Monday, September 27, 2010

Untitled (#200)

well, i'm out of pre-written blogposts and i just don't feel like writing one at the moment, but i did want to post for me this is the 200th post on this blog. yep, this right here. ain't she a beaut. 

also, summer has finally arrived (rudely ignoring the fact that it is now supposed to be AUTUMN), so i feel grouchy. but i get to have lunch with a friend in 45 minutes, and that's something to look forward to. :)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Adventures in letterpress printing

#5: “A Meditation”, Behram Deboo (the Zoroastrian poem)
Subtitle: trust your instincts

I am very proud of myself for now being able to pronounce and spell “Zoroastrian”, not that it’s been much of a source of personal humiliation over the past 26 years. Anyway, the design process was fairly simple for this one (it wasn’t that way for all of them – the next two poems I’ll talk about proved to be very challenging) – Elisa had included some images of the brass fire urns that are kept at Zoroastrians’ places of worship, which are called fire temples. I thought it would be neat to lay out the text in the shape of an urn, and carve a flame illustration to place above it. It seemed a little bit like an obvious design, so I thought I’d try doing something a bit more unusual for the paper and ink colors- dark grey paper and bright yellow-gold ink. It would be like a goblet of fire (but not the goblet of fire from H. Potter…and by the way, for the longest time I always wanted to call it "the globule of fire") shining in darkness. It was pretty striking. Here’s the draft I created in InDesign:
Challenge 1: Kelly paper didn’t have a really dark grey paper. The darkest was “pewter”, sort of a middle-grey, not very dark, not very light. I got it anyway.

Then I bought a little linoleum block and carved my flame, realizing, as I did so, that I didn’t have to carve away all the space around the flame, but could instead create a neato halo.
Challenge 2: Ink, my apparent nemesis. I picked the color I wanted, mixed it, put it on the press, ran a test on leftover paper from the Mormon poem, thought it looked gorgeous, decided to start printing on the pewter grey paper, printed my first sheet and…ACK!
The ink was transparent. The ink was invisible on my darkish paper. What in the world was I going to do now? Step one: clean off the press. Step two: add lots and lots of opaque white to the color I had mixed (which was made up of process yellow and rubine red- both transparent inks). I thought this would lighten the color of the ink and increase the contrast between the ink and paper. I put this revised ink on the press and printed this:

It was too yellow-green. I wanted more orange. Just a tiny, tiny bit more orange, since this was supposed to be a flame in a brass urn. And geez- it still needed to be more opaque. So I cleaned off the press again, added more red to the ink- actually, by this point I had mixed several different little pools of ink and had even tried resurrecting some old metallic inks I’d found in a box (the gold- the most likely candidate, was completely crusted over and unusable. Metallic inks don’t keep well). I had some scrap grey paper to test the colors on so that I wouldn’t have to get the whole press dirty. The problem was, none of my attempts at mixing brighter, more opaque inks were coming out bright or opaque enough. The color of the paper was too light. Even if I used white ink (the brightest and most opaque option), there wouldn’t have been quite enough contrast. This was a problem. But I did have a color that I thought just might work:
And then, reassuring myself that ink gets lighter and more opaque as it dries (in the same way I told myself in the previous post that it gets darker), I ignored the queasy feeling in my gut and printed the whole lot. (It should be noted that this is something you never want to tell yourself. The change in lightness/darkness and opacity from wet to dry is almost too subtle to notice.)

I actually felt pretty good about them by the time I was heading home. I’d told B all about the fiasco, and he promised to give me his opinion when I got home. His words were very encouraging- the prints were fairly light, yes, but they were also subtle, and the image was lovely. I really liked how the flame turned out. Ok, so it’s not very easy to read from far away, but still, it looks nice.
Next time I met with Elisa, I took her a copy so that she could see my progress and have something to show the other people involved in planning the conference. She hesitated, but said it was lovely. Later that day, she came and found me and told me that some bigwigs at the school had declared it too light and difficult to read, so I needed to redo it. :( I could see their point, but I was really bummed.

I revised the color choices and re-printed last week:
 and the little linoleum block, of which I am very fond:

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Adventures in letterpress printing

#4: “Tree”, Sri Aurobindo (the Hindu poem)

The imagery for this one was fairly straightforward- hands, trees, the conflict between heavenly and earthly desires- a tree in the shape of two hands with one branching, growing and reaching up, and the other, firmly rooted, reaching down. I chose lovely Environment birch paper for this print, and green and greenish-yellow for the colors, which seemed appropriately symbolic according to Hindu color symbolism (or so I was told by ye olde internet).

