A blog about all things letterpress

GRRM gallery detail ~

George R. R. Martin in the exhibition gallery, with the set of broadsides visible behind him.

There are different kinds of satisfaction which come at various stages in the creative process.  The early rush of a project is one: the composition is realized and details begin to fall into place, resulting in the early version of a design.  The period of revision is another: small, incremental changes begin to bring the rough and vital early ideas into greater focus.  I had rarely encountered another type of enjoyment, however: the opportunity to share the final result of a creative endeavor with the person who had inspired it.  Last Friday, George R. R. Martin visited Cushing Library for a book signing and lecture, and later received a private tour of the exhibition which contained the four broadsides based on his work (as well as highlights from his archive and artwork by John Picacio and Evi Owen).  It was, you might say, pretty great.

GRRM broadsides ~

George R. R. Martin examining the series of letterpress broadsides commissioned from Anise Press for the exhibition.

Earlier in the day, I had set up the broadsides at a table outside the Library to talk about the process of letterpress printing in general and the artistic challenge of collaborating with the exhibition curators in particular.  I had not received commercial permissions for campus, meaning that I could not sell the broadsides at the event.  But I was able to talk with a large number of people about the work of Anise Press and my involvement in the exhibition.  Best of all, everyone could feel the excitement that students and readers felt at the opportunity to engage Martin at the signing and exhibition.  650 people came through the Library over the course of the day — it was quite an electrifying sensation to be part of it.

Anise Press table ~

The letterpress table outside the Library, where I discussed the process of printing the broadsides. Behind me are Cait Coker (co-curator of the exhibition), Troyce Wilson, and Martha Wells (wonderful local fantasy and science fiction author).

So, the project is finished and is on display at the Library.  I feel fortunate to have been able to contribute to such a successful endeavor, especially one which so many people feel so invested in.  I hope that everyone will get a chance to experience the exhibition.  If not . . . well, you know where you can find the broadsides.

gallery ~

The four broadsides on display in the Cushing Library gallery.

Reader ~

The final broadside of the series returns to the theme of books, readership, and the interior life.  The quotation, from A Dance with Dragons, is spoken by Jojen Reed to Bran Stark from the comparative stability of the cave of the Children of the Forest.  It provides an interesting return to the second broadside, with its pronouncement of the ability of the mind to become a weapon if wielded skilfully.  This statement also provides what I think is one of the series’ few continual values: the capacity to see the world from others’ perspective.  This is a trait which is found in several of the books’ most compelling characters (from the green dreams of Bran to the wry self-reflexiveness of Tyrion), and is utterly lacking in the more obvious antagonists.

Lives type straight ~

I’d been wanting to incorporate some of the large and imposing wood type from the Anise Press collection, and so worked out a composition in two columns, with the significant words in larger type (as before).  In this case, I found some flexibility in the use of various typefaces on the rightmost column, though I once again used metal type in a single face to provide some stability to the text.  My view is that the divergent type styles provide the quotation with visual energy, rather than irregularity, because of the the pennant type of “a reader” at the left.

Reader headline ~

More details about the broadside and its availability can be found on this page.

This broadside visualizes "Arya's Prayer," which is encountered in A Clash of Kings.

This broadside visualizes “Arya’s Prayer,” which is first encountered in A Clash of Kings.

The third broadside is conceptually different from the others: instead of a self-explanatory quotation which acts as a stand-alone proverb, this design is nothing more than a list of names and a foreign phrase (which, even in the novels, is only a memorized sequence of sounds for the better part of a novel).  The text, while coming directly from Martin’s writing, is much more elusive (and, now that I think of it, allusive) than the other texts I printed.  And yet this broadside may offer the greatest significance — at least for those who have read the books.

Like many readers, my favorite character in the series is Arya Stark — scrappy, damaged, ingenious Arya.  The broadside reproduces the text of Arya’s “Prayer” — a litany of names of those who have wronged her and who she wishes to see dead.  (While it is alarming to see this kind of bloodthirstiness in a character who is nine when the series begins, readers know that her desire for revenge is not unjustified.)  She repeats this sequence of names every night to ensure that she does not forget all that she has witnessed.  It is her attempt to correct the wrongs she has seen in her life — not only those which have affected her, but all others she has seen suffer.  That is, instead of merely being a call for vengeance, it is a true prayer: her attempt at reaching out for a cosmic power which can rectify the injustices of the world, which will restore balance and rightness.  And if that proves impossible, it is at least an attempt to exercise some control over her surroundings.

The gasket cover, carved with the Arya's litany of names.

The gasket cover, carved with the Arya’s litany of names.

The design is fairly simple, for all its impact.  Unlike the other broadsides, it contains only one color: the black background of the block into which is cut the negative type of the litany of names and, in a slightly bolder typeface, the ritual phrase “valar morghulis” (in the novels revealed to mean, “all men must die”).  All the typography was laboriously cut by hand (in reverse, as is visible in this image).  Because of irregularities in the surface of the block, the result is not a solid black but rather a mottled and diffuse range of grays and blacks which to my eye feels entirely appropriate to the moral ground upon which the statement is made (aside from being more visually interesting, as I see it, than the sharp delineation which would be possible using other printing techniques).

