Now we’re getting somewhere. Not sure where that where is yet, but we’re almost there.



Fig. 05.12.09
A detail from the initial series of type sketches (see previous Production is Reception post), showing some beginning display letters, potentially for use on the title page of The Heads.

Oh, it’s so much fun not to have any idea what I’m doing. Well, sometimes it’s fun, other times it’s nerve-frying and soul-twisting. But that’s part of the fun too. So here we are with another post of me bumbling through “lettering design.”

Fig. 05.12.10
First of new series of drawings specifically for the title type. The regular alphabet letters at the top show a brief flirtation with the idea of lowering the crossbar on the “A.”

These letters began with a slightly taller version of the regular alphabet (see Fig. 05.12.09), but as I recreated these digitally and enlarged them, I realized that they should be drawn at actual scale (using the same base grid) as that would allow for more variation in the design (like having a stem with a width of 3 blocks instead of a multiple of 2).

Fig. 05.12.11
Figuring out the shapes and trying out decorative elements—the “serifs” or “beaks” on the “T” and “E.”

So more drawings, then. No need to bore you with the details. I’m still not totally happy with these, but we’ll see where it goes. And of course the position on the page, along with any other text (the rest of the title, author name, press name, etc.), will play a huge role in how they look at the end.

Fig. 05.12.12
The final? Perhaps….

I’m still sorting out, still thinking through, what this kind of activity means for the larger process of making books (for NewLights—so the large but local sense), of making books strange. & of course this is just the design stage—setting these things in lead, manipulating and printing them, is going to be another matter entirely. But the activity in & around & through these letters is energizing and informing the whole process in a new way for me. Which is always the point when figuring out any new book.



& The Heads will contain my first (somewhat) legitimate foray into type design. As you may have deduced from earlier “digital sketches” that were posted here (here & here), the design of the book is tied to the idea of RGB color, in particular to the RGB phosphors that allow our precious & pernicious & delicate screens to show color.

Fig. 05.12.01
First sketches. The grid was set up on the computer and printed out so that I could work by hand. 12 pt. en quads, a 1:2 grid.

So, a grid, then, in red, green & blue. And type for the titles composed of, built out of, that grid. Letterpress printed from spacing material, flat rectangles of lead, ordinarily the physical component that makes a blank space on the printed page, now arranged in a pixel grid, raised up, inked and printed. The trace of the non-space, the brilliant color of the mutable absence.

Fig. 05.12.02
Working with variations on the letterforms.

The design of a modular typeface is a pretty basic typography exercise. But since I don’t know much about type design it seemed like a good place to start. (Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton and Lettering & Type by Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals, have been my guides.) & it has certainly been instructive. Even within a rigid system there are many variations of a letterform that can be created (see Fig. 05.12.02).

Fig. 05.12.03
The top alphabet contains some lowercase forms. The bottom is closer to the final designs, with each letter being made up of an odd number of “pixels”—1, 3 or 5. Except for the ampersand, formed from an “E” and “t,” and four “pixels” wide.

The titles for the poems are in all caps, so the designs are only for those letters (& the ampersand), done at actual size. These initial drawings were done by hand. I think that when they’re actually printed, they will rest somewhere between the unevenness of the drawn versions and the cleanliness of the digital renderings (see Fig. 05.12.08).

Fig. 05.12.04
Drawings for the potential “decorative” letters for the title pages. Some tests of kerning the letters, and variations of the “Y” in context.

I liked some of the earlier versions with a “modulated” stroke, but after conducting a few tests with the actual titles I determined that the best option would be a “condensed” typeface. And then it was a matter of refining the system and looking for workable, related shapes for the letters. I experimented with lowercase forms for some of the more problematic letters (B, D, R, K), but eventually settled on only using the lowercase form for the “N,” while the “Q” is both capital and lowercase (see Fig. 05.12.03).

Fig. 05.12.05
The final alphabet at the top, and renderings of the actual titles.

But there is always the title page(s) and cover as well. So maybe there will be a more decorative version (see Fig. 05.12.04). Bigger though.

Fig. 05.12.06
More renderings of the actual titles. Playing with word spacing and the “TT” and “TTT” ligatures.

Putting the letters into use in the actual configurations of the titles yielded new problems. The form of the “Y” was determined by how it looked in a specific title (YSYSYS, see Fig. 05.12.04), as that title was the most heavily patterned. Problems of spacing also became apparent, particularly with the “T,” so I decided to use ligatures when there was more than one “T” in a row (see Fig. 05.12.06).

