (some of which are blank), that is, eighteen leaves. I decided on three sections of twelve pages. This is not the usual layout. I keep the sections fairly small as the binding works better, rather than having a few large (i.e. fat) sections. Making a mock-up shows where adjustments need to be made, I print out the computer layout and images, and stick them into the folded pages, and move them about as necessary. Apart from the text pages, you have to allow for half-title, title page, frontis, business info (ISBN, copyrights, press info, acknowledgements, colophon, limited edition and signature info, table of contents, bibliography - mix and match as applicable).
It is important before designing the book to take into account the number of illustrations and where they will appear in the text, so the book is balanced. It can look odd to have a whole bunch of illustrations in one part of the book and none in another. (Seems obvious, but inevitably you find lots of ideas for certain parts of the text and none for others.)
          I had already decided on the font I would be using, Brioso Pro (see Prince of Fonts),and firstly tried a traditional layout, aligned to the left like a formal poem, with any extra words that wouldn't fit moved to the next line down, with an indent (below, left in the photo). 
I didn't like the look of this, it seemed rather lifeless and uninteresting.

One of the problems with a miniature book is that when you use small font sizes, you lose the beauty of the letterforms and it is difficult to read. The text is after all in 
many books the most important thing about it. Illustrations, paper, binding are there to support the text, so I use a slightly larger size than you might expect, and in this case I'm using 11pt for the body of the text. I then decided to play around with the words, to make them visually more lively and interesting, to match their meaning. Sometimes you can draw attention or contribute to their meaning by the way you arrange them on the page. This includes keeping certain words together, and sometimes emphasizing them by giving them more space, as I have done with this 'siren-song' verse.I laid it out as if I were doing a piece of calligraphy, and for me this works better than the formal arrangement. The photo on the right  also shows again the trial printing I did, using a polymer plate on the handmade paper. So all the image and text files have been sent off to Boxcar Press for processing into photo-polymer plates, and should take about a week to come back to me - Canada Customs permitting. 

And now a treat, a new online exhibition of artists' books, "Canadian Women Artists' Books: The Creative Codex and its variants" from the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. Feast your eyes on these gorgeous books!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

"Softly whispering their siren-song..."

Silvestri's verse for this next illustration is as follows:
"And as he's dreaming the heavens call him, softly whispering their siren-song: Leonardo, Leonardo vieni á volare!
(Leonardo, Leonardo come fly!)
Silvestri imagines Leonardo being tortured in his dreams by the entreaties of the sirens, to the extent that he decides to make a flying machine and fly.
          I researched 'sirens' and found that the early ones from Greek mythology were malevolent bird-women, portrayed as seducers who lived on an island surrounded by rocks and cliffs. Ships were lured onto the rocks by their enchanting music and singing, and became shipwrecked. They were depicted on statuary and on vases as women with wings, with birds' feet, something like rather dumpy angels. In later stories they became aquatic and mermaid-like. For this work I thought it more appropriate to have them airborne, and made them a little more visually tempting. Wiki tells me that: In his notebooks, Leonardo Da Vinci wrote of the siren, "The siren sings so sweetly that she lulls the mariners to sleep; then she climbs upon the ships and kills the sleeping mariners." Oops! Leonardo is evidently aware of the dangers of flying, as he comments in his notebooks that it would be best to try out a flying machine over water, with inflated wine-skins for safety, in case of wing malfunction. 
  I work on illustrations in what is undoubtedly a very old-fashioned way. I start by making many thumbnail sketches - actually about the size that the finished image will be. Then when I've found something I like, I draw it out on tracing paper twice the size of the finished image, so that when it is resized down the detail and line quality look neater. As the drawing progresses I scan it in and reduce it from time to time to keep track of how it will look in the finished size. Tracing paper erases extremely well and it saves time in repositioning elements of the image if I need to. The tracing is then used to transfer the outlines of the image to a bleed-proof paper, where I work on it in ink with a technical pen and then scan it into Photoshop Elements to erase unwanted 'blips' and generally tidy it up, and finally put it in the right mode and file type for the platemaker. At the top of my wish-list is a Wacom tablet Intuos4, which would probably make my life easier. If anyone out there has used one of these, please tell us about it!
          I recently discovered a good and reasonably priced bleed-proof paper, Pen Sketcher's, made by Bee Paper. I have countless pads of so-called bleed-proof, this is the best paper I've found to date.
          The tracing paper method was advocated years ago by Marie Angel, the very accomplished calligrapher and artist, in her book "Painting for Calligraphers," and I subsequently read that the great illustrator Edmund Dulac used the same working method, but before he died destroyed his tracings as he didn't want people to know that was how he worked.
          Here is a great resource for design and print-making blogs

