Sunday, November 29, 2009

Defect in the Eye of the Beholder

Not only should you inspect the sheet immediately after having printed it, but you should inspect the sheet itself before printing it. If you don’t, long after the sheet has been printed, you may find a paper defect that makes it unusable.

The following is my rule of thumb, or should I say, disclaimer:
A defect that is sufficient to reject a sheet outright is a defect within the printed area or in such close proximity to the printed area that the defect in the paper may be mistaken as a defect in the printing.

All this appertains even more so when printing handmades, as you need to inspect the sheet both for inconsistency in weight from sheet to sheet, but for inconsistency within the sheet itself.

Pictured above is a handmade I commissioned for a visual poem. The inclusions in the paper are from daffodils. You know, real daffodils in real paper. The idea simply to take advantage of a chaotic field.

Before printing the sheets I separated them into three batches according to weight. I then went through the sheets and used as setup sheets those which I felt “inferior.” Some of these inferior sheets were caused by my having made the very large watermark ff ligature from too heavy a wire, a fault that should not be attributed to the papermaker.

The run was approximately 125, and involved several colors. By the end of the job I was hard pressed to maintain the standards with which I had begun. That is, even sheets that were “too thin” or “too heavy”; or sheets where the deckles were raggedly uneven, or worse, the watermark area too thin, exhibited merits exceeding the concept of the original run.

This is beginning to sound an awful lot like an argument for “the process is important as the work itself,” a position I do not adhere to. So perhaps it was the subject matter—the variant spellings of daffodil—which led to an acceptance of these “defects” as the natural order of things, and which led ultimately to my keeping sheets that ordinarily I would have discarded.

Hence my keeping the print shown above—in spite of the obvious flaw in the lower left corner and the weakness at the upper right.

For further thoughts along these lines I direct you to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who addresses the limitations of perfection quite elegantly in “The Artist of the Beautiful”; and especially for those who have ever tried to salvage a spoiled sheet, I recommend “The Birthmark.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Art of the Silent Correction

If you’ve ever changed copy in a colophon to go full measure or to lead gracefully into a decorative tailpiece, then you’re not that far removed from the copywriter who works directly with an art director and revises copy on the fly to fit available space.

Years ago, while reviewing page proofs for a book of my poems I was surprised to find a couple of errors that could not really be called typos. Instead they were word changes.

When I asked the printer—in this case the eminent private printer Harry Duncan—about them he said, “Yes,” in that wry tone one uses to acknowledge the self-evident.

Gently admonished by what is known in the trade as a “silent correction,” I had sense enough to let several stand.

And that, by the way, is exactly what stet., as used by proofreaders means: Let Stand. Literally that type has feet on which it stands, and that the form should remain intact.

Pictured Above: PLANTIN’S PROOF-READERS AT WORK. (FROM A PAINTING BY PIERRE VAN DER OUDERA, NOW IN POSSESSION OF FELIX GRISAR, ANTWERP.) As cited in A Printer’s Paradise, T. L. De Vinne. Click on the title bar of this post to read the original essay.

And my thanks to Patricia Kolsteeg, Registrar–Loans–Photo-orders, of the Plantin-Moretus Museum, whose kind search indicated that I was incorrect in thinking that the painting was in the collection of the Plantin-Moretus Museum.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Happy Hour

So here you are standing at the bar, or else, chatting somebody up at a party and you—letterpress printer/book artist, aka social butterfly—are handing out your three-color on a handmade, LetterPress’t card, when OMG the target of opportunity says, “These are nice. Can you run off a few for me? Like maybe a hundred. I’m thinking of starting a business. But I don’t know what and I don’t want to spend a lot of money right away.”

Well, pictured above is my solution to the short-run, multi-color business card printed on a fine arts paper.

Take one sheet of 22x30-inch cold pressed 140 or 300 gsm watercolor paper.

