Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Process: Letterpress

Greetings! I am now going to tell you all about letterpress. Today's item is Jen and my "OPUS" poster (along with a more detailed story of our letter-pressed journal page).

There are three main reasons why you should fall in love with letterpress.

1) Unique Aesthetic: Letterpress has its own beauty. There's a certain raw texture that it creates which can make letter-pressed items appear rustic yet detailed, refined, and glorious. (Don't listen to the slew of graphic designers out there who claim that they can capture the same effect with their fancy-pants Adobe art programs and house-sized printers. They're just jealous. ;))

2) Appreciation: Even if you never actually get your hands on a letterpress, just learning about the process will forever change the way you look at books (unless you're a year-round scrooge). In our culture of mass-produced books, catalogs, magazines, pamphlets, syllabi, and student papers, it's easy to forget that in the not-yet-hazy past, books were a prized possession.

3) Awesomeness: That's right. Letterpress is a pure form of awesomeness. (If Po the Kung Fu Panda had lived in Europe during the mid-1400s, he would have letter-pressed books--free of charge.)

With that in mind, let's explore the actual process.

For the first page in our leather journal, we started with choosing a typeface. Typefaces are the alphabets, made of wood or metal, that one uses for printing. There's a huge variety of typeface styles and sizes, which makes things fun. For this journal, we used Garamond, which is a classic serif typeface (serifs are the strokes that subtly project from the stems of letters).

Next, we laid out our type on the letterpress bed using support rods and magnets. And this is where it gets extra fun: you have to spell your words with each letter facing backwards, moving from right to left.


If your brain starts to do loop-de-loops in the middle of placing a word, just press any confusing letter(s) against your forearm to remind yourself that it truly will face the right direction once printed. Lowercase Bs and Ds, anyone?

Yep! That's the "d" on the left and the "b" on the right.

(Oh! Fun fact: the terms "lowercase" and "uppercase" originate from the old letterpress studios. Printers organized their type by size: large letters in cases on top and small letters in cases beneath. So that became their nice and efficient way of referring to them: uppercase letters and lowercase letters!)

But! Before I get too carried away with type, I have to tell you about our "OPUS" poster. For this item, we used a really cool device called a polymer plate. This is such a handy option because it allows you to letterpress your own designs--which is exactly what we did! We created our own typeface for this poster and Beaver Engraving made us our polymer plate. (Check out their website--they've got good stuff!)

Once the type or plate is secure, it's time to pull out the ink and a brayer. Letterpress ink is quite thick so a little goes a long way. We smeared a small dollop onto a glass palette and then coated the brayer. You know you have the right amount of ink on your brayer when it stops making a really loud smacky sound as you role is across the palette (this usually requires several runs across non-inky areas).

Finally, we inked our type/plate with the brayer, secured our page on top with the clamp at the front of the letterpress, and ran over the page with the roller.


And that's letterpress!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Process: Leather Journal

Hi there! We've talked about illuminated scrolls along with platters and coasters and other wooden things, so now it's time for book stuff. Today's item is the leather journal.

While Jen was devoting every spare minute to designing borders for said illuminated scroll, I busied myself with leather and paper and binding techniques.

This book making process has a lot of details, but I'll give it my best shot! Here goes.

Step 1-Preparing the Pages: The journal covers are 5.75"x8.25", so I started by cutting out paper sheets that were roughly 11"x8". I then folded each sheet in half (width-wise) to create a total of 16 folios. Next, I coupled the folios, placing one inside of another, which gave me 8 signatures. Stacking these signatures creates what is called the book block.

Step 2-Letter-pressing: For this particular book, I letter-pressed on the first page only. This was a relatively easy task, which involved arranging type on the letterpress bed, inking it with a small brayer, clamping the first folio on top of the type, and pulling the roller across the folio...resulting in "OPUS demo" appearing on the first page.  (I'll talk more about letterpress next time!)

Step 3-Preparing the Covers: I cut out two pieces of art board, 5.75"x8.25" each, and a single piece of leather, approximately 11"x12". I then adhered the leather to the boards, wrapping it around their edges. Once the adhesive dried, I moved on to...

Step 4-Binding: I poked holes in the valleys (fold creases) of each signature using an awl. With the same tool, I pierced holes in the spine of the leather (the relatively narrow section that joins the covers) so that they were aligned with the signature holes. I then bound the covers and book block together using one of our very own Opus stitches (this particular one was inspired by the Coptic Stitch).

OK. I hope you survived all of that.

