Speaking of the interplay between analog and digital techniques, one thing that I do quite often is make digital mock-ups of something that will be letterpress printed. It’s a quick way to work with multiple colors, transparency, and sometimes, depending on the discrepancy between a face in lead and a face in bytes, the computer can be used to rough out what type set by hand will look like.

(Side Thought: Might it be useful to have a digitally rendered version of certain faces in lead, at an accurate scale and set width? One of them main advantages of digital design is the “bottomless typecase” and how it allows for the breaking of one massive barrier to book design: the ability to see the book and the text as a complete sequence before all the time is spent setting it in lead. A printer might have enough type to set a small book of poems up in its entirety, but it is rare that one printer has enough of one face to set even a short (10 or more 5” x 8” pages) prose piece. One could have one’s book Monotype cast as a whole thing, and then refine in the stick from there, but a) that’s expensive and time-consuming, and b) you end up with a lot of Monotype afterwards.)

I start the design process with the color digital mock-up, testing out a bunch of ideas, usually moving from very drastically different overall approaches to very small refinements once a general design has decided upon. (The mock-ups are usually made as multi-page InDesign documents so that I can click through and compare different versions rapidly.)

The images above show some of the mock-ups for the cover/jacket of ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ [an island]. The long images are what the cover will look like completely folded out (there are flaps that wrap around to the inside of the book) and the smaller images are what the front cover would look like on its own. The paper I will be using is orange, and the printing will be in a bunch of different colors, at varying degrees of opacity, all overprinted closely. The transparent gray circle is actually a digital rendering of an already existing relief block. (We have lots of interesting shape blocks at the Press at CC, and I often make digital versions of them. Which goes back to my earlier comments about a digital lead type.) This cover, despite all the colors, will actually only be printed with one polymer plate and the single circle relief block. It will be 7 or 8 runs (there’s printing on the interior too). It’s always interesting to see the real, physical print slowly emerge at the press after I’ve become so familiar with the screen version. I am always surprised by how the printed thing looks, by how much better it looks, by how real it is someone’s hands.



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.



This whole weekend was spent dwelling in and on the minutiae of typography. The image above shows a piece of that—the pink highlighted dots are character combinations that needed kerning. (Translation: the space between the letters looked wrong, often too wide, and it needed to be adjusted manually.) I will spare you the details of this process (at least for now) and let’s just say that I am trying to be thorough, careful, and thoughtful, on a micro level, about the typography of this new book. But the important question is: why?

And I have been asking myself that same question between each 1/1000 of an inch adjustment. Why? I certainly enjoy the work (most of the time) but that may not be enough to justify this activity, which 99.5% of the readers of the book will never notice, as the time for printing and binding shrinks. & time is our primary joy, our primary tragedy.

It’s partly about “doing a good job” or “doing it the right way.” It’s also important to remember that typographic decisions are aesthetic decisions, and so the “right” way is always culturally determined and needs to be interrogated in order for the discipline to grow. The discipline. But of course a part of that interrogation entails a thorough understanding of the rules to be questioned. Part of doing this is about educational self-discipline. And no art disciplines the producer like typography.

Why is the spacing important, just in terms of aesthetics & functionality? The space between and around the letters, words, lines and paragraphs, the negative space, is the glue that holds the text together visually. It’s a matter of balance, of the shapes of the letters being made to sit in and move through that space. The type always relies on the negative space for its articulation. It can also be overwhelmed by that space and disappear into the blankness of the page. Making type hold weight, compositionally, spatially, temporally, is one of my primary concerns as a designer and maker.

But back to process. Why the kerning? Another attempt: I am an advocate of meditative rigor, of looking and working hard. (Side note: in these descriptions the matter of “depth” keeps reappearing in my initial writing, but the postmodernist me carefully edits those out, suspicious of such things. What is depth? Why is it bad? Or good? Is it spatial? Or can it be temporal?) Again this idea of discipline emerges.

Why are you worried about the kerning? This kind of fine tuning kills the immediacy of production, the “make it & get it out there” ethic that keeps an energy flowing through this kind of literature. If I wasn’t concerned with the (choose one: ethics, politics, aesthetics, economics) of process, and only cared about “getting it out there,” I definitely would not be messing around with the spacing. Can you read it? Good. It’s fine.

You’re not just spending time and energy on the spacing itself, but also in debating its ethics. Is it that important? Maybe and maybe not. But I think it’s a key or point of departure towards a larger discussion about practice. And that discussion is maybe the point of the practice. As always, to be continued, as always.



One of the first things that the group of presses agreed to keep consistent across all of the books was the page size: 8” x 5”. That’s the largest size one can comfortably get out of a folded 8.5’ x 11” sheet and have a little space to trim the edges of the book. And we wanted to size them for convenient digital printing. So based off of that page size, I started working on layouts. I began with splitting up the space of the page/spread into regular divisions:

(The process for this is explained in more detail here and here.)

