April 23, 2023 – Some ramblings on developing a series of prints recounting Tennyson’s “Lady of Shalott.” This is intended to document the development process from initial ideas through completion, including failures, reconsiderations, and ultimately the choices made.
In March of 2022, I was driving to Colorado Springs to meet with a fellow printer and was wondering about my next project. While listening to a favorite piece of music (“The Lady of Shalott” by Loreena McKennitt), I wondered how it would look in print. It seemed a good fit since I lean toward an Arts & Crafts (i.e., Mediaeval/Renaissance) printing aesthetic. Since the original poem is considerably longer than the song lyrics, I drafted some text layouts on the computer and found that it took up a lot of space. And since the poem was written in four parts, that lends itself to… four broadsides? Sure, why not. (OK, one decision made)
So, just type and ornamentation, or should I use an illustration? I had coffee with a local woodcut artist who expressed possible interest but ultimately didn’t have time to collaborate on my proposed schedule. This turned out to be a good thing since she is far more productive than I am, and in retrospect, trying to squeeze in woodcuts would have proven counterproductive. (So, just type on an ornamental field)
Next, which typeface to use? I have a fair number of blackletter faces, but Uhlen Rundgotisch and Sachsenwald seemed to be the best suited for the job. I quickly set a few lines each, pulled some proofs, and decided I liked the Rundgotisch best. (Decision/direction)
Then I set some variations on the computer to get a sense of line lengths & endings and to eliminate any distracting hyphenations. The next step was to set the full text of the first section and to decide on formatting – Tennyson didn’t write this in paragraph form, so in order to separate the stanzas, I decided on red leaves as pilcrows – which took time since I had to have them cast… (Decision/delay)
For the background field, I chose a pattern of Granjon Ornaments, enclosed in Oxford rule (a two-piece border made up of thick and thin lead rule), with mitered corners courtesy of a Rouse power miterer. After a full-size test printing*, I found the pilcrows looked good but were distracting from the text. The field pattern was pleasing, but I felt it lacked the necessary complexity. (Failure/redirection)
*Note: by “test printing” I mean that I printed a full edition, then decided didn’t like the result enough and needed to start over.
Meanwhile, I had obtained a set of ATF Caxton Initials in the right size and decided to use them as rubricated versals to define the stanzas. Type set and carbon paper proofed for registration. (Serendipity/redirection)
After months of fiddling on the computer with ornament patterns, I arrived at a suitably complex field that I found interesting and hand-set it in type metal. (Persistence?)
Above: my Vandercook 317
I managed to create different ornament fields for each edition in the series and have tried to graphically reference symbols of the poem in each pattern. Color choices are intended to be referential as well. In February, a test printing in grey proved too monochromatic*, but in April, I went with a green ornament field, and here we are.
*Yeah, I had to start over again…
Final press run. Registration on the rubricated versals in the text turned out to be a bit more painful than expected, but after lots of carbon-paper proofing on the press (and using up nearly half of my make-ready/registration sheets), I finally got to print the edition over four days (keeping the pre-dampened sheets properly humidified in the Rubbermaid tubs I use as paper humidors). The sheets were dried – stacked under weights, and interleaved with blotter paper. (Choices/completion)
I’m happy with the way the text turned out. Totally worth the trouble.
So, it’s taken over a year to complete the first edition of the series; but so far, I’m happy with the result. If things proceed as expected, completing the rest should only take a few more months.