An announcement for lovers of letterpress, lovers of dogs, parents and friends of small children, and everyone who is young at heart: Michael Wertz’s book Dog Dreams, originally produced as a Small Plates Edition of SFCB, will soon be available from Gingko Press! Dog Dreams is a 7″ x 7″ board book. The original letterpress edition of 100 was a 4″ x 4″ board book (pictured below).
Wertz (and his band, the Mutts), will be shepherding his book into its new incarnation on Dec. 4 at the Oakland Museum. The event will, of course, be kid-friendly, dog-friendly, free and open to the public.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Michael Wertz about the process of creating Dog Dreams, both times around.
Wertz is primarily a silkscreen artist; his work is deliciously curvaceous and tends to involve a limited color palette, which transferred quite naturally to letterpress. “When I work with silkscreen,” he told me, “I have the ability to get more experimental, to include pencil and rough drawing. With letterpress, I wanted to explore a flatter color style.”
“The nice thing about letterpress is that when you look at the final prints, the lines aren’t smooth… you get a crunchy edge that I just love. Even though you’re working with Adobe Illustrator files that are really precise, because all the work is done with math, when you actually print them, it doesn’t turn out like that… there are registration issues, the inks lay down on top of each other funny… you can’t help having mistakes occur, and that’s kind of the most exciting thing for me. It makes the images really come alive, I think.”
Dog Dreams’ path from limited-editon artist’s book to large-format, mass produced board-book is a lucky one. After printing the edition, Wertz had put aside a set all the unassembled prints (as do most Small Plates artists). “I framed them, and I just had them sitting around, and a cafe in my neighborhood [Cafe 504] needed some art for November…anyway, Ellen Christianson of Gingko Press happened to see the prints on the wall and thought it would work well as a trade edition.” And as for the pre-press involved, “Well, we scanned in the prints from the book, and it worked! They just needed barely any editing, some color correction, but it was basically done.”
This ease is, of course, in sharp contrast to the work involved in creating the original edition of Dog Dreams. It was an edition of 100 board books, the largest print run that Wertz had ever done at the time, and his first large-scale letterpress project. “Pam D. got me up to speed on the presses and did a fair amount of printing, and I was at SFCB all the time for almost a month, printing and gluing and cutting and perforating and doing all that stuff.” Not all Imprint artists are able to be as involved as Wertz was in the production of their books; for him the experience was a valuable one. “It really felt like a retreat, a retreat into the presses, and getting to spend that time was wonderful…the scale of the project really made me a better printer.”
Dog Dreams is the only board book that has been produced by SFCB’s Imprint division so far. “I had brought in a Curious George board book [to an early brainstorming session], and it was Carolee [a long-time SFCB volunteer, and bookbinder, mail artist, and rare book conservator] who came up with the idea to glue two pages together to create a board book.” Each page in Dog Dreams, for those of you who have not seen a copy, is actually two pages, glued back to back (using “straight PVA and a soupcon of methyl cellulose,” as Wertz puts it). The gluing, like the rest of the project, was done entirely by hand… truly a labor of love.
Though he had illustrated two previous books with poet Betsy Franco, Dog Dreams was Wertz’s first experience as an author. “Up until now I’ve just been an illustrator and not an author. This was an experiment in many ways, in being bold and decisive.” However, it seems that Wertz has been moving in this direction for a long time. “I take a lot of inspiration from Lynda Barry… when I was in high school, and I read Boys and Girls [which has just been re-printed in Blabber Blabber Blabber, a collection of her early work], I wanted to crawl through that rectangle and live in that world. It was funny and edgy and sad, and all the stories are kind of amazing and varied.” It was, in part, that book which moved Wertz towards studying art and illustration. “My style has been evolving toward this point… though I didn’t know what that point was going to be until it happened.”
“[Illustration] is a career in which you always have to be moving and changing, and I’m grateful for SFCB allowing me to stretch myself with Dog Dreams.”
As for future letterpress projects? Well… “I have an idea for a book about a dog that takes a bike ride across the country — I would love to come back to SFCB and do that.”
We can’t wait to see it!
Oakland Museum Gift Shop
Sunday, December 4, 2 – 3 PM
1000 Oak St. Oakland, CA 94607 (close to Lake Merritt BART)
The Museum is FREE that day!
You should also check out Michael Wertz’s fantastic flickr set of the Dog Dreams production, from which all the above photos are borrowed. It’s all here.
Images courtesy of Michael Bartalos.