A smallish book exhibit in Dublin

March 13th, 2015

Imagine a place in your city with a nifty sign like this, pointing to an honest-to-goodness museum where they display printing equipment. Sign Add to that, they have some space where they can stage changing exhibits. No, to my knowledge, you would not be in any major American city.

This one would be in Dublin, across the pond in Ireland. I’d seen the museum before, but now they were having an exhibit of hand-printed books, and they invited me to show one, so I contrived to add Dublin to another trip, and here I was. To me it is also of interest because of the opportunity provided by having a single curator pick all the books in a show. In the end, there was a bit of politics…Irish presses were included, naturally. But Jamie Murphy, who had cut a wide swath through this year’s Codex with his handsome books and his gift of gab, is able to pick books that stand out. These were the presses represented:

Barbarian Press
Bonnefant Press
Celtic Cross Press
Deep Wood Press
Distillers Press
Editions Koch
Electio Editions
Grafikverkstan Godsmagasinet
Heavenly Monkey
Incline Press
Ithys Press
Lone Oak Press
Mary Plunkett
Midnight Paper Sales
Old School Press
Old Style Press
Pear Tree Press
Russell Maret
Salvage Press
Sherwin Beach Press
Stoney Road Press
Two Ponds Press
Whittington Press
Wild Apple Press

ShowAtWidth This image is of 2/3 of the show as it stretches down the aisle. Do look at the FPBA Facebook pages for additional photographs.

–Bob McCamant

SOTA Student Typography Contest

March 10th, 2015

The Society of Typographic Aficionados has announced its sixth annual SOTA Catalyst Award. The award is targeted at young people who have created original work in type design, type history, or other areas related to typography. It recognizes a person 25 years of age or younger who shows both achievement and future promise in the field of typography. The purpose of the award is to act as a catalyst in the career of a young person who does not yet have broad exposure in the profession.

Among the side benefits is that the judging panel (John Langdon, Zuzana Licko, Kamal Mansour, and Jan Middendorp) will be forced to look closely at the work.

The recipient will be awarded up to $2,000 USD in reimbursement for transportation and lodging expenses to attend the TypeCon2015 conference in Denver, CO — August 12th to 16th. They will have their conference registration fee paid for and will be required to give a 20-minute presentation during the main conference program. Recipients should be available to attend the conference from Thursday to Sunday.

The deadline for entries is April 6; find details here.

–Bob McCamant

Ewan Clayton talks in Birmingham March 12

March 2nd, 2015

Ewan Clayton, a calligrapher, former monk, erstwhile consultant to Xerox and Professor in design at the University of Sunderland, will be talking at 1800 (that’s 6 pm to us Americans) at Birmingham City University, P350 Lecture Theatre, Parkside Building, 5 Cardigan Street, Birmingham B4 7BD. Book your free ticket here.

EwanClayton Why might you want to? Ewan Clayton grew up near the village of Ditchling, Sussex, home to the calligrapher Edward Johnston. His family worked as weavers in the Guild of craftsmen on Ditchling Common founded by Eric Gill in 1921. Ewan was the last member to join the Guild before it closed in 1988. He trained as a calligrapher at the Roehampton Institute with Ann Camp and subsequently assisted her with the teaching there. For a few years in the mid 1980’s Ewan lived as a Benedictine monk at Worth Abbey in Sussex. After leaving the monastery he was hired as a consultant to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Laboratory (PARC). Today Ewan is Professor in Design at the University of Sunderland where he co-directs their International Calligraphy Research Centre. In 2013 he was named Craft Champion of the year for his contribution to educating others in the Crafts in the first National Craft Skills Awards. I’m not sure what he’ll talk about, but anybody who goes from a monastery to Xerox PARC should have some interesting stories. Put him into Google Images, and you’ll see a lot of lovely calligraphy.

–Bob McCamant

Help wanted: bookkeeper

February 26th, 2015

FPBA is losing its long-term bookkeeper this spring. Kathleen Denning is retiring!

We need a new one. I got an excellent suggestion from our membership secretary, Sean Donnelly, but she turned out to be too busy to take us on.

The job involves –receiving groups of payments from Sean year-round and from others following events; –sending out checks to pay our vendors, when authorized by the treasurer or North American chair; –maintaining computer records of all payments and receipts; –preparing complete reports from the prior year and year-to-date reports of our finances at the time of budgeting in October (this is done in response to me, who is also your treasurer, and who proposes the budget for the following year, but based upon the bookkeeper’s information).

The ideal replacement will probably be an independent bookkeeper, not a full-fledged CPA or a person working in a large firm. Generally, the larger the firm, the higher the hourly cost. We need to husband our pennies!

If you have a bookkeeper you work with and have personally found to be good, please reply to NATreasurer@fpba.com.