The first challenge: INK. INK IS TRICKY. I chose a color from a booklet and prepared it according to the directions using the base colors in the specified proportions. The green text was easy. The greenish-yellow…not so much. You mix ink on a glass plate, but then you have to test it on a piece of scrap paper because your puddle of ink looks completely different from the color it will print. So you get a tiny amount of ink on the paper, smear it around vigorously with another piece of paper, and that gives you a better idea of the actual color you’ll be printing. However, if you look at the color on the paper, you should imagine it lighter and less saturated, and that will be even closer to how it’ll print. Once you put your ink on the press, you have to clean the whole press if you decide it’s a tad too light/bright/dark/purple/whatever. Also, as a general rule of thumb: less is more when you’re adding dark ink to light. If you’re making a color that calls for 12 parts yellow , 14 parts white and 1/4-part blue, you’d better make sure you don’t add 1/2-part blue. You’ll quickly end up with a pint of ink if you try to lighten a color that’s too dark (you usually need less than a tablespoon to print 100 copies of something). It’s better to take, say, half or even a quarter of the color that you accidentally mixed too dark, and then add white/yellow/whatever to that. It’s easy to add more dark ink.

So anyway, I should’ve added more green to my greenish-yellow, because what I got was nearly neon yellow. I told myself, “it’ll probably darken as it dries”. I have also told myself, “I think the ink gets lighter as it dries” as well as, “I think the ink gets more opaque as it dries” (more on that later, actually). In reality, I still don’t know which, if any, of those are true, but the change is minute. The way the ink prints is basically the way it will look when it’s dry. If you have any doubts (more on this later, too), just clean the press and fix the color. You’ll be glad you did.

Well, I went ahead with the neon yellow. And then I encountered…

The second challenge. Something was odd about the way the image was printing. The ink coverage was good, but…what is that? Thinking the block still had some black ink on it from when I’d printed a test in black a few days earlier, I got out the cleaner and cleaned the block, being careful to get into the little crevices where black ink might be hiding. Using such a light color, I knew that any leftover ink on the block or on the press rollers would be noticeable.
Well, the problem didn’t go away, but now I could tell what it was: the ink from the sharpie I’d used to draw the tree shape before carving it was somehow printing. I have never seen or heard of this happening before- and had used it on the illustrations for the three previous poems. I scrubbed the block again with very, very nasty chemicals, but couldn’t get the permanent ink off (darn them and their accurate advertising!). After a third scrubbing, I gave up and printed the rest of the broadsides. At this point there was only a faint outline on part of the image, but it still screamed “SHARPIE INK RESIDUE!” to me. But if no one else knows how it got there, they probably won’t think “sharpie residue”. I hope they don’t. But after that I haven’t used a sharpie, which has been a bit of a pain because graphite smears so easily on linoleum. And you still have to be sure to clean it off before printing. Ah well. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Adventures in letterpress printing

#3: “Pied Beauty”, Gerard Manley Hopkins (the Catholic poem)

This poem is about God’s Creation- so I went through a lot of ideas with spots for imagery (given the focus of the text), and eventually settled on this one, which I think looks pretty darn good. And silver on black is always very exciting. The spots represent the spotted things in the poem, but I also wanted them to look a little bit like stars or planets, so that it wouldn’t just be like “God created spotted horses” but also “God created the whole universe and beyond!” I like my pieces to work on multiple levels...even though it's maybe not all that clear.

Choosing paper was a bit of a challenge. I was reluctant to choose a flat black because flat colors look too much like copy paper or construction paper (in my opinion), but the laid paper incident was too fresh in my mind to attempt something with any, no matter how slight, texture (such as linen). So I went with the flat black. C’est la vie.

This poem was fairly easy to complete, but again, there were some image registration problems. Here’s the progression I went through with adding packing under the block:
You’ll notice that the left side had no trouble printing from the beginning. So instead of adding pieces of paper the size of the whole block, I added half- or quarter- sheets to raise only one side of it.The final result is at the top.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Adventures in letterpress printing

#2: “On the Mormon Trail, June 1868”, Elisa Pulido (the Mormon poem)

This poem’s author, Elisa, is the woman I’m working with to create these broadsides. She’s the Student Chair at the Claremont Graduate University and is organizing the conference this year. She’s been really great to work with.

My first idea for this poem was a trail in a field, with the trail following the curve of the right side of the text. It works, but it was, I admit, boring. I came up with another idea, just because it’s nice to have more than one. B really liked the second one, and so did Elisa. I thought it would be cool to have the poem nestled and even hidden down in the long grass of the prairie. That’s about as far as my thinking went, aside from “that grass will be really fun to carve in linoleum”. It was :)
(The thing to remember with linoleum carving, or any image-making for printing, is that you have to make a mirror image of whatever you want the image to be. This is hard to remember, but you learn, as I have, by doing it wrong several times...)

