Tag Archives: relief printing

Any rags?

A rag collector in Paris late 1800s

In spite of Frederick’s decree, Europe’s papermakers simply got on with making paper. They added a twist to the recipe: rags. Rags means old cloth like towels, tablecloths, bedsheets, curtains, handkerchiefs, dresses, shirts, pants, socks, underwear, twine, even rope. In Europe, rag fiber meant linen or hemp. Buying old rags sprang up as a side business to support the papermaking business. Rag content in paper makes it pretty nice to draw and paint on. Here in the USA rag means cotton fiber. Rag paper is PH neutral—it contains very little or no acid so it doesn’t yellow over time. The European process was still pretty much the same one the Chinese used: you throw fibrous material into a vat of treated water and break down the fibers until you get a slurry.

The watermark found on many pages of Gutenberg’s bibles.

Most of Gutenberg’s bibles are printed on paper. He got his paper from a mill in northern Italy. The pages have a watermark—the logo of the mill is ever-so-slightly indented into the paper. You only see it when you hold the paper up to the light. How fitting is it that the watermark on the pages of the Gutenberg Bible is in the shape of an ox head? An ox head was the original shape of the first letter of our alphabet: aleph. https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2021/01/11/canaanite-turquoise-miners-fool-around-during-lunch-break/

https://www.bl.uk/treasures/gutenberg/paper.html
https://www.papiermuseum.ch/manufaktur/#Papierproduktion
https://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/kidscraftsactivitiesblog/2012/02/how-to-make-paper-from-rags/
https://www.ehow.com/how_6132991_make-rag-paper.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9Pvk-mzEUs
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rag-and-bone_man
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragpicker
Here’s Betty and rag man Bimbo (this cartoon is pre-Hayes-Code—parents, shield the kids’ eyes when Betty reveals her undergarments):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcGCGhjHFuU
Here’s a good article about paper:
https://vintagepaper.co/blogs/news/rag-paper-what-is-it
https://www.themorgan.org/collections/works/gutenberg/invention-of-printing
Here’s how a watermark is made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQwTblKyU8g

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Paper or parchment?

Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II—’the Wonder of the World’ as his pals liked to call him

The invention of papermaking slowly—like a thousand years slowly—made its way to the Middle East and then Europe. In Spain and Italy, mills began cranking out paper in the 1100s. This paper was for writing on (of course, right? Printing wasn’t a thing yet).

Paper was considered not as good as parchment. There’s a sacred aspect to parchment. Parchment had been the preferred writing surface for religious and legal documents since the days when it replaced papyrus. Still, paper was less expensive than parchment, so customers started making the switch to paper.

The land-owning barons and earls who sold livestock to make parchment saw the new paper industry cutting in on their profits, so they sandbagged the demand for paper. In 1221 the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II decreed that paper documents were invalid—which meant contracts written on paper weren’t legally binding. Lawyers, judges and government officials had to use the more expensive parchment just to keep their documents valid. It’s a sad fact that big business will always enlist cronies in government to squash their competition. Always.

http://www.holyromanempireassociation.com/holy-roman-emperor-frederick-ii.html
https://beyondforeignness.org/8966
https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/kings-queens/emperor-frankenstein-the-truth-behind-frederick-ii-of-sicilys-sadistic-science-experiments/

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Deckle and mold

The Chinese papermakers made wooden frames and stretched a mesh/screen across them—they were 2-piece flat strainers called a deckle and mold. Think of two screen windows—one has a screen in it, the other is an empty frame. They dipped the deckle and mold into the slurry and pulled them up horizontally. The water drained through the mesh. They removed the mold to leave a square of slurry on top of the mesh, which got transferred onto a piece of felt. Multiple pieces of felt and slurry were stacked together as a post and pressed to dry flat. When the whole post was finally dry, the slurry was paper that they could pull off the felt.



The Chinese papermakers improved on the recipe by adding bleach to brighten the paper’s appearance and finishing the paper’s surface with sizing (starch at first, then in the 1400s they switched to animal glue) to make it smoother.

https://www.learnchinesehistory.com/history-chinese-paper/
https://www.dkfindout.com/us/history/ancient-china/chinese-paper-making/
Hey, look! Georgia Tech has a Museum of Papermaking:
https://paper.gatech.edu/invention-paper-0
Watch a deckle and mold being made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_A9D1IPRqw
I’ve long wondered where bleach came from. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKJCWJ-ibfI
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sizing

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PAPER!

Great galloping Agamemnon, we forgot paper! Why didn’t you guys say something?

Those monks hand-wrote their bibles on parchment or vellum, remember? Parchment isn’t cheap. It was Gutenberg’s mission to make bibles affordable, so most of them he printed on paper (just a few he printed on vellum) because paper was way less expensive.

