It would be foolish to deny the influence and incursion of electronic texts. For me, it’s not simply the choice between convenience over content since content to me is more than a drop down menu. From the time I picked up a red pencil in my first post-college job as a proofreader, I’ve been exposed to, and sought out, all the processes that can be used in the production of actual print. This was at a time when you just didn’t drop a query into Google or search for an instructional video on YouTube. Instead I visited typesetters, printers, and binderies, took classes at what was then known as PIMNY (Printing Industries of Metropolitan New York), bought and traded books on job estimating and print production, and collected samples on finishing processes and paper stocks. I met and talked to the men and women who sat at the machines or stood at the lines, finishing, shaping and forming which would eventually become the folder, book, or magazine that I held in my hands.
I learned the structure of type, how it was designed and set, and how it was reproduced. I was lucky enough to be born in an age of advancing technology and saw the transformation from hot to cold type, from metal to image, and felt the bitter sweetness of the operators who retired from an industry that was changing rapidly from what was to what is. To them and to me, type was the physical act of holding something in your hands, feeling its shape and texture, and imagining its delicate impression on the paper that received it.
A freshly bound book is a menu of senses that represents all the processes and materials that make it what it is. Form follows function we say and the choices to produce those forms are broad – offset, web, and silkscreen that provide their own challenges and offerings. Coated and uncoated papers, finishes from smooth to linen to felt, foil stamping, embossing, debossing, die cutting, perfect bound and sewn signatures create the architecture that holds the author’s and publisher’s words.
It’s encouraging that there’s a growing group of young craftsmen and artisans who are reviving the tactile art of book production and printing. Now, even authors and independent publishers are beginning to use these crafts and incorporate them into the act and art of storytelling.
Visual Editions, a recent find, explains:
When we think of visual writing, we think about the visuals feeding into and adding to the storytelling as much as the words on the page do. We also like to make sure that the visuals aren’t gimmicky, purely decorative or extraneous, but are key to the story they are telling. And without them, that story would be something altogether different.
Jonathan Safraen Foer provides the background and the link:
Follow the process from the blank stock feeding into the press, create the dies from board that is first laser cut, then “knifed up” with the metal that will cut into the printed sheets, then into the die cutter that stamps the pattern and strips out the paper that isn’t needed:
Yes, there is some irony here since I’m using electronic media to tell the story. But one is no longer mutually exclusive of the other. One should not be abandoned for the other. It’s not all just in the story but also in the telling…