Sunday, 31 July 2011

Some Odd Images

Here are some odd prints not really belonging to anything (as yet). Joanne has been making Stencil prints for years and they turn up around here in odd places like old pieces of wood. Eventually, I gather them up as images, and sometimes print them inkjet.
 For me I like to play with Pinhole cameras. This one is a 4x5 made by Badyn Smith a former student of mine. With an F stop of f262 it takes a good while to get an exposure. The image I'm showing here is of a dead Barred Bandicoot. These delightful Marsupials are still found here, but rarely outside Tasmania. This one died of Toxoplasmosis - a deadly disease spread by domestic cats living in the wild. This may explain the rareness of Bandicoots on mainland Australia and of course the introduced Fox.
 Exposure - about 18 minutes on Agfa Ortho
 A lot of fun and built ruggedly. F262 equivalent to 100mm on a 4x5
Wouldn't like to try and get this through airport security!

New linocut cards

Planet Girl

 We have been happily making many cards too. Winter can be chilly but not in the studio where the platen pedals have been providing me with much needed exercise. Joanne has a unique style, masterful skill, and a well seasoned eye for nature and people. These cuts are all based on people and events around us, and some are about herself, They are all platen press printed and scored using Fabriano Rosapina paper. Its a joy to print on, being soft and absorbing the impression without being too hard on the lino. Those printers who have fallen in love with ‘Deep letterpress’ are going to find their type and blocks wearing out pretty quickly. I start with the block in front of me and invent a colour based on the content of the image as I see it. Interested? drop us a line or too.

 It starts with a drawing

Here a lino has been brought to type-high and locked up in a Chandler and Price chase
 For a friend who likes cats

 Chicken Lady!
 Duck Girl!

Photographing the land

Living in one piece of countryside for a long time gives one a sense of the seasons and the renewal that occurs in nature. I like photographing seasons and often photograph the same familiar places in different ways. These pictures were made using old throw away cameras that I would buy on ebay and try out. My limit was 10 dollars plus postage! One camera fell apart in my hands and none of them survived intact . One,  I converted to a 120 roll film pin hole camera which I still occasionally use. The prints of these images were output on an Epson inkjet printer, onto Bamboo paper, (Hannemuhle) about A2 size. These were exhibited at the Devonport City Art gallery landscape show about "the familiar". This was curated by Dr Ellie Ray the Director of the gallery, Many thanks to Ellie.
Our forest almost neatly encloses the house and studio and wildlife abounds. It's a declared reserve on private land, as most the forest around us has been hammered in the last 20 years. I never tire of working quietly in the field. I decided that since the camera is primitive, little of no work beyond scaling would be done in Photoshop. These are all film based (C41) with digital pigment prints on archival paper.
 Evening, Winter

Some Type Notes

Years ago I tendered for and won a lot of type from the composing room at our local trade training college. Sadly they had stopped training in hot metal composition and all training moved to computers. Lucky for me though as it fitted my studio perfectly and I added some Garamond 18pt and 14pt cast for me in Melbourne and I have been using it ever since. Now a lot of the type in this lot (two truck loads) had Australian names and an Australian makers name (Wimbles, Sydney). Type names like Darwin, Jenolan, Ultamarra etc and really complete fonts too, from 10pt-72pt and some with italics and bold.  I have always wondered if we really designed and produced this type here or was it made under license here or abroad. Lately I have noticed a trickle of type coming from the Dale Guild foundry of a font called ‘Parsons’. It seemed identical to my ‘Darwin’. 
  Acquiring a good book on a American hot metal type was the next step. Well, a couple of books actually. The best though, and the one I use most is 'American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century' by Mac McGrew (available from NA Graphics).
 I also had some email chat with those who would know and it would seem that ATF would make type for suppliers offshore pinmarked in the suppliers name. Anything for a sale I guess. So 'Darwin' has become 'Parsons'. But it does mean that I have some good Old English/Engraver, Goudy Oldstyle, Parsons,  Bodoni, all with odd names. Toss into that some Stevenson Blake Copperplate Scripts and some Monotype Brush Scripts and this is my font line up. Lately though I have added a beautiful light roman called Centaur and its Arrighi italic, (from M&H foundry San Francisco), Caslon, Civilite (a humanist script), from dale Guild and Plantin italic (Ebay). It was a bit of a first for me - unwrapping and putting type out into cases. A rare event and a great way to greet a new font. I must say that buying fonts from the US presents no problems, the internet age has really caught up with Letterpress and we are making full use of the net.