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Sticky Gilding Situation

          Reporting back on the Simple Scribe gold size, this material is indeed very sticky. In fact I think it is the stickiest substance I have ever encountered. It comes in a plastic bottle about three inches high, with a plastic screw cap with a neck opening of about half an inch diameter. I found it quite difficult to get the brush or pen into this without getting size on the side of the handle. As it is so sticky it is hard to wipe off anything it comes into contact with. I then tipped it over, but managed to save most of it, and spent an interesting time trying to wipe it off the formica work surface. It is also very difficult to remove from your fingers.
          I tried it with both brush and pen. You have to use a brush you don't care about, as it is hard to wash out of the bristles. The pen was quite successful, (dark marks are inky residue on the pen nib), and the gold sticks very well to this size. I found it difficult to control with the brush, applying more than I intended. The brush had seen better days and I couldn't get a fine enough point  to apply it exactly as I wanted, even though I was trying for a more casual effect.
          I have a concern with this size that it stays sticky for a very long time (up to six weeks?) and for my project, in a book, it may stick to the opposite page. Once a book leaves my hands I have no control over the conditions in which it exists, it may be in a hot damp climate, in freezing temperatures, under heavy objects.....I left it under a heavy weight for a few days and it seemed OK, and the experiments of about three or four weeks ago seem to have dried off, and are not apparently sticky. But it is an element of risk to consider.
          I may revert to the reversible PVA from Hewit's, that I have used for years, and there is also the shell gold (powdered gold mixed with gelatine) that I haven't yet tried on this paper... So many avenues, just the one pair of legs...
          Here comes another shameless plug, this time for a very accomplished printmaker,
 David Bull, who has spent many years learning and making Japanese woodblock prints (Moku Hanga). I came across his work when searching for another way of editioning coloured prints. (It quickly became obvious that there was no chance I would live long enough to become proficient in this method of printmaking, it is something that takes years to perfect.)
          His latest project is The Mystique of Japanese Prints and he's producing a series of modestly-priced prints that exemplify different techniques, one a month, and a special elegantly designed wooden case that acts as a display easel and storage chest in one. As well as being exceptionally talented he is also very generous with his knowledge and shares his techniques. He has produced a DVD "Your first Print", a step-by-step guide to Moku Hanga, also for a very modest price. Worth checking out if you like artists' original prints and a good way of collecting original modern art. End of plug.
          I've been working on more illustrations and the title page and will show them in another post soon. My feet are paddling away like mad under the surface of the water, although I may not seem to be making much progress.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Releasing Purchased Pigeons.....

            I've been working on the illustrations for "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine". The libretto is very graphic, even cinematographic, every sentence contains many images and concern is that I don't want it to look like a comic strip, or let it descend into the banal. This choral piece is so dramatic yet sensitively nuanced and I'm trying to strike the right note. So here is my interpretation of "Releasing purchased pigeons one by one into the golden Tuscan sunrise...." This drawing will have a final tweaking and then be made into a polymer plate and printed on one of the coloured Bicchu Torinoko papers as shown in a previous post. 

