Friday, October 30, 2009

We're in Business

So, folks. It's happening. I'm taking steps towards my own little printing enterprise. They are slow, careful steps. But they are steps, no less. Several months ago, after losing my job, I dove headfirst into writing the plans for my letterpress business. With the help of a talented designer, I crafted the logo for Four Hats Press, and articulated the story here. I had in mind to buy a press and get going right away. I even got several pages in on my business proposal. I was ankle-deep in things before I realized -- HOLD THE PHONE-- I don't have the foggiest idea what I'm doing.

And so, instead of buying a printing press,-- the one I conned the UAB Library Director to take out of the library and put up for sale-- I used the chunk of change I had in savings to come here to Penland. I figured a press would be of little use to someone who didn't have the rudimentary skills to operate it.

Thus, after having completed three-quarters of my program, I am moving toward the goal I set for myself almost four months ago. Granted, the realization of my business-owning dream is still off on the far-away horizon, I am making my way towards it, learning patience all the way.

Having said that, see above my logo, printed for the very first time on some scrap paper. I have big ideas in mind for packaging some of the things I've made here to sell on my etsy shop, for starters.

This here is my business card. The top portion is printed without color, producing a delicate de-bossed look, that I think is pretty boss. The lower part is printed in a sweet wintergreen hue with my favorite font. I think it delivers what the font creators aimed for it to do: "hit the right notes of forthrightness, credibility and charm."

Sidenote: I'm smitten with this color for several reasons. Number one: If ever, one day, I get to own my fantasy Vespa, it will be in this lovely shade of retro green. Secondly, when I see this color, I will forever be reminded of my grandfather's old car that was both painted this color on the outside and upholstered with it on the interior. It always smelled like the Doublement gum that he often chewed, and I thought that was such a funny, appropriate accompanying scent.

Here's the card again, this time printed fully with the green. My apologies for the sub-par photo quality.

Here is a "why, thank you" card that I've been working on for a few days now. This particular set is printed with navy ink on a thick cardstock.

Here, the same design is played out on a much softer, cottony paper, with that same green for the text.

Details. Details.

I'll post some pictures of other things I'm hoping to have for sale-sies in a bit, including but not limited to: gift tags, prints and other cards. There is a real tension here for creating art for art's sake versus making pieces to sell. The crazy thing is...I don't feel like art is cheapened by making commercial things. I quite fancy creating things that I would want to buy. And if no one does, that's just dandy, too.

Weather: Scarves are not just for fashion, anymore. They're also functionally necessary.
What I'm listening to: Cat Stevens' "Moonshadow."
What I'm reading: Back-logged issues of Real Simple and Ready Made, winding up to begin A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (again).
What I'm working on in class: A Wadsworth poem print and plans for a paperdoll.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Tis the Season

I find myself at a loss for words these days. Penland days go by slowly, but weeks are just racing. In just three of them, I'll find myself back home in Birmingham, after what will have been eight weeks here. I've been spending a lot of time journaling and talking with friends about my experience-how it's growing, changing and challenging me. Because of that, when I get to updating my blog, I'm plum out of things to say. Instead of giving a (perhaps redundant) wordy update, I'll paint the picture of what I've been up to with some visual aids.

This weekend marked the 3rd Annual celebration of the Day of Fall Fun, which actually turned into a whole darn weekend of fall fun. It began on Saturday with a trip to the local Amish market, where a classmate and I loaded her tiny little sedan with about 20 honkin' pumpkins, some of which are pictured here.

Here is the DOFF setup outside of the Pines on Penland's campus. It was so fun to celebrate with new friends here.

Here's the sweet Ellen Anne, designing her pumpkin. Artists have a special knack for carving. I must say, I was blown away with the ingenious approaches taken by some.

Me? I chose to carve a plaid pumpkin (see right).

Do you see us clad in plaid? It was required for participation. Also note that behind us is the full line-up o'lanterns.

On Sunday, I hopped in the car for a short trip to Asheville, where the autumnal beauty shone round about me.

I met with my sister and her husband, George, who are up here in the mountains. We moseyed into a bookstore, where we found a copy of this treasure. Oh, yeah, by the way. If you didn't know it, my parents wrote a book a while back about waterfalls to be found off the Blue Ridge Parkway.

And then! My deer friends, Deanna (pictured here) and Keri, arrived, bringing with them good cheer and belly laughs. We spent a good bit of time reading of this classic book of literature.

We walked our way to this park where we proceeded to make a ruckus and attract attention from every direction with our loud and crazy antics.

And rowdy card-playin. I lost. Lame.

We ended the day at the most delectable location with some thick dark hot chocolate. Nectar of the gods.

Friends forever.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

My Funny Valentine

Some October valentines for you.

What I'm listening to (not altogether by choice): "In Too Deep" by Phil Collins
What I'm snacking on: Delicious cookies baked by this fine trio.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And Because I Forgot...

