All posts in Art

Help the Independent Publishing Resource Center and win zines and stickers!

This holiday season (queue announcer voice), I would like to help out an organization that shares the values of the typosphere: Portland Oregon’s Independent Publishing Resource Center.

The IPRC is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of independent print publishing projects, and is staffed and used by typewriter fans, comic book artists, writers, zinesters, mimeograph nerds, letterpress people, and any number of folks you’d want to be friends with. I made a video about the IPRC in graduate school last winter and attended a weekend-long print camp there in 2009 which was a great experience (see this brief video of Silent Type co-producer Brandon learning how to use a mimeograph machine there).

As the IPRC is a nonprofit organization, it relies on donations to stay afloat. Here’s how you can help.

1) First, view the
IPRC Typing Kitty video
(featuring a lovely green-keyed Royal Quiet De Luxe).

2) Decide that you are moved to donate $10 or $25.

3) Realize that Strikethru is offering a free copy of Silent Type #2 to $10 donors, and a free copy of both issues 1 and 2, plus 1 sheet of beautiful Royal typewriter stickers* (one sheet of 4 stickers) to $25 donors. Holy cow!

4) Donate securely via the Willamette Week give guide (the Willamette Week is a weekly newspaper in Portland, OR): Go to their 2010 Give Guide, Click Donate Now, under Arts enter $10 or $25 next to Independent Publishing Resource Center, click Next, etc.

5) Send me an email or a letter (letters are great) to inform me of your donation and give me the address to send the prize to. Please be honest!

6) Enjoy your prize and the moral satisfaction of knowing that you helped an organization that supports independent print publishing, and is home to a number of happy and well-used typewriters.

I am hoping to raise $100 for the IPRC (and plan to donate $25 myself in addition to that). If enough people donate and we reach the $100 mark (or we reach January 31st, 2011, whichever comes first), I will end the offer (because I only have so many copies of Silent Type– you do realize it is now officially out of print?! See left for PDF copies of the zine if you want to take a look).

*the typewriter stickers are made by the talented Sarah Golden. Visit her Etsy store craftyFOLK, based in my home town of Sactomato, for these and other awesome typewriter-related crafts.

Drawing and product review: Knock Knock Personal Library Kit

I was recently offered an opportunity to review and give away an item from Knock Knock, which is OK by me, since I’ve purchased the Pro and Con and Paper E-mail notepads in the past (I particularly enjoy the paper e-mail, which makes a certain throwback statement when taped to someone’s monitor at work).

I chose to review the Knock Knock Personal Library Kit* because it looked kind of swell, and like something that would appeal to the typosphere, a crowd generally in favor of preserving the book in print form.

This Library Kit makes an interesting statement about a nuisance we have all taken for granted until now: that books exist, and as such can be loaned or lost. What precious book is forever lost from your collection, and who still has it? In the era of the ebook, losing an inscribed hardback copy of 100 Years of Solitude to a lost love or former friend becomes instead a tech support incident regarding data corruption or DRM.

Anyway, the product: well, here you see what it contains: 20 due date cards, 20 card pockets, a date stamp and ink pad, and small pencil, the kind you might find with a stack of scrap paper next to a library catalog computer these days.

The card envelope is nice and sturdy with a space to write your (that is, the book owner’s) name, and affixes easily to the inside book cover with two peel-off adhesive strips. The card itself has lines for the book title and author on the front, followed by multiple lines for borrower information that continue onto the back. (If you ever use checkout card in your books, I strongly recommend using your typewriter to fill in the book title and author information, to channel some 20th century card catalog style).

The date stamp runs through the year 2020 (incidentally, is there anything as mournful as an old date stamp where the latest year passed long ago? I’ve come across one or two of those in my thrift store journeys, and they always make me feel a brief mortal chill). The ink pad is serviceable (not craft-store sturdy, but OK) and the short pencil is likely to get lost within the blink of a curious preschooler’s eye, but anyway, the packaging serves as a tray that can hold the whole system, like a tiny Monopoly game, if you want to store it out of reach.

