Thursday, March 24, 2016

William Morris and the Kelmscott Press

Today is the anniversary of the birth of William Morris, nineteenth century artist, writer, thinker, revolutionary and master craftsman. Morris was a major instigator of the Arts and Crafts movement that pushed back against the Industrial Revolution's shift towards cheap mass production and the resulting monumental degradation in quality. The practice of bookmaking in particular was in such a deplorable state, books being so cheaply produced, that nearly all books printed in the mid-nineteenth century would later see a steady disintegration. Towards the end of the nineteenth century William Morris revived, revolutionized and effectively rescued the art of bookmaking through his endeavor with the Kelmscott Press. Morris has been a big influence and inspiration to me for years, and I found it pertinent today to share my university paper written four years ago on the bookmaking and typography revolution of William Morris and the Kelmscott Press. 
William Morris by Frederick Hollyer, 1887
“I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty, while at the same time they should be easy to read and should not dazzle the eye, or trouble the intellect of the reader by eccentricity of form in the letters.” So went William Morris’ explanation of why he established what would become the most famous of all private presses. The influence of the Kelmscott Press on modern typesetting and bookmaking is celebrated to this day, as is William Morris for rediscovering the fundamentals of fine printing. Yet the curious part is that he accomplished this in essence by going back instead of going forward, rejecting nineteenth century contemporary methods in favor of fifteenth century (Gothic) models. So how did Morris manage to have such a vast impact on the future through a revival of the past?