Bamboo

Paper was another one of those Chinese inventions that came to the West along the Silk Road. They started making it around ad 100 (a guy named Ts’ai Lun is credited with paper’s invention). China’s first paper was made from bamboo, which is a reed—like papyrus in Egypt. Just like the Egyptians, they soaked the bamboo after splitting it into strips, then criss-crossed the softened strips into a sheet, pressed and dried it.



This kind of paper is not so good for printing. A printing surface needs to be perfectly smooth, and papyrus-style has ridges from the reed’s strips. To make high-quality paper—the good stuff—takes more work. Chinese papermakers figured out that you can soak the bamboo and other fibrous plants like flax in a vat of water and alkalei to break down their fibers more quickly. Alkalei is an acid you get from wood ash. They also beat the soaking bamboo (maybe like churning butter?) until the whole mess disintegrated into a slurry of plant fibers and water.

https://www.thespruce.com/meaning-of-lucky-bamboo-1902901

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Step Four: we got better ink!

In case you’re wondering what those lollipop things are—Gutenberg used goose-skin inking balls to apply ink to the form.

So oil paint was a hot ticket in the art world of the mid-1400s. If you’re Johannes Gutenberg and you need to figure out how to get ink to stick to your metal type, that oil binder looks pretty good. He developed an oil-based ink that’s thick, sticks to metal and can be applied evenly. Gutenberg created a blacker-than-black pigment by mixing carbon (charred bone), graphite, copper, lead, titanium and sulfur. The graphite and copper give the ink sheen (I’m guessing it’s the orangey copper that’s powdered somehow—like when you saw through a copper pipe with a hacksaw—rather than scraping the green corrosion).

https://www.historytoday.com/history-matters/history-ink-six-objects
Scroll down to Making Relief Ink to see how to make your own oil-based ink: https://www.lawrence.co.uk/blog/how-to-make-your-own-paint-relief-ink/
https://www.speedballart.com/our-product-lines/speedball-printmaking/speedball-blockrelief-printing/speedball-block-printing-inks/speedball-oil-based-inks/

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How to get better ink: Step Three

My take on A Man In A Red Turban, thought to be Jan van Eyck’s self-portrait.

A painter in the Netherlands, Jan van Eyck (yahn wahn IKE), made oil paint famous. You can get fine details and dramatic lighting effects and smooth blending of tones with oil paint more easily than in other media, and van Eyck was a master oil painter (as well as a master at drawing). Look at any of his paintings and you’ll see what I mean. Van Eyck mixed pigment with varnish to create transparent glazes of color—your eye looks through the layers. His paintings are like jewels. He may not have invented oil paint, but van Eyck put it on the map.*

Speaking of maps, Ghent isn’t all that far from Mainz. Gutenberg must have been aware of the Flemish art scene. https://geology.com/world/netherlands-satellite-image.shtml

* It used to be thought that Jan and his brother Hubert invented oil paint. That’s what Giorgio Vasari told me in his book The Lives of the Artists, and I believed him. It turns out they didn’t. Now I need to call all my old History of Graphic Design students and tell them the bad news.
https://www.thriftbooks.com/w/the-lives-of-the-artists_giorgio-vasari/325683/item/1243619/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw_dWGBhDAARIsAMcYuJxUnr29Uil9zgUCCGHw4FvdpotvBxBVQt6wyJf1nvNF5IO6po_-E28aAroxEALw_wcB#idiq=1243619&edition=3580770
A pet peeve: Historians, nobody ‘discovered’ oil paint. It was invented.

http://www.oil-painting-techniques.com/analysis-jan-van-eyck.html
https://www.oilpaintingguide.com/brief-history-of-oil-painting/
https://biography.yourdictionary.com/hubert-and-jan-van-eyck
https://www.art.com/products/p12972944-sa-i2208828/jan-van-eyck-a-man-in-a-red-turban-self-portrait-of-jan-van-eyck-1433.htm?upi=P145KXO1ZOO&RFID=217825&ProductTarget=12972944-P145KXO1ZOO&utm_medium=cpc&utm_source=google&utm_campaign=PLA&gclid=CjwKCAjwrPCGBhALEiwAUl9X07zWpfGHcidrW5VW3uTpfJPZzPXU5i0zCbmyXc23qqHbcI5F5yOZDxoCFQsQAvD_BwE

Here’s where I use to teach History of Graphic Design back when it was Pittsburgh Technical Institute: https://ptcollege.edu/

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How to get better ink: Step Two

Egg tempera dries really quickly. I’m not a methodical painter. I would get frustrated with having to cross-hatch a transition from one color to another. I like to blend paint while it’s wet. Sometime in the 1400s artists must’ve started adding oil to the egg tempera recipe to prolong its drying time (this egg-and-oil paint is called tempera grasso). They tried oils from nuts and seeds. If you go to the grocery store you can find similar oils for cooking—vegetable oil, grape seed oil, olive oil. Raphael even tried walnut oil for his paint. The one that seemed to work best was linseed oil. Oil and water don’t mix, so turpentine is the solvent. You use turpentine to thin the paint and clean your brushes.

