Creative Commons licensed photograph, "Underwood," by Flickr user Canned Muffins

Lab #5

Planning to Print

We’ve spent the past two class periods simply preparing to print. In the letterpress ecology, every text is deeply, immediately material. Creating any text requires metal type, lead spacers, woodblock and intaglio images, metal and wood furniture, a chase, quoins, and, of course, ink and paper—not to mention the press itself and the tools required to operate and maintain the system. Every text has, quite literally, substantial weight behind it. Before ink was ever committed to paper, a printer dedicated substantial time and material to planning and preparing it, puzzling out a workable layout and imposition, balancing aesthetic ideals with practical exigencies.

Our central questions for this fieldbook entry are simple, at least on their face, but require contemplation—mental makeready—to answer. How does your experience of these stages of textual production change your understanding of the texts created during the hand press period? What relationships can you trace between the labor of papermakers, compositors, printers’ devils, and press operators and the cultural, political, philosophical, and artistic artifacts they helped produce? How does thinking about the print shop help us think about texts?