Wednesday, October 31, 2007

So Happy Halloween - I spent my day prior to Halloween making glow in the dark skulls and bones out of oven clay. Lame, but great! Today I learned the origin of the expression "out of sorts". In short, a sort is one piece of moveable type (one letter, or punctuation mark). Throughout history printers have been running out of type, and when this would happen they were said to be "out of sorts". Interesting huh?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Black Death responsible for high literacy rates?

Of course, is that even a question? If this doesn't make sense to you, let me explain. It starts with paper. We all use paper, especially the printmakers of the world. Paper is made of trees right? Wrong. Well, not entirely wrong. Cheapie typing paper, ect, is made from trees, yes. But good quality papers are made from pure rag content. That's right my friends, paper is 100% cotton. It has not always been so. Paper, developed in Egypt, was made primarily from papyrus, about 5000 years ago. This flat sheet however, was more closely related to fabric than an actual sheet of paper. The first evidence of mould made paper was around 105 A.D. in China - they had silk screen technology back then as well. China kept that secret pretty well for a while, because these techniques did not arrive in Western Europe until around 900 A.D. With this mould technique, the materials being used were discarded rags, as they were the only good source of cotton. The rags were cooked, and beaten to break down the fibers, and then the resulting pulp was formed into sheets. Back then, there was no technology to support paper being made from the cellulose in trees, and was all cotton instead (this is nicer anyway). Now, when Gutenberg invented the moveable type in the 1450's (see below), the demand for paper rose drastically, naturally. Unfortunately there were not enough raw materials to produce the ton of paper that was necessary to print all of that literature. Thanks to the rats and fleas though, people started dying like mad. Dying people = good source of free rags. Papermakers therefore, would follow the carts around that collected the dead, and before the bodies were dumped into a grave, they would gather all of the clothes and take them back to their paper mills. For a while, it was believed that this only worked to spread the black death even further. If you ask me though, if all of those people hadn't died, Gutenberg would have had nothing to print on, and not as many people would have learned how to read. Could the plague have been divine intervention as a way to procure materials for papermaking? Maybe that's taking it a bit far, but at least we know the facts: Black death = dying people. Dying people = free rags. Free rags = lots of paper. Lots of paper = readily available printed material. Readily available printed material = literacy. Therefore, black death = literacy. See, that wasn't nearly as ludicrous as you thought it was going to be, now was it?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

a matter of national urgency

This may not be anything related to printmaking, but I believe it to be a matter of severe social and cultural importance. Yes, that's right, this is about Spree. The candy. Once, I was getting in the car for a bit of a drive, when my driving friend brought along a roll of Spree. "Spree?", said I, "what the fuck is wrong with you?". "They are a great road-trip candy", said my companion. "No, they are an awful candy that is entirely unpleasant, and plagues other countries with war and genocide by even existing! Get those Spree out of the car!", said I. Maybe that is a little bit of an exaggeration, but that's pretty much how it went down, except for that last bit. I just wanted to make sure that the world at large knows how horrible this innocent looking roll of candy really is. It may have a shiny wrapper, and come in appealing colors, but that is just a guise. Once you put one in your mouth, you have about five seconds of anonomyous sweet fruity taste before the candy coating begins to break down and taste like you have a disc covered with rough warts in your mouth. Then, once all of the candy coating has turned bumpy and dissolved off, you are left with a foul white chip that is sour and hard as a rock. Biting it will surely cause tooth damage, and once bitten the sour infestation will make you cringe in disgust. Now, there is a Chewy Spree variety that's not nearly as bad. Quite tasty, in fact. Join us next time for our regularly scheduled printmaking programming.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Picasso, go home.

Today I had relief printmaking on the brain in a bad way. A couple of days ago, I was sifting through the printmaking section at the fine arts library and realized that nearly all the books about relief printmaking were in reference to Eastern works, and techniques. This has since had me a bit fired up. However, that one is going to take the back burner to an issue that has always been near and dear to my heart: the common misconception of the invention of color reduction block printing. Whether using woodblock, or linoleum block, traditionally a new block is cut and used for each color of the print in the entire edition. Reduction printing, "the suicide method", as it is fondly referred to, involves the cutting and printing of one whole block across the entire edition before cutting the same block further and printing it over the first layer with a different color. This is pretty much the greatest printing process that exists. Nevermind that, it IS the greatest. All biases aside though, the deal is that Picasso is generally credited with the invention of this method. Now, when I was in my early days of falling in love with print media, I did some research about Alfred Sessler, a printer from Madison, Wisconsin. Through my search, I found statements that claimed his invention of the reduction method before Picasso. It was thought that because of Picasso's widespread "fame" that he was credited instaed of Sessler. This made me want to punch Picasso's lights out for needing to take the credit for everything on Earth. So, I've been living these past few years believing Sessler to be my underdog hero. I would imagine fake boxing matches between Sessler and Picasso where Picasso would try to play dirty by pulling a knife on Sessler, but Sessler would still wipe the floor with Picasso's guts just by fighting fair and square. I was confident that I knew the real truth. Tonight however, I decided to do a little more poking, and what I found out is quite interesting indeed. I found a brilliant and well sited paper about this very issue. I read through it eagerly, expecting to be validated about the Sessler theory. As I read on however, even Sessler was discredited with this invention. Although there are some publications claiming Sessler to take the cheese, there was a printmaker by the name of Murray Griffin who was working in Australia around 1935. Evidence supports his use of this process prior to both Sessler and Picasso who were both working around the 1940's and 50's. It turns out though, that Griffin doesn't win either. In 1899, Gaugin used the reduction technique. There may have been printers that "invented" it before he used it as well. This was slightly disheartening for me to learn, but at least now I know the facts. In the case of color reduction and the Tootsie Pop I guess "the world may never know".

