One theme or question that keeps re-emerging (for me) as I work on this book and daydream about others, is the question: why letterpress? What is it about that particular method of printing that makes it the best choice for the production of these books? How can the “best” choice be qualified/quantified? And as I work through this project (designing, proofreading, kerning, emailing, sweating over the paper cost, getting nervous about the cost of the film & plates) this question, “Why letterpress?” keeps coming back into my mind.

And if why letterpress, why use digital designs and photopolymer plates? Why not use lead type?

And, related: How does digital design translate into physical letterpress printing? Does the printing process influence the design (in a way beyond the limitations of the physical medium) or is the process of printing a mechanical-technical execution, a transparent rendering of a transparent design?

Why all this time and all this money on this process? Because it’s “nicer?” Because it’s “finer?” Because it’s more “expensive?” Because it’s “older?” If it is better, or even more appropriate for these projects, let’s figure out why.


A friend once commented that one thing she liked about the NewLights books is that “there was a reason for them to be letterpress.” She observed something that I want to be embedded in every book (and strung through the form-content-reception): a series of observations & reflections on, and experiments with, the chosen mode(s) of production. This series of “Production is Reception” is literally that. But these explorations must be enacted in the objects, and re-enacted every time a reader interacts with the books.

I think that an interesting way to address these “Production is Reception” posts for ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ is to look at the project specifically in terms of letterpress printing, of letterpress working with and against digital design. So we’ll probably flicker back and forth between exploratory posts on the “why” of this kind of printing and technical descriptions of the processes of working between the analog and the digital.


katerr said...

hi, i'm a graduate student in the mills creative writing + book art program and i discovered your blog recently because of your friend adam.

i'm really interested in your "why letterpress?" question, as it's something i'm asking myself constantly. actually i came to letterpress myself in this sort of "oh, of COURSE letterpress." because i was (and continue to be) thinking and writing a lot about the materiality of language and of embodiment or enactment.

letterpress seemed to me to be a natural way of deliberately (and often painfully) connecting one's entire body to the words on a page.

there are also ways in which the tactile form of letterpress enacts aspects of the material function of language that could never be achieved digitally, as i'm sure you're well aware.

anyway, just wanted to say hello and note that i'm into what you're doing, you can check out my stuff at katerr.wordpress.com and manifestpress.tumblr.com

NewLights Press: Et Al. said...

Hello and thanks for the comment and the links. Yes, I completely agree that letterpress printing connects the body to language in a different way than digital printing. Or at least it connects someone's body to the language, or perhaps different parts of different bodies to different aspects of the language. Right now my back & neck are a little stiff from printing all weekend. I hope that this book does not have quite the same effect on the readers....