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Holiday Greetings from the Letterpress Studio at Bradley Goes National

A holiday greeting from the Bradley University Letterpress workshop. Invited by to contribute a Thanksgiving holiday themed print, we came up with an image reflecting both celebration, thankfulness, and the beautiful fall sunsets we have this time of year in the Midwest.image of feltandwire web page

“Giving Thanks”

Bradley University’s letterpress and book arts studio regularly produces seasonally-appropriate prints and cards, and having just finished up a run of “spooky” cards for Halloween, we were more than excited by the invitation to create a Thanksgiving-themed print. Jake Guzan a senior art student at Bradley, and Kevin McGuire, who works by day as an employee of at a printing establishment, worked with Robert Rowe , professor of art at Bradley University, in making these Holiday greetings.

The studio has large south and west-facing windows, giving anyone operating a a glorious view of the colorful autumnal sunsets that descend through reds, ochres and golds. So a split fountain was a logical choice for a fall-themed print. Brilliant fall sunsets last a few minutes and are gone, but not before Jake Guzan, Bradley University student lab assistant, and I got some of the colors mixed and onto the ink rollers of my SP-15—Pantone yellow, some leftover, pre-mixed Pantone 194 deep red, with just a dollop of black at the upper register.

The symmetry of the V and A in “GIVING THANKS” begged for graphic emphasis. Mounting a type-high linoleum cut of praying hands made a perfect substitute for the “A”, and the “V” became, with the aid of another linoleum-cut hand, a celebratory libation. Highlighting the V and tying the two lines together was a simple matter of moving the “V” to the lower line, rotated upside down, while inking the gradient, and then replacing it into the upper line when printing. The linoleum cuts were inked with a brayer off the press (saving clean-up time), and placed into the V and A slots, (after a re-inking of the type) and the paper reloaded for a second impression, creating a double hit of color on the type and a solid black that obscured any overlap of the color. In initial prints, the letter V in this font has such a shallow counter shape that the “glass” effect was less obvious, so we substituted a cut linoleum “V” without the counter for the original letter.

Second Image:
While disassembling the original lock-up, Kevin McGuire came in with another sketch of an idea using the same 30-line (or 5 inch) letters and a surround of 60 and 30 point airport lead type, listed a host of things for which to be thankful this season.

Happy accidents are always a great way to get ideas for the next generation of prints. In running this print, missed trip lever resulted in a print on the mylar draw sheet of the press. The next piece of paper on the press then picked up that ink, in a wonderfully mottled and misty reverse impression. I am dying for a chance to repeat this “mistake” on a piece of translucent vellum paper, so the image, printed in reverse on the back of the paper, would be right-reading through the paper and still have the same inimitable mottled, gritty texture.

The studio—equipped with two vandercook presses, an SP-15 (used on this print) and a Univeral 1— offers regular undergraduate courses in letterpress and book arts, offers mini-workshops open to the public, and also plays host to regular gatherings of a community letterpress group. The facilities have wood type of various fonts and sizes, lead foundry type, and polymer plate-making capabilities.

The prints are on Mohawk superfine eggshell, 100 pound cover and 100 lb text, printed in two runs of pantone 194, warm red, pantone yellow, and black. The wood type is a 5 inch (60 line) gothic. The prints were made on an SP-15 Vandercook.

The Bradley University Senior Portfolio Exhibit was hosted by the Aldo Castillo Gallery in Chicago on April 30th, from 4:30 to 7:00 pm. The Gallery is located at 675 N. Franklin Street, Chicago. (View Images of the show)

The senior portfolios and projects were also exhibited in Peoria at the Heuser Art Center on the Bradley University Campus from May 10–13, with an opening reception  Sunday afternoon, May 10th. View Images of this Show.

When to have your portfolio ready

I have been teaching portfolio design for over 15 years and I aways underestimate the propensity for procrastination among students. Not that we don’t all do that some extent, but to all teachers—me included—I want to recommend you insist that portfolios be complete and in hand, printed, bound and presentation-ready  four weeks before the end of the semester. The remaining time can be spent in practice presentations, developing custom résumé packages, developing a personal contact list, and creating your web presence.

This semester I did not insist on an early deadline. And now, we are a week away from a major portfolio exhibition, and I have not seen one completed book!

Some students have sent repeated pdf’s asking for comments— but you can judge only so much from a pdf. There are many things you cannot judge looking at an image on a screen. You should absolutely do a test printing of your portfolio before you do the final version of it. It does not have to be on good paper, it does not even have to be in color, but it will give you (and anyone looking at it) the feel for how it comes together as a book or presentation. It would be wise to test the binding method as well, so you can test your sequencing concept. As you know, you cannot judge readability of type looking at it on a monitor. Page layouts depend on margins, size of images, resolution, all of which are impossible to evaluate on a monitor.

It is false economy to not expend the time and perhaps some money on making a test print. But having time to live with the results will give you greater insight into it, you can decide what you will say about each project. Budget your time to allow for printer malfunction, trimmer errors, and the slings and arrows of outrageous bad luck that any project is heir to.

As I wrote to my students recently, “this is a project like no other.” A single misspelled word necessitates reprinting. On a class project, you may rationalize “OK, a small mistake, a couple points off, but it won’t hurt my GPA all that much.” This, not to put too fine a point on it, is your future!.

Stepping up to PHP5

This page has been off-line for a week, through no change by me! Suddenly it stopped working and produced a server error (500). Technical support suggested changing the settings to use PHP 5; How to do this? Go to the FAQ page on 1and1 and scripts and PHP; but make a long story short, copy this single line: AddType x-mapp-php5 .php into the .htaccess file; and, voilá, the page came back to life!