It’s charming, for sure– the cards look rather nice affixed within your favorite books, as a kind of rebuke to lazy borrowers (who are unlikely to return your tomes even with this reminder, the bastards that they are). You can find all manner of vintage or old-style library checkout cards and envelopes on eBay these days, but the modern red design of these works for me, standing out from the page a bit better than the old buff-colored classic designs. That said, if you don’t loan out a lot of books, and a lot of books repeatedly, this card set would be nothing more than a novelty for you. Oh, I know you would like to fool around with the library kit, and see how a few card return envelopes look stuck to the inside of those certain volumes within your own library, but trust me, this is a practical item and should be used as such. Any librarian would agree.

If you ARE loaning out books, and can immediately think of at least 10 whose tenure in your collection might be potentially secured by this product, I strongly encourage you to put your name (and hopefully a story about a long-lost book) in the comments for this drawing– I would love to send this right off to you.

Winner announced February 1!


*I received a personal copy of this kit gratis, in addition to the one I am giving away, which will be mailed to the winner unopened. As possibly mentioned in the past, when I do product reviews or giveaways, I will disclose the origins of the product and whether I was asked to review it. If asked to review a product, I will do so if I am personally curious about or interested in the product, but still endeavor to give an honest review.

Christine Berrie’s art is retrotastically awesome

So retrotechians, run, don’t walk, to Christine Berrie’s Etsy shop or Web site to view her heavenly illustrations of vintage cameras (and one Royal Futura).

Here is an interview with her. She is brilliant.

The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) Print Camp: Mimeograph printing

Other posts in the IPRC print camp series:
IPRC print camp: Letterpress printing
IPRC print camp: Block printing and altered books

Am I STILL writing about the IPRC’s 2009 print camp?! I’ve already covered letterpress printing and relief printing/altered books, so now onto the third and final installment: mimeograph printing.

The class instructors, Dan and Jake (this is not my photo, btw), started out with the Spirit Duplicator speech. That being: the mimeograph machine is not to be confused with the spirit duplicator, or “ditto machine.” (Here is an interesting article that identifies them as competing technologies, in fact). People over the age of 35 enjoy sharing memories of snorting fresh dittoed copies of grade school math tests, but we’ll have to talk about that another time.

The first step in mimeograph printing is to carefully cut a design onto a mimeograph stencil using a typewriter or stencil cutter. Mimeograph stencils are sort of like carbon copy forms with that thin top layer of paper. Here is someone’s picture of a mimeograph stencil (but even more awesome is the parent site of this link,, which is about collecting vintage vacuum machines. But I digress).

The next step is to put ink (LOTS of ink!) on the drum at the center of the machine (assuming the machine is low on ink), and then place your stencil over the drum. (Here is a page from the mimeograph manual they handed out that explains this all in more technical terms.) When it was my turn to produce copies of my stencil, Dan had just inked the drum. You’ll see how this affects the first few copies:

You then set your blank paper into the tray, and start cranking the handle. It’s definitely more fun if you crank it fast; copies will kind of shoot out of the other side. (Is this the origin of the expression “crank it out?” Because you can rack up a lot of copies pretty fast.) Once the ink had settled in, my copies began to look a little cleaner:

Here is the mimeograph in action (complete with paper jam) with Dan and Brandon at the helm:

In addition to Dan’s demonstration of mimeograph by machine, Jake showed us a machine-less method of mimeograph printing that uses hand-held tools (this picture, also not mine, shows the closest approximation that I can find) and small templates that allow you to print on a diverse array of surfaces (I was sporting a mimeographed arm tattoo for the rest of that day, by way of example.). To cut my smaller stencil, I used a typewriter that Jake had brought. It happened to be an Olivetti Lettera 22.