Weather: Clear light blue skies and a bone-chilling cold that melts to warm by afternoon.
What I'm listening to: "Kick Drum Heart" by the Avett Brothers
What I'm reading: The Learners by Chip Kidd.
What I'm working on in class: Pattern carvings and a 7-day greeting card

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Feet Firmly Planted

Big night out. My head is still spinning from the Contra dancing I participated in last night at the Grey Eagle in Asheville. Well...participate... I use the term loosely. I danced just twice before extreme dizziness deterred me. Middle school dance syndrome kicked in immediately once I crossed the threshold. When I was approached to dance, I gave a fair warning. Poor fella hadn't the foggiest idea what a mess he was getting into. He spun and we shuffled our way through the Celtic-bluegrassy-tuned number. When it was over, I thought I would keel over before making it back to my wall-hugging seat.

While I've danced a couple of times with these good folks in Birmingham, I was ill-prepared for the expertise of the Contra crowd up here in Appalachia. They danced circles around me.

The rest of the evening had me spectating from a safe distance: close enough to see, but not near enough to actually be beckoned back onto the floor where toe-stepping and spaziness would undoubtedly ensue.

I had a big old time, regardless. Once I regained my balance, I found the music to be just divine and the regular dancers, a real treat to watch. But, I'd be deceiving myself if I said I wasn't itching to be among them.

I find myself in a similar situation here at Penland. I skim the surface of an ocean filled with talented artisans. I'd love more than anything to plumb the depths of this art. But, I'm still wearing my floaties. The idea of diving deep is both intoxicating and dizzying. I suppose the only real way to learn if it's for me is to take a step, to let Him lead me onto the dance floor, and to trust that the whole discombobulating experience will guide me back to my bearings.

I'm just past midpoint here. I'm more than a little homesick after seeing my good friends over the weekend. Their company was refreshing in the moment as it was confirmation that I've got a real home to return to. So, I will soak up the last three and a half weeks here until this season is done.

I'm in the midst of planning and printing my last projects, or as we're calling them: "Ambitious Editions." I'm hesitant to post them here, as they may be stuffing some of your stockings this holiday season. So, for now, they'll be my little secrets. I'll be sure to let you know when the remnants go up in my Etsy shop.

Lastly, a word about the honest goodness of the mountain folk of North Carolina:

Thanks for the affordable pumpkin and the hopeful trust in humanity.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Art is Life's Blood (Part 2)

Art hurts.

I'm telling you. I haven't suffered so many consecutive minor injuries in my three and a half weeks here at Penland since I was a trike-riding girl. First it was the (non-art related) mop-bucket-toe-smashing incident, then it was the killer hand eating press. Just last week, I gouged myself with the wood carving tool. And then! Today, I roly-wheeled right into my blessed index finger.

Sure, I'm inexperienced, slowly and painfully learning safe practice. But, I'm not the only one. I join the ranks of countless others who have been so consumed by their focus that they've lost themselves to the jaws of the press shop.

I made the mistake of looking up cases of printing-induced injuries. Don't do it. And by all means, don't dig too deep for any information about the dangers of working in a type foundry. Last week, our visiting artist fellow had a few wary tales that'd make you never want to leave the safe confines of your cozy armchair.

In a quick reading of some literature on woodcarving technique, I happened upon this piece of wisdom:

Stand at the entrance to the workplace with a notepad and challenge yourself to think of all the ways you could be hurt in the space in front you, including the tools and equipment.

Oh boy. You better believe I got a kick out of playing this game everywhere I went last week. Walked into the kitchen, notepad in hand. Well, shoot, in the case of a rare North Carolina earthquake, those canned vegetables could plummet from their heights and knock innocent bystanders out. Stepped into the clay studio. By golly, if I'm not careful, I could be maimed by a piece of debris from the potter's wheel. Watch out. Take notes. Danger is everywhere.

I don't mean to make light of the inherent risk of injury around some of the tools and machinery here. I'm not engaging in anything that could harm me in any serious way. I just think it's rather amusing that in making art, I'm band-aid clad like I haven't been in years. Sheesh.

[Mama, don't worry. I'm fine, really.]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Patience, My Dear

Good afternoon!

For all interested, below is detailed the slooooow process of composing and printing a simple poster. The whole rigmarole took me days bent over the table and press, thousands of wood-carving strokes, hundreds of hand cranks ... While it was a labor of love, done to prepare for the 3rd Annual Day of Fall Fun, I'm quite unsatisfied with the end result. Follow my steps to see just why:

It all begins with the hand carving of a wood block. Each tool here has to be sharpened on a "strop" of leather and/or a stone to achieve a shape and sharpness that is just-so. It can take hours to get it right.

My first block was this pattern. It doesn't look like anything fancy, but oh! just wait.

My second block is a nameplate written in Quiggley Wiggly. If you thought I was a typography nerd before... you'll scarcely recognize the girl who returns to you mid November. I. love. fonts.

