Shear delight

Stack of hexagon book board for covers

Now that I’m back in the Twin Cities, I am fortunate to have access to a world-class book arts center, Minnesota Center for Book Arts. As a member of the artist collective I have 24-hour access to a wide array of equipment such as a board shear, which is required to precisely cut the hexagonal covers for the artist book I printed at KKV Grafik in Malmö, Sweden.

board shear at Minnesota Center for Book Arts

Typically my book covers are square or rectangular. They are easy to cut on a board shear because one of the four sides can rest against the bottom edge, and I can use the spring gauge to precisely cut multiples. A hexagonal cover, on the other hand, is trickier to cut; only two of the five sides are parallel.

hexagon template placed on a piece of book board

For this hexagonal cover, I created a template, which I then used to mark the cut lines on the book boards that I had cut to size along the parallel edges and to the two points.

The book board corner lined up along the blade of the board shear

Each corner is cut by placing the line drawn on the board along the edge of the blade.

A pile of corners cut from squared book board

Here’s my pile of cut corners. I always feel the impulse to save scraps like these. They’re beautifully uniform! Sadly, I pushed them into the recycling bin.

Stack of hexagonal book board covers

Here’s my finished stack of covers. I’ll need three for each book: one for the front of each book and one that serves as the back for both books, since the structure is a dos-á-dos. There aren’t enough covers here for the entire edition. I’ll need to repeat this process in the near future.

I broke the press

As I was coming to the end of the last (sixth) run of the page that has multiple layers, the press made a clunking sound on the return of the roller to the start position. And now it’s not printing correctly. It’s picking up just a bit of the ink from the plate and hardly any ink is being deposited onto the paper. I’m counting my lucky stars that this happened toward the end of my project, and not in the middle.

A repairman is coming on Monday to look at the press. However, I have just a few more days to print before I leave Malmö for a weekend in Copenhagen and then a flight back to St. Paul the following Monday. What this means is that my edition size will be a bit smaller and the book covers won’t look as I intended. I can live with that.

The good news is that the sixth run was exactly what was needed to put the finishing touches on the page I’ve been wrestling with for weeks.

Since I hand-rolled a different color of ink on each shape, this print seems like a hybrid mono print and offset litho print. It was an interesting way to produce multiples. Here’s a detail view:

Originally I’d intended to use the offset litho press to print the text for this book. When the press broke, that was no longer an option. And it probably wasn’t truly an option because I’m pretty sure I would have experienced difficulty getting the ink to adhere to the plate. The ink likes to stick to just the darkest marks on the plate, and the outlined letters would likely have been too faint.

So what to do?

I decided to carve the text into plexiglass and print the plate using an intaglio process, where ink is pushed into the grooves and wiped off the surface before printing on an etching press. Today I printed the text that’s on the reverse side of the page that has the six layers.

With the text printed, this means the page went through a press seven times, for seven different impressions, and is finally completely finished! Whew.

I’m pleased with the organic, uneven qualities of the text. I used a stencil to guide the engraving tool, and it’s impossible to apply the same exact pressure when carving by hand, so some of the lines are deeper than others. The deeper lines hold more ink than the shallower lines. Here’s a detail view:

The text is from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.” Tomorrow I will print another excerpt from that poem, this time on the second page that I’ve been working on. Then, the last thing to print is the text for the book covers. The two pages will be folded into a spiral accordion and attached to book covers. But that won’t happen until I’m back in St. Paul. The pages need time to dry completely. They will be dry enough to roll up and carry on the plane in a tube – I hope! My last day of printing will be Wednesday. Then on Friday I will pack up and take the train to Copenhagen.

When the going gets tough the tough go swimming

green inks on slab

Yesterday I printed the fifth layer on one of the pages in the artist book I’m printing at KKV, and the results made my spirit soar. Today I switched from lithography to intaglio, to create the holes-in-the-screen look I wanted for the second page in the book. After working hard all day to get the impression I was looking for and pretty much failing, I wanted to cry. Instead, I rode my bike to the Baltic and went swimming. Water temp was 62 degrees, air temp was 65 degrees. Cool enough to remind me of what truly matters. Even if my artist book completely fails, I’ve gained much from this residency.

The experience of one day going smoothly and the next full of frustration is all too familiar. Tomorrow could be even worse. Or maybe the printing gods will show up in full force and bless my project for the day. I never know what to expect.

For now, I’ll celebrate what went well yesterday. Finally, with the fifth layer, I’m seeing some magic in the colors and shapes.

With the additional layer of different shades of green, the melon color is more subdued. As with the other layers, I’ve added transparent base to the colored ink, so the previous layers are visible even with this fifth layer.

On this piece of paper I’ve documented the colors used for each of the five shapes, for layer four (top row) and layer five (bottom row). Although I had in mind to make the fifth layer shades of blue-green, after sitting with the print for awhile and looking at colors in my Pantone swatch book, I decided shades of green would play off the melon color better and establish a more thoughtful mood. The blue-green would have been too saccharin.

Tomorrow I’ll print the sixth and, I hope, final layer. I’m leaning toward using colors that are combinations of red, brown and grey with a bit of yellow added. Tomorrow my challenge will be to do two different lithographic print runs. Up until now, I’ve done just one per day. Each run has been taking about three hours, and I’m usually worn out by the end. However, the second run will be for book covers, and I’ll be using just one color of ink, so I might be able to complete the run in just over two hours. We’ll see if the printing gods show up tomorrow…