 Caslon unpacking, here the upper case
The rest of the font, These were cast by Dale Guild and supplied by NAGraphics
 Parsons. Some great ascenders in this classic advertising font of the 20's

 Some strange half serifs and an alternate 'N'

Goodbye Darwin - hello Parsons?


Chartres France.  My First image - and on copper I think
 Leaves. This image came from my old Mamiya, and on water wash out Photopolymer
Pond. Photopolymer
I made prints these a few years ago to fulfill an ambition. I had seen gravure prints in Paris and had been playing with alternative processes in general. I just loved the surface qualities and richness of the pictures.
 The other process I think I will enjoy is Carbon printing but I haven’t got there yet. With gravure two methods are possible. Firstly I made copper plates that had been coated with a transfer of photo gelatine which is then etched (through), with a highly corrosive etch called Ferric Chloride. I actually got this to work a few times. It takes forever and is fraught with danger and traps no matter how hard you try to work cleanly and safely. I was shocked to see how much visible splash stain was around the darkroom the day after a session. Its all still there! A splash in the eye can cause blindness. I always used glasses, mask, apron and gloves but I seriously worried about how workable this process was going to be in the long term.
So I decided to investigate Photopolymer. This process also uses a positive made in a computer inkjet printer, involves using a mezzotint screen exposure and a much safer water washout. with brushing and drying. The plate material is really designed for letterpress printing as a relief plate (mounted on magnetic bases to achieve typehigh - .918"). Once its working for you it makes really beautiful prints. A darkroom, exposure frame and etching press are all needed but the work can be made in editions and they do sell well. They have (in my hands anyway) the look of earlier photography. Rich and permanent. They edition very well. This is something I aim for, and many of my memorable (Ahaah)  moments in photography is finding inspiration in the work of the late 19th and 20th photographers, many of whom worked in forgotten or lost processes.
 Its great to print pictures. They don’t have a dot line as such and are not halftones. They have a random grain pattern that resembles photographic grain. It is very fine and is best seen on the plate under a glass. Inking and wiping back gives you an intimate connection with the plate and the picture and there is a nice smell of linseed based inks which stays with the print for at least a couple years.
These are available in editions still available - so if your interested let know.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Our Heidelberg Platen

 Viewed from the front - a first class piece of industrial photography
  A view of the platen from the bed position showing the use of lays

When I started work at the age of 16 I started out helping a printer on a very big press for about 6 months. Then I was “given” a Heidelberg Platen as my first press to work. A German printer on the night shift kept leaving notes with tips and some days he would come in early and show me a few things. There were two Heidelberg platens and the apprentice on the other one was also a source of skills. I worked with that press for about a year, and there wasn’t much I couldn’t do on a Platen. sometimes also printing on a british Thompson. 10x15 platen.  
  The Heidelberg is really a icon and is often used in movies when vision of a press is called for. Their unique windmill set of grippers is just so interesting and spectacular. Normally the sheet was controlled through the entire feed, print, deliver cycle, but if an exact print register was required the printer would “run on lays”. This means each sheet is released into  a set of lays just during the print step, and then the grippers close on it again and it gets delivered. This allows exact print position. I have uploaded a few 1960’s images from the handbook, one of which shows the lays schematically. A nice piece of airbrush and design with a tint block printed through. The publications from Heidelberg were always printed letterpress and fine examples of the craft. The halftones are clear and perfect and the impression is “kiss”, as it should be!
Our Heidelberg is a very good one from the early 50’s. These presses just keep going if they are cared for well and we still have the tools and accessories too and the sound of a platen puffing away is a joy and never forgotten. I can be walking down a street in Paris and be pulled up by the familiar sound. Sure enough nearby is a little, busy printshop. The maximum sheet size is 10x15 but it doesn’t mean you can print out to that size. A platen makes the print all over instantly and there is a limit to the print size imposed by the strength of the press. The ability to roll ink over large areas can also be a limiting factor. We run it nice and slow at about 2000 sheets per hour. Back in the 60’s we would average that speed. We filled in time sheets - every 3 minutes was a unit and set times were allowed for each operation. Oiling and cleaning 30 minutes, makeready 30 minutes,  washup 15 minutes,  running was expected to be 2000 per hour. Every day should equal 8 hours. Of course we worked harder than that but still booked maximum times thus getting time in front which was handy if you hit trouble! Therefore by having this system the management never really knew what presses were efficient or even who were hard workers. There was never any allowance for bad rollers, curled stock, press wear etc. It all got levelled out. They had a room full of young women who spent all day adding up the previous days tallys! Pre computer, they used strange adding machines.

