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:


Kelly said...

Kristin - these posts on printing are beautiful. I mailed my dad a link to your blog so he could take a look. I really like Mormon and Catholic designs.

DM said...

LOVE the red on white at the end. And the inverse flame on the block looks really cool, too.