William Morris’ typographic adventure began with the fact that he was an accomplished writer. Having authored several books, the question of printing them was, to a craftsman such as he was, a natural concern. The press he saw most suitable for the job was the Chiswick Press and he published his first two books there, the second in several editions because it sold so well (both Morris’ first two books, In Defense of Guinevere and The Life and Death of Jason, were published on commission by Bell & Daldy who offered him a fixed sum to print a second and then third edition of Jason in their own design, after how well the book sold). Morris had minimal design input for these two books however; it was not until it came to his third book, Earthly Paradise, that he took a notable interest in book design. He began designing this book even before he had finished writing it and he intended for it to be something grand, full of illustrations and far better executed than books generally were at the time. But the project was eventually dropped, even though over forty illustrations had been engraved, a Caslon old-face had been selected and specimen pages had been set.
That abandonment of this project came down to financial troubles Morris was experiencing at that time, 1866. He was also constantly occupied with the study and practice of a vast range of crafts – calligraphy, illumination, engraving, weaving, furniture-making; Morris was constantly learning and gaining experience, on one hand out of great care and enjoyment of the craft and on the other, out of want for what he found the market to be lacking. When Morris could not find, for example, furniture that was to his liking, he simply took up the craft and made his own. This is the way it was for him, and so it was that the dismal state of bookmaking in his time eventually led to him delving so deeply into that craft as well.
It was in 1871 that Morris again showed interest in designing a book, his own, Love Is Enough. Money was still tight and as occupied as he was, it was a small project with attention to illustration and ornament more than typography. He would go on for years without endeavoring to transcend the presswork that was available, even if he did find it unsatisfactory. Morris continued to expand his skillset, working with stained glass, tiling, wallpaper, carpets, embroidery and tapestry just to name a few.
It was the first Arts & Crafts exhibition in 1888 that finally sparked Morris’ genuine interest in bookmaking. A few good examples of commercial printing there displayed caused him to realize that of all of his own printed works nothing was worthy of being included, a concern that was propelled into further relief over a discussion with friend and typographer Emery Walker as Morris helped him prepare lantern slides for a lecture on printing that Walker would give at the exhibition. That day, following the lecture, Morris resolved to begin his typographic adventure by designing a typeface of his own.
With Walker’s valuable help Morris began studying the craft of type design, pouring over old models of typefaces and learning of book-printing techniques. He experimented for a year before deciding he had the proper command and control to finally begin designing his typeface, deciding that it should be a Roman typeface and then that it should be based off of what he deemed the most perfected examples of Roman type, those of the Venetian printers of the fifteenth century. His favored typeface was one produced by Nicholas Jenson and it was on this that he based his ‘Roman’ typeface, Golden, which was completed and cut by December of 1890.
As with his favoring of the fifteenth century typeface model over nineteenth century ones, Morris had a strong contempt for most aspects of contemporary printing. He declared the typewriter as being totally unfit for creative work because he felt it got in between the hand and the work, and also that it diminished a person’s ability to judge type altogether because of its mechanical conformity that resulted in rigid spacing, unsightly rivers and other disfigurations. “The critical taste of the printer is deadened,” Morris mourned, as the advent of time- and money-saving machinery and methods reduced book printing to the cheapest of paper, debased inks, distorted typefaces and layouts with no control over spacing. 
Typefaces in particular were developing mostly for the worst, something that was recognized by publisher Kegan Paul when he said, “There could scarcely be a better thing for the artistic future of books than that which might be done by some master of decorative art, like Mr. William Morris, and some great firm of type founders in conjunction, would they design and produce some new types for our choicer printed books.” 
Paul’s wish would be well answered as Morris’ typographic adventure had only begun. The Kelmscott Press was opened in 1891 (with Morris inviting Walker to be his partner in the enterprise, albeit Walker declining, although he remained good friends with Morris) and Morris went on to develop two more typefaces. He went back to studying old faces because, as he explained, unlike painters who could always return to nature to renew their sense of taste, nature held no model for typography and so the only way to learn was from the successes and failures of the past. In the face of the dismal typefaces that were too prominent at the time, Morris saw that looking to the past was nothing less than necessary to amend the situation. His second font was a Gothic-inspired one called Troy and it was his favorite; his affinity for the Gothic was huge (Morris was a key part of the Gothic revival in aspects other than his typography; for example the famous Red House he commissioned for he and his wife in 1865 was built by Philip Webb in the Gothic Style). It was followed by Chaucer, a smaller, pica sized (equivalent to 12 point in today’s terms) version of Troy. Lewis F. Day, who worked very closely with Morris, highlighted the importance of the fonts he designed: “In devising his types, Morris did a real service to typography. Printers generally will no doubt persist in wanting rather lighter type than his; but they cannot help learning from him: he has demonstrated not only the poverty of modern type, but how much better it can easily be made.”
Morris has been accused of holding contemporary models in contempt as a rule, but the reality is that he disapproved of a method or another only if he found that it were lacking; if it hampered his work rather than aided it, be it new or old. Even as he rejected most machines as well as nineteenth century typefaces, he did cast his type for the Kelmscott Press by machine, and also relied heavily upon the decidedly modern camera of Walker & Boutal in designing his typefaces. The borders and initials used in Kelmscott’s books were duplicated using the modern technique of electrotype, and his type was inked with modern rollers instead of pelt-balls, as he would have used had he simply been imitating old techniques. Another point worth making is that although he rejected the mechanical press, he did not revert instead to the wooden hand press of his beloved Gothic era, but used the iron hand press that had come into prominence earlier in the nineteenth century. The iron press was the one that best served his purpose; this was simply the criterion he depended on, rather than discriminating according to era. Had the mechanical presses at the time been able to give him his desired result he would have used them, but as it stood they did not, and so he resorted to other models. 
In fact, stubborn imitation of the past was something that Morris greatly opposed, highlighted by the way he criticized the Renaissance with its attempts at molding the present upon the outworn ‘golden age’ of the past, seeking to relive it through literal reproductions of ideas dead and gone. Morris condemned that approach and instead preached the Gothic model of taking inspiration from the past, retaining from it only what is useful and identifying the future as the golden age to be sought.
Like the mechanical press, Morris found the papers and inks commonly used by other presses to be unsatisfactory and again turned to the past for a better model. By way of cutting costs paper was being made from inferior rags and rag substitutes such as woodpulp and then bleached with chlorine, resulting in a product of terrible quality; indeed, nearly all books printed in the mid nineteenth century would later see a steady disintegration. Morris decided he would have to make or commission proper paper of his own. He would not settle for anything other than unmixed rags of pure linen, as long and fine as possible, and the paper making process would have to be thorough and unhurried, gradually dried without artificial heat and without the application of chemical bleach.
