Deepening Snow: Part 4

Deepening Snow Signatures

The complete book ready for sewing with the double-ended thread.

The concept for the binding of Deepening Snow started with research on traditional Japanese bindings, where I discovered the retchoso style. Retchoso is a less familiar Japanese style than the more well know stab-bindings. It is similar in some ways to a traditional coptic binding. Both have an exposed spine and rely on the sewing itself to provide structure and stability to the binding.

After choosing the stucture of the binding, I prepared multiple dummy and trial versions. This is the most important step in an edition binding. There is nothing more frustrating than executing 100 poorly designed bindings. Or fixing the same mistake 100 times. Once all of the wrinkles were ironed out of the process, the materials could be prepared and cut to the correct dimensions. Sometimes this was as simple as cutting the square cover stiffeners. And sometimes as involved as the decoration, cutting, trimming, scoring, and folding of the cover papers.

Deepening Snow Close-up of Spine

Close-up of retchoso spine with book slightly open. The signatures are slit instead of pierced, so the thread sinks out of sight. The colors of the signatures are from the tipped-on section titles.

After the printing was finished, I cut the sheets apart, folded and collated them into their correct signatures, glued the outermost signatures to the assembled covers, and sewed it all together. Retchoso usually uses two pieces of thread and a single needle, but I devised a variation for this project that uses one piece of thread with a needle at each end. Like many sewing patterns for books, retchoso can seem complicated at first, but it is essentially a lacing together of the signatures starting with the middle signature and working toward each cover and then back again to the middle. When the threads come back to the middle signature and are gentle drawn tight, the outside signatures are pulled together.

Deepening Snow Signature Stacks

The five signatures in stacks. The colored sheets for the section titles have been tipped on. The first and last stacks still need to have the covers attached.

Deepening Snow Folder Cover

It’s hard to capture the colors created by staining the tyvek, but this photo of the front of the folder shows the pattern created. The title is printed in Japanese on the spine.

The finishing touch for the binding is a hard-case folder lined in black paper and covered in acrylic-stained tyvek. Tyvek has a number of uses from home construction to conservation of rare documents. Because it is spun not woven, an ice-like pattern develops as the fibers in the material accept or reject the stain. Thanks to Audrey Holden for asembling the folders.

Deepening Snow: Part 3

Bed of press showing plates mounted on base and ink rollers

Bed of press showing plates mounted on base and ink rollers (courtesy of Michiko Oishi)

I use polymer plates for letterpress printing. This process turns a digital design into a relief printing surface using a photo-sensitive gel. The depth of the plate, backed with adhesive, plus the depth of the metal base on which it is mounted, equals the standard height of a piece of type. Now it is ready to be printed on a standard letterpress printing press.

Printing a book can be stressful. It requires a lot of organization to ensure that the correct page is printed on the correct sheet in the correct position. This is the result of the signatures that make up the structure of the book. A sheet of paper is folded in half to create a folio of four pages. When one folio is placed inside another, this creates a signature. Two signatures are the beginnings of a text block. Deepening Snow has five signatures; four with four folios and one with five.

The imposition of the pages on the folios results in the pages being out of order. For example, if you had a signature of two folios, the pages of the first folio would be numbered 1, 2, 7, 8 while the pages of the second folio would be numbered 3, 4, 5, 6. I printed Deepening Snow 4-up, meaning that the sheet of paper I fed through the press had four pages on each side. To keep track of the confusion created by folios, page order, and printing methods, I created a dummy of the text in its folios in their correct signatures which I then disassembled and arranged as pairings for the printing sheets. Before each press run the English and the Japanese were carefully cross-checked to make sure that every piece of the puzzle was in its correct place.

Deepening Snow Sheets Drying

Drying sheets showing the impression of Japanese text from opposite side (courtesy of Michiko Oishi)

Once a press run is under way, it can be relaxing and satisfying. You must constantly be on the look out for problems that can occur, but even this becomes a part of the rhythm that develops around checking ink levels, adding more ink to the rollers, and feeding the sheets through the press. As the sheets are printed they are laid out and interleaved with newsprint to dry over night. Once a sheet has cured for a week or so, its reverse side can be printed. Backing up a sheet reveals how precisely the press operator fed the sheet into the press on the first runs. If this work has been done well, the lines of text will fall in exactly the same spot on opposite sides of the sheet, eliminating show-through that can distract the reader.

The last step in printing a book is usually adding in the bits of color to the text. This is the fun part. At this stage the sheets start to resemble the book they will eventually become.

Next, the book itself.

