A few (really hard) lessons learned.

Well, I’ve finished printing my Wayzgoose contribution…and just in time! I just finished the covers for the 50 copies that are destined for the author and printer. They’re nestled, carefully interleaved with scrap paper, waiting for the ink to dry before I fold and compile them into their signatures.

Though the submission deadline looms, I’m feeling that some of the pressure is off. As a neophyte printer, the constant worry during the printing process is the fear of making a catastrophic mistake that might ruin the entire edition. (Believe me, that has happened to me before, and cranky doesn’t begin to describe my state of mind!)

Indeed, this is the first time I printed such a large edition. I printed about 220 copies to achieve a final edition of 165. Even with the extras factored in as wastage, I’m still fretting over some of the dumb mistakes and the hard lessons learned during this project.

The intention here is to log the problem as a means of learning for me — as well as to track the evolution (and glitches) of the project. I suppose these notes might also serve as a caution for other new printers, so that they don’t fall victim to the same mistakes. So here’s my list of hard lessons learned:

1. Dampening paper, but not printing promptly.
Sometimes life conspires against me and all my good letterpress intentions are subverted by other obligations. That thing called life gets in the way.   This was the case a few weeks ago when I dampened paper in preparation for back-to-back print runs of one page of the tale and the accompanying accent colour.   Sunday night, 11:30 pm and I’ve only finished the first impression – i.e. the black ink.   The work week is yawning before me, and I know that I won’t be able to print the second run until Thursday night at the earliest.  No problem, I think, carefully wrapping the dampened (and printed) pages back in their plastic bag.  I’ll just keep them damp until Thursday.  Aren’t I clever?  Bad idea, it turns out.   See that pretty pink spot on the paper?

Mould onpaper

Ya, that’s mould.  So I printed the page again – 220 times (sigh).

2.  Jogging printed pages into a tidy pile (BIG mistake)

When working on any project, I need order.  In the controlled environment of my little press room, my tools are put away after use, the ink cans are always closed and stored away and paper stocks are usually stacked neatly on nearby shelves.   On this project, my sense of order  – combined with my lack of printing experience  – very nearly put an early end to the project.

I was halfway through the print run of the title page and colophon.  I carefully interleaved every print with scrap paper to avoid offset ink when it occured to me that the stack was looking rather dishevelled or off-kilter. Gently, gently I jogged all the offending pages into a neat, tidy stack and left them so the still-damp ink would dry.  I  happily returned to the press, smugly thinking how I had everything under control.  It was only the next day, when I went to check on the prints, did I realise what a stupid mistake I’d made.    Every print had offset ink spots or streaks because I’d jogged the leaves while the ink was still fresh.

smudged ink

So I printed the page again – (only) 100 times.

3.  When good sorts go bad

Key to my basic book design about the arrival of Spring was the use of a floral dropped capital.  I have a lovely set of Massey Initials, and this was the perfect project to use this  font for the first time. I was very pleased as the first few proofs came off the press; even more so when I started the print run using dampened paper.

I thought it might look a tad better with a bit more bite in the impression, so I added a sheet of under-packing on the cylinder and resumed the print run.   Hmm,the centre of the floral was looking a bit faint, as if the ink wasn’t being picked up. “Strange…I’ll just add a little more packing. That should take care of it! A few more nice prints, and then again, I notice that the centre of the sort isn’t printing very well.  Ok, then!  More underlay that’ll take care of it!

Another big mistake. The sort, cast in a very soft lead-based alloy, was slowly being flattened on the press! Two-thirds through the print run and I had ruined the centre-piece!

Mashed J

Crisis! What to do?  In desperation, I sent out a call for help to the Ottawa Press Gang. Would someone have a 36 pt. swash or decorative sort that I might use to finish my project?  Within moments, my plea was answered by Grant Wilkins, owner of The Grunge Papers, who just happened to have an unused set of the very font I needed. Without a thought to the fate of his font on my press, he gallently offered the use his own sort so that I could finish my printing.  I am deeply indebted to Grant for saving my project  (not to mention my sanity) – and for stepping in so quickly!

The entire process was a learning experience and, yes, some lessons are more difficult than others.  I am generally delighted with the experience itself – and very pleased with the signature.  Even more, I am truly looking forward to gathering with friends and other kindred spirits during the 32nd Grimsby Wayzgoose.

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