Particular thanks to Jo Walton, who provided the inspiration for this broadside in a conversation about the project and the Deeper than Swords exhibition.  Details about acquiring a copy of the edition can be found here.

This quotation, spoken by Tyrion Lannister to Jon Snow in A Game of Thrones, has become one of the most popular statements from the novels.

This line, spoken by Tyrion Lannister to Jon Snow in A Game of Thrones, has become one of the most popular quotations from the novels.

This quotation was the first line I considered for the project; it had remained in my mind from my first encounter with A Game of Thrones, and it struck me as a perfect maxim for a library-based exhibition.  Instead of including negative typography by cutting into the block, I decided to print a selection of wood and metal types onto a solid field of color.  The red on yellow theme struck me as dramatic and insistent — and appropriate on a subtler level, as red and gold are the Lannister house colors.

The finished print with the solid block used to print the yellow background.

The finished print with the solid block used to print the yellow background.

One danger I always face in utilizing a large number of typefaces in a design is what I call the “ransom letter” effect.  There is a line (which can be difficult to delineate) in which the vitality of many display faces used judiciously gives way into chaos and disunity.  I decided to resolve the issue in this design by highlighting the quotation’s three most central words/phrases in different wood types, then setting the remainder of the broadside in various sizes of display Centaur.  The subtle modulation of the old-style typeface provides a through-line, I think, that tethers the more flamboyant wood types.  Find copies of this broadside.

The first broadside (featuring a quotation about Martin, not by him).

The first broadside (featuring a quotation about Martin, not by him).

Anise Press’s latest project began when I was invited to submit some designs to the upcoming Cushing Library exhibit celebrating the work of George R. R. Martin, Deeper than Swords.  In addition to displaying highlights from the Martin archive in many different media, part of the exhibit conception was to involve artists who have illustrated elements of A Song of Ice and Fire.  The curators, I was told, are interested in presenting ways the books have been represented visually.  Because of the medium in which I work (and my characteristic response to literature), I chose to focus upon what I find most powerful about Martin’s work: his words.  I selected four quotations (largely) from Martin’s books, most of which have to do with reading, communication, and the power of language.  (Appropriate, I thought, for a library exhibition.)  And at their best, Martin’s statements have the resonance and memorability of aphorisms.

The block cut to provide the background color and negative-space text.

The block cut to provide the background color and negative-space text.

After consulting Martin about the project, I started plotting out the designs.  Actually, I began with a statement — perhaps familiar to meme-followers on the internets — not actually by GRRM.  In 2009, while the long-promised fifth novel in his Westeros series had been in progress about four years, fans began to demand, in inappropriate and entitled ways, that Martin finish the novel.  (It was about this time that he disabled the comment feature on his website to forestall the abuse he would receive whenever posting about issues other than writing.)  One fan wrote to Neil Gaiman, asking a leading question about whether he, as a fellow author, thought that George should devote himself more monastically to the finishing of his novel.  Gaiman’s slapdown is for the ages, and provides the text of this broadside.

Part of the edition of the broadside, drying after the first night of printing.

Part of the edition of the broadside, drying after the first night of printing.

I decided to base the four designs upon large fields of bold colors, many with lettering carved into the surface of the block to interact with the wood and metal typography.  I used rubber gasket cover for the project, which caused some difficulties, as new materials sometimes do.  (Adhering the rubber to the blocks, carving into the surface, and even printing the spongy surface took some getting used to.)  For this project, the negative lettering was carved first, and the first run through the press resulted in a mid-value blue with the initials and “your” unprinted.  The second night, I printed the types to finalize the quotation.  Now it is possible to post something to indicate your reaction to any inappropriate demand which may be placed upon you!  (Hang one on your wall at work for easy reference.)



It has been a long while since we bound a book, but if you can believe it, there was a time in our lives when we did far more bookbinding than printing!  Recently, someone who had seen our hand-bound books in the past commissioned us to make a guest book for a wedding reception.

Handmade guest book with custom bookcloth, from Anise Press

The colors for the wedding are ivory and deep plum.  We had a spot of trouble finding the perfect book cloth, so we made our own using cotton fabric, interfacing, and Japanese paper.  I really love the pattern — and thankfully, I bought enough fabric so that I have some left over for another project (a journal for me, perhaps?).

The hand-sewn album with the book press we used for the binding

Perhaps my favorite feature of handmade books — a fine point, admittedly — is the hand-sewn endbands which we create with different colors of silk thread.  In this case, we used ivory and lavender to accent the wedding colors.  The endband is both decorative and functional, but it also signals the attention to detail and tradition in any book.  (It’s the first thing I look for when examining a finely-bound book.)

A detail of the silk thread endbands at the top edge of the spine