After much searching Morris decided on a Venetian model from 1473, Italian papers having been from the beginning superior. In the end three variations of such paper were made for him by Joseph Batchelor, and no other paper was used at the Kelmscott Press.
Morris’ search for high quality vellum was decidedly more strenuous; his quest had taken him to the point where he had decided on appealing to the Pope to beg for the release of a supply, when a friend informed him of Henry Band, who could try his hand at making the kind of vellum he was seeking. Band’s product proved satisfactory; thin, specially surfaced and not faked with white lead. It was very costly but to Morris, quality was of the utmost importance.
It was a similar story concerning inks; all the common types were chemically altered shortcuts and Morris was on a mission to obtain the purest ink possible. The one he finally found was produced by Jaenecke of Hannover, something that was a concern because Morris was uneasy about the influence of Germany on English art and thought, but here he would be compelled to rely on a German manufacturer (this being a strong indication of how fully prepared he was to set quality ahead of everything else). Had he had the time he would have taken up the craft of ink-making himself, but as it were he was far too busy and so settled for Jaenecke’s ink, which was of the finest quality he could hope for.
All these specially sought materials, in addition to the elaborate illustrations and ornaments that distinguished Kelmscott’s design (in title pages, decorations, borders, decorative initials and ornaments Morris designed a total of no less than six hundred and forty-four, in little more than six years) as well as the fact that the books were meticulously printed with the iron hand press meant that the production cost was decidedly high. But Morris was not very concerned with this, as he had started the Kelmscott press as a personal experiment, to see how far he could go in producing the finest book imaginable. It came as a pleasant surprise to find that there was a true demand for his books, as their beauty gained them fame, and people were prepared to pay for them. 
Morris and Kelmscott are attributed with the discovery of a market for limited edition books, book lovers prepared to buy exquisitely printed volumes. Morris is also given credit for nearly all twentieth century private presses focused on fine printing although they evolved in different ways. He is celebrated as having been the first to control every aspect of bookmaking and achieve ultimate unity of effect. When the Kelmscott Press closed in 1898, it left a legacy that would be carried on far and wide.
The equipment of the press was acquired by C.R. Ashbee and moved to the Essex Press House in honest hopes of carrying on Morris’ works, and while Ashbee did produce some good work he was not gifted enough a typographer to do justice to the Morris model. Other presses launched similar attempts at emulating the work of Kelmscott, with Ashbee finding his press in competition with surrounding mechanical presses printing in the Kelmscott fashion. Three presses were distinguished as the closest successors: Doves Press, Ashendene Press and Vale Press. 
Doves was perhaps the most successful; modeled very closely after Kelmscott, using virtually identical paper and vellum as well as typefaces based on the same Jenson typeface that Morris based his Golden type on. At the helm of the Ashendene Press was Hornby, a disciple of Morris, who produced books after the Morris model but with his own unique interpretations. Charles Ricketts of the Vale Press was wary of less talented designers trying to emulate the Morris model and instead defacing it, and strove to ensure that the model would be kept true to. 
Many typefaces based on Morris’ Golden type began to proliferate across English presses in the early twentieth century, including the Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, that also both began a revival of other old-style typefaces. The country was realizing what Morris had asserted in his time: that in order for bookmaking in England to be rejuvenated, old-style inspired typefaces would have to replace deplorable nineteenth century ones (In 1915, Harold Curwen of the Curwen Press was delighted to profitably get rid of over two hundred mediocre nineteenth century typefaces to the ammunitions factory when they were struck with a shortage of lead during World War I, retaining only Caslon old-face, Monotype old-style no. 2 and two others). 
A big step towards achieving this was made by Gerard Meynell when he produced a modified version of Caslon, attributing it to Morris’ influence, and made it generally available to monotype machines. This typeface became prominent in what was the golden age of English printing, the period between the wars, in which there was a huge movement of private presses, with commercial presses also starting to produce refined typography and illustrations that were until then only associated with small presses. 
Morris’ influences were also applied to large editions of machine-printed books, although he himself hadn’t worked with machine presses. It was Leonard Jay of the School of Printing in Birmingham who set out to find harmony between the Morris model and machine printing: “The product of machinery can only be improved when its producers are imbued with the same spirit which produced fine work in the past, and every effort should be directed towards breathing life and beauty into the products of machinery. The more machinery that is introduced into the printing trade, the greater the need for more alert, intelligent, enlightened craftsmen. Perfect machinery is available everywhere; our saving grace lies in better quality of production.” Jay and his students sought the same high standards that Morris had and followed his guidelines concerning spacing, leading and margins. With the advent of machinery capable of doing that which the machinery of Morris’ time could not, the new generation was able to reinterpret his ideals in a new context and in doing so managed to tame machinery and avoid its dehumanizing effects that Morris feared.
In Germany a Kelmscott-inspired private press movement flourished in the early twentieth century, with Morris’ models being strongly disseminated there, to the extent that some English printers, after a backward flow of ideas caused by the war, were first exposed to Morris’ typographic principles through German books. The influence of the Kelmscott Press was also heavy in Scandinavia and Switzerland, the latter being one of the typography capitals of the world.
The United States saw an initial craze of imitating the Kelmscott books, albeit very badly.  As Theodore De Vinne put it: “Tasteless imitations of his types and ornaments threaten us on every side, no one seems able to start a new press or get some type without taking Mr. Morris’ name in vain.”  It was Thomas B. Mosher of Maine who realized that the secret of Morris’ success was in the patient craftsmanship and not ornaments and typefaces, and successfully produced a celebrated imitation of Kelmscott’s Hand & Soul. A rather different interpretation of Morris’ style was taken up by Elbert Hubbard, one that was deemed flamboyant and tasteless (features included limp chamois covers and halftone illustrations; Morris’ daughter, May Morris, referred to him as “that obnoxious imitator of my dear father”) but that somehow resulted in a new vernacular of the Morris model that was grasped by a mass American audience.   
Morris’ most permanent influences on American typography however are evident in the work of many of the typographers who came of age during the early twentieth century, including famous one such as Frederic Goudy, who bought Morris’ Chaucer press, issued an essay by Morris and Walker on printing in the first publication of the Village Press and created a typeface for the Village Press based on Golden. Daniel Berkely Updike commissioned his own typeface inspired by Morris’ Golden and created The Altar Book in 1896, an enormous folio that was considered perhaps the most remarkable tribute to the Kelmscott Press model. Bruce Rogers, who is perhaps the most famous American typographer, was an admirer of Morris and was suggested by Beatrice Wade as being the first person to interpret the magic of the Kelmscott Press and “bring it down to earth”.  
The success of Morris with the Kelmscott Press has been threefold: the treasure of the books he left behind, the model he left to be followed, and the reform that he inspired in bookmaking across the western world. One man’s realization of the necessity of past revival in the face of the decline of modern bookmaking has been revolutionary, nothing short of essential in restoring the dignity of bookmaking and generating the thought process that led us to where we are today.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mar Mikhael Map