My third and final block for this particular print. I like this guy.

And here is the end result. Not so fast. Allow me to let you in on the step by step. (If all of this gets too technical, scroll down, dear reader. The more introspective mush is to follow):

1. Carve blocks.
2. Print first layer of yellow.
3. Flip block in press and print the other layer of yellow to make a lovely argyle.
4. Print title in brown.
5. Print date.
6. Print pinecone.
7. Set each letter of the type by hand.
8. Print text.
9. Print"&" and stars (in two separate runs because of the multiple colors).
10. Cut down to size.
11. Proofread closely.
12. Notice TWO awesome typos: "festivites" and "donatoin."
13. Remember that step 12 should've happened after step 7.
14. Have a good laugh.

If I walk away with nothing else from this experience, I will have learned a great deal of patience. This lengthy multi-part process requires it. I'm being forced to take my foot off of the accelerator, to coast, to roll the windows down and notice the scenery. Boy, is it a real challenge for this infamous "lead foot."

This particular composition took a good long while to complete. While I don't even really like the end result, I am certain that I emerged from the whole thing a bit more confident in my printing abilities. I've got many miles to go.

Also notable from this week:
-My class was visited by Micah Currier of the Dale Guild Type Foundry in New Jersey. This guy is one of only three people in the country (world?) to know how to operate the machinery that makes new typefaces for usage in letterpress. Crazy impressive.
-I've been making special coffee drinks for my new friends here at mealtimes. I miss barista-ing.
-I got a chance to roam the streets of Asheville once again, this time with my dear friend, Faith. She's a wise and wonderful woman.

I suppose that's all for now. So, deebble deeble deep ....Reporting live from Penland, North Carolina. Until next time folks, may your days be colorful and your dreams, sweet.

* A NEW five feet small feature!
Weather: Sunny deep blue skies and falling leaves. Perfectly autumnal.
What I'm listening to: "She's Gone" by Hall and Oats (a current favorite).
What I'm reading: Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd.
What I'm working on in class: A seeing eye chart (in crazy fonts) and October valentines.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Another reason why English class beats Calculus.

I sometimes marvel that God chose to risk his revelation in the ambiguities of language. If he had wanted to make sure that the truth was absolutely clear, without any possibility of misunderstanding, he should have revealed his truth by means of mathematics. Mathematics is the most precise, unambiguous language that we have. But then, of course, you can’t say ‘I love you’ in algebra. --Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book

Me and math. We’re not friends.

I said my farewell as soon as I completed my final required course during the spring of my senior year of high school. I left that sorry sucker in the hallways behind as soon as my tassel was turned and didn’t look back.

I’ve had my share of ambivalent teachers over the years.* Added to that is the fact that I had/have an in-dwelling dislike for the formulas, the angles, the precision of a subject matter that has, for the most part, seemed rather impertinent to life I lead.

This week here at Penland has brought me to the stark realization that...I was wrong. Granted, I don’t believe I’ll ever hold a job where I’m required to recall the complexities of calculus. But, in the art of letterpress, there is a definite need for the geometry I’ve buried in the recesses of my mind. There is, indeed, real life application for exact line and angle measurements.

And quite frankly, I’ve forgotten how to be that accurate.

For years now, I’ve put my money in the bank of the English language. I was going to be a writer. Math smath. Who needs it?

Well, through a series of events and a little divergence from plan A, turns out I do. What I’m doing now requires the ability to slow and measure -- to get it right the first time. Because, there is a right answer. If a line of type is set into the bed of a press one pica from where it should be, it’ll throw an entire composition off when printed. If the ink rollers are set 1/8 inch too low, they can crush an alphabet of antique wooden type with one crank of the press.

So, this week, I’ve come up against my inadequacies and my need to reach back and remember. I pray that I will come away from this experience with a little more attention to the math that matters.

That said, I still hold tightly to the phantom power and mystery of our language. My belief in it is still the underlying reason thAT I’m here. My reading of ETB has impressed me again with a reverence for the intricacies of a system of letters and words that with which we’ve been given to speak, to write, to try and understand each other.

It is an untamable force. It’s endlessly perplexing.

And why God chose the written word to reign in His truth, I do not know. While it’s imperfect, it’s the best we have. If He had chosen to communicate through numbers, we might have a perfectly flat understanding, but without the enchantment.

We’d have an academic knowledge, but know not the poetry of His love.

*One particular instructor was so terrible, that her behaviors caused me to write her name into the quadratic formula in a not-so-nice fashion. I believe the particular doodle on the side of my notes said something to the effect of: the square root of -(attitude) +/- the square root of {(Mrs. X^2-(4*absolute cruelty)}/ 2(awful) = meaniehead. Yes, I was in eleventh grade. Imagine my embarrassment when I went in for some after school tutoring and forgot to erase my little formulaic insult.