1. Cut the sheet in half (15x22-inch); trim excess deckles;
2. Cut 3.5-inch strips along the 22-inch side, yielding six strips 3.5x15-inches;
3. Repeat with other half sheet;
4. Print 3-up* on a work and turn (see photo), yielding six cards from each strip;
5. Yield: 72 cards per 22x30-inch sheet;
6. Add sheets as necessary.

This “recipe” works exceedingly well on the smaller Vandercooks. Note how the strip is just wide enough to fit under two grippers. Also, if the strips are cut accurately, you will be able to center the copy precisely on the sheet and have one less cut to worry about.

I have found that it is helpful to add extra space between cards, rather than make cuts between cards common cuts. That way, if there is inaccuracy in the chopping out of the cards, you can easily compensate by back-cutting on the remaining cards.

As there’s nothing worse than spoiling a job in the cutter—and that's one of the benefits of this method—keep the lifts small (ten or twelve strips) and the cards will have less tendency to creep. Of course, if you have a Polar or Wohlenberg programmable cutter, none of this may pertain in the first place.

*The assumption here is that we are printing 3-up from a polymer plate.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Squaring the Deckle

Preserving deckle edges and holding register is a common enough problem to warrant my suggesting the following method. Recently I was printing some invitations on a handmade from Cave Paper. By use of a steel perforating* rule I did some additional tearing in an attempt to square up one side of the sheet, as the two-color job I had in mind would present registration problems. To make sure the invitations fit the envelopes I decided to fold the sheets ahead of time. It then occurred to me that the fold presented a natural “horizon line.”

Pictured above is the setup I used to guide the sheets parallel to the fold.** I first lined the type up to a square setup sheet; then I lay parallel to the edge of the setup sheet (while in the guides) a piece of 72-point giant metal furniture.

I then used a triangle to create a guide-edge perpendicular to the side guide. By first bringing the folded sheet into the uppermost guide on the cylinder and then bringing the folded sheet back and flush to the long edge of the triangle I was able to get the type parallel to the fold. This was easily accomplished as the triangle was free floating, and I could easily slide it backwards and forwards along the piece of giant furniture. Then it was a simple matter of opening the sheet up and running it through the press. I found this quicker, easier (and more accurate) than lining up to a frisket overlay on a light-table.

To the right of the press in the composite photo is the completed invitation. Admittedly for all my talk of registration this is not very tight registration. Nevertheless, the two type blocks are parallel to each other, and the entire text block is imposed parallel to the fold so that it does not “slide” off the sheet.

I should think this technique could prove useful in bookwork, where one would want to preserve all the deckles. Certainly it would facilitate in ensuring that the text block remain perpendicular to the gutter.

A note on the type: the display type is Alladin (a digital incarnation of F. H. E. Schneidler’s Legende), a typeface commonly used in the past for “things Oriental.” The sans serif is FF Meta, a favorite of mine for its well balanced caps and small caps, and the ease with which oldstyle figures can be accessed through the Roman font. As they say on eBay: “Highly Recommend.” “Would Use Again.”

*In place of a tear bar I have found that a perforating rule can make an effective substitute. It is very sharp and can make a clean serrated edge; or by making small tears at a time, a wide, false deckle can be achieved. You have to be careful of the indentation that the rule may make, if you are too hasty. If this happens, slight dampening and use of a bone folder can be used to lessen it.

**You will note that the sheet is not under the grippers. This to show better the irregular fore-edge.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Anecdote of the Craft

Harry Duncan was fond of quoting the adage: “It’s a poor workman blames his tools.” Corollary to this is the concept of “the work-around,” whereby you sidestep the limitations of a computer program, and by application of Yankee-ingenuity, get done what needs to be done. Thereby demonstrating that limitation is not necessarily a constraint. I’m sure Robert Frost could weigh in on this.

