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.