I executed this illustrated map of Mar Mikhael (area in Beirut, Lebanon) as a job for/art directed by Beirut-based design company Studio Safar, as a placemat design for Mar Mikhael restaurant The Food Dealer (click image to enlarge).

This image is copyrighted property. DO NOT COPY OR USE. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

DIY Jewelry Case

Originally, this pretty little cabinet was the case for an ornate Qur'an that came inside it and had a matching cover. The Qur'an found a new home a while ago and this case was left behind, sitting in a drawer collecting dust until I was inspired to pull it out and make it into a stand for my rings and bracelets (pretty much the only type of jewelry I wear).

All I had to do was hammer some nails into it. Fast, easy, awesome transformation. I'd been tired of having to rummage through a jewelry box every time I wanted a piece and was looking around for something I could use to hang them, and when I opened the junk drawer in my room and saw this lying there, I knew it'd be perfect.

I love the vintage look and feel of the case and it looks great as the center piece on my mirror ledge, and the jewelry is now gorgeously displayed and easily accessible. I couldn't be happier with this little project.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Rusted Radishes: Issue 2: Memory & Magic

Rusted Radishes: The Beirut Literary and Art Journal is an annual publication run by AUB faculty and students whose founding staff I was part of. The second issue, themed Memory & Magic, came out a couple of weeks ago and is designed by myself and Anastasia Matar, art directed by Ahmad Gharbieh. We had a launch party and the journal is now being disseminated across Beirut, all of which you can read about here, and here is the coverage of RR's second issue launching in AUB's student newspaper, for which Anastasia and I were interviewed. Pick up a copy if you haven't already, and keep in mind that our submissions period for issue three will be from January 1 to March 15. Submission guidelines are here.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


I kept putting off posting this until I got around to scanning it but never ended up bothering to take it down from my wall, so here's a photo. This was my first silkscreen print, three colors+white. We had to do a portrait based on a photo and I chose to do Hawkeye (of course).