The end!

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Process: Coaster Designs

Well, Kate said I would talk about the coaster designs, so here goes! 

The first one (upper left) is a design I came up with while drawing a replica of one of pages from the stunning Lindisfarne Gospels. (See the page I was copying here.) I was drawing this part-- 

--and then I noticed that if I changed the angle a bit I could turn it into a design with a continuous pattern. Voila! 

The next one (below) is not a design I can really claim as my own. It's just four trinity knots put together and I bet someone, somewhere has done that before!

The last design is very simple, really. It's just four overlapping circles. But when you create each circle with two parallel lines and follow the ancient tradition of going either over or under whenever you encounter another line, and the next time going the opposite, it can make things appear fairly intricate. Which, of course, is more fun for us!  

And there you have it! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Process: Wooden Canvases, Coasters, and Platters

Hello! It's Kate again. I hope you've enjoyed the story of the Shakespeare scroll, because there's more where that came from! Today's topic is woodwork.

Jen and I decided on three wooden items for Kickstarter: canvases, coasters, and platters. Wood is a deeply traditional material for certain art styles, and since we're all about making old things new, there was no escaping it!

How did we choose our wood? Well, Jen and I both have a soft spot for pyrography--bet you hadn't noticed!--and so we needed wood that was low grain and soft, yet not too soft (we really didn't fancy selling stuff that lasts maybe six months before looking like it's aged six years). So! We settled on using pine, linden, and maple.

Coasters: These little guys are made of pine wood. We started by sketching a design on each coaster.(I'll let Jen tell you about these designs--they're all hers!).

Step two was probably our favorite: plugging in the wood-burner and then turning our sketches into permanent designs--burned (literally) into the wood. It took about 45 minutes to burn each coaster.

After pyrography came staining. We used a great water-based stain and applied even coats to each coaster. This kind of staining is an awesome process. For one, it's fun. But it's also low-maintenance: once you apply a coat, you can run off and tend to some other project while it dries.

Steps four and five involved leafing and finishing. There's a special adhesive for gold and silver leaf--incredibly sticky and remains incredibly sticky for hours--and it's the first step in the leafing process. For larger areas, like on these coasters, we used a small paint brush to apply the adhesive. Once it turns from white to clear, you can apply the leaf (seriously fun!).

Finishing these coasters was a very important step: the leafing needed to be protected, and the whole coaster needed to be, well... usable. That's why we first applied a specially designed leafing sealer, followed by several coats of wood finish.

Canvas and Platters: These items have a nearly identical process to the coasters: sketching, burning, staining, leafing, and finishing.

The wood canvas is textbook pyrography material. Like I mentioned, quite a few wood types become nightmares when you've got a wood-burner in your hand. Pine works great, and linden wood is fantastic. But, here's the catch: linden is so soft that it doesn't always hold up well on its own. Thankfully, some incredible genius out there came up with the idea of combining wood types...and that's exactly what this item is: a wooden canvas with pine supports and a linden surface.

And, finally, we have the wooden platters which are made of maple. As it turns out, maple likes to present little surprises once you start working with it (particularly when it comes to staining). That's right: maple blotches!!! But it's such a lovely wood that doing a little extra research was worth it. Baby it a tad (i.e., sand and wipe it extra good and keep Shalack handy), and then staining maple is totally doable.

Tada! There you have it. The end.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Process: Shakespeare Scroll

Hello! Throughout the next few days, Jen and I will be posting photos and stories of the various processes we used for our Kickstarter artworks. Today's item is the Shakespeare scroll.

Below are some pictures of the sketches Jen made right after we decided to create a scroll of the Saint Crispin's Day speech.

30+ hours of research and brainstorming later, we finalized the designs and layout. On to making the demo!

Jen started the demo by transferring her designs onto the scroll using graphite transfer paper (this took about 10 hours).

Next, I wrote out the speech. This being the first scroll, I penciled in the text and then went over it with a dip pen and ink (no time for mistakes!)

The writing took about five hours.

And now for the good stuff...illumination! We decorated the border designs with paint and gold and silver leaf (which took about 15 hours).

At this point, we had put around 60 hours into this scroll, and had probably consumed 25 or more cups of tea and/or cider (each!) We kept the kettle warm and the pot of cider full 24/7.

And here it is! The completed Shakespeare Scroll demo. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Hello, and welcome to the Opus blog! We're very excited to share our art process and upcoming projects with all of you.

To start things off, here are a few images of our Opus kickstarter prep from the past month or two.