Chocolate Festival at Latrobe

Every year this lively town has a winter chocolate festival. Last year Joanne went there with fellow hook ruggers and had a great time displaying their craft. This year we are taking a small press too, so if you are in that neck of the woods come along and enjoy all the events around Latrobe and drop by and see us. We will have a stall at the Tasmanian Regional Arts headquarters. I'll be printing bookmarks and we have cards as well.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Cards and other small works

Our cards come from the experience of living close to nature in the countryside of Tasmania. We are nearly surrounded by native bushland that has a high level of wildlife living undisturbed. We are keen observers and keep records of species and watch the coming and going of natural cycles. Over the years we have had heavy rains, droughts, hot and cold - very cold! Generations of kangaroo species have lived around us and we put out a salad of oats, cabbage and apple every night at dusk. These are our companions. We have no dogs or cats. This makes it hard to have a garden in the conventional sense and vegetable gardens are in cages. From all this life comes our inspiration. Mothers feeding young, eagles overhead, possums at night noisily proclaiming their territorial  rights. We are keen poultry keepers and they contribute eggs to the table. Three separate flocks are kept - purebred Anconas, White Leghorns, and Minorcas. Each has a distinct personality and each flock contributes in a different way. Every day a flock is allowed in turn to free range. Occasionally a hawk or a Spotted Tail Quoll takes a bird so we always breed replacements using incubators and brooders. In the orchards we run Indian Runner Ducks. These are great layers but Forest Ravens are constantly trying to steal eggs.

This year has been the year of cards for us. Joanne conceives the image and cuts the lino. Handing it on to me, I then mount it type high on 19mm particle flooring and choose an ink colour that I always mix for that particular run. I try to match a colour to the emotive content. The stock is Fabriano Rosapina or a suitable etching paper of around 300gsm. This make a nice cushioned impression that just loves ink. Its also quite archival. Printing like this is quiet, just the sound of the press clinking.

 The printing itself is put across a couple of presses. The text is usually monotype Garamond with a few ATF ornaments and this is handled on an Adana 8x5. I often do this at markets etc so that the public can get an idea of how letterpress works. Its amazing how in some people a memory is flickered into life. An uncle or father who was a printer or a corner letterpress shop that lured fascinated kids in to look at the presses. Many folk who originally came from the UK had an Adana press as a child and printed for pocket money.
The linocut is always handled on a new style Chandler and Price (1934) pedal powered hand fed press. I like to run three forme rollers to get a perfect ink coverage. This is an ideal small run press. We usually do a run of about 50. Another old style (1904) Chandler and Price is set up with a scoring rule and this puts the fold into the card once the card is dry.
Jo does the packing and presentation and that’s about it!

Deloraine Markets at the Showgrounds

 Early in the day and lots of cards

 Printer at the press!

Joanne has been busy screen printing bags

First Saturday of the month is a local market day and you can buy our cards tat the market or contact us at Sales of cards keeps our studio ticking over. I usually take a nice little Adana Platen along and we always have some great chatter around our stall. Here are some photos taken early in the winters day.