In a similar vein is the notion that the skill of a workman may be judged not so much by the number of his tools, but by the condition of his tools. Barton Sutter, addresses this in his poem, “Tools”:

“Let’s have a look at your tools,”
The foreman said. He had to choose.
Grandpa’s were filed, slick with oil,
Obviously used.

The implication clear: Grandpa gets the job, based on an impeccable resume, the well-cared-for condition of his tools.

A printer friend of mine had a sign on his shop door—and I do mean shop, not studio—that read: Fine Craft Printing. As adroit a way as any for suggesting “fine press,” without coming right out and saying it. And this during the heyday of the journal, Fine Print.

Seeing as I have opened the door to equivocation, I may as well hang myself out to dry. I have several poems which attempt to mediate the vagaries of craft. Here is one of them.

The Arrivistes

To say that we have no standards or that our standards vary is to evade the issue. Everything we do is our best. More to the point is that some occasions allow a better best. Anyone who understands contingency understands this.

Furthermore some things need only be good enough and on which perfection is wasted. Corollary to this is that in terms of the job although good enough may not be perfect it may be acceptable.

The secret to this is procedure: it allows us to mediate and be fairly arbitrary about it. We call this rapprochement which is French for “getting close.”

For example this example.

©2009 — Philip Gallo

Want more? Go to Cloud Cuckoo Land for “Imagine You Are A Craftsman.”

Monday, August 10, 2009

Apollinaire Redux

Were a literary critic writing copy for Advertising Age, you might find the following headline: Celebrex® TV Spot Reclaims Ground Expropriated By Visual Poetry.

Pictured above is a montage of three screen shots taken from the 2009 tv commercial for the controversial arthritis drug, Celebrex. I have pieced them together to show the movement toward the viewer of the snowflake copy. The commercial itself can be found on YouTube.

The entire voice-over of the commercial is handled graphically as pictograms. A dog. Two bicyclists. A leaf. A kite. Snowflakes.

They call to mind the calligrammes of Apollinaire. But the commercial goes further: the pictograms support a narrative. Rather than subvert the commercial as some have done on YouTube, I suggest take advantage of this narrative technique and put it to another use.

One need only look at the advertisements for Absolut® Vodka, where famous writers were employed to write “stories” around (both literally and figuratively) the Absolut bottle, to see the insidious, if not pernicious, effect of advertising.

To my mind one of the best instances of expropriation of a product is the coca cola field, done by the Brazilian concretist, Décio Pignatari. By a series of substitutions he transposes
beba coca cola (drink coca cola)
to cloaca (cesspool)

all on a field of red, very near the PMS red of Coca-Cola®.

If I may be self-referential, the intent of my post entitled, “Seizing the Tools of Art,” was exactly that: expropriation. Art is not the exclusive province of “artists.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Seizing the Tools of Art

Recently closed at The Tate Modern is the show: Rodchenko & Popova: Defining Constructivism.

Hard not to like those big block letters on a field of flat black or red.

It reminded me of the Russian Contructivist Show at Walker Art Center in 1990. I was standing behind a man and a woman. They were looking at an advertising poster by Rodchenko, when the man turned to her and said, with some pride, “We can do that at our shop.”

Sunday, June 14, 2009


The first WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) that I encountered was the Compugraphic 4800, ca. 1983. It was a standalone module with built-in keyboard. After having command-keystroked the job, the operator could then display it in WYSIWYG form.

Shown above is the typescript of an original typewriter poem a former student of mine composed as a class assignment in 1969.

The handwriting alongside the poem is the markup I gave the Compugraphic 4800 operator. The obvious typeface to have used was American Typewriter, but for some reason—delirious, no doubt, from a bad case of “serious-osity”—I called for Zapf International Light. Today I would call for Schmutz or FF Trixie.

The tree displayed in orange on the screen. The refresh rate of the 4800 was slow, and it took approximately thirty seconds to “draw” the tree. As the image displayed from the top down, one could not “grow” the tree. And as my impulse for setting the tree in the first place was the potential for interactive effects, I did not continue along these lines.