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fifteen-year old Kate Bishop

Aftermath of marathoning Volume 1 of Young Avengers +YA Presents, all the YA tie-ins and Children's Crusade. I don't have a scanner at home right now so with this sketch and the previous one of Daken, I'm taking photos of my sketches straight into Photoshop and coloring with minimal cleanup. I like the effect it gets from retaining the paper texture and lighting, both on the figure and the background and it's a fast way of livening up a quick sketch. This one was done last night while I was watching Barca.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I'm on a total Daken trip lately and my sketchbook is officially more full of him than of Clint. Clint is still my favorite but, what can I say. I have a weakness for supervillains, and Daken? Daken is like the most appealing supervillain ever. This scene references Dark Reign.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BTWOP fliers for April and May

The first one is called: Who Cares What Tyepwriters Actually Look Like, I Draw What I Want! The second one is called: I Totally Did Not Forget The Wings And Add Them On After I'd Already Colored It

Dragon was drawn entirely without reference because I figured I could do what I want with him being a mythological creature with a zillion existing interpretations. He ends ups being kind of Charizard-ish but I'm really happy with him - might be my favorite flier yet (previously in this flier series).

Edit: Tomorrow's open mic night is cancelled. Boo. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Visca Barca

My football team, Barca, had a terrible match last night, the worst loss we've had in over five years. It's an awful feeling and this is basically me channeling things through drawing. It's a self portrait: literally me today, dressed in my Barca t-shirt and kind of "carrying on" despite last night.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kate Bishop

Design class yesterday was basically four hours of listening to people talk so I battled boredom by drawing Kate Bishop, who is my favorite fictional female character/superhero these days. She's the female Hawkeye. Hawkeye, the comic by Matt Fraction and David Aja, it's a thing. Best freaking book Marvel is putting out right now. Read the thing.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


This illustration of Hawkeye was initially sketched out for my silkscreen series before I'd really given the layout much thought, and that eventually changed so this remained in my sketchbook. I finally got around to inking and coloring it between yesterday and today. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Superhero Posters

This is a three poster series I'm doing for my silkscreen final. The requirements are that they be 15cmx50cm and revolve around the idea of illusion. I just wanted to do superheroes so I bs'd something about the illusion created by the superhero persona as opposed to the man behind the mask and came up with these. In case you're unfamiliar with the characters, they are, from left to right: Clint Barton/Hawkeye, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Bruce Wayne/Batman.To kind of fit the concept a bit more they're all heroes who don't actually have any superpowers, just will, skill and/or awesome tech.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Commentary: Demolition of Beirut's Heritage Buildings

This was supposed to be for a design project, but my instructors were alot more enthusiastic about one of my other directions which is basically... a pie chart. I do not think they appreciate my attempts at steering every project into something comic panel-esque? I'm very happy with this though, and could easily see it as a newspaper cartoon (the Arabic text reads '1980' on the left (aka during the civil war) and '2013' on the right). Inking the smoke was my favorite part.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Flier Series: BTWOP Open Mic Night

BTWOP or Beirut Typewriters Open Performance is a group of Beirut-dwelling poetry (and typewriter) enthusiasts who convene on the first Wednesday of every month for an open mic night at Café Younes. I was first approached by some of the Creative Writing staff at AUB about a year ago to design a flier for the event and they were specific about what they wanted: an ostrich with a typewriter on its back, pecking at another typewriter. At first I thought I'd hand the job to a friend who was interested and who's more into animal illustration, but in the end that didn't work out and it fell back to me to come up with something in a short space of time. The result was my first digital illustration. It was a largely experimental process, especially as I hadn't yet learned how to use Photoshop, so I'm happy with the result. It was a general flier updated with the date each month; eventually I decided to revisit it and am now making a new flier for each month, sticking to the animal+typewriter theme. My friends choose the animals. Color process is brushwork and textures; I think by February I was taking texture too far and backpedaled for March, giving it more detailed inking.