–Bob McCamant

Scenes from Codex 2015

February 14th, 2015

BGroup6156Codex continues to consolidate its position as the most important form of communication in our field. More people attend a single day of its show than read an issue of Parenthesis, I fear. Real sums of money change hands in its aisles. Having a booth on the floor makes one feel a part of an important worldwide “movement.”

I cannot do justice to the show in words on a blog. (I’ll put a few pictures on the FPBA Facebook page, however.) But I will try to say a bit about the symposium. This year the symposium made a clear statement: what matters in the field is not just books, but artist’s books. Clearly and beautifully conveying a text is still of value, but to be a star in the field, you now need to do something nobody has ever thought to do before. You must still produce an object that honors craft, but it is the thought behind it which sets you apart.

Sam Winston

Sam Winston

Sam Winston of London was the first speaker. (If you read my post about the Los Angeles fair a week ago, you might recall that I bought a third edition of an early book of his called A Dictionary Story there.) He talked about a project whose only purchasable outcome was some rather amazing scrolls. Its real end product was to be a twentieth of a “Walk in Book” exhibit at the Victoria and Albert museum, called “Sky Art Ignition: Memory Palace.” Winston’s section was called “Modern Gods” and it represented objects using designs composed of the chemical symbols of their components. His web site shows banners derived from the exhibit materials.

Carolee Campbell

Carolee Campbell

Carolee Campbell, of Southern California, came next. She walked us through the process of producing her early book The Real World of Manuel Cordova, a single long poem by her friend W.S. Merwin, published in 1995. It is described in detail here. She decided to use an Uncial type, and found one whose letter shapes she liked, though its spacing was poor. So she filed letters down to achieve the desired spacing using the work of Victor Hammer as a guide. At one point, she admitted that she liked to use an Uncial here because it “slowed the reader down.” She also admitted that though the story in the poem is about the Amazon, she used maps of a US river she had explored for the shapes of the river which meanders down one side of the poem. It is a 15-foot-long foldout book if desired, and is printed on an extraordinarily difficult paper to use, called kakishibu, a persimmon-washed and smoked handmade paper from the Fuji Paper Mills Cooperative in Tokushima, Japan.

Roberto Trujillo of Stanford

Roberto Trujillo of Stanford

After the a break we had the first keynote speaker, Roberto Trujillo of special collections at Stanford. His remarks were controversial among many in the audience. Rather than trying to summarize his ideas, I suggest you speak to someone you know who was present, and see what they understood him to say, and how they reacted.

Carolee Campbell called the attention of the audience to the presence of Claire Van Vliet at the symposium. Claire will celebrate the 60th anniversary of her Janus Press on Valentines Day (February 14, 2015) with the opening of an exhibit of its work at the Center for Book Arts in San Francisco. A standing ovation ensued.

Peter Koch presents to Michael A Keller.

Peter Koch presents to Michael A Keller.

The morning concluded with thanks all around, including a presentation of an enormous Richard Wagener wood engraving to Michael A Keller, University Librarian at Stanford University, for his many years of service to Codex Foundation. With that, we broke for the first day of the fair at the Craneway. For pictures of the fair itself, see the FPBA Facebook page.

Ken Botnick

Ken Botnick

Day two of the symposium began with Ken Botnick. He is a professor of art at Washington University in St. Louis, and he gave a report on “The Diderot Project, Tracing the Arc of Influence.” A description of a talk he is to give at Smith College in April says it better than I can: “His astonishing magnum opus, [ is] an extended interaction with concepts of work, craft, and aesthetics found in Denis Diderot’s famous 18th-century Encyclopedie.” The resulting book is also a stunning one, which he proved by showing us every spread, at the rate of one every 2.5 seconds.

Ines von Ketelhodt

Ines von Ketelhodt

The second presenter on Tuesday was Ines von Ketelhodt, a German book artist who (in collaboration with Peter Malutzki) earned attention for the 50-volume Second Encyclopaedia of Tlön. She described her new project, a 6-volume set with each volume exploring a separate color, Farbwechsel: One Project – Six Colors. Joshua Heller gives a volume-by-volume description of these books on his web site; some convey texts, some are mainly image.

Alberto Manguel

Alberto Manguel

After a break, we returned to a discussion by historian, novelist, and essayist Alberto Manguel as our second keynote.

Jonathan, always present on the periphery.

Jonathan, always present on the periphery.

–Bob McCamant

A “fine” pressman visits Printed Matter LA

February 3rd, 2015

Why is collecting “fine” books an elite activity while collecting “art” ones (including ones that look slick, ones that look grungy, and ones that look boring) one which appeals to a wide selection of the educated public?