Those divisions are then used to determine the margin scheme of the book. When I was working on drawing the schema to divide the pages I was intuitively drawn toward dividing the page into thirteenths. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but it sounded like fun—it’s an odd number, with cultural resonance, it’s prime, etc. So I built a grid, based on the page/spread, that is divided into rectangles that are each 1/13 of the dimension that they are made out of. (Note: all of my divisions are based on the 8 x 5 page, which is then just doubled into the spread.):

And after the grid was built I started playing around with margin schemes, and settled on this “reversed” scheme:

I wanted the text/book to look and feel heavy. Breaking the traditional margin set-up helps to draw the reader’s attention to the book as a made object, to the materiality of the text, and to the overall proportions of the book and how it sits in their hands. That lowered text block gave me an idea for the title page sequence. And it just seemed to “work” with the story and the 1/13 based division.

And speaking of 1/13, as I worked more on the design I realized that the number 13 makes other appearances: the sum of the two dimensions of the page: 8 + 5 = 13. Also, when the phrase “ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ” shows up in the text (which it does a lot) the default number of Z’s is 13. Intuition in design often links up to “real” properties as the design progresses.

Then it was that old, favored question of the typeface, and the proportions of that. After much waffling, I settled on my old friend Palatino Linotype, because it was the only one that seemed dark enough—all of the other standard, serifed text faces just looked weak on the page. After some playing with scale and proportion, I settled on 10 pt. Palatino with 12.4 pt leading. The .4 points on the leading brings the baseline of the bottom line perfectly in sync with the margin scheme. Being able to easily make fractional, minute adjustments like that is one of the nice, expansive things about digital design.

The face on the left is 10/12.4 Adobe Jenson Pro. The face on the left is 10/12.4 Palatino Linotype. And then I think somewhere around this point in the process I decided that I was going to letterpress print the whole thing.



Somewhere around a year and a half ago the writer J.A. Tyler contacted NewLights and a few other small presses to see if we were interested in a project idea. Mr. Tyler had written a story that existed in five different versions or iterations—not five parts in a sequence—one story realized five different ways, all based on the same “core.” And the idea, after the stories were written, was to see if he could get all five iterations published, each by a different small press, all at the same time. The main title of the project was ZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. The proposed release date was May 15, 2011. I said yes. The time is drawing near.

The other presses involved in the project are:

Greying Ghost
Warm Milk Printing Press
The Collagist

We had a fifth press, but they folded in the interim between conception and execution. And now it’s too late, so we are down to four for now.

The idea spoke to me for a few reasons. First, it involved a group of presses all working together. Anything that expands and deepens the community I am all for. Second, the project relies on the idea of repetition and difference for its shape. I’ve been experimenting with multiple iterations of my own texts/books, so it’s interesting to see how someone else approached the same problem. And third, the story fit the specs for more chapbookish type production that I was looking to do. Good timing and a good fit.

Right now the book is towards the final design stages. Future posts will go into more detail about the individual steps.



This Friday, April 15th, 2011, will be the last day that the 2009 - 2011 NewLights Press broadsides will be available for purchase at the pre-sale price of $50 for one, or $220 for the set of five. Click here and scroll down for more info and images.



I wants to be:
a standard level of quality [...]
a certain field of conceptual or theoretical coherence [...]
a stylistic uniformity [...]
a definite historical figure in which a series of events converge
I is not:
a standard level of quality [...]
a certain field of conceptual or theoretical coherence [...]
a stylistic uniformity [...]
a definite historical figure in which a series of events converge
What I is is not that. The world?

The quotes are from: Michel Foucault, "What is an Author?" Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Simon (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 128.



A month or so ago I received an email from a poet/printer that I admire, and in that email he wrote:

[...] I want to say however how much I admire and value your enterprise - for me, the book has to stay alive, and while I appreciate the argument (I have other reasons for being forever grateful for some writings of Roland Barthes), the author has to stay alive also - for who benefits by the death of the author, of individuality, of specific agency - well, it's money, power, and monopolistic enterprise of every sort [...]

And I realized that he had a good point—the "death of the author" is a dangerous idea. I realized that in my, shall we say, postmodern zeal I had dismissed the author entirely, had not looked at the concept critically, and had not, very importantly, examined how that concept is playing out today in the cultural field. A regular reader of this blog (if such an angel exists) would know that the work of NewLights is deeply concerned with the problem(s) of making. In fact, it is that activity of making, that problem, the risk and danger of it, the absurdity of it, the absolute necessity of it, that drives the whole enterprise. So there is something worth recovering in the idea of authorship, at least of authorship in the sense of “one who makes things.” But there are aspects of authorship worth shedding as well—that are necessary to shed—namely its links to authority and the power that denies the very act of authorship.

And of course where there is danger, there is something at stake, and that is where the interesting discussions are.

Mr. Beckett, via Mr. Foucault, provides our title for this series. The full quote:
What matter who’s speaking, someone said, what matter who’s speaking.