It’s far too easy to look at something and overlook or dismiss the craft that went into it. Indeed, we are surrounded by countless items that are chosen precisely for the fact that they were created cheaply to the point where we no longer can detect one from the other.
But there will always be joy in the process, regardless if it could be done faster or cheaper.
I spent the afternoon amidst mechanical machines, smalls of solvents and ink, and a handful of happy people. It was cloudy outside and the breeze blew but barely could make it through even the two open doors so things got rather sweaty inside.
I see the same full time staff at Signal Return: Lee, Lynne, Joel, and one other that unfortunately her name escapes me because she’s usually on the other side of the room behind the counter. I’m sure I’ll get it in my head eventually as it’s clear that I’m going to be spending some time there.
I’m fussing with the words of a new book, and after working on it for all this time, the images started to become a bit clearer in my head through reading and sketching. Somewhere down the line I decided that color was necessary; not just because Zōsan lacked it, but because it might really add something to the images of this particular book. Plus, the process seemed like it was fun and had lots of possibilities.
I scratched the surface of those possibilities through a three color print on a Vandercook 4 proof press. I spent the week caving linoleum blocks with a transfer print after working on color studies using Procreate on an iPad. That really helped me figure out what I wanted to do, and once I locked that in the carving process was a straightforward process of translating to the carving blocks.
Printing like this is still quite stressful for me. There’s a lot that can go wrong, and I lot I don’t know. But that’s part of the appeal here: the learning by doing, the mistakes, the intuitive nature of it, the embracing of imperfection and the industry of every crank and pull of gooey ink.
We took a lot of time locking up the black plate first to print registration prints. I made seven but I now see there’s merit in printing more just in case. We used those to ensure that both the green and blue colors would line up properly. I had flashback to reading those wonderfully bad and terribly registered Bazooka Joe comics (and wearing out my jaw chewing that gum!) as we worked through correcting each. Lee definitely helped me do the lock ups and when I do this myself there’s going to be a lot more errors involved. I don’t think in picas much.
The magic happens like exhaling once you’ve held your breath through all the thinking and registration and setup. You crank away and admire each print with both a critical and enamored eye, tweaking this and that with each one. Each switch felt like a leap of faith to some degree. Was it going to work? Will it be perfect? The answer was almost always a “sorta-mostly”, and that was an important acceptance to go through.
No two were exactly the same; some were printed “too light” and others much more punchy, but as you go on you feel the judgements floating away and you begin to see the loveliness in each and every print, not just ignoring the differences but embracing them. And this happened even before the Corona was handed to me.
TLDR: the new book will most definitely have color in it. Probably a small handful of two- or three-color prints — because they are wonderful.
I ended up with 14 prints. If you want one, I’ll be picking them up next week. Let me know!
I loved working with Eberhardt printing in Portland to produce the offset edition of Zosan. However, the idea I’ve been working on I think would be better at a larger, squar-ish size and his Ryobi 3302 press can’t accommodate. So, I did a little research and voila, I found a printer local to Ann Arbor that can print a trim size as large 8.5″ x 11″, so 8″ x 8.5″ will work perfectly (I have another book I designed in this size and I think it’s pretty ideal)
This is bodes well for the idea I have forthcoming, I really wanted to push the size of the book a little larger and square to let the illustrations breathe more.
The big unknown right now of course is the cost. It was clearly be more than Zosan because of the physical size but at probably 44 pages it shouldn’t be breaking the bank. Since I’m probably going to reserve color for the letterpress (yes, my dream is also make a letterpress — with some color!) one color will suffice for offset and keep costs down.
It’s difficult some days to think about where in this sea of writers and established authors and lifelong readers I actually fit. The only group I consider myself a part of is the first.
I don’t think it’s difficult to get your words printed anymore, but the task of getting noticed by anyone is far more intimidating. But I ask myself why I even care about the latter. This isn’t my full time thing. If it were, I probably wouldn’t be able to feed my kids. I don’t think that because I consider myself a mediocre writer, but rather because the field is so saturated now with writers, both phenomenal and notsomuch that I find it hard to fathom making a living off what I write at the moment. To start, there are plenty of people who are lifelong writers. But is that an excuse to just hang it up and never do this?