          My drawing relates to Leonardo's studies and notes on the flight of birds, and Tony Silvestri's interpretation, where Leonardo buys pigeons from the market, and releases them so that he can study and sketch the movement of their wings. It's difficult for us to imagine what a problem that would be for a pre-photography era. We can slow down and study film of birds' flight, but Leonardo had to observe and record in real time. 
          I have to get all the illustrations ready, and the text, before sending to the plate maker, otherwise it becomes very expensive, so I have to be patient. This drawing may have a gilded sun, as per previous experiments. I'm awaiting arrival of the new size from France, to replace the one that got frozen in January and was unusable, and will post the results of experiments with that as and when.  

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Real Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine          For newcomers to this blog, or those who have forgotten what it's about, here's a link to "Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine" on Vimeo, performed by the Brigham Young Singers  and made to advertise their concert last year. I love their enthusiasm.  There are lots of other versions on Youtube, the BYU singers is my favourite. 
          Looking through the facsimile pages of Leonardo's notebooks for his early studies of wings, I came across a page fragment with four separate sketches of different types of winged creatures, none of them birds. I reproduce it here, you can see a dragonfly, insect (? moth or fly), flying fish and a bat. 
The pen-strokes are rapid but controlled and sometimes don't quite join up, and he doesn't bother to complete the opposite wings of the fish and the bat, they are taken as read, being the mirror images of the first side. They are notes on his observations, aides memoirs. The dragonfly's legs are haphazardly drawn, but they are of no concern to Leonardo, it is the wings that interest him. 
      I find the sketch of the bat particularly fascinating as to me it reveals Leonardo the man, enjoying his own joke, his old retainer holding out the wing of this enormous bat, the wing being almost the size of his retainer's cloak, the body of the bat being the size of a large lamb. 
      The retainer's expression is one of comical earnestness, he's holding the bat's voluminous wing and the quality of the drawing is such that one can almost feel his grip on it. The hooded cloak is drawn in some detail, almost as though Leonardo couldn't help reproducing the folds of this garment. I love this drawing for its immediacy, skilful execution and its humour, it brings the genius that was Leonardo Da Vinci to life.
      I will use some of his early sketches for the preliminary pages of the book, to lead the reader in to the text of Tony Silvestri's poem. To help set the mood, I decided to colour the paper (Griffen Mill's handmade-see earlier posts) to emulate the pages of the notebook. I stained down a couple of trial pieces, using tea. I made it fairly weak, and applied with a large soft brush to damp paper which was taped to a formica-faced board with masking tape to keep it flat. It took three applications and dryings to get the colour and I made it a little uneven. Of course, it stretches and bubbles up when wet, but dries back flat. You can use a hair-dryer to hasten the drying process. I was quite pleased with the result and will try printing on it when I next have the press inked up. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

The bling goes on

          Detailed below is a further trial using loose gold leaf, and the same reversible PVA. Loose gold has to be handled a little differently from the transfer gold because the slightest air current can disturb it before it has been laid, and waft it into a mangled heap. I show in the photos the tools I use, a gold knife (which is not particularly sharp on purpose), which has quite a broad blade and I sometimes use this to manoeuvre the leaf, along with the gilder's tip. That is the wide brush made (I think) from badger hair that you use to lift the leaf and position on the page. You could also use a piece of stiff paper. 

