Presswork: 3 – A Tennyson Tetraptych (Panel 3)

July 23, 2023 – As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the background fields were worked out in advance on a page layout program, so setting one is a matter of following a layout and understanding the rules of the pattern. This is a photo of my composition workflow – I set the new form directly from the old one for maximum efficiency.

Printing panel 3 was pretty sweet, since the color purple looks really good on the press.

And here is the finished panel. The intended field symbology references the line “As often thro’ the purple night, below the starry clusters bright…” 

Presswork: 2 – A Tennyson Tetraptych (Panel 2)

July 10, 2023 – I finished panel 2 of the Tennyson Tetrapytch project this week with less trouble than I had on Panel 1. You may remember that I had a second form for the small rubricated initials, built with random leads and slugs, adding up to the same height as the form with black type. This ultimately proved problematic since each lead or slug is imperceptibly oversized in thickness, so the total adds up to more than the black type form. I had to go back and carefully adjust and measure each “line” thickness. In the end, I was able to work it out, but it was a royal pain. To eliminate this problem, I tried a combination of 6 and 12-point slugs (which theoretically add up to the line height of 18 points), but the total form was still slightly oversized due to the incremental size difference. In the end, I had to find enough 18-point slugs to set up the entire form, and it worked.
Overall, the second panel looks like this:

Am I making this up as I go along? Well, sort of. Although each panel design has been laid out on paper in advance, they’re all works in progress until I set them in type. Even then, I may reprint it if I don’t like it enough.

Since I’ve completed two panels, I should probably discuss the field backgrounds a bit.

Each one of the panels is based on a specific part of the four-part poem, and each panel’s background field uses design elements to reflect themes from that part of the poem. As an example, the recurring theme for Panel 1 (shown above) is “Four (gray*) walls, and four (gray*) towers, overlook a space of flowers.” It’s easy to find several instances of the “four towers” surrounded as they are by what are commonly referred to as Fleurons (aka “printer’s flowers”).

*As I’ve previously mentioned, I first printed the panel with a gray background – and found it too monochromatic. I then reprinted it with a green field to suggest the “Long fields of barley and of rye.”

Panel 2 is intended to evoke images of a blue mirror, referencing the line “And sometimes thro’ the mirror blue.” You will also notice that some elements carry over from panel to panel, which is a function of both design and intent.

Please check back for the final two panels and how I finally arrange them on a wall – right now, that is very much a work in progress.

Presswork: 1 – A Tennyson Tetraptych (Panel 1)

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 broadsheets? 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.


Colophon: The press used is a Vandercook 317, manufactured in 1937. The typefaces used are Monotype Uhlen Rundgotisch 16D/18, with 18pt. ATF Caxton caps and a 72 pt. ATF Calligraph Initials Versal. Ornaments are 24 pt. Monotype Granjon Arabesques. The inks used are PMS 032 (red), PMS 347 (green), and Gans Tuxedo Black. The paper is 240gsm Stonehenge Vellum finish (100% cotton), and the sheet size is 12-1/2″ x 18″

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