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.


Bart said...


I've said this before, but I really like how used lino blocks look.

Anonymous said...

These are really cool Kristin. And you didn't insult my intelligence - I wasn't aware that the pictures would enlarge if you clicked on them...Guess that says something for my computer skills (or lack thereof).
I hope you will post all eight of the poems. Love seeing what you are making.
Mom O.