Note, the .htaccess file normally is hidden (since it starts with a “dot”. But it is visible to Fetch ( I use Fetch for ftp purposes.) In the Fetch window, I changed the file name temporarily removing the dot, downloaded the existing file, added the line, re-uploaded it, and then changed the name back again, adding the period.

More than just a portfolio class

Our senior spring semester graphic design studio class, officially titled “Portfolio Design” encompasses more than repackaging of existing projects. While that is plenty for some to cover, we felt that we needed to add a senior project component as well. The senior project actually begins at the end of the Fall semester, with the presentation of three concepts for a project, from which one is selected. This allows some initial thought and research to begin before the Spring term begins. The project is carried out parallel to the creation of the portfolio and a poster presentation of it is a major feature of the Senior Portfolio Show in May. (see link here for a gallery of senior project panels from May, 2008)

Students have to display their senior project on two-four 20×30 inch panels. The project allows each student to select a project that complements their existing work, often exploring a direction they would like to pursue professionally. And the length of time on the project allows for process exploration and documentation.

I was at first skeptical about adding additional work onto the seniors that close to graduation. Yet, in the end, most students stated that the senior project was one of their best pieces and one they felt was one of the most enjoyable. So keeping creative projects going right up to the end of the term is probably a good idea. So we are continuing to include a senior project in the Portfolio class.

Booklet printing for portfolios

Booklet printing for portfolios

For all of you who are considering printing your own portfolio or process books as a saddle-stitched booklet, and have grappled with the problem of laying out your work in printers’ spreads (so when printed front and back, the pages appear in correct order, you will be glad to know that some help is available. This re-sequencing of the pages for printing, called “imposition,” can be accomplished through several means.

First, the built-in Print Booklet function in InDesign (File>Print Booklet) in CS3 has some major bugs. These are well-documented and you can read the rants from irate users at many nodes on the web. While CS4 may address some of the issues, for those of us who do not have that option, I wonderful third-party script is available for download (free, or if you are ethically-minded, you make a voluntary contribution) at Thank you Carlsen Enterprises. Called “Booklet CE” it is a script that overcomes most of the shortcomings of the imposition routine built into InDesign CS3. Download and follow the installation instructions. I prefer to run it from the Automate>Scripts window. It generates a new indesign document, and creates PDF files of each page, placing them in the correct spreads for several different types of booklet binding, including saddle stitched and perfect bound in multiple signatures.

Design your booklet as you normally would, with sequential pages, keeping in mind that proper imposition requires pages to be multiples of 4. Then run the script and save the resulting document for printing. It is wise to create bleeds for areas of tone or image that extend off the page, and to tell it to print crop marks to assist in trimming out.

Pretty simple! the one thing that might require a little explanation is the inside and outside creep settings. These account for the fact then in a signature, the outside spreads have to slightly wider to allow them to fold around the inside pages. The amount of creep depends on the thickness of the paper you are printing on. You can base it on the known thickness of the paper (caliper) or you can make a dummy folded booklet and measure the amount. In most situations, you will set the inner creep value to zero and the outer creep value to slightly more than that of the folded signature. The resulting page spreads will then be adjusted incrementally to between the two values, with the outermost spread receiving the full value and the innermost spread not being widened at all.

I want to get an "A"

Paula Scher in her book “Make it Bigger” makes the point that design is less about styles and theories and more about the personal and corporate political forces that surround getting things done. Knowing how to navigate those waters is a life skill that applies in almost every profession.

The end of the school year brings students pleading for exceptions to deadlines, grading policies and a host of other complaints. The arguments that are the least effective are those that include the “I really want to make an A” component. What most students fail to realize is that this is almost universally going to negate any other argument they make.

No teacher at the university level is going to be positively influenced by the statement that you want to make an A. That gives the impression that you don’t really care about learning, only about your GPA. From the point of view of teachers who have dedicated their lives to studying a subject, the best way to influence them is to convince them that you are interested in the material and that you have learned or mastered it. If you want an A, the most convincing argument is that you have excelled, going beyond the mere minimum requirements and brought some creative insight to your understanding of the subject. This is almost universally the best way to convince someone that you are deserving of an A. To focus on the grade alone is rather short-sighted. Professionally, no one is going to care all that much whether your GPA was a few points higher or lower. In fact, in all likelihood, telling them what a mean and unreasonable professor you had to contend with might gain you some points over the dweeb with the perfect 4.0.

Showing that you read the text, did some outside investigations, checked out a few optional books, made connections between subjects, found some aspect of the subject that interested you and followed up on it — those are the ways to navigate the academic waters.

Type Camp and original sources

Step in Design magazine, published in Peoria, ran a recent article touting a study program that takes students to locations such as the St. Brides Printing Library so they could experience the works in their original form. Interestingly, we at Bradley University tried a program such as that in 2004. We took a group of students to the British Library, St. Brides Printing Library, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the National Art Library, along with visits to William Morris’ house in Hammersmith. Students were to do some preliminary research in preparation, and then had two weeks in London to consult original sources (not reproductions) to gain further insight into the works they were writing about. It is a very hard sell to get undergraduates to take an interest in anything connected to libraries. (above is an image of Bradley University student Dave Schuette at the St. Brides Printing Library examining a some Kelmscott editions.)

Hillman Curtis

A very nice little movie by Hillman Curtis on Stefan Sagmeister.

So what does this have to do with Portfolios? Well, I was checking out blogs on WordPress (actually, I am comparing Drupal and WordPress to see which seems to be more productive, I and keep finding better design sensibilities and a more literate discussions from the WorkPress users. That, at least, is my impression so far.