Letterpress Printing

Part of staying sane during the stressful times of the school year involves forcing yourself to take breaks. This term I took Thursday evenings off to try my hand at letterpress printing at NSCAD’s Dawson Print Shop. It’s a slow process – this photo actually represents most of my efforts so far – but I’m hoping to keep working on it. It’s a much-needed cathartic experience.

Axonometric Drawing: Jacobs House

For today’s post I have some more recent school work, an axonometric drawing of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Jacobs House (aka Usonia I). For anyone familiar with the house, my drawing is not 100% accurate but it is pretty close. This was my first “axo” but it definitely won’t be my last; I love the process and the distinct style (one which has a long history and many modern masters). The base drawing is above and studies of the house’s windows and materials are below. Next we’ll be working on perspective drawings, so expect to see my attempt in the next couple weeks!

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The Architecture of Lunenburg – Part II

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For my second school-related post, I want to give a quick update on where our term project is headed. Our task this semester is to design a house in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. It has to be located on a downtown lot on one of five streets and must be a response to the local style (or “vernacular”). Our first study is based on observation and measurement. Using the photos included in my previous post and measurements we took on site, my group and I have documented and drafted the entire downtown portion of Pelham Street. The houses above are drawings I contributed to the group study which, at a scale of 1:100, measures about 30 ft per street-side.

From here we have to study our site in particular and begin to think about the dwelling itself. We had our first review on Tuesday and, while it was a quick one, I feel like we’re all on the right track. I’ll be posting some of my ideas in the coming weeks as well as some work on the case study we’re completing simultaneously. Look forward to it!

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The Architecture of Lunenburg – Part I

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If you’ve been following the blog (or know me in person) you probably know that last September I entered the architecture program at Dalhousie University. After studying and responding to some of the great works of international architecture last term, this time around we’re looking at a style and location much closer to home.

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so-declared for its remarkably preserved colonial layout and unique wooden architecture. The settlers of Lunenburg were primarily boat-builders, tasked with dropping a grid plan drafted on flat paper in England onto the steeply sloped side of a drumlin. The resulting architectural evolution can be seen in the town’s unique building features. The most notable of these, the “Lunenburg Bump,” is a modified dormer extruded over the front door, often ornately decorated by local woodworkers and reminiscent of the prow of a ship. Examples can be seen on the symmetrical one-and-a-half-story buildings in the panorama (chopped and stacked to fit) above. I stitched these together from photos taken by Ashley Hannon, using information collected by our entire group.

Over the next few months I’ll be sure to post a few more instalments in my study of Lunenburg. Until then, it’s not too late to like our Facebook page for the change to win an album download (see our last post)!

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Chord Organ Blues

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In a few weeks it’ll be February, a month of cold weather, boxed chocolates, and the non-stop musical creativity that is the RPM Challenge. If you haven’t heard of it yet, the RPM Challenge is a musical undertaking in which participants write an album from start to finish in one month. More details can be found here, but suffice to say this year Katie and I will be giving it a shot.

In preparation we’ve been looking for some funky instruments to add to our impromptu band. Today we found the perfect addition – this amazing retro chord organ. We picked it up secondhand and got it for or a steal (or a song?). Katie’s a big fan of Daniel Johnston and we’re hoping to channel some of his skills with this interesting instrument.

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DIY Christmas: Last-minute Gift Ideas

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Our ideal gift combines the cheap, the useful, the thoughtful, and the fun, and this year we think we’re right on the money. Mike and I spent some time putting together these ideas so you don’t have to! Most of these can be whipped up faster than you can bake a fruitcake. They include:

Homemade lemon-sugar scrub: Just three ingredients for this simple scrub. For packaging, we reclaimed a jar of salad dressing and put together a quick label. It’s a great gift for those people who appreciate chemical-free skincare. We got the recipe here.

Knitted face cloths: Not only are these face cloths a lot softer than the terry cloth alternative, they are way faster to make than the scarves I knitted last year. I got the waffle-weave pattern from here, and picked up these cotton pastel yarns during our recent day off.

Knitted dish cloths: Same idea, different purpose. Perfect for the first-time knitter, it’s probably the easiest pattern to follow and to practice basic skills. You can find it right here. I spiced these up by using matching yarns to add stripes.

Personalized map coasters: There are a lot of homemade coaster DIYs out there, but we ended up going our own way. We used a vinyl placemat for a slip-resistant backing and thick non-corrugated cardboard for a base. For the surface we found maps of the important places in the lives of our giftees (places of birth, work, and romance), printed them, and glued them to the base. We covered the maps with clear-drying, waterproof glue to seal. We think they turned out well but next time would edit the maps to make them stand out more.

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DIY Christmas: Start a Brand

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What do you do when you can’t afford brand-name gifts for your friends and family? Make your own brand, of course.

