An occasional newsletter

News on progress on forthcoming books from the Press
Hinton Charterhouse, Bath, UK

 Guy Fawkes Day 2004

recent progress on

The Bricks of Venice

A new study of the brickwork of Venice with over seventy watercolours, by Peter Harris.

 Winter 2004/5

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With some relief I decided that the text of Peter Harris's study of Venetian brickwork was ready, and I e-mailed it to Harry McIntosh. Harry has a wonderful system that effectively allows him to cast metal type on a Monotype composition caster directly from digital copy, thus saving the need to rekey text that has already been keyed and edited on a PC. (If you aren't familiar with what he does, do have a look at his website.)


With the text away for casting, I was able to turn to the reproduction of the images on my fancy new A3 Epson printer. I bought a small quantity of the special Somerset 100% cotton paper and could start testing. I had three representative watercolours from the total of seventy-two images scanned, and my first move was of course simply to print them straight off. The results were a bit disappointing - the colour was less intense and some yellow seemed to be missing. Colour reproduction is a minefield, as I found out when getting Adrian Henri's vibrant pastels printed for Lowlands Away, and then again with the Iris printing of Philip Hughes's images for Jump of the Manta Ray. Different printers and different screens and different software and different media, and all the possible combinations, can render colours quite differently. Matching an output to an original feels like a black art, but is underpinned by a lot of science that needs to be understood. Skill and judgement tune the final result.

When the images were first scanned I had had to make a decision: whether or not to tell the scanner operator to 'remove' the background colour of the paper - Peter's watercolours were of course done onto normal watercolour paper, which is never white and indeed varies from image to image in this case, some being quite yellow. Modern colour printing normally assumes a blistering white paper, so it would be usual for the colour of the base paper to be removed if one did not want it to reproduce as a rectangle in the reproduction (are you following this?). Since the paper colour is quite faint the result can be 'scum dot'. The Somerset I shall be printing the images on is a 'book white', so one can imagine all the complications. In the event, I had the paper colour removed on scanning.

I decided to start by placing myself in the hands of the software that comes with the printer: it contains a 'profile' that in theory allows it to correctly render the scanned colours onto the Somerset paper with the seven Epson inks. The results were excellent. When shown the original watercolours alongside the printed versions, the people who did the scans - professional colour printers themselves - reckoned I would not be able to do better. This was a great relief as I wanted to be faithful to the original and dreaded any idea of hand tweaking 72 images.  

Knowing I could now confidently reproduce all the watercolours, I could turn back to the letterpress. Thanks to Harry's Mactronic system, I get PDF files showing exactly how the type will look once cast in the chosen Monotype hot-metal typeface - in particular what lines it will make. Because I get this before he even starts casting, I can make a complete paste-up of the book at an early stage, and when the type starts arriving I can make it up into pages with confidence. The first four buckets of 14pt Bembo arrived from Harry - yup, that's how it arrives - containing about 40pp of the text. The half-galleys of type are unpacked and brushed and paginated, and I make any changes or corrections that I have noticed in the meantime. Harry sends me two correction founts as well: one roman and one italic.

The next step is to build the forme. I'm printing two openings (4pp) on a single sheet of Magnani mould-made on my Western proof press, so the forme has to accommodate those pages, ensuring their correct relative placement, not forgetting the running heads and folios. Packing furniture around the type is not in itself difficult but it needs a little more care to ensure that when the forme is tightened up with the quoins, all the type is pushed in the right direction and ends up in the same place every time. Since I shall be making up the forme thirty or forty times as I work through the book, it's also important that it is easy to assemble and disassemble each time. Just for safety I also record the precise furniture placing and even photograph it in case things get confused and alignment goes astray! I have already made a detailed diagram on a sheet of Magnani of where everything is to go, so at this point a couple of days are spent adjusting the forme with four sample pages until everything is just as I planned it.

This is also the opportunity to get the packing right. Although type is always the same height, paper varies in thickness, and this Magnani is a particularly thick paper, so I have to experiment with packing (sheets of varying thickness wrapped round the cylinder of the press) until I achieve the amount of 'bite' that I want.