In the comments section of a prior post, several typeospherians scolded me for trashing the Olivetti, based on my underwhelming experiences with the Underwood-Olivetti 319. “Try the Lettera!” they cried, and thus I found myself in the following weeks lurking eBay for this iconic machine with the one red key. Needless to say, I was delighted to encounter one at the IPRC, and told Jake post-haste that I coveted the machine.

“Well then, it must be yours,” he replied. “I got it at a garage sale for 5 bucks.” (I of course foisted my Flip camera videos of Portland’s Ace Typewriter upon him immediately, which he aptly referred to as typewriter pr0n. This led to a discussion between Dan and Jake about their typewriter hoarding issues and the relative sexiness of the Selectric l vs the Selectric ll. You all should have been there to hear it, you really should have).

Thanks to Jake’s generosity, this Lettera 22 has now pushed my typewriter collection into the dreaded double digits. Y’all were right. It’s a darned good machine.

The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) Print Camp: letterpress printing

Other posts in the IPRC print camp series:
IPRC print camp: Mimeograph printing
IPRC print camp: Block printing and altered books

I attended a print camp at The Independent Publishing Resource Center in Portland, OR a few weeks ago that covered the basics of letterpress printing, mimeograph, altered books, and relief (block) printing. I’ve already written about the block printing and altered books portion of the two-day session, and so now, on to letterpress.

In fact, the entire first day of the session was devoted only to letterpress. If you know anything about the topic, this will make sense. It’s not a simple process. Instead of a providing a convoluted explanation, I’ll just send you on over to this video on the topic, set at the IPRC (unrelated to my visit), if you want to see it in action.

Letterpress is a natural fit for scribeomechanical types: it’s tactile, ink-based, provides access to fascinating antique machinery, there’s no electricity required, and of course, it’s centered on a reverence for the printed word. The resulting type has a sharpness about it that you won’t get any other way. However, you’d better have a good memory for facts, as letterpress terminology is vast. Also, there is an upside and a downside to the completely manual nature of setting type character by character into a composing stick and then tightening it down into a frame with a series of little blocks and keys: there is no CTRL-Z. There were several versions of the following design that featured characters set the wrong way.

Next post: mimeograph!

The Independent Publishing Resource Center (IPRC) Print Camp: block printing and altered books

Other posts in the IPRC print camp series:
IPRC print camp: Mimeograph printing
IPRC print camp: Letterpress printing

Darn, it’s already been over a week and I still haven’t gotten around to posting about my trip to the IPRC in Portland, OR last weekend.

The IPRC makes me really, really sad I don’t live in Portland. It is a facility dedicated to self-publishing, and they have a great wealth of resources and tools (page layout software, letterpress equipment, a zine library, a bookbinding machine, work tables, photocopiers, typewriters, mimeograph equipment, art supplies, etc. etc.) that you can access for modest membership and/or classroom fees. The instructors and staff are very kind and open-minded (kind of a Portland trait I gather) and do not make you feel like a doofus about your artistic abilities or lack thereof.

My friend Brandon and I attended Print Camp, which was a weekend-long series of classes including an introduction to letterpress, mimeograph, bookbinding, and block (relief) printing. I’ll start with the last two, as there is too much to say about the overall experience for one post.

Block Printing

This PDF link provides a good visual tutorial (unrelated to the IPRC) about what block printing is and looks like. Essentially, block printing involves carving a reverse image into a wood or linoleum block, pressing the block in ink, and then making a print impression.

I wish I could say I was as talented as my friend Brandon in the matter of the visual arts, but alas, I cannot. He did a beautiful, cardworthy octopus print (I forgot my copy of it at the IPRC, perhaps out of jealousy), but you will have to settle for looking at my botched Strikethru design.

If you have never tried block printing, it is very soothing to gouge linoleum with sharp tools. If you are willing to part with $42 dollars and want to give it a try, Speedball makes a block printing kit with all of the supplies.

Altered books

I know I said bookbinding earlier in this post, and that is what this segment of the class was originally supposed to be, but there was an agenda change. Before I proceed, it’s time for a little side story.

