Monday, October 18, 2010

Lessons learned about Papermaking from Letterpress Printing

Funny thing about Graduate School is that you never have any time for anything but school, work, and a little sleep. I've been told this is not everyone's experience with grad school. My dad brags about how he had more time in grad school than any time in his life. I do not, hence my ghastly maintenance of this blog. It should be of comfort to all that my absence is merely a result of throwing myself head first into my program and not just being lazy.

This semester has been a whirlwind of making paper, designing, printing, sharpening knives, and paring leather plus so much more. Its amazing how much work 15 credit hours really is. I recently finished a recipe book of my family's Thanksgiving recipes. Its a powerful experience when you come to the end of a project and reflect back on the efforts extended to create this object. This was my first project in which I made the paper. Let me tell you, there is nothing that teaches you about papermaking more than printing on it. I learned so much about how you want to form the sheets for letterpress printing. I used old cotton t shirts Boy and I had lying around. You would never know that the cotton had pit stains and the like from the bright white sheets I pulled. I don't know the science behind it, but somehow when I turned off the Hollander beater to drain my pulp, that cotton looked virginal, as my friend Mukti would say.

In pulling the sheets, I was too stingy on the amount of pulp in the vat and too generous with the amount of water. The result was very thin sheets. And I mean thin. I was determined to stick with them for my book however.

As for the book cover, I made the paper from seasonally patterned fabric I found at the fabric store. At the time I was more concerned about the color and didn't really think about the quality of the fabric. Big mistake. The fabric was similar to the cotton calico prints you can get for quilting but was very low in quality. The Hollander blew the fibers apart such that running your fingers through the pulp, you felt nothing. Ordinarily, you can feel the pulp run through your fingers with the consistency of whipped rice, or shredded wheat.

Each couch (pronounced cooch) resulted in half a sheet on the felt and half still on the mould. Out of the whole vat which should have rendered 20ish sheets, I only got out 5. I was so disappointed. I did the math and were I to be creative, I could still cover the majority for the edition. And the color was spot on.

During for first print run, I realized that I really needed to dampen my paper. Dampening paper, while it sounds scary, is actually one of the best things you can do to produce a quality print and impression. Imagine you spilled a glass of wine on the counter. You grab your dry, hard kitchen sponge to clean it up. You get some of the wine, but you certainly didn't absorb very much. But when you dampen the sponge and then lap up the puddle, you are able to really absorb it. It is the same with dampening paper and printing. Moisture is attracted to and bonds with moisture. It works that way in papermaking, it works that way in printing. The ink absorbs so much more on dampened paper. You have cleaner lines, more even inking, gorgeous impression, and a print that is so fun to roll off the cylinder you get chills every time. With each meeting of paper and type, the printer feels the embrace which really teaches you what it means to create a lasting impression. But all puns aside, it is a practice altering moment for printers and one that not many practice anymore in the interest of speed and convenience.

So what did I learn about papermaking through printing?
  • Thicker is better (within reason)
  • The quality of your fibers will determine the quality of you sheets
  • Dampen. Always. (within reason)
*The amazing display cap above is by Jessica Hische, an amazing designer I came across in my perpetual search for awesome design and typography. The letter comes from her Daily Drop Cap project.

    1 comment:

    1. those leaves look quite similar to something I have at my house too :)