CHINESE IDIOMS

LETTERPRESS BROADSIDE

Set of 2, black and white
Signed edition of 36

6½ × 10 inch

I designed, composed and printed this set of broadsides at Springtide Press, with the supervision and assistance from press proprietor, Jessica Spring.

This broadside series illustrate two Chinese idioms. The white version illustrates “Looking at plums to quench thirst” ( 望梅止渴 ), and the black “Drilling a hole on the wall to steal light” ( 凿壁偷光 ).

Since the white version is about plums, deep magenta is the main color. Similarly, the black version uses gold on black to resonate with the theme of reading with candlelight in darkness.

The Chinese text’s reading direction is vertical right-to-left, while the English translation is read from left to right, horizontally.

The English text was set in metal ATF Garamont. The small, vertical-running Chinese text is in off-the-shelf FounderType QingKeBenYueSong ( 方正 清刻本悦宋 ). The big characters were printed to real size on thin paper using the same typeface. I used pencil to trace them and erased parts of the outline to fill in custom drawings. After I’ve deemed them satisfactory, I filled them black and scanned them. On the computer they were cut and placed in the same composition as the small vertical text. Finally I generated PDFs, according to which two negative films were produced so we could make photopolymer plates.

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After the black version’s photopolymer plate is mounted and aligned to the right position, the character for “steal” is cut off so the rest is printed with gold.

With all the gold printed, that piece of photopolymer is put back on its own and inked with varnish. Every piece of print was fed through the press again.

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The black version also has a feathered lower edge, called a deckle edge. It is a reference to traditional paper-making.


MOLD & DECKLE

In a traditional paper-making process, the wet, raw material (named “stuff”) is loaded on a metal net installed on a wooden base called the mold (lower part in the figure). The upper part is called the deckle, and comes down to close the form. Over time, the stuff inside dries to form a sheet of paper. Because the deckle cannot perfectly meet the mold, the paper’s edges are feathery.

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The two typefaces’ historical origins also match: both are modern revivals of 17th-century archetypes, with high levels of mechanical precision and mature skills.


ATF Garamont was designed by the famous Morris Fuller Benton and Thomas M. Cleland. This flavour of Garamonds follows the archetype originating from Jean Jannon’s 17th century designs.


QingKeBenYueSong ( 清刻本悦宋 ), a 2010 typeface by FounderType ( 方正 ), revives the book types of Wuying Hall ( 武英殿 ) in the Forbidden City. This hall once housed Qing Dynasty’s imperial printing house and type foundry, known for its luxurious books printed with custom-made copper founts.