When I informed the operator of this decision, she gave me her absolute best “I could have told you so” world-class smile.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

First Contact

I have finally posted an email contact. I had to prevail upon a good friend of mine to get the html code for it.

As I keyed the code in, I was reminded of the coding for the Alphatype CRS 99000, one of the last phototypesetting systems. So I asked a former co-worker to help me piece together, as best she could remember, the code for a typical typesetting job. It has been nearly twenty years since either of us had used a Multiset keyboard, so the result shown above may not be entirely accurate.

To begin with, it was necessary to key in the relevant typographic parameters. What is not apparent however is that the monitor that displayed the code and accompanying copy was not a WYSIWYG. So imagine setting a six-column spread with the copy wrapping around fishing lures, rods and reels, even creels with a hapless fish sticking out, (and we are not talking picture boxes with automatic text wrap, but text indents keyed in left and right); then ending the last column with the logo and servicemark copy. And I want you to know all six columns had to fill, and both top and bottom align. No carding allowed—“carding” being the nefarious practice of add-leads or inconsistent leading to fill to column depth of adjacent columns.

Well, here is one of those ads.

With only the Multiset counting keyboard to warn of an overset line, first a white bullet displayed, then a second, then a third, and finally a clangorous bell, sounding like a garbage truck backing up, the operators were able to visualize the job taking shape. On many occasions jobs came off the printer close enough that I could have signed off on them—although the Rapala fishing lure ad probably went through ten or twelve alterations under the meticulous eye of an agency art director.

So the question remains: Who were these operators? Good time for all you gender studies people to start sharpening your quills.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Poco Proof Press No. 1534

If you look back to the post “You’ve Got A Line Gauge, Don’t You?” you’ll see that the last line of copy reads: printed on Poco proof press No. 1534.

Well, pictured above is Poco proof press No. 1534 with the printer himself (ca. 1982) inking a rule by hand.

I had two presses before I got the Poco, but the first press that I used seriously was the Poco. I attached grippers and guides to the cylinder. I also rigged a hinged, sloped feeding table with a side-guide. As the press was designed for pulling newspaper proofs from a galley and would print on the return, the feeding table was hinged so that it could be lifted up and allow the gripper-mechanism to clear on the return stroke. Also you will notice a blank sheet just behind the dead line; on the return stroke I lay that over the form so that the tympan would not get printed.

I was spoiled, of course, having first learned to print using a top of the line Vandercook SP15 with automatic inking. Unfortunately the Poco did not have automatic inking, and I had to learn how to ink by hand, with a brayer running on removable roller bearers (also shown).

But more about inking by hand in some future post.

Monday, April 20, 2009

mouse type

In the trade 6- and 7-point type is known as mouse type. Its primary use is for legal copy not really intended to be read—such as disclaimers or copyright notices.

What brings this to mind is that recently I was setting by hand some 8-point Libra. I hadn't set a small point size in a long time, but it went well enough. Problems began in earnest, however, when I started setting some 6-point (A) Microgramma Extended (the A 6-point size being 2.5-point cap height on a 6-point body). I finally resorted to using a magnifying glass and a tweezers.

Pictured is a figure font of 48-point Microgramma Extended. Look closely at the gap in the second line. See that tiny something between the figure one and the figure nine? That’s a figure one from 6-point (A) Microgramma Extended.

When you are working onscreen in a graphics program the deception of these ratios is not so obvious. 800 percent may not seem like much onscreen, but I am offering up this photo as proof that a six-point body can be very hard to see.

Now imagine trying to read the 2.5-pt cap height printed letter on a business card, and then in an “ambiance-lighted” restaurant or bar. (The 2.5-point cap height against the 40-point cap height on the 48-point body having doubled the magnification to 1600 percent.)

Hopefully no one would ever set type that small for a business card.