I had the paper picked out long in advance- camel hair laid cover (I’ve ordered all my paper for this project from Kelly Paper, which has stores here and near Claremont and is very convenient). It’s a beautiful, warm tan with slightly darker brown fibers sprinkled throughout and it has a great toothy texture (that's what "laid" means). So I set the poem, carved the linoleum, ordered the paper, picked up the paper, cut the paper (because the broadsides are 11x14, I order parent sheets- uncut sheets of paper that come in large sizes such as 23x35 in.), and printed the text. Then I cleaned the press, took the text off the bed of the press, set up the linoleum block in its place, applied green ink to the rollers (I maybe should've done tan-ish yellow for the grass, but that would have been too much brown), got all set to start test-printing my second run, tested it out first on leftover sheets from my previous printing (the Rumi poem):
...printed the first piece of the camel hair paper, and hit a wall. The registration of the image was terrible. Really inconsistent and patchy (fyi- you can click on the images to make them larger. You probably already knew that. I probably just insulted your intelligence. Sorry.):
I increased the pressure, added more ink, paced back and forth mumbling to myself while pangs of anxiety shot through my stomach- nothing helped. And then I remembered something.

Textured papers don’t print well because of all the bumps and crevices, which the rollers have a hard time squashing flat in order to print something with a lot of surface area. If textured papers must be used, they have to be dampened first (which is a monumental pain in the neck). It worked fine with the text because the text is very small and is made of metal. You’ll notice that part of the linoleum block did print well. I don’t know why- it’s possible that the linoleum wasn’t perfectly flat, which may account partly for the uneven printing, but mostly, it was the rough texture of my beautiful paper. It printed fine on the Rumi paper because it had a smooth texture. *SIGH*

I ended up buying new paper (what else could I do?) with a lovely smooth texture- Royal Fiber cream, which I think looks even better than the other stuff. I still had a hard time printing the linoleum, which seemed to provide more solid evidence toward the theory that the surface wasn’t completely level, but I managed to turn out 100 good copies, which is all that matters. So far, this is one of my favorites.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It Came!

It came! I received my copy of “Merry Sorrys, (Un)Happy Endings”!! After months and months of formatting, resizing, editing, tweaking, re-tweaking, and lots and lots of re-re-tweaking, it’s finally here in physical form. It’s all shiny and bright…yay. Now I have something real to show for all this – you all probably thought I was making this project up. :) I photographed some of my favorite pages:





Remember, you can order a copy of your own at :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Adventures in letterpress printing

I was commissioned back in early summer to created 8 limited edition broadsides (posters, 11x14 in) using 8 poems from various religious traditions for an event in October hosted by the Religious Studies department at Claremont Graduate University. I would design the layout and create simple imagery, typeset the text, pick ink and paper, and print 100 copies each of the eight poems, which would be sold at the event as a fund-raiser. The eight religions are Islam, Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Coptic. I’ve printed 6 (except now only 5…more on that later) of the 8 poems so far, and it has been incredibly fun, not to mention a rich learning experience. I have run into numerous design and technical problems along the way, so much so that I feel the need to share them. Maybe someone out there will be able learn from my mistakes. :) I’ll organize the lessons around the specific poem I was working on when I learned them, in chronological order.
So, #1: “Birdsong from Inside the Egg”, Rumi (the Islamic poem)

This poem, being my first to design and print, was sort of the guinea pig. Here’s a bit of my decision making process: 1) I wanted to do one print run because it’s much faster that way (more on print runs later). 2) I wanted to use blue because of the egg (robin’s egg. I don’t know why. Artistic license, ok?) and river imagery. 3) There is also a lot of imagery with wind, spirit, river, song, breath, and dancing. I thought the best way to unite these themes would be with a spiral/wavy shape that flows upward, and mirrors the right edge of the text, which is itself very wavy.

The challenge: during printing, I had a hard time getting the image to print solid black. Often, linoleum blocks (which I use and love very much) are not “type-high”, meaning they sit lower (shorter) on the bed of the press than the metal type. If the image is lower, the paper won’t be pressed down hard enough on it and you’ll either get no image to print at all, or else it will be sort of faint, splotchy and yucky. You will have to add “packing” under the block- usually sheets of paper cut to the size of the block- to raise it to the height of the type. You have to experiment a bit (with scrap paper) to see how much paper you need- too little and you still have registration problems. Too much and you run the risk of damaging the block and the image will look like it’s been smashed into the paper. Not good. It’s all about finding the right amount of pressure. You can also increase pressure by lowering the rollers on the press, but since there was a good amount of impression on the text, it made more sense to raise the linoleum block. Here’s an example of too little pressure:
And of increased pressure: (you can also see that increasing the pressure may cause some of the linoleum block to appear- this, obviously, needs to be carved away)
Overall, I don’t think I got the pressure quite right on this one, but it still came out well (the image at top is an example of how they turned out).

