It has recently been drawn to my attention that not everyone is on the Instagram bandwagon, and that it would be great if we had some more detailed process work here on the website so that our customers can understand “why these tiny little books are so gosh darn expensive”.
It is true. Your average Penrose Press novel will cost you a bit more than you would expect to spend at Indigo. However, Penrose publications cost significantly less than fine art prints, and within each of our books there are several fine art prints. Don’t worry if that term seems unclear to you. I am a printmaking Nerd and I am here to enlighten you.
I continue my preface by saying that a “luxury” book may not be a feasible expense for some people. I totally get that. We’re working on some more accessibly priced options. My personal vision for the future of books involves a mix of really high quality editions of my favourite stories, and cheaper digital options for light, beach-type reading or travelling. Natalie knows the struggle of hauling 6 new books back from New York, or debating between two or three books for a week of vacation.
I came to publishing by way of a fine arts degree with a Printmaking specialization. Most of us have been doing printmaking since our parents cut a potato in half for us and let us dip in in paint and press it on paper. “Only on the paper, Brianna. No, your brother is not the paper!” I gained an appreciation for the finer aspect of printmaking, first at Beal, then at OCAD. Printmaking has wide and varied definitions, that’s really a whole 300 level class, but basically it can be broken down into four categories: Relief, Intaglio, Planographic, and Lithography. The MOMA has a wonderful interactive explanation for these categories HERE even if they use what I would consider limiting names for them. Beyond those four categories, there are certain studies that are often grouped under “print-adjacent” and these include paper making, marbling, and bookbinding.
I am primarily a relief printmaker, although I had a pretty serious fling with Lithography in my early twenties. What the MOMA refers to as “woodcut” I refer to as relief, mostly because I don’t actually cut wood. My prefered substrate (the image/thing you print from) is linoleum (most people know it as a type of cheap, durable flooring). In the most essential terms: I carve the linoleum (lino), I roll some ink on top, and I press some paper on it; whatever I didn’t carve transfers onto the paper. More specifically:
TANGENT: The world used to function with a less precise inch that fluctuated according to the barley harvest. One inch was equal to three grains of barley placed end to end. This was pretty annoying for printmakers and so they decided on a standard inch. Some time later, the “official” inch was designated but it was different from the printer’s inch! (RUDE) Today the printer’s inch, commonly known as “type high” measures 0.918 official inches.
Just look at that press in action.
So pretty. Such satisfaction.
Somehow this never gets old, even though I have physically watched it over 10 thousand times, while I’m actually printing.
Relief printmaking is backwards, literally. Whenever I carve anything I have to do it in reverse because the impression works like a mirror. This is particularly important for… WORDS. Also: dominant hands of crucial characters, clocks, maps, recognizable image references, watch wrists, rotary phones, asymmetrical logos… basically specific asymmetry of any kind. Sometimes I remember. Sometimes I forget. I made this lithograph (litho is also backwards) for my undergrad thesis that is full of text. It is all facing the correct direction, except for the “g” in hockeygirl11.
A technique I use quite often is “reduction printing” wherein I carve and print a block, then I carve the same block a little more, and print again, on the same paper in a different colour of ink. Because it’s the same block, and the same paper, it’s a lot easier to line up or register the parts of the image with one another. It takes a lot of forward thinking and the sharpie comes in really handy.
In this reduction print I did in 2017, I printed first with white ink and then with blue on a light brown paper. There was a lot of text to be flipped and a lot of colour planning to do in the carving stages. Stage 1: everything that is middle toned needs to be carved away but the light tones and the dark tones need to stay. Stage 2: everything that is light toned needs to be carved away and everything dark toned needs to stay. I tend to plan based on light, medium and dark tones, rather than specific colours which helps me keep things straight.
Let’s dive into the specifics of printing Penrose projects, shall we?