So the question remains: Why was I setting type so small?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Straight-up, Water-back

Recently I was downsizing a line drawing in Illustrator and failed to mark the stroke to decrease at the same percentage as the image. The overall density of the image increased so much that it was unusable.

This is a proportion problem that becomes quite apparent when a text face is enlarged to poster size and its refined serifs become cumbersome slab serifs.

But I am thinking more in terms of format, as might be encountered in packaging, where usage crosses over from a tiny label on a half-pint bottle to a label on a gallon bucket. An excellent example of this can be seen in the Knob Creek Kentucky Bourbon label.

The label on the pint maintains a delicate balance, where the color planes and density of the typefaces strain to overwhelm the white background, while at the same time the white border holds the design in place. Compare this to the very same label scaled up and applied to the liter bottle, where the density of line and color is lost through dispersal of the graphic elements, and the increased whiteness of the label is the graphic equivalent of a watered-down drink.

Unfortunately you will have to find your own liter bottle, as I do not have a picture of it. In real life, though, it can often be found displayed behind the bar, on its side and resting in a cradle.

Should Knob Creek not appeal to your taste you might take up the typographic study of wine labels. Note the considerable difference in type selection between, say, an emblematic Haut Medoc and a Friday-Casual Zinfandel.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Third Hand

Bicycle shops use a tool called a “Third Hand” for keeping spring-loaded brake calipers closed while tightening brake cables. Anyone who has ever fought to reposition a plate on a magnetic base may well have wished for a third hand.

Here is my idea for a third hand: a squeegee used for laying down pressure-sensitive sticky-backs such as vinyl.

Pictured is a Bunting Magnetic Cerface™ Base with a four-inch plate mounted on it. A squeegee has been inserted under it, so that only the upper right-hand corner is drawn to the base, and allowing the plate to pivot easily.

Because the squeegee is wedge-shaped it can be used to keep a plate standing in position, while you take a line gauge and measure from the top of the base (carefully) to a baseline on the plate and then reposition the plate with your, suddenly, free hand. The wedge can also be used as a sled for sliding a plate left or right or to “float” it up or down.

Admittedly the squeegee is small and works best with small plates (up to 5x8 inches), but that covers a lot of instances; and in my case, that’s a lot of instances, as I print a lot of small plates.

Also shown is a dull graver used for lifting up the plate edge, and an additional squeegee for the full squeegee effect. I am, of course, violating press protocol, of not putting anything on the press bed higher than type high. So be sure to clear the decks.

And best of all: a squeegee like this can be found at almost any graphics supply shop for about a dollar.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Found Poem As Artifact

Here is a found poem I printed in 1983. It is modeled after a tent card I saw at a smorgasbord-style restaurant. The original card was placed on a salad plate, much as in the photograph.

Although my presentation is at some remove from what is ordinarily considered found poetry, and not at all like that of Bern Porter, the locus remains the same: the metaphoric aspect of the language is contrary to the force of the original intent.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Visual Poetry: 1

There are many good anthologies of visual and concrete poetry. But there are four anthologies from the 60s which I return to time and again. These four, listed on the sidebar, strike a balance between the visual and the literary. That is to say that the locus of the poem is textual and that the visual expands from there.

Perhaps the book most immediately accessible to someone not familiar with the field is Mary Ellen Solt’s Concrete Poetry: A World View. For a view of language taken out of context and placed without referent on the page, Bern Porter’s Found Poems is without peer.

Much contemporary work uses a painterly approach to word and alphabet. This is especially true of poets working in Photoshop and 3-D programs. For a good introduction to what is going on these days go to poetry foundation. There you will find a knowledgeable introduction by the editor, Geof Huth, followed by one poem each by twelve visual poets.

—And, not so incidentally, one of the featured poems, Ping Pong, was written by me. And note I use the word “written” as opposed to drawn, painted, or constructed.

The original version of Ping Pong was printed letterpress from handset Bauer Bodoni Bold and Prisma, both considered a rarity by those who collect metal type.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

You Have A Line Gauge, Don't You?