I have a pretty good example of this process of building up enough sheets of paper with #3, the Catholic poem (stay tuned!!!).

Friday, September 10, 2010

How to sew jersey on a sewing machine

I have a very old sewing machine. I bought it from an elderly woman for $20 at her garage sale three years ago in Claremont. It’s a New Home 671 (purchased new in 1967, according to the lift-time guarantee certificate taped to the inside of the owner’s manual) and really works like a dream. A somewhat retro-‘60s dream, but still. A little over a year ago I found the cutest jersey dress on clearance at Target (75% off!). Upon examining it, I found that it has a very simple pattern and that it would be relatively easy to create a paper pattern from the dress (without even having to take it apart) and then, in theory, I’d be able to replicate it an infinite number of times, using any combination of colors and tweaking the details to suit my every whim. I made the pattern, bought a number of nice t-shirts from a thrift store, and set to work. I sewed about fifteen stitches…And was immediately thwarted.

Jersey and other stretchy fabrics are, well, stretchy and different from anything I’ve ever sewn before. When I tried to sew a seam, the needle seemed to “bounce” off the fabric every so often, so that I’d be left with seams like below (marked by angry red arrows):

Yuck. I was pretty sure that wasn’t supposed to happen. I searched the owner’s manual for guidance. Surely they had stretchy fabrics in the 60s, so there must be instructions on how to sew them. But the owner’s manual assumes that you can read its mind and a lot of details are missing. At a loss, I then bought proper jersey sewing needles, with no change in the resulting sewing. The lady at the fabric store mentioned something about a special paper material I could buy to make it easier to sew the fabric, but I was not about to do that. I abandoned the project.

Fast forward to last weekend. It suddenly dawned on me to look online for answers. SUCCESS! Here are the most helpful tidbits I found (cobbled together from various sources):
-Use a needle labeled "Stretch" (not just "Knits"). You could use a ballpoint style or a semi-ballpoint universal needle. For the delicate knits use needle size 70 (10). For medium thickness use 80 (12). Size 90 (14) needles are good fabric like polar fleece. I bought a pack of five needles that had 2 70s, 2 80s and a 90 for less than $4.
*  Use a narrow zigzag stitch rather than a straight stitch. A zig-zag stitch is perfect for knit fabric, because it stretches with the fabric, and thus is less likely to pucker or cause thread breakage. Choose the narrowest zig-zag stitch that will not pucker or stretch your fabric, since the wider/longer your stitch is, the weaker it will be. Remember that a zig-zag stitch is wider than a straight stitch, and adjust your seam allowance accordingly.
-Use greater pressure (not tension) from the presser foot.
-Don't let pins get under the presser foot at all, and certainly don't assume you can stitch over a pin.
-Stretch the fabric slightly as you stitch.
-Stitch continuously rather than stopping and starting.
** Sew through something that tears away--tissue paper, toilet paper, old newspaper, etc. (watch for ink smears)

* This advice helped a lot, but the thread was still oddly loose in several places (red arrow: bad; orange arrow: making progress???; yellow arrow: hey, i think these tips are starting to work!):

** This little factoid made the sewing perfect (light green arrow: almost there!; happy dark green arrow: success!). I used strips of catalog paper, since it’s nice and thin. I know you probably can't even see it- that's how perfect and tight and tiny it is.

I believe the stage is now set for me to begin successfully sewing my Target-rip-off dress. Yay!

Thursday, September 9, 2010


This morning I felt a distinct blogging bug coming on. This is a wonderful thing because 1) my blog has been shamefully neglected for several months now, and 2) there are several things I’ve been intending to blog about. SO, I’ve decided to go ahead and seize, er, scratch? this itch to type by writing out all the things I’ve been meaning to blog about…and then divide them up into individual posts and post them over a period of several days. Not a bad idea, right? That way tomorrow, when I most assuredly won’t feel like blogging, I will still have something to add. Something to keep you coming back…

A lot of the things I want to write about are sort-of-tutorials, by which I mean step-by-step walk-throughs of things I’ve been working on that didn’t go as planned and what I had to do to fix it. I’ve been learning a lot about sewing, letterpress printing (hey, you never know when info about this will come in handy), and painting furniture. I also have a couple of projects and books to share about.

I’ve just written five entries (not including this one) in five pages in Word. I need to take a lot of pictures before posting them, but I plan to start with the first tomorrow.