Chapbook Publishing Round Table

I will be participating in the Chapbook Publishing Round Table for PoemCity 2013 in Montpelier, Vermont. Here’s the blurb from the schedule of events:

Why publish a chapbook? How are they designed and marketed? How do chapbooks serve their readers? Come hear Vermont chapbook publishers and authors: Ann Aspell of Chapiteau Press, Benjamin Aleshire of Honeybee Press, Andrew Miller-Brown of Plowboy Press and poet Neil Shepard, whose chapbook was recently published by Big Table Press. They will discuss their love of writing, designing, and selling the slender book. The panel will be moderated by Julia Shipley, poet and cofounder of the Montpelier-based Chickadee Chaps and Broads.

There’s information about PoemCity here that includes links to the schedule, poet and presenter bios, and their blog.

The Round Table will be in the Hayes Room, Kellogg-Hubbard Library, 135 Main Street, at 2 pm on April 27th.

Deepening Snow: Part 2

For a handmade book, the bookmaking process allows a lot of flexibility between the concept and the creation of the object. While editing, I might investigate a printing or binding idea. While printing, I could decide to alter or enhance some aspect of the design. Nevertheless, there is a stage of the process where I spend a great deal of time thinking about choices that influence the look of the book: page composition, typeface, paper, colors schemes, binding, and so on. Some choices are not finalized until later, such as the binding, but they still influence early stages of the design process. In this post I will discuss a few of the choices I made when designing Deepening Snow.

As the project developed, a guiding principle in its design became a balance of Japanese and Western traditions, a reflection of the bilingual text and its themes. For example, the book opens from the right as Western books do, but the binding is a traditional Japanese structure. In a similar way, the papers for the text and the cover are Western style papers made in Germany and England, but the laid patterns of the papers—visible when a page is held up to the light—are reminiscent of handmade Japanese papers.

In the composition of the page, this idea of balance presented the challenge of Japanese and English sharing space on the page. I wished to give both languages equal status on the page and each page spread to function as a whole, while retaining the traditional vertical layout of the Japanese. After experimenting with several combinations, I decided on a square page with two poems per spread, in a symmetrical layout emphasized by justifying the English text at the gutter.

The final bilingual layout of the page spread for Deepening Snow

The final bilingual layout of the page spread for Deepening Snow

The “butterfly” effect of this layout allows both languages to have the space they deserve while at the same time allowing plenty of room at the margins and a structure that anchors the text on the page.

Once the title of the book was finalized, it became a second guiding principle for the design. I had in mind to begin each section with a colored title sheet associated with its season. A title that focused on winter turned that idea into a theme reflected inside and outside the book. The final decisions for the binding were made later, of course, but with the title in hand I was able to choose the colors for each season and begin imagining finished book.

Next, putting it all on paper.

Deepening Snow: Part 1

Deepening Snow

Deepening Snow, the fifth Plowboy Press title, is haiku and tanka by Michiko Oishi, translated with Judith Chalmer. It’s available for sale at the Plowboy Press catalog in both a limited and a trade edition. I will be focusing on the publishing and bookmaking side of the project for this series of posts. If you are interested in the process of writing and translating the poetry, Seven Days had a review: In a Vermont Book of Poetry, American and Japanese Cultures Meld.

At Plowboy Press, publishing a book is a collaborative undertaking that wouldn’t be possible without a lot of support from authors, craftspeople, family and friends. As in any small business, I fill many roles at Plowboy Press: publisher, editor, designer, printer, and binder. I’m also CEO, COO, CFO, webmaster, and that guy from marketing. It can be overwhelming to be responsible for so many aspects of a project, but the advantage is in the flexibility and control I gain from being both the editor and the marketing department, the designer and the printer. It allows the final product to be as cohesive as possible.

For me, Deepening Snow began with the process of transforming Michiko and Judy’s writing and translating into the text of a book. The editorial stage is one of my favorites. I enjoy being involved with the writing from early on. This is where I start the work of unifying the text and the object that holds it. Since both Michiko and Judy are meticulous wordcrafters, my editing picked up in the later stages of the process: asking a few questions about translation, selecting poems to include in the collection, and making suggestions on how to structure the text—division into sections, the order of the poems and so on.

In the end it was decided to divided the text into two groups with haiku first and tanka second. Each group was then divided into sections: haiku into four sections by the seasons, and tanka into three sections by location—indoors, outdoors, and Japan. The section titles of the haiku are derived from kigo used in poems in that section. A kigo, or season word, is a word used in a haiku that alludes to the season of the poem. The winter section of the book, for instance, is titled Thin IceDeepening Snow is also a kigo from the winter section.

Once the text is finalized, it’s off to the design department.

Welcome to Plowboy Press

Welcome to Plowboy Press! I’ve been busy the past few weeks redesigning the website. Here at the blog, I will be posting images and descriptions of the bookmaking process, other items of interest to those with a love of fine books, letterpress printing, and handmade things in general, as well as the occassional asides. In the coming weeks and months I will be focusing on the creation of my latest book, Deepening Snow. I hope you enjoy a look behind the scenes.