Eventually artists ditched the egg and just used oil.

Watch this video to see how you get oil out of linseed, then use it to make paint:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-UxsAij-ykg
Turpentine is made out of pine sap. It’s distilled. A still is a sealed, contained cooking pot with a pipe coming out of the lid. You heat the sap and the fumes go up the pipe. The fumes condense as they cool and drip out the other end of the pipe. I couldn’t find you a video that shows in a straight-forward way how to distill turpentine. I found lots of videos of guys not quite making turpentine. Watch these if you dare:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_fRnEpQ55E
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uvduGMTadwk
Everything you want to know about pigment is in this book:
https://www.amazon.com/Color-Natural-History-Victoria-Finlay-ebook/dp/B000XUBDIA/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=color&qid=1624668736&s=books&sr=1-4
More egg tempera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=geafR2FlHO4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTYhS91rIUE
Here’s an artist painting with tempera grasso: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMXb8jNaaeU

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How to get better ink: Step One

Fresh eggs

If you remember from way back when we were looking at ancient Egypt, ‘medium’ is the word we artists use when we talk about the substance that makes marks—ink, paint, crayon, pencil, pastel, chalk. Every medium needs 2 parts: pigment and binder. The pigment is the color. You get pigment from vegetable, animal, or mineral sources. The binder is what holds the pigment together and makes it stick to a surface. Liquid medium needs a third part: solvent.

Here’s how this new paint came to be invented—

Let’s go back to the Middle Ages. Mediæval painters used to bind pigment with egg yolk—seriously!—and water is the solvent. You have to paint methodically with egg tempera because the brush strokes dry quickly. It’s difficult to blend 2 colors together wet-on-wet. So, many egg tempera paintings are zillions of tiny brush strokes.

You crack the egg and separate the yolk from the white. Save the white for making transparent glazes. Put the yolk in a dish—carefully!—and prick its delicate skin with the point of a knife to get binder for pigment. Watch this guy make egg tempera: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GCK5Y1rFEw
Watch this guy paint skin tones in egg tempera. As I said, zillions of tiny brush strokes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YLWWp-PXHK8

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This ink is all wrong

What about ink? Writing ink is water-based and designed to flow freely from a pen or brush. Water-based writing ink doesn’t work on metal type—it either puddles or runs off the surface. There’s no adhesion.  Johannes Gutenberg needed to come up with ink that sticks to metal and covers it evenly. Luckily for him some artists in the Netherlands were experimenting with a new kind of paint.

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Composing type

Now we have type. How do we put a bunch of type together to print a page?



We cast all the letters we’ll need and sorted them in a type drawer or job drawer. Back in the olden days a printer (or printer’s apprentice or printer’s devil) had this drawer memorized—every letter, every bit of punctuation. https://marktwainhouse.org/about/mark-twain/biography/



We’re ready to compose the type. We get a composing stick—a small hand-held tray with a clamp—and put the words and sentences together upside-down and backwards. Set the clamp to however wide you want the column. The length of a line of type is measured in picas but the height of a column is measured in inches.* Don’t ask. I don’t know why. Between every line of type you put a slice of lead called leading (sounds like bedding). Leading comes in different thicknesses, measured in points. When your type is composed, you slide it out of the composing stick onto a flat stone slab and put a square metal frame called the chase around it. You can add artwork in there, too, like a linoleum block print. To keep it in place inside the chase, we grab some blocks of wood called furniture. These are shorter than the type so they won’t get ink on them. Leave room on 2 sides for quoins. Quoins are metal wedges you can tighten against each other to tighten the type, linocuts and furniture inside the chase. Now that it’s locked up into one whole unit it’s called a form. Okay—we’re ready to print!



https://www.fontfabric.com/blog/gutenberg-first-typeface-original-bible-typography-used/
https://letterpresscommons.com/general-tools-and-supplies/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/w4XhrFkvSaKzhHsUAZ2Vzg
Look at this heavenly place! Her composing demo starts at 8:30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pg8A0ab6S4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmg7yCEphrA

* I’m an old graphic designer. I like to measure in picas when I design something. There are 6 picas in an inch. You can easily divide an inch by halfs, thirds, fourths, sixths and twelfths. Each pica has 12 points.
https://www.caseyprinting.com/blog/points-vs-picas
https://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fontology/level-1/type-anatomy/points-and-picas

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