OK, so you won’t find goodPRODUCTS at a store near you, but a few people we know will find them under the Christmas tree this year. After making a number of inexpensive but thoughtful gifts these past weeks (including soup and cookie mix, soap, and coasters) we were left wanting something more. The idea to package them all under the same brand came as we were making the cooking instruction cards for our soup and cookies. Playing around with imagery and titles, we decided on a new-vintage aesthetic – black and white woodcut images paired with iPod-style typesetting. Keeping these minimal and changing only the image between tags created a unified branding for our gifts which we both feel adds a sense of polish and quality.

Putting our brand together was a fun exercise and one that (clearly) doesn’t require marketing experience to impress those imporant folks in your lives!

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DIY: “Linocut” Christmas Cards

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After rejecting all the pictures from our Christmas card photo shoot (apparently we’re not that photogenic) Katie and I were still in need of cards for our friends and families. Luckily we had some nice paper and printmaking supplies on hand. Keep reading to find out how we used the above supplies and to see the final product!

I am by no means a printmaker but I do understand the basics of linoleum printing. The things you’ll need for a simple card are:

A linoleum block (OK, OK, that isn’t linoleum in the picture but it was cheaper than the lino blocks available at the time)
Cutting blades (a variety is good)
A rubber brayer (the roller above)
Ink
Paper (a textured paper may impact your prints in a good or bad way, see our finished product)
A flat inking surface (a pane of glass is great but something like a piece of styrofoam, which I had to use, can also work)

While this image may look like an ad for Speedball, any brand supplies will do. I don’t have detailed instructions for the entire process but here are some important tips:

1. Pick your image. Remember that it will print in reverse! This may not matter sometimes, but it definitely will for text.

2. Plan your cuts. You can draw your reversed image right on the block to guide carving. Alternatively, you can freestyle your design.

3. Use your cutting took to carve away the lightest parts of your image. Whatever is uncarved will come out inked. You can’t carve greys, but you can use hatching or stippling for shading. Use small gouges for cutting thin lines, and large ones for thick lines or for clearing large areas. Always be in control of your cutting tool. Note, that doesn’t mean a tight grip! Many people will recommend only cutting away from you. That isn’t always necessary but make sure that you aren’t cutting toward your fingers. You will cut yourself. I have.

4. When you’re happy with your block it’s time to start inking. Put a dab of ink on your inking surface and spread it out with the brayer. Go back and forth and change directions. The goal is to evenly coat the brayer. Add more ink if it isn’t completely covered. Too much ink will cause it to slide, not roll.

5. With the evenly coated brayer, roll over your carved block until it is evenly covered. Go back and forth in multiple directions here too. What you see is what will print. If ink is filling your carved shapes you may be using too much ink or the gouges may not be deep enough.

6. You can print either by putting the inked stamp on your paper or by carefully placing the paper on top of the stamp. Either way, rub the back of the paper or block to ensure the ink adheres to the paper.

7. Carefully pull away the paper or block to reveal your print.

This can be a messy process but luckily messy linocuts can look great. The most important thing is that the paper and block do not shift as it will smudge your image. With the rubber block I used, the sponginess also caused it to stretch and shift on some test copies. That shouldn’t happen with actual linoleum.

That came out longer than expected but once you try it you’ll see that it’s really a simple process. Try it out for some amazing personalized cards for any holiday or occasion.

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The Architecture of Bookbinding

Since taking a class in bookbinding a year and a half ago I’ve made everything from quick notebooks (before meetings and lectures) to the portfolio which got me into architecture school. I’m drawn to books for two reasons: my background in English and the versatility of the form (I’ve been able to use my experience in pottery, paper-making, and figure-drawing in the making of different books). Below are three examples of books I made this past winter, completed as individual projects but also included in my application to an undergraduate architecture program:

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This is a “carousel” book made with cut-up travel photos arranged to create three-dimensional scenes (which don’t always make sense). This one required some assembly but resulted in one of my favourite books yet, more an artwork than the other more-or-less-functional notebooks.

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The covers of this notebook are made with kiln-fired clay, glazed and stamped with my initial, “M.” The book is bound with two colours of embroidery thread which I twisted together (probably not the most durable binding, especially with the rough edges), and the binding itself is a coptic stitch, easy once you get the hand of it and beautiful in its simplicity.

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And this is the portfolio itself, which I submitted hoping it wouldn’t fall apart while admissions were reviewing it. Luckily it held up and the returned book is now sitting in our living room. The binding is the most interesting part of this one: the spine is a piece of copper pipe from a hardware store (sanded for the “brushed” look) and the binding itself is the “secret Belgian binding” explained here. The covers for this one are done in black book-cloth (also used as a backdrop).

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