BigSceneTo put it another way, why are we thrilled to have a “nearly three thousand” people come to Codex, when Printed Matter New York drew 35,000? I’m trying to puzzle that out, so I attended my second Printed Matter LA this past weekend. (Technically, the name of the event is Printed Matter’s LA Art Book Fair.)

A few differences are self-evident. Codex is all about craft. The books we show and buy often have fascinating content, but our real afficionados go on about the typefaces, the papers, the bindings–almost never about how interesting the words are. Printed Matter books almost always are provocative, esoteric, or funny. With rare exception, nobody cares how they were produced.

Oh, and then there’s sex. How many erotic images did you see at the last Oak Knoll? Sex is everywhere at Printed Matter…from the smeared b&w of “underground” zines to the glossiest of color photo books.

BocallaghanThe intersection of interest between the fairs is “art.” Collectors in both worlds love to find something beautiful, unique, refined–but above all, creative.
I confess that I bought a few books at Printed Matter last year and this. One book artist I discovered last year, billy ocallaghan (yup, that’s how he styles it), makes stunning, moderately expensive, and slyly crude books he has managed to sell into the collections of the Victoria and Albert and the New York Public Library. The “art” is photographs and crayon or marker scrawl, all reproduced in vibrant ink-jet and bound–probably not archivally–in structures which appear to be of his own invention. This year he has moved wholesale into flipbooks, accordions of paper which you hold and endlessly flip up and down from one stack to the next.

BKarlLaroccaAnother both-year favorite is Kayrock Screenprinting, which mainly appeals to me because of its craft. When you or I think of screenprinting, we think of t-shirts with big colorful images, or perhaps posters in day-glo colors. Kayrock has perfected the art of printing delicate, detailed images. Last year I bought a book of fine patterns printed in light blue drawn by the company’s empresario, Karl Larocca; this year I bought a photo book. You would never guess either were screen prints. (If I remember correctly, the secret he told me was that he uses somewhat diluted inks, which don’t develop the third-dimensional quality of most silk screen printing.

BAfterReasonableThis year I ended up buying two “books” of word art. Both are accordions. Miranda Maller’s After Reasonable Research uses what appears to be wallpaper as a printing surface, which impairs legibility. It is a timeline, with every conflict she was able to locate listed by its year, ranging from the Parthian dynastic wars of AD 1-35 to 3900 killed in Afghanistan in 2006, the year of publication of the first edition. (Mine was from the third edition.) Only one year, AD 329, is notable in that she was unable to find any conflict which was occuring in that year. This is not a book you will ever read, but it is eloquent nonetheless.

BDictionarySam Winston’s “A Dictionary Story” is actually three accordions. Each “spine” pairs text with gloss, positioned on either side of the spine. As things progress, the gloss loses its way, and spills all over the page.

BPixelStressA third pair of books I acquired are comments on color reproduction. Anouk Kruithof (she hails from the Netherlands) alternates pages of minute photographs printed on the matte side of the paper with huge blowups which suggest a halftone screen on a superglossy side; but these are actually squares of single colors, not overlapping dots. I think the name of the book is Pixel Stress, but that might only be the name of the booklet which is inserted, picturing the sale on the sidewalk of framed copies of the blown-up sides.

BCMYKMy second color-reproduction book was Flavio Trevisan’s CMYK: Blow-up. He’s from Toronto. All his books come in a uniform format, perhaps reflecting his being an architect before he started making books. This one is an image of the earth (or at least I think it’s the earth–it’s never identified) at varying degrees of enlargement, from less than an inch in diameter to so close up that a single dot from the image fills a double page.

I bought one piece I don’t know how I’ll ever display. The artist, Gary Kachadourian, draws (generally in pencil) detailed, near photo-realistic objects and surfaces (a 1991 Volvo or a Rubbermaid trash container), and then reproduces them (sometimes with repeating patterns stripped together) at life size. Mine is a 6-foot by 6-foot forest floor.

BSpaOne of the coolest pieces of art I found was wall art, intended to attract people to the booth of SPA, a publishing imprint. I was in awe of the spray painting.

BPanelPrinted Matter LA had a series of panels and speakers, five in all. I tried one, a panel of zine creators from the 70s through the 90s. It was heavy going. By the end, I was able to deduce that the man in the middle of my picture wasn’t a zine creator but a zine packager: he has collected ephemera from the period and reproduced it in packages for sale to art museums the world over. “I want to elevate subculture for the whole world,” he said.

So, what’s my bottom line? I think we should try a bit harder to get some younger book artists into our “fine press” events, ones who don’t charge so much for their work. (The high end collectors at Printed Matter didn’t seem to object to rubbing shoulders with the riffraff.) Should we also have a bit of live music at our fairs? Sell coffee? [Well, Codex does sell coffee. But at Printed Matter LA it’s the first thing you discover when you come through the door.] I know that our term “fine press” was arrived at by a painful process of elimination. But these days “fine” may be a turnoff.

