About this project
Feb. 5: The limited-edition run of 100 letterpress-printed books has been filled with backers! However, there are still over 150 rewards left in the “keepsakes,” level, which includes the ebook edition. You can also back this project for just the ebook. All backers get access to a private site at which I’ll post updates and other information as the project progresses.
To paraphrase Protagoras, the hand is the measure of all things. Our hands with literal digits form the basis of all the work we create, whether it’s manual work or electronically made. The form of a book isn’t accidental. Our minds and hands shaped books over millennia to fit our minds and our hands.
In this project, I’ll be exploring our “digital” past and our digital present and melding the two across the manual and electronic divide. I’ve been trying to find a way to get my hands dirty, revisit my design and printing background, and produce something lasting and meaningful to myself and others, where I can bring people along as I journey into new knowledge and make art. Kickstarter’s Make 100 theme for January inspired me to launch this limited-edition project.
I will letterpress print a digitally designed and typeset book in an edition of 100. The book will be produced using methods that date back to the 1400s, but with modern materials. The book will be assembled on conventional paper-stitching equipment, “die cut” with 2D laser equipment, and bound using old processes.
I’ll pick a rich and creamy paper that looks and feels great, and shows off the special qualities of letterpress, where type and images directly kiss paper with a thin layer of ink. I’ll print the book on a manual proofing press, so every page has my hand in its making. Each book will be similar but a little different, one of the joys of this kind of craft printing.
The book’s contents are a collection of reported and researched articles I’ve written about type, punctuation, and printing that all meld the old and new:
- The history of SHOUTY CAPS, which I traced to the 1800s.
- The origins of "this page intentionally left blank," which first appears in the 1400s.
- How paired, curly quotation marks came into being in the 1700s, and whether they're on their way out with the maturity of the Web.
- Preserving a Web site of photos for 10,000 years through microscopic printing onto metal plates.
- A history of the printer's devil, young assistants in typesetting operations from an age before child-labor laws.
- Why the Georgian alphabet has no precise sense of upper and lower case, and how that’s caused problems for Unicode representation.
- Google’s Noto typeface reaches around the globe and back in time to create a harmonious unity among 100,000 characters.
The book will be produced as a one-time edition of 100 signed and numbered copies, and run an estimated 64 pages. As I make the book, from design to printing to cutting to binding, you’ll come along with me via a backer Web site as I research techniques, have pieces of the project made or make them myself, and fill missing pieces of my training in classes and direct mentoring. I’ll post entries, photos, and videos.
You’ll also get at least one printed keepsake — something you’ll enjoy holding and looking at and sharing with others. The keepsake will arise from my research and exploration. And you’ll receive an expanded ebook that contains everything in the print edition, plus essays I write and photos I take during the book’s development and production.
I’m also offering two other reward levels: one includes just the ebook; the other, at least one keepsake and the ebook.
I started my work life as a typesetter in the mid-1980s, using digital-optical equipment that came after hot metal and before desktop publishing. In the late-1980s, I learned DTP and letterpress printing at the same time. Since then, I've designed and written dozens of books, and worked primarily as a technology journalist.
This project melds every aspect of my creative life, from my teenage years to my middle age. It will allow me to produce for you a unique item of beauty that’s also full of primary research into how everything new is old again.
Part of this project will be helping to show the relevance and utility of letterpress as a craft in the digital age. I want to show how tightly integrated electronic and analog parts can be, and share the deep satisfaction of working with one's hands to produce something physical and lasting.
Designer in Residence at SVC
The School of Visual Concepts (SVC) will be my home for this project. They asked me to be their Designer in Residence in 2017 in their letterpress program, where I’ll be taking courses and sharing whatever useful knowledge I have. The program’s director, Jenny Wilkson, will be my mentor and consultant as I research and experiment. She will train me to print the books’ pages, as I relearn old skills and master new ones.
SVC has taught visual communications to students for over 40 years, and moved two years ago to the heart of Seattle’s downtown dotcom district, where it literally and figuratively bridges the gap between manual and digital. It’s an amazing place to study and work: you look at the Space Needle out the front window, and see Amazon employees wander to and from work, while students pull proofs from letterpresses in one part of the school and others take classes on user-experience design in another.
As part of my residency, I plan to develop and teach a workshop later in the year related to elements of this book project.
What goes into making this book
I aim to ship the book in August. From January to May, I will be getting up to speed on letterpress printing, experimenting on press, printing a backer reward keepsake or two, and designing the book. From June to August, I'll be actively printing and producing the books.
The process of creating this book involves:
- Editing what's written, expanding one story, and researching and writing one new piece.
- Designing the book digitally, including cover, endpapers, and interior.
- Working with a platemaking firm to create letterpress-printable photopolymer plates from the digital files.
- Testing type, design, and paper combinations.
- Sourcing paper.
- Printing the endpapers
- Researching binding methods old and new.
- Planning and designing a cover that incorporates printing, conventional binding, and modern techniques.
- Designing and printing keepsakes.
- Deciding the right places to introduce 2D laser cutting to enhance the book and the cover.
Thanks for your support in pulling together threads from across my life. I hope you'll enjoy the book you get as much as I will enjoy making it.
Risks and challenges
While I have never letterpress printed an entire book before, I will be working with an experienced mentor, who will guide me through the finer points.
All the other digital and physical needs of the book (designing it, ordering paper, contracting with bindery) I've done before or will be working with commercial providers with known costs budgeted ahead of time, and a lot of leeway for experimentation and unexpected bumps.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Support this project
- (30 days)