I never expected anything grand to happen overnight. It’s all I can do to simply keep looking ahead, keep writing, keep reading and seeing what’s out there, and not concerning myself with any kind of notoriety yet. Or perhaps ever. One of my concerns is falling into a trap where I could actually be noticed, but then I’d be forced to write in a way that isn’t me. I’ve noticed some authors that I read night after night have a couple of outstanding books that feel as if they wrote straight from the heart, with passion and vision; and subsequent books felt forced and not at all in the same caliber as the first. And my guess was because once they became “well known” the publishing companies put pressure on to produce, and that is counter to everything I want to achieve here.
The more I’ve read to my kids, the more I felt that no matter what the result I could do this.
Whether anyone outside of who I know cares or not about what I write is not the reason why I wanted to do this. I wanted to write without compromise. That isn’t to say I’m above criticism— I plan on finding writing groups and getting some critical feedback and training, while simultaneously attempting to retain all of the original fervor that made we want to do this in the first place.
To me it seems the only antidote to this bumpy ride to self-confidence and competence as a writer is to keep going, and stop thinking about this as much as I am right now. The only way achieve that it to have the goals be simple: keep it personal and precious. It may mean you’ll never ever see on anyone’s best seller list, but that was never my intent. I only write in hopes that somewhere, someplace, I make another kid (or perhaps grown-up-kid) lose themselves in my words for even a short while.
There is a new book well underway. I thought of the idea shortly after the Kickstarter books had first delivered, because after that milestone, I felt the emptiness of not having something to work on.
And so, I gradually pieced together the ideas for this new book, and recently, have been writing more consistently during the week, sketching and planning. I still don’t know if I’ll follow a similar style for the artwork. I know I want to add color in some respect, but I don’t think it’s going to be something so drastically different from what I did for Zosan. I think there is a way to add it such that it becomes an accent and a complement, rather than taking over the page. I’ve been looking at lots of other illustrators’ styles looking for ways to employ color in a less-than-wholesale approach. And I see there are many possibilities for that.
Will it be letterpress? I think so. I may have to print it myself, but at least there’s a possibility for that. Maybe there’s a way to share that task. All I know is that it was altogether worth the effort to have the book made that way, and I want to do it again.
The writing remains one of my bigger challenges. I’ve realized I want to create something that is neither a picture book, nor a novel. Books that are meant to be read to a child, with images that help them follow and discover and text for the adult to find their inner kid. I think of all the books that delighted me: Pooh, Bread and Jam for Francis, The Phantom Toolbooth, Howliday Inn, The House with the Clock in its Walls, Peter Pan, Stuart Little and Paddle-to-the-Sea. There’s a range of illustrative styles in there, but most of them are more story than picture book. I simply like both aspects of this enough to do both.
I’ve encountered another writer recently who told me he stopped writing, because he didn’t read much anymore and he didn’t think he had anything to write about. And that has been a concern of my own throughout this process. I have not historically prioritized setting aside hours to read, and in recent years that’s certainly been the case. But I told this particular writer what I’ve been telling myself: to write anyway. Read what and when you can, without worrying about the end result or the audience.
Why that is so difficult is the big question, but I try not to dwell on the cause, either. I just keep searching for a way to keep going.
The offset book was not merely an afterthought of this whole endeavor, though admittedly the primary goal was to be able to print it letterpress. Regardless, the offset books are absolutely beautiful in their own right. They certainly had their setbacks, twists and turns, but thanks to Charles at Eberhardt printed, problems were surmounted and new and creative solutions discovered.
The dust jacket was one of those things. I didn’t set out with that idea; but Charles sold me on it because we could emboss it and make it just as tactile as the letterpress. Also it turned out we had issue with a flood color on the inside cover, but instead we reprinted the entire cover design on the inside (in 2-color!) and I even redesigned it in the process, making it even better.
Unlike the letterpress, the illustrations are full bleed, which lets them take over the page. In my mind that was an excellent compromise for not having the depth of a letterpress print.
Both letterpress and offset are, ultimately, everything I wanted them to be. You can tell just by looking at it that it’s special. It’s not glossy and shiny, desperately seeking attention in an already crowded children’s bookshelf. It quietly presents itself just as it is.