The images above show the cover of What You Will where it currently stands, 62 runs deep, with 26 on the left side now, and 36 on the right. Every plate used in the printing of the book is printed on the covers in white, in its exact location on the page, one on top of another. The books will be bound with a double-signature pamphlet stitch, so there are two cover sheets for every book, printed exactly the same on the front and back. So when the covers are folded and wrapped around and into the pages, the rectos of both sides of the cover will have all of the plates from the recto pages of the book, and the versos of the cover will have all of the verso plates of the pages. The layered structure of the entire book will be visible at once, both collapsing and exploding the pages.
Printing right now is very routine: just switching plates, making slight adjustments to the position, and printing long runs (100 books x 2 covers per book x 2 sides per cover = 400 impressions per plate). Yesterday I was reminded of an incident in one my painting classes when I was in art school in Baltimore, an “incident” that at the time was small (a normal critique of work done in class) but looking back from here, that professor, was, in a way, predicting the future….
The first semester of my sophomore year (Fall of 1999, the semester before I learned to print and started the NewLights Press) I was in a painting class that was based loosely around traditional techniques of figure painting in oils (glazing, etc.), but also featured a large amount of independent work. I was in the class mostly because I wanted to work with that professor, who was great. One day we were doing an in-class figure painting from a model. I was working on small, square canvas, and had set up a painting where most of the model was cropped off of the canvas and the majority of the composition was the white wall behind him. Because what I was interested in was painting that wall.
And so I tried to paint the wall (on my canvas), but I really wasn’t trying to paint an image an image of the wall (I thought I was), I was just putting white paint onto the surface of the canvas and enjoying that. The professor stopped me and explained that I wasn’t really painting, in the sense of trying to make a picture, but that I was just “marking time,” making a series of essentially arbitrary brushstrokes on a surface. The only thing being articulated by those strokes was the time it took to make them.
This was before I learned to make books. I thought of myself, more or less, as a painter. I was trying (not really trying) to be a “good” one. I had no idea what that meant. I was 19. I had not yet been pointed to the work of Robert Ryman, though it probably happened soon after this “event,” perhaps because of it:
Robert Ryman, Ledger, Enamelac paint on fiberglass, aluminum and wood, 1982.
Robert Ryman, Series #33 (White), Oil on canvas, 2004.
That professor was pointing out that my engagement with that painting was an engagement with the raw or mundane or technological aspects of the process: making marks on a surface. That was a valid critique from his point-of-view, the point-of-view of the assignment, because we were supposed to be doing a figure painting from life. But sometimes critiques like that open up other doors. And I think that is one of the main things that made this professor good—he didn’t just tell me to stop and get back to the figure, but talked to me about what I was doing, helping me to see something in my approach that I was blind to. [Thank you, Karl.]
So fast forward to yesterday. I was printing, white block after white block. And at some point I stopped, and thought:
Am I just marking time?
And the answer, at least for the moment, seems to be yes and no—yes, marking time, but no, not just marking time. Marking time because the time of the process of printing the book was being articulated on a single surface and distributed across the edition. Marking time because the temporal structure of the book would be legible at once. Not marking time because the surface of the page, and its 2D composition were also being articulated. Not just marking time because that time will be re-inscribed into the here-and-now of the reading of the book, of the reader’s understanding of the book as an object, as a made thing-in-the world.