I studied typography with Harry Duncan at The University of Iowa Typographic Laboratory. I was at an opening once when a visiting printer asked him how he held such good registration. Harry replied, “You have a line gauge, don’t you?”

Getting the form square on the sheet to begin with is the key to perfect registration. Sometimes, though, the printed form, whether you’re measuring points, agates or inches, falls vexingly between the marks.

I use a method, which providing that the sheet is square, or at least reasonably square, aids considerably. And that is to butt the side-guide edge of the printed sheet against a straight edge and then to lay a triangle across the page, also butted up against the straight edge. You will see a slight shadow immediately below the edge of the triangle. This shadow is razor sharp. Then move the triangle up or down so that the shadow falls across a baseline. Straight away you will see if the baseline is parallel to the shadow.

This method is especially handy for aligning a plate on a magnetic base. Then it is a simple matter of moving the base up and down, or left and right, on the press bed.

Once the form is parallel to the top edge of the sheet backing up the second side to it should be fairly easy. However, if the first run is canted, backing up to it, or registering a second color to it, can prove far more difficult.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


I’m often asked to define “semiotics.” It’s one of those words I have to look up myself from time to time.

Here’s the straight-out-of-the-box dictionary definition:
a general philosophical theory of signs and symbols that deals esp. with their function in both artificially constructed and natural languages and comprises the three branches of syntactics, semantics, and pragmatics.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary. 1981.

And now for a little anecdote showing how a simple word change can make a great difference.

Years ago I was working as a proofreader in a type shop when an ad came across my desk. The last paragraph of the copy began with a boldface lead-in reading: America believes... .

I was new on the job, and I queried the client’s usage of the word, “America,” suggesting in its place “Americans.” The client made the change and the ad ran. It was only after I saw the ad in print that I realized how egregious an error I had made.

No one is really interested in what Americans do. What is really being alluded to here is the concept of America. And that concept is far more ambiguous and open to interpretation than “Americans.”

The client’s copywriter had it right the first time.

The force of the ad was intended to reflect the notion that not only was everyone buying the product but also that the democratic principle of freedom of choice was being exercised in the process.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Apologia: The Amateur

I still buy type. Most recently 20-Didot Trump Gravur, complete with accented characters. (We’re not talking Open Type here—there’s only one of each.) But as they say in the infomercials: “Wait! There’s more!”

The font came with a package of Didot spacing material.

You’ve got more than a good bit of the collector in you if you think Didot spacing is something special—it is—but not intrinsically. That’s what happens when you subscribe to the notion of the private press as a leisurely activity.

For a charming excursion along these lines, see John Ryder’s Printing for Pleasure. The subtitle to the book’s introduction tells you as much as you need to know: “Pleasure as Profit.”

Or skip to Chapter Three for some good marital advice: “Choose A Face You Can Live With.”

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cat's eyes

Paper can be damaged in many ways. One of the most annoying is the crescent-shaped “dents” that happen if a large sheet buckles as you pick it up. These dents never come out, and if more than one, can effectively spoil an entire sheet of paper. These dents are called “cat’s eyes.”

There is a simple way to avoid cat’s eyes. Grasp the sheet at the corners along a diagonal and lift it up. The sheet will curl smoothly and gently along the axis of the free corners.

Using this method, a surprisingly large number of sheets can be picked up and handled at once.

Friday, January 2, 2009


No, the title of this post is not memento mori. Rather, that after having run the press for nearly forty-five years, I feel a good bit like the speaker in Gary Snyder’s poem, “Hay for the Horses.” The poem is from his first book, Riprap, published, as it turns out exactly fifty years ago, in 1959.

In it the speaker tells a perfect stranger: “I first bucked hay when I was seventeen”; then continues on to say:
I sure would hate to do this all my life.
And dammit, that’s just what
I’ve gone and done.