If you want to read this paper, which I know you do, here it is:

Thursday, October 25, 2007

meat is murder

The most important information anyone can possess is known only by few: Everything is Printmaking. No joke. O.K., let's shake that down. Essentially, the act of printmaking involves one thing making an impression on another thing. The resulting impression may take the form of an image, an embossment, or something a little less defined. We can therefore carry this concept through to everything that happens in the world. For example, when one walks through the mud, or even just on the pavement, the impression the shoe leaves behind is a print. You are making roughly 6,000 prints per day simply by walking around. While sitting in a cushy seat, a buttocks makes a print on the seat - even if just a temporary print. Not to mention, printing happens in a more abstract way just as frequently. The place where one's body has been during the day is imprinted in the memory of that space. The relationships individuals have with one another imprint the brain. Our brain is a giant print storage facility, maybe even a set of thousands of flat files. All kidding and nerdiness aside, the pictured item of the day is a way to integrate printmaking even more into daily life. It is a monogram brand to push into your meat while it is cooking. Steak, I presume, is the intended meat. You can purchase one of these bad boys from high end cooking stores for a meer 40 clams, and personalize them with your own initials, or I suppose, three letters of your choise. Possibly, purchasing a multitude in the forms of three letter words could be used as a tool for helping others learn to read - in a very expensive and high cholesterol way. Personally, I reccommend the letters A, S, and S, because that is what you are going to look like when you use this, but if someone makes fun of you, just tell them that you are a print enthusiast, and explain to them what you just learned. I'm sure they'll understand.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

some kinda wonderful

Three cash dollars is all it cost me to buy this beautiful movable metal type at a flea market outside Cleveland. Obviously, the seller did not know what he had on his hands, or wanted to give a print enthusiast a great deal. Either way, I was quick to purchase, and gazed into my bag full of type at ten minute intervals during the rest of the afternoon. For those of you that don't believe this is the most wonderful thing on the planet, allow me to convince you:

Johannes Gensfleisch zur Laden zum Gutenberg, or just Gutenberg for short, was the genius behind the invention of movable type. Before this, the standard method for book production was the handwritten manuscript. Due to the absolutely ridiculous nature of this, printing as a means of dissemanating information was still fairly obsolete, but was thriving as a means to print images that were engraved out of wood or metal. In 1439 however, Gutenberg walked onto the scene, barely able to squeeze his ginormous brain through the doorway. He saw that the handwritten book was slow going. Many people were illiterate due to the low volume of reading material that was available, especially to people in the middle and lower classes. To resolve this disparity, a troubled but determined Gutenberg sat down and developed a system of letters, cast out of metal, that were all the same height. A printer would then be able to arrange letters to form words that would all sit in a block that was the same height, therefore allowing for ink application and even printing on paper. He created a highly efficient system for creating type in mass quantities, using oil based inks to print, and a press to accommodate the type as well.

In short, thanks to good old Gutenberg, printed documents became commonplace. People everywhere, in all social classes, learned how to read, and printmaking began to take responsibility for an educated and highly sophisticated world.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Ben Franklin, printer.

What? Old Ben Franklin...a printer? That's right kids. Up until now, you may have only thought this bespectacled gent to be an author, political theorist, politician, inventor, civic activist, diplomat, figure head on U.S. currency, kite flier, and Founding Father of the good old U. S. and A. - just to name a few. It turns out however, that old Benji was a printer before all of that went down. Franklin was responsible for publishing "Poor Richard's Almanac", "The Pennsylvania Gazette", and other periodicals. The Almanac alone reached runs of up to 10,000 per year! I am ashamed to say that up until I saw this monument the other day, while strolling the streets of Philly with some comrades, I was unaware of my debt to good old Mr. Franklin. Thanks buddy.