Tag Archives: printing plates

Tuesday is ink day

My well thought out plan in getting to St Brides early fell on its ear when

  1. I got lost leaving my building
  2. Holborn was exit only
  3. it 9.18am and I have to catch 2 buses to Fleet St by 9.30am

You can see what sort of day I thought it might turn into. However, despite it all, I was not very tardy. Here is the entrance to St Brides Institute.

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The printing workshop is filled with historical printing presses and tools, and in many ways their significance is lost on me; I am sure Australian printmakers  Dianne Fogwell and Caren Florence would be far more appreciative than me. Let’s have a little look at what’s inside:

On to today’s topic: a day with Amy Worthen.

The day was dedicated to the histories of engraved plates and of etched plates, giving us the tools and basic understanding to identify and differentiate between the two techniques.

Her enthusiasm was catching and she was very generous with the information she offered. You could tell she had a lot of experience. It just emanated from her.

There was a set reading list to compliment this session. The sessions, though generalised, took us on a well rounded journey.  There were many historical examples on the slides. I didn’t actually take many notes; I will probably explore the readings at some later date. She explained about the different cutting techniques and how the depth of the cut could change to strength of the printed line.  And since we were in St Bride’s printing room, we could see first hand what tools were used.

Which brings us to the hands-on session in the afternoon.  Amy demonstrated how to hold the burin, and how to cut a line on a copper plate. “It’s like cutting butter” she said.

Seeing the ease with which she made her marks in the plate, and little swirls of copper that grew from her cuts, one would swear it was indeed as soft as butter.

Well, let me tell you that a copper plate is not as soft as butter. We all had a hand at making lines, and the hardest part for each of us was to maintain the correct posture; we needed to us our bodies, not have our wrists or shoulders at strange angles. She helped each one of us. However, just as in tango or bookbinding learning, once you have the acquired muscle memory, the copper plate would be nothing but butter.

Our main aim for the day was to print an etched plate. Mindy had come from the US with a plate her grand-father has etched, so she set about taking an impression from it.

We didn’t even get dirty, even though we each had a go at using the brayers to apply ink to the plate’s surface. We scrimmed and palmed the plate. Here you can see Richard Lawrence, St Bride’s print workshop keeper,  helping us.

The hands-on proved to be the best part of the day for most of us, bringing a better understanding of the morning’s discussion.

And here are some of the results.

That’s it for now. See you tomorrow.

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Introductions at Senate House Library

Today is Monday and I will not be shy.  Roll out of bed, go downstairs for breakfast and sit with Ollie (NZ) and an American woman  (whose name I have forgotten) who knew London like the back of her hand.  Ollie talks a lot. But it makes breakfast fun. I spot Donato, ask about his Japanese exam, take an extra coffee back to my room and await the appointed time.

There is the usual registration, and I see Nicole Gilroy from the Bodleian. She is taking the European Bookbinding course. She does remember me. After Dr Karen Attard’s riveting talk on what we could expect to see during our course, we are sent off to our various rooms.

Dr Elizabeth Savage, is a delightful and enthusiastic educator. But I am not sure this course is quite what I expected, hoped for or needed. It is very cerebral; I am having to think, as opposed to taking down notes and being shown slides of items on a screen (as in 5 years ago).

We begin with the usual introductions, and it really seems like a course in art history.  We are a pretty diverse group: librarians, collectors, bookseller, curator, art historian, student. We rapidly cover the history of printing techniques, and we enjoy some discussion. Wish I had taken the time to do more of the prelim reading…..

The usual tea-time, but in the afternoon we get our hands on blocks. I am here to study what printers’ blocks and plates can tell us in and of themselves, as opposed to what the printed impression might tell us. There is a lot of discussion about nomenclature and inter disciplinary vocab that affects the cataloguing of these items. Are they realia I wonder? Wish I knew cataloguing…..

We explore the differences in the lines that each method, relief and intaglio produce. I learn a cool new word: flong.

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sorry it’s blurry; a flong is a papier mache-like sheet that gets impressed onto the set-up plate. Type metal will be poured into this, duplicating the plate…

We have 2 sessions and then the hands-on. Here we are asked to describe to the others what techniques may have been used to create the blocks.

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Anna discovering that there was type “hiding” within  the block. These were numbers, and the block was a generic pattern for a series. As the series changed, you just changed the little numbers. This was the block for an “assignat”, a type of currency.

The dark blocks are made from very hard boxwood; they look nearly petrified. The Queen block is double sided. They are cut and shaped in order to be able to join with others on the form.

Handling these items is amazing. I’ve never seen blocks quite like these. I am sure to my printer friends back in Canberra, these are not so surprising, but as printing is not my particular area of interest, they are fascinating.

This next set were of particular interest to me:

The bound title page is date 1632, but it is more likely that the plate was produced in the 1930s at the request of the collector; where is the original plate? And we can tell this by the material used and the nails that hold the plate on the block. I used to wonder what kind of type was used for the lettering, but it is etched in. And of course, the engraver doesn’t necessarily prepare the writing.

Time was running short and we were left with the perplexing questions:

  1. What can the printing surfaces reveal that is not evident on the impression on paper?
  2. Can a vocabulary common to bibliographers, art historians and book historical research ever be generated and how would this change the face of cataloguing?

There was a welcome reception in the Chancellor’s Hall and a few of us left for dinner shortly afterwards.

I think we are an interesting group, and being thrown into a pot like this can either be scary or refreshing.

see you tomorrow.

 

 

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