Like our Oxford fair, Printed Matter has dealers in antiquarian books sharing the event with current creators. Maybe that is a really good idea: it rubs the noses of those attending in the idea that something that was sold for next to nothing a long time ago can now be worth big bucks.

Oh, and then there’s sex.

–Bob McCamant

You’ll find additional photos on the FPBA Facebook page.

Registration now open for ‘Beauty of Letters’

January 16th, 2015

The long-awaited blockbuster symposium called “The Beauty of Letters: text, type and communication in the eighteenth century” which will take place in Birmingham, England on March 14 and 15, is now accepting registrants. It’s 85 quid for both days, but you can also come for one day and pay somewhat less. All the details are here, and you can register here.

Speakers are coming from Milan, St. Petersburg, Boston, Sienna, and all over the UK. There will even be a bookseller. I’m hoping to come myself!

–Bob McCamant

Arion Press seeks apprentices in printing and foundry

January 16th, 2015

Arion Actually, they also want a full time bookkeeper/office manager, but I’m guessing that readers of this blog will be more interested in the printing and foundry.

They don’t seem to post the job on their web site, so I’ll put the text of the email I received here:


Apprentices learn while working on book publishing projects, contract jobs, and type production for the two divisions. Work is full-time and vacation and health insurance are provided. Salary depends on previous experience with the minimum starting pay $11 per hour

Printing: Arion Press, fine printers and publishers of deluxe limited edition books, offers training in typography, book design, and letterpress printing that can lead to long-term employment. Commitment is for a minimum four years of employment.

Typecasting and Foundry Work: M & H Type, the oldest and largest surviving type foundry in the United States, offers training in typography, typecasting, and Monotype composition that can lead to long-term employment.

Commitment is for a minimum four years of employment: two years in apprentice status, followed by two years in journeyman status.

We wish we could accommodate all the talented and dedicated people who would like to come here to learn book making with us. Currently, we have two apprentices and two journeymen who have completed apprenticeships in the type foundry and two journeymen in the bindery who also completed apprenticeships. These people are also receiving training in the composing room and pressroom from a typographer/printer. We have a master typecaster and a master bookbinder, both part-time, who continue training in their departments. If you should come to San Francisco, we would be happy to meet you and show you the facility during one of our weekly public tours on Thursday afternoons at 3:30 by reservation.

APPLICATION: Please send a one-page letter and CV by post or email. Phone inquires: 415.668.2545

–Bob McCamant

Type Talks: Sign-writing discussed at Birmingham

January 3rd, 2015

15 January 2015 (registration opens 1730, talk commences 1800)

Joby Carter is passionate about painting letters, and will present a lecture on the art and craft of sign-writing in Britain. Just a few years ago signpainting was so much of a dying art that it was almost impossible to find a practicing signwriter who would be prepared to take on a trainee. Vinyl and plastic took over, and the skills that people had been passing on for generations were almost wiped out. But as the virtual world of computer-generated graphics has filled our spaces with anodyne typography, there has been a resurgence in interest in the traditionally painted letter.

Joby comes from the now rare position of someone who has been taught by a master sign-writer in the old apprentice tradition, and he can trace his painting pedigree back to a sign-writer working for the Hovis company at the turn of the century. He is keen that the art lives on and that the skills of the nineteenth century will still be around in another hundred years or more. Practical details and registration.

–Bob McCamant

Details of “Beauty of Letters” conference disclosed

December 21st, 2014

The speakers will come from Milan, St. Petersburg, Antwerp, Boston, not to mention Oxford and Cambridge. (By my count, there are 31 of them. And I confess I’ve never met a one.) The goal is to “explore the production, distribution, consumption and reception, not only of letters, but also words, texts and images during the long eighteenth century (c. 1688-1820).”

Featured speakers include: Lynda Mugglestone: Professor of the History of English, Times Lecturer, Pembroke College, Oxford. She is currently writing a book on Samuel Johnson and eighteenth-century English. Other recent work has focused on eighteenth-century lexicography, and on problematic aspects of representation in the Oxford English Dictionary–most recently in relation to the suffragettes and early suffragette history. Jenny Uglow: Author, critic, historian, and editor. Her books include Elizabeth Gaskell: a habit of stories; The Lunar Men: the friends who made the future; and Nature’s engraver: a life of Thomas Bewick. Susan Whyman: Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and author of The pen and the people: English letter writers, which won the Modern Language Association prize in 2010; Sociability and power: the cultural worlds of the Verneys. Susan is co-editor of Walking the streets of eighteenth-century London.

Sounds like fun. What’s Birmingham like in mid-March? Booking is not yet declared open, but all the details are here to read.

–Bob McCamant