The place where I have been working all those past eleven years is currently in a sleeper mode. It sits in waiting for me to come and get all the presses, the type racks and type, the paper stock, the bookbinding presses, tables, tools, ink tins, brushes, jars of pigments and all the odds & ends that make up a book artist’s workplace. I’ve got to be patient. We need to find a new place to fit everything in fit for working. So this seems to be the perfect moment to look back thinking of what it was like to move in here and work here on a daily basis, designing art work, cutting blocks, setting type, printing sheets, binding books.
I moved in here in February 2004. Back then everything was new and dusty and the walls were bare. We set out to paint them white. I cannot recall just how many buckets of wall paint we ended up needing. Again and again we went to get another one or two. We were lucky in that there was hardly any snow that winter once we started moving press & type. With the help of dozens of friends we managed to have all in place right in time before the opening in March. Our late friend Harald Goldhahn (Harry Hirsch he called himself) came to play us his wonderful Blues. In the previous year he’d asked me to print the sheets for the booklet for his new CD „God Moves on the Water“. Visitors were squeezing in. The whole place was buzzing with life and Harry’s songs until after midnight.
I had bought my first proofing press back in 1998. It is a 1956 Korrex „Hannover Hand“ with a printing size of 50 x 70 cms; all hand operated, cylinder as well as rollers. The rollers were a bit worn and one of the spindles was slightly bent. For years I could not afford to have them fixed, so until far into 2006 all inking had to be done by using hand rollers.
Two years after I had moved in we had to say Farewell to our good old dog Tita aged 14. She had been a true and brave companion for more than 12 years. When we went to collect metal type from somewhere, she’d guard the cases piled up in the van by making herself comfortable right on top of the pile. And she’d look all impressive up there.
Over the years the stock of founts grew. I had started off with one case of Victor Hammer’s Uncial. By now I can choose from some 100 founts of metal or wood type. There is a good choice of ornaments, too. In 2012 I decided to print all my founts as alphabets on cards. It took far longer than expected.
The type came from all sorts of places: printing offices that had kept it but now needed the space for new machinery, trained composers who had saved some type on retirement, schools giving up on printing. Each and all of the cases came with their own story.
Some came with the most fascinating of tools, with a handful of composing sticks and awls, or with a pile of old tins with ink. Basically, half of the place is filled with presses and type racks, including three platen presses, one of which is an Adana 8×5.
Prints can be hung up for drying or left in a metal drying rack. In 2010 a second proofing press completed the team. This one is a mid-1960s Grafix press, its cylinder still hand operated but the rollers motorised. It is slightly smaller in printing size but very smart to work with.
The rest of the studio houses the area for cutting blocks from lino or wood, the paper stock and all that is needed for binding books.
I had been luckky to find an affordable board shear in 1999. It might be the eldest tool in the studio being over 100 years of age. It is somewhat special in that it is fitted with a wooden worktable. I have been to a number of bookbinding workshops, basically between 1998 and 2005. I learned a variety of techniques including how to prepare inks and dyes.
For a few years I was given the opportunity to learn Chinese Calligraphy from a Chinese teacher, until she left for going back to China. I consider myself extremely lucky for this wonderful chance to widen my horizon.
Repeatedly I have used my own dyes prepared from soil pigments to paint sheets prior to printing for both books and broad sides.
Since the late 1970s I have been into photography. I got started with some very simple camera, at one point was given my parents’ old Contaflex with a separate photometer, and finally had my own Nikon FM camera. I have changed over to a digital one a couple of years ago.
Over the past eleven years I haven been making quite a number of prints and books here. There have been Open-Studio events at least on a once-a-year basis, often one in summer and one in winter. Many people have come and seen the place. Some have taken the chance to have a go at the old proofing press and print a sheet with their own hands feeling the wheel and cylinder move. Some came and gave me their last case of metal type, covered in sheets of dust from having been down in the basement for decades untouched. Some have told me the stories of their working lives in printing offices. I have had a stunning scenery lying just beyond my studio’s windows. Almost everybody was blown away by it when visiting me. Next step for me will be to get the studio ready for shipping once we found a new place fit for working in.
(Plans to enlarge the industrial area haven been more or less approved, so there will be substantial changes to the scenery here in the near future.)