          The gilder's cushion is one I made way back, and I think I made it from a piece of binder's board and a piece of batting cut to the same size and covered with an oddment of suede leather. You hold the gold book in your left hand, bending back the front cover, and lift out the leaf with your right, and lay it on the cushion, ready to cut into suitably sized pieces. If it folds over on itself, you can often just lift it with the blade and flop it back down gently.
          One of the problems with using a coloured paper is that you can't see where you have painted the PVA, so next time I will add more red watercolour to the mix. They used to use armenian bole, a rust coloured earth pigment, to colour the gesso, but watercolour does just as well, and probably mixes better when you're using PVA.
  Briefly, the steps are as follows: paint the PVA where you want the gold to stick. Let it dry. Cut the gold so you have a piece the size of the area to cover. Breathe on the PVA and immediately lift and place the gold in position. Using a piece of thin silicon paper or tracing paper, place this on top of the gold and press onto the PVA with your fingers firmly. Rub gently through the paper, then use a burnisher rubbing gently at first then applying more pressure. Remove the paper and check if it has adhered by gently brushing with a small soft paintbrush. When you are sure it is completely dry you can re-burnish to a high shine. If it is patchy you can try the 'breathing, applying gold' steps again as gold will usually stick to gold. You can also re-size if it still won't stick, but be careful not to apply too much. The moisture from your breath re-activates the PVA. The gold which has not stuck to the PVA will fall away as you brush (I call these 'gold crumbs'). You will be left with a gilt letter or shape. 
  I save the gold crumbs for use as 'shell gold', the old name for gold paint made from real gold dust. Do your brushing over a piece of paper which has one edge folded up about two inches, then you can shake the crumbs down to the fold and into a small container. See photo of little jar. Then can be pulverized to a powder and mixed with gelatine. (I use the medical gelatine capsules bought from a pharmacy - heat gently to melt, then mix.) This makes real gold paint, which can be reactivated with water and keeps for a long time. It can also be burnshed when dry but it is never quite the same as the sheer bright look of gold leaf. 
Here is the result of the second experiment. The actual size of this print is 55 mm x 70 mm or about 
2 1/8" x 2 3/4" .

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bring on the Bling

          I've always loved the gleam of gold on a page. A gilded initial or a highlight of some kind brings the page to life, the reflection of light gives it a new dimension. Years ago I learned raised gilding using gesso, a mix of plaster of Paris (calcium carbonate) and various adhesives according to recipe. But to use gesso, the substrate you are working on needs to be fairly rigid otherwise the gesso can crack or split off the page. Usually raised gilding is done on vellum or a heavier paper. The weight of paper I'm using for the illustrations for this miniature book is not really rigid enough, so my thoughts turned to flat gilding with PVA. One of my calligraphy tutors from the 1980s, the kindly and talented John Shyvers, wrote an article called 'Gilding with PVA' detailing his experiments with this material, which I have since mislaid. PVA is made to many different specifications depending on the qualities required of it. The type I sometimes use is known as Reversible PVA because it can be soaked back and softened with water if need be, which is not the case with all PVA adhesives. It is a white glue that dries clear. John's article originally appeared with the typo 'Gliding with PVA' which gave us a chuckle at the time, and would probably have sent Leonardo into a flat spin.
 I tried two experiments, one using BS Glaire (the type of shellac-based size used for gilding on leather with hot tools) and the other with the reversible PVA. The BS Glaire didn't work, it soaked into the paper too much, and the gold would not adhere to it when dry. The PVA worked, and here I used two applications, but the surface is not very smooth. Flat gilding and raised gilding are different as the raised kind has a cushiony domed profile and can be made very smooth, so it can be burnished to a high gleam. The flat type has definite possibilities, and I will try some different effects, going with the medium rather than trying to emulate raised gesso gilding. In the following photo I tried flexing the page and creasing across the gilded area, and it stayed put, so I guess it's safe to use for this application.
The gold leaf can be burnished when dry. I used a haematite burnisher, which is shaped rather like a lipstick, with a flat face. For flat gilding this is easier to use than the dog-tooth shaped burnishers you can buy as it doesn't dig in. You could probably use the back of a teaspoon instead, if you don't have a burnisher. The type of gold I use is 23 ct and there are two main types, loose leaf gold and transfer gold. I think both types can be bought in single or double, the double thickness obviously being thicker than the single. For these experiments I used single transfer gold leaf. It is lightly adhered to a thin tissue backing sheet, which makes it easier to handle, you can cut it into pieces with scissors if you want to. Next time I'll try the double loose leaf, and maybe it will be good with one application, perhaps the result will look better. The gilding tools and materials, along with the gold leaf I bought about twenty five years ago so are probably more expensive now. Here is a very good and informative site to learn more about gilding