I have previous experience with bookbinding, which surely I’ve mentioned here before. If I have, indulge me again. Since it traumatized me, I tend to ramble about it at any opportunity. I took a class here in Seattle several years ago with a nameless book artist in possession of a Jekyll and Hyde personality (which one of those guys was the evil one? Mostly that one) who took to yelling at anyone who did not perfectly duplicate her complex signature-sewing instructions on the first try. One student ran from class in tears (!) and did not return the following day (not sure why I returned myself, actually). Ever since then, I have been afraid of bookbinding (Brandon –who was in that class with me too– even called ahead to make sure The Evil One was not affiliated with the IPRC). I was willing to get back on the horse at the IPRC, but as it turns out, I didn’t have to, as the topic had changed to altered books.

Now, altered books present their own dilemma, more of an ethical one. I have posted about this topic before, related as it is to key-cutting and other acts of destroying 20th century media for the purpose of arts and crafts (or Etsy sales). I am not in reality much of a rebel, however, and wasn’t going to be That Kid who refuses to dissect the frog in biology class and ends up on the evening local news, so I took an Xacto knife to an old romance novel, and turned it into a weird collage of pockets and notebooks.

I admit it was kind of fun. Check back in my Etsy store later this week for a lovely assortment of typewriter key cufflinks and pendants.

I’m kidding, people. But really, I find the subject of old media dissection to be fascinating. There has to be some terribly intellectual thing one could say (this has Darren Wershler-Henry written all over it) about what this 21st century artistic compulsion says about our psyches.

Anyway, this post is To Be Continued.

I made a paper wallet

Paper solves all problems.

My kid likes to dump my wallet out on the floor and rummage through its contents– good practice for the tween years, I suppose. Problem is, key items from the wallet sometimes end up under the dollhouse in the living room when they should be with me at the grocery check stand.

Thus, in a fit of boredom, I made her a paper wallet today. Try to do that online. Oh, that’s right. You can’t. Sorry, interweb.

PS: Here is someone elses’s design for making a paper wallet— it looks a little more official than mine. Might give it a try.

Update Here is my attempt.

Book arts as political statement / Brian Dettmer, book-artist

Finally got around to making a project out of this book. Granted, it’s a modest attempt, but that’s the fun thing about making books– you can put them together from junk paper lying around the house. The cover of this one is an old sheet of watercolor paper that someone used to clean rubber stamps.

Uh oh, Esther Smith has another book, too. Look out, wallet.

There are a healthy number of institutions devoted to preserving and teaching book arts; many major cities in the United States have them, by way of example (Philadelphia, San Francisco, New York, Minneapolis, oh, there’s tons more). Google Live Search book arts in a town near you, there’s gonna be one there.

I bring this up because I am curious about this craft, in the context of print media’s often forecasted demise. I came across an interesting debate about this topic, which I highly recommend to those in the Luddosphere. The article discusses whether written words will ultimately have a useful and longer life on paper or in pixels: should all text be “searchable, discoverable, linkable, part of the conversation,” or is it true that the unedited, unprofessional digi-screeds of the masses (cough cough) are by definition etherial and destined for deletion?

I find this subject fascinating. Do you? It seems that book arts are more popular than ever before, as evidenced by the endless institutions devoted to the craft. I wonder if this bears any reactionary relation to the fact that the digital age seems hell-bent on removing tactile experience from all forms of media.

Kind of makes the typewriter journal a political statement. (Did you sign up yet?)

Changing the subject somewhat: Brian Dettmer, book artist

Probably a subject for a separate post: the typewriter is not the only 20th century icon of literature being eviscerated for museum display. Brian Dettmer creates sculptures (called “book autopsies” in the case of books) from all manner of fading communications media: records, tapes, books, maps. Of such media, he is quoted as saying “their intended role has decreased or deceased and they often exist simply as symbols of the ideas they represent rather than true conveyers of content.”