Finally all the preparations are complete and printing can begin. My workshop is not well insulated against the weather on this damp island in the North Atlantic and this time of year we can get what is known in our house as 'rusting weather': relatively warm humid air that can cause condensation on cold metal (in particular the beds of presses, cylinders, and stones) leading to rust, and that can cause some papers (especially the Mohawk I shall be using for Harry Carter, Typographer) to cockle badly. Time to invest in a dehumidifier!

To ensure that every forme is printed in exactly the same position I print 25 sheets straight off at the beginning - by overprinting each time I put a new forme on the press, I can check that I have constant alignment. The first four pages went on the press on 11 October - a much later start than I planned, so I shall be printing over the winter months and the electricity bill will be zooming up! The first thing I have to do with every forme of four pages is to lead the text out by a further 2pt. This means inserting a 2pt lead between all the lines ... and removing them all again when the pages come off the press. There will be 150 copies in the edition. Add the copies for the copyright libraries and a couple of display copies, then 10% for spoilage, and I decided to print 170 copies of every sheet. Each sheet will go through the press at least twice (front and back), some sheets four times to add an extra colour front and back - plenty of scope for error.

There is no automatic ink feed on my press - if I just kept printing, the text would get lighter and lighter. To keep a constant colour I add small amounts of ink to the rollers every ten impressions. This really slows things up but does give me a chance to check frequently that all is well with the impression. Two hours later I have a stack of 170 printed sheets, interleaved with paper sheets to prevent set-off, and marked into tens - I must re-ink at the same sheets in the stack when I print the backs and I must print them in the same order. The big Bembo really does make a handsome page. So, the book is started ... even though it has been work in progress for over a year! At the time of writing I am just over half way through the main text, so about a third of the way through the entire job, and a satisfying pile - and increasing pile - of printed sheets builds on the landing of the house.


Oak Knoll Book Fest 2004

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Each year we generally make the trip to Historic New Castle, Delaware, where Oak Knoll Books host their Book Fest. This year was their eleventh, and the American Printing History Association held its annual conference in nearby Wilmington so that a number of attendees to that event also stayed over for the Book Fest, bringing new faces. We had good sales, complemented by the usual social occasions and the chance to talk ink and paper and type to other presses. It's often said that printers are solitary beings who only meet others at events such as this.


New website features


Over the years I have been adding new features to our website. Most recently, with my digital camera in hand, I have been making a point of recording in pictures the making of the two new books we have in hand (Harry Carter, Typographer and The Bricks of Venice). As the story progresses I am constantly adding new images to give a feeling of what actually happens on the ground. There is even a 20s video snippet! It's also a chance to feature some of the other people who contribute to my books: typecasters, marblers, and binders for instance. My aim is to complement these newsletters (all online and indexed at the site) with pictures which I can't realistically send out with the newsletters. They also make a useful permanent record of the press and its activity.

Fine Press Book Association

Are you a member?

The Gregynog Letterpress Prize

Illustration magazine

A show at the British Library

The Fine Press Book Association will soon be sending out the tenth issue of its journal Parenthesis to members. If you're a lover of fine printing and you're not a member then you really have been missing something! To find out more about the FPBA and how to join go to my website and then click on the FPBA button.

As well as producing Parenthesis the FPBA has a number of activities under way in the UK to promote the fine book.

Gwasg Gregynog, a press with an enviable reputation for the quality of its printing, is planning a prize for letterpress printing in collaboration with the FPBA. We shall be announcing the details on our own website and on that of the FPBA as details are finalised. It will run alongside the Judges' Choice Awards at the Oxford Fine Press Book Fair in November 2005.

A new magazine - appropriately titled Illustration - saw its first issue in October 2004. Since illustration is a key part of much of the output of contemporary presses, the FPBA hopes to help the new magazine's editors point their readers at their work. We have already put David Bailey of the Avenue Press in touch with them, and we're pleased to say that each issue of Illustration will contain a full feature on a modern private press and its use of illustration - techniques, motivation, and inspiration. The first press to be featured was Frances and Nicolas McDowall's Old Stile Press.

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Copyright © Martyn Ould 2004.