Above, front cover of gold book, open on right showing sheets of partly used transfer gold. On the right is the haematite burnisher, with its flat smooth face. You have to be careful not to touch this with your fingers as the oils from your skin will prevent it from burnishing properly. I keep it in a bubble wrap sleeve. Some time ago I bought a 'job lot' of burnishers which had obviously had a long and productive life, I show them also. I think they were used for gilding picture frames as the shapes would be good for picture frame mouldings. I don't seem to have the magic touch with pictures as they go where they want, not where I put them.
          Further to the question of gold size, I ordered some from the supplier above but forgot that acrylic polymers are sensitive to freezing. It finally arrived in the first week of January and had been frozen en route, so was completely polymerized into a block reminiscent of a latex sponge. I have decided to wait until the weather is warmer before re-ordering and will report at a later date on this.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Etruscan Light at the end of a 'Tormented' Tunnel

          So, the polymer plates arrived on the Monday before Christmas, and I prepared some paper on Tuesday evening ready for printing trials on Wednesday. The preparation consisted of cutting the trial papers to size, labelling them (very important) and layering same between sheets of damp blotting paper so that the paper picks up enough moisture to feel cold to the touch, but is not visibly wet. Leaving overnight or for a few hours gives the moisture time to even out so the sheet is uniformly damp. It will print very much better, more evenly and darker using less pressure than if printed dry. After a few prints on practice paper I printed the image 'Tormented'... onto some Torinoko Lightweight Japanese paper (from McClaines) and it printed very well. I had anticipated some difficulty with the solid black areas (the falling figure looks a little concave on the plate) but it was fine. I used a fairly hard packing, as I didn't want the image punched into the paper too hard.
          I next printed the plate of trial text in different sizes of Brioso Light onto the Griffen Mill handmade paper, and was very pleased with the result and glad I had chosen the Light version. You can never really know until you try it. I'll probably use the 17pt size on the title page as I think it rather handsome. 

  I then experimented with various Japanese papers, Akua colors and pochoir, using brayers instead of brushes. With my previous use of this method, the repetitive motion gave me severe shoulder and neck pain, and started my quest for an alternative method of obtaining colour prints, hence the foray into woodblock and wood engraving. I intended to use some small brayers and cut some Mylar stencils. I then had to break off for Christmas preparations.
          After the break, I tried out the stencils with brayers, and found that the surface of most of the Japanese papers was not sufficiently sealed (not sized enough) to take the action of the brayer and a fairly stiff ink. The fibres 'picked' with just one layer of ink. For use with a brayer (roller) the ink has to be of a stiff consistency otherwise it doesn't coat the surface of the brayer evenly and slides about on the ink palette. I tried one western paper, a Zerkall book wove in a soft white colour, which worked well, but I disliked the appearance of it next to the Griffen Mill handmade text paper. Also, the coloured inks always look better on a white paper. So where am I now?

          Some months ago, I obtained samples of a lovely range of Japanese papers, thin and translucent, in various colours. They were truly beautiful, but at the time I couldn't see how they would work with my colour woodblock ideas. A couple of days ago, during my research on sirens for one of the other images ("..softly whispering their siren song"..), I came across some pictures of ancient (BC) Etruscan vases, and light dawned. The Etruscans were the people of an ancient civilization thought to predate the Romans, and they occupied part of the area of Italy now known as Tuscany. How very appropriate, I thought. I have no idea if Leonardo actually would have seen these ancient pots, but I like to think he may have known of them. Here are some examples:
The Etruscans decorated their vases in various tan and biscuit shades with black, and sometimes dark blue and maroon. I could achieve this elegant and sophisticated look using the coloured papers. I tried the "Tormented.." plate, printing dry, and love the look, it opens up all sorts of possibilities for the other images, and will set the character for this book. It is a break-through moment for me, as I have been endlessly obsessing about the 'how' and now I can concentrate on the 'what', knowing how it will appear.

Here are the prints drying on the line (an idea I took 
from various other printmakers, including Sue Woollatt and Andy English - thanks guys). I also show some of the prints on the Bicchu torinko paper from the Japanese Paper Place in Toronto. They are handmade, and dried on wooden boards, which gives them a little texture and character.
          The prints are not quite done, as there is still another experiment I have to do, but that will be in another blog post, when the material I ordered in November finally arrives - good old UK Post Office. Well, that's quite enough excitement for this week.