I have two reactions to this kind of increasingly popular transmogrification of media into symbol. My less sophisticated reaction: it’s grisly and some could argue disrespectful, like Bodies: the exhibition. It implies that language is entirely separate from the forms that carry and create it, and the latter has no lasting value save for irony.

A more nuanced reaction might be this: I love technology, and the fact that it makes possible the sharing of ideas like these with like-minded people. I don’t want to go back to pre-digital times. But I’d like to think digital communication can be used in the service of good: to preserve, cherish, and even further the use and enjoyment of iconic, fascinating, and useful creations like books and typewriters. Centers for book arts, like those I mentioned above, are exactly the kinds of places where the benefits of technology and tradition can intersect for the public good.

Center for the preservation and perserverence of the typewriter, anyone? Any venture capitalists out there with me?

Update: Brian Dettmer’s work is currently on display in Chicago, at the Packer Schopf gallery. The page I just linked to has an interesting analysis of “object-based media” in the digital age, and the meaning behind Dettmer’s work:

Books age like humans: they become discolored and stiff, and eventually their pages crumble into dust. Dettmer’s tactile book-sculptures are metaphors for the decline of natural, physical media in the face of the digital, which escapes the laws of nature through lacking any single physical form. At the same time, the sheer volume and solidity of these paper peaks and valleys suggest a sense of stability and soundness that digital information necessarily lacks. We see in Dettmer’s books the simultaneous vulnerability and resilience of material forms.

I do think this is a compelling topic to explore in art, but I can’t say I take any aesthetic pleasure in the destruction of books and typewriters to make a statement. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I universally denigrate the work of artists like Dettmer, however. I just wonder if there is a different way that art could explore this issue. Thoughts?

How to make books

How to Make Books: Fold, Cut & Stitch Your Way to a One-Of-A-Kind Book

I meant to relate the following story above, but have lost my stamina for writing much more than a page by hand. Sad, I know. I previously mentioned somewhere that a friend and I took a book arts class a couple of years ago. It was an experience that threatened to turn me off of book-making for good.

The teacher of the class was talented in the craft, of that there isn’t doubt. Her teaching method, however, nowhere approached her skill at assembling bound documents. I know little about teaching, but I do know this: if you don’t have boundless patience for people who are not as good as you at the thing you are teaching, DO NOT BE A TEACHER.

This woman grew irritable and snappish at anyone who didn’t successfully imitate her increasingly difficult bookmaking techniques on the first try, to the point where a student fled the class in tears before the end of the first day. The rest of us sewed signatures in terrified silence, desperately trying to follow her instructions to the letter, lest she snarl and make a sarcastic example of our ineptitude to the other cowed bookmaking hopefuls.

At the end of day two, anxiety had completely overtaken any grasp I may have had on bookmaking fundamentals, and I turned my back on the craft for some time. But thanks to “How to Make Books,” I’m back.


There were some interesting comments on the last post I meant to respond to, but houseguests compelled me to take a webcation. I’ve finally posted a comment, and enjoyed everyone’s thoughts on that post. Which begs the question:

WHO WOULD LIKE TO SUBMIT SOMETHING TO THE THE RETROTECH REVIEW (or whatever we are calling it?) Speak now, and include the category of your submission in the comments (fiction, poetry, art, photography, nonfiction, all on the general theme of ephemera and retrotech). Submissions s/b no more than 2 8×11 pages and should not cover any topic not appropriate for youngsters.

Retrotech art, typecon, Alphasmart easter eggs, Wikipedia

I like Christopher Stott’s paintings – esp. those of retrotech.

This is a hoax. Right? I could not get it to work.

Some of you guys were talking about Typecon over in Flickr. I can’t seem to determine if this would contain anything of interest to typecasters, or whether it is just an industry event for typesetters. Anyone know more?

Speaking of Wikipedia, I was thinking one of us should do an entry on typecasting. Much to my surprise, one is already there. My name is in the footnotes…‽ I think we need to get a whole list of typecasters on there, so someone head over to Wikipedia and start editing.