Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Specimens: Week Four

On Monday and Tuesday, Nancy and I removed ourselves to the Center for Book Arts to print the Gustave Flaubert page from Specimens on the Center's Charles Brand etching press. The Flaubert text, which comes from his Sentimental Education, is set in a flourished variation on my Ventura Italic and surrounded by a border of calligraphic flourishes. The type has extremely fine ascenders and descenders, attributes that find their most faithful form in intaglio rather than relief (ie. letterpress) printing. Specimens features six typefaces and a suite of ornaments that were inspired by the lettering in Joaquim Jozé Ventura da Silva's ca. 1819 writing manual, Regras Methodicas. The Regras is an oblong folio of copper plate engravings and my challenge has been to make typefaces that work as well in letterpress as Ventura da Silva's calligraphy works when engraved. The flourished italic, though, like the Flaubert quote, cries out to be printed intaglio, it simply doesn't work when printed letterpress.

Although I have often used the Center's Brand press, I had never printed an intaglio polymer plate before this week and was a little nervous about how it would turn out. After I made a properly exposed plate (which took a few tries), Nancy and I made a wet pack of 50 sheets of paper on Sunday afternoon and left it to marinate over night. On Monday morning we met at the shop, loaded all our packages into a car, and headed to 27th street. The first couple of tries were not encouraging. The ink looked like it had been smeared on, leaving the lines blurred and spotty. With each print I increased the pressure on the press and, after the fourth bad print, began loading the Charbonnel Natural Sepia ink with magnesium carbonate to bulk it up. Once I changed the consistency of the ink from that of chocolate sauce to something closer to hot fudge, the plate began printing beautifully. The tiny hairlines, the plate tone, the occasional ink swell on the plate edge, all work together to make a page whose process and form are on an equal footing with the text.

Hand wiping the plate prior to printing.

Lifting the sheet after printing.

The finished print. Text: Gustave Flaubert; Type: Ventura Flourish Italic

*There will be no fifth week blog post as Nancy will be off roaming in the great Northwest while Annie & I swim with the dolphins in the Bay of Naples.