I had no idea it was also the day the Tigers started playing in comerica park this year. The traffic was bad heading into downtown but thankfully I sidestepped most of it, making that sharp right turn on to Gratiot to swing around to Russell street.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for but it felt like it was waiting for me because despite the reams of sport fans parading through the streets there was a single parking spot right outside the front doors of Signal-Return.
The person that practically greeted me at the door, entering at the same time, was in fact Lee, the printer in residence that I’d corresponded with some weeks ago. And so began this journey.
Despite calling myself a graphic designer for getting close to two decades now it had been years since I approached work this way, in such a a viscerally physical manner, and I’d never worked on an actual press before in my life. Never set type in the traditional sense of the phrase, though I know all the terms and can tell a bad rag from the rest. And now I was walking into the heart of it all, in the heart of Detroit.
Reintroduced to the word of metal, wood, and picas I was relearning a new but familiar language. I half followed everything Lee was telling me but refrained from taking copious notes, instead allowing myself to focus on doing. I stopped caring if I made mistakes, or understood everything and treated this like one big if, an experiment.
And Lee was the perfect teacher. Clearly passionate and a self proclaimed print nerd but neither too pedantic or methodical. We mixed ink by sight and tested it and slathered it all over the place. I suppose the measurements setting up the plates were one of the more meticulous tasks but everything else was very much trial and error.
But it all quickly felt satisfyingly familiar, as if I’d done it all before wait with all the adrenaline that comes from learning a new thing. I was eager to try but patiently awaited the advice from the mentor. Once into it everything from the turn of the crank to listening to the soft hiss of the ink being applied was a symphony of sensory input that created a fuzzy wholistic picture, both literally and figurately throughout the whole process.
I ended up making about ten prints. Half with the text and half without, using a color close to Pantone 431, a dark cool gray composed of mostly translucent white filler, black and reference blue. It’s a lovely subtle color that resembles the celadon fabric of the book.
I’m not sure when I’ll be able to make it back but you can be sure I will, whether its to make more prints or try my hand at setting type, or learn new techniques from Lee to use in another book. This was going back to roots for me. Everything that got me started in this was all about handling objects, cutting things, manipulating by hand.
This is just the start of what’s going to be a brand new day.