Book edition in progress

I just tried out a new device for punching signatures for our edition of 100 copies of a book of poems. It consists of a pin-bar with a triangular profile that has a hinged top bar comes down on top of it. The pins are set into drilled-out holes in the lower bar. Holes are drilled in the top bar directly above the pins. A folded signature of the book is placed over the pin bar and the top bar is pressed down. We punched forty books in a few minutes with this and all were perfectly aligned. I caught a glimpse of a similar device in a bookbinding video on YouTube, but cannot remember where it was. If anyone knows of it, let me know.

book punch

book punch

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.

reaffirming what should be in the ideal portfolio

My colleague and I visited with principles of a couple of very successful design firms in the Chicago area recently (not going to name them here, but if you want to know, ask me off list). Again they reaffirmed what we have heard many times, and perhaps even more so in these lean days. What they are looking for in a portfolio is about six to eight pieces of truly outstanding work, each piece of which is polished and ideally suited to its purpose. No explanations should be necessary (though out of politeness, some explanatory text or remarks should be discreetly available). Polish the craft, but be mindful that it is only the base-level requirement. Résumé must be typographically impeccable but not showy. Display well-founded confidence. No fear of drawing (no drawing-class projects, please; just the ability to communicate an idea via the drawn line. Work that looks like student work is the kiss of death. (Gotta love the catch-22-ness of this, if you are a student. That is all you have been doing for the last four years) OK, so quit weeping and weed out all the projects that look the same as all your fellow students. Retool or rework the few that stand apart. Don’t cling to a half-good idea, only the truly good ones.

OK, so that is the ideal. We all know few live up to that coming out of the gate. But it is not bad to keep those ideals in mind. Your portfolio will always be a work in progress. And I have it on good authority that most of those very same designers who tout such high standards in hiring would be ashamed to show you their own first portfolios. So believe in yourself and your ability to learn, grow and adapt.

New Books

This book was created as a group project in the fall 2010 book arts class. We printed an edition of 18.  Five students and I each created a quarto sheet 13 x 19  printed one side which remained untrimmed in the final book. The copy shown was presented as a gift to Bradley University President Joanne Glasser on November 11, 2010. This was a beginning letterpress and book arts class and the students- graphic design junior and seniors – were able to do an admirable job of both hand typesetting and a variety of imaging techniques, including pressure printing, photo polymer, “sandragraph” prints, and other relief printing techniques.

More images of the book can be seen at

Typeface: the Movie by Kartemquin Films premiered in Peoria

Wood type continues to draw interest as the film Typeface, about the revival of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum, premieres around the globe. And on April 22nd, it was screened in Peoria, with a talk by director/filmmaker Justine Nagan. It also provided an opportunity to make use of our own collection of wood type, creating a poster using collagraph textures and some metal type printed on our Vandercook SP-15.

Letterpress and other tactile media continue to garner more attention these days from designers and clients alike. People respond to the very qualities that differentiate these objects and processes from the plethora of digital media. Designers find the the hands-on processes refreshing after working exclusively in virtual space for so long.

Do digital and hand work mix? I have to say NO!

At the recent College Book Arts Association meeting (Oregon College of Art and Craft, January 8-10th, 2010) one of the more exciting discussions was on digital media in book arts. I wish it could have continued. While I have a dual appointment in the both art and interactive media, I share some of the misgivings over the “digital blessing” that have been bestowed upon us, and I council students on how and when to make use of them as practical tools. I spent a recent sabbatical doing hand bookbinding and letterpress printing.

Slowing down to the pace of handwork gives more time for reflection and observation. I sometimes liken it to the difference between walking and driving a car (and all the extensions of that metaphor). Perhaps the Pacific Crest Trail versus the Pacific Coast Highway.

Do digital and hand work mix? I have to say NO!
From teaching drawing, I found over and over it was not good to teach perspective systems at the same time I taught responsive observation—different parts of the brain, I suppose. Some people can intuitively do both simultaneously, but most, particularly students, trip up in the process. .

A better approach is to keep distinct times and places for each process. Certain environmental cues can facilitate the shift to a slower more reflective kind of work. I would suggest for individuals, set up a special desk or work area specifically for hand media. Different ergonomics, including lighting and chair configuration are required for sustained handwork versus digital work. Don’t try to keep your sketchbook beside your computer. Instead, clean off that old drafting table, pull out the cutting mat, sharpen some pencils and (for God’s sake!) open the blinds and get some daylight in, or get a good lamp.

This approach can apply to classroom settings and offices as well as the individual studio. We have reduced the size of desks and increased the amount of clutter: usually centering on them a keyboard and monitor. This makes it all but impossible to do serious manual work. Drawing, cutting, handwork of any kind, requires a more meditative and fluid workspace. I don’t want to go too far with the notion of “chi” here, but there is a body of thought that holds that to do any craft work (draw, cut, carve) you had to be physically rooted and balanced: feet on the floor and aware of your physical and emotional center.

When to teach digital media? To be a responsible educator, I have to equip my students with what they need; teachers and practicing craftspersons need to know digital media. But I find most undergraduates hungry for digital media; and I have to satisfy that hunger before I can expect some of them to appreciate the alternative. (Note “SOME”—not all will be able to or want to loosen their grip on the mouse.) That said, it is terrific that there are places, the OCAC, perhaps, for people who are ready to make that leap; where they can go and embrace the craft aesthetic and process. One of the great things about the American educational system is that there is room for programs that cover the full spectrum of possibilities.

My most recent bookwork came out of digital media. The little cast of characters in my most recent book projects ( ) were created originally for some fun flash animations. (

Book arts for Peoria

Book arts for Peoria

no images were found

Books in Hartmand Gallery

Three letterpress artist books by Robert Rowe, December 2009

I have completed three book projects as part of the residency at the Prairie Center of the Arts. These were included in an exhibit at the Hartmann Center Gallery.

I have been working also to help the Prairie Center to set up a letterpress studio. It now has three presses, metal and wood type, and a nice clean studio for binding and other processes. Through cooperation between Bradley’s College of Communication and Fine Arts, the Prairie Center of the Arts and the Peoria community, we may well be on our way to a having a book and fine print center here in Peoria that could offer community classses, host resident artists, publish, and curate and host exhibitions and other book-related events.

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!.