Fig. 05.12.07
More titles. Some redrawn with the ligatures. The letterspacing is still not perfect on the grid, but the ligatures work better.

These letters, honestly, are the put of the book that I am most unsure about at this point. Partly the design of the letters themselves, partly the technical aspects of actually printing them, and partly how they will drive the overall design and feel and experience of the book. Too much? Too weird? Too bright? Too big?

Fig. 05.12.08
The clean, digital alphabet with some title tests. The printed versions will not be this clear and consistent.

But these are the risks that come along with a challenge.



& that’s when things started to get strange (any Thing that is strang).

I always wonder about how much I want to detail in these process posts, about how much of the book I want to show before it’s done. But here we go again, anyway, what else can we do?

One of the primary concerns whenever a NewLights book is being developed is how to make the book GO—how to reach into the text (whatever that “text” may be maybe) and pull out its strangeness and translate that to the physical-temporal book object itself.

This process often terrifies me, because it runs the real risk of real failure.

But hopefully that means that I’m on something. Still, the doubt is always there, twisting in my stomach. What follows is an example, the first nervous part of The Heads.

All of the poems have bizarre titles, in all caps, like:


I am very intrigued by these titles. I don’t know what they “mean.” But I do know that I want to draw attention to them, and that they could or should be a major design element of the book.

“Design element?” Maybe that doesn’t go far enough. I struggle with the word “design” in this context. It’s too removed, too after-the-fact. Too much about “presenting” the text. What we want is to produce the text(-book-object), enact it. Not to make a crystal goblet, but to distill the complex, intoxicating drink itself.

A writing alongside the writing. A writing underneath the writing. This process often terrifies me. The book twists in my stomach.



It is not so much a case of determining the success (or in this case FAILURE) of the experiment—it is a matter of bringing to light problems not seen in the original hypothesis.








For Rodchenko/For Travis/For J (again):
Working Notes Toward The Heads #FFFFFF

NewLights Press: Justin Sirois & A. Cohick
3 digital books, 64 pages each, 8” x 12” (open)
Pure RGB colors
Edition determined as viewed



A recent acquisition, as we gear up to print The Heads by Justin Sirois. This is the theme of YEAR 12.

This past Saturday (05/05/12) was the twelfth birthday of the NewLights Press. To be perfectly honest, the anniversary came and went and I barely noticed. Always too much to do in the day to day, and always too many year cycles to keep track of—the “real” year, the academic year, the NewLights year, the year of the lease, etc. But this seems like an appropriate time to ruminate on what happened, and what will happen….

Not a bad year! The one before, 2010, was the slowest (read: impossible for me to find time & energy) for NewLights ever, so last year, and a whopping two publications, makes me feel like things are heating back up again. In some ways this work moves glacially slow, but in other ways I feel like I can never keep up. I learned a great deal last year—I’m sure I will always be “figuring this out” for as long as I am making books.

I still have no idea what I’m doing.

But the most important question is, as always: what is NewLights doing?

More books! Definitely this year The Heads by Justin Sirois, and hopefully something by j/j hastain, Divya Victor, and a New Manifesto. More other things! A new (non-delaminated) broadside/poster series called “Words to Live With.” Maybe some short run chapbooks in conjunction with a still-forming reading series here in the Springs. Maybe a little magazine. Definitely a presence at the Codex Fair in February 2013, and it looks like a gallery show, the first for NewLights since 2007, in March/April. Which brings back the question of just which “art world” this work participates in….

And more digital archives of out-or-print books, including redesigned, re-edited, and newly accessible versions of the DIY Books.

That other press is coming along too.

I’m getting nauseous just thinking about all of this. This kind of fun is so unsettling.

Thank you all for reading. Thank you all for giving this a purpose.



Text and images by Aaron Cohick-Gilles Deleuze-Eadweard Muybridge

56 pages, softcover with printed dustjacket,
double signature pamphlet stitch, 8” x 5”
Letterpress printed dustjacket and covers with digitally printed text pages
Edition of 50 

Out of Print

You might notice a bit of strangeness in the middle of this one. The double-signature pamphlet stitch puts a flap form the covers in the middle of the book. They turn like pages in the real thing, but I had to “fake it” for this digital version.