Mamiya Press Cameras

 Overall Camera view with its standard 100mm lens

 Rear view showing single sheet/rear viewing screen

 150mm Telephoto and some film holders

Lightmeters and a 6x7 film back

I’m really writing this for those who have a darkroom and are wondering what to do with it. Commercially, photography is mostly a digital world now, but a beneficial side effect is cheap and wonderful film cameras. These are not plastic and electronic devices but like letterpress equipment, made for many years of use. They are precision built of chrome brass, glass and metal. They make excellent photographs. This month............
The Mamiya Press series.
  This is an interesting rangefinder camera for those who want a cheapish medium format system and don’t mind a bit of a fiddle.  Its a classic design of the 50s and was made in various forms until the late 80’s (I believe). Its that ugly its cute! The interesting thing about Mamiya presses that inspired me about these cameras was the ability to have a 6x9cm camera that gave a beautiful negative, is buildt like a brick dunny, and is cheap on Ebay. It will also take 6x4.5cm, 6x6cm, and 6x7cm backs. Depth of field is determined by scales on each lens which also carries a leaf shutter.
  I already had a good enlarger and lens for these formats (a Durst 1200) and this is essential for any medium format system. I have since added the ability to scan this format, another plus. The down side is the patience required to get the most from this camera. It is easy to get a double exposure by accident. You do need a good lightmeter, and it is definitely manual focus! The negatives though are worth the wait. They are superb. I wouldn’t be alone in saying that many Mamiya lenses are little known masterpieces of lens making. I have a 65mm wide, a 100mm standard lens and a 150mm telephoto ideal for studio portrait work. I once owned a twin lens Mamiya system and it also had great optics.
A nice touch with these cameras is the availability (on Ebay) of lots of bits, like a single sheet adapter and focusing screen. This means focusing on the ground glass just like a view camera. It even has back movements. Of course you can’t get sheet film now but you can prepare it by making a jig and cutting it in the darkroom and loading the film holders. It's a simple matter to tray process in a little developer or you can load a spiral.
 My darkroom didn’t get used for a while while I drifted into inkjet printing and teaching photography. Like letterpress though, working with film is a nice thing to do and a silver print is now a reasonably rare and striking thing. I’ve always toned a little for archival purposes and to just warm the print a little. I always regretted the passing of Agfa’s Record Rapid, which was a beautiful Chloro-Bromide paper and creamy warm.
 I have used this camera in the studio and in the field. Outside, I use it with a Sekonic L-398 meter which is solid and needs no batteries. These are cheap on Ebay mine cost about $100 and came in its early sixties box with manual and accessories.  In the studio I use it with a Sekonic L-358 ambient/flash meter. this meter is an excellent device but hardly robust or waterproof. I wouldn’t like to step on it either. The downside? As mentioned earlier, its bit of a fiddle. Take care to have a procedure. Advance the film after every exposure. Remember to take the darkslide out, also to inset it when changing lenses.

Some press pics etc

We work with five presses - all platens. One of these is an old style Chandler and Price 8x12". Old Styles have curved spokes on the flywheel and lack brakes. They are easy to feed and pedal. Ours is 1904 vintage and still going strong. Nicely elegant but really somewhat primitive for some classes of work. I've always had a picture in my mind of a ballet dancer! Perfect balance. Sometimes I have brought a platen just off impression  and pealed a sheet of Kozo  Japanese paper from the block. Perfect balance and poise hand, foot, and brain. New styles (ours is 1934), lack the charm of the earlier presses but are modernist manufacturing at best, strong and functional. Straight spokes and no decorative casting. They are strong.
 Disk inking can be a bit defeating when you want selective inking and there is no easy way of adjusting the forme rollers. A light touch for shallow etched photopolymer plates is required and this can be achieved by packing the bed rails where the roller trucks travel. Now though, I found a source of Morgan Expanding Trucks, an old invention of expanding trucks that allow very precise settings.
They change the dimension of the roller trucks by using a simple spanner. Heidelberg Windmills of course always featured accurate roller settings and we normally put our photopolymer plates on that press. Now though we can enjoy printing them on our Oldstyle C&P. Thanks to N.A.Graphics of Colorado USA. Its well worth looking for their well stocked web site. I have uploaded an illustration of an Oldstyle C&P from the original sales catalog and a recent picture of our 10x15 New Style C&P.