Monday, March 13, 2017

On Color in "La Prose"


Early in my study of La Prose, I thought I might know why its makers failed to achieve the projected edition number of 150 copies: perhaps it was the complicated pochoir.  I thought that it might have been so complex that perhaps the edition wasn’t even completed by the time WWI came around. If I could make my own facsimile of La Prose, then I could possibly figure out how long it would take one pocheur to complete 150 copies. Therefore I would know how long it might take if several people worked on it. The first few copies were done by November of 1913; if the pochoir process took a year or more (if only one pocheur was working on the book), then the start of WWI in August of 1914 could have interrupted the pochoir work on the book.

In early 2012 I embarked on a study of the making of La Prose and the pochoir techniques used in the book in 1913. Marcia Reed, Chief Curator at the Getty Research Institute, was extremely helpful and allowed me to photograph and study the copy at the GRI (#124). I needed to find out how many stencils were required for the four-page book (one stencil per color). Note that the four pages making up the book were glued together by overlapping the approximately 14 x 20-inch pages, and then folding the more than six-foot-long book in half, and finally folding the book into 21 panels (or 20, or 22 panels). The book was normally glued into its folded and painted vellum cover, although the Getty copy was separated from its cover.

In order make a facsimile of La Prose du Transsibérien, I would have to study the color choices Sonia Delaunay made for her imagery.  I printed out my photogaphs of the Getty copy, but of course, the colors on my computer screen and my printed images would be rather different from the original. In order to make a detailed study, I made basic tracings of the color areas on the first page using the very handy Yale facsimile, noting overlapping areas.

Basic tracing of the first page of the Getty copy of La Prose.
 The next step was to give each area a basic color indication, red, yellow, blue, orange, noting tints and shadings and areas that weren’t painted. Each major color on the first page was then given a Pantone number, which includes a recipe for mixing ink colors for printing.

Marking up the first page with color indications.
Detail of early markup of lower left corner of first page.
 The next three pages were analyzed next, identifying matching colors while looking for new colors to pop up.

Marked-up tracing of page 2.
Detail of tracing of page 2.
Marked-up tracing of page 3.
Marked-up tracing of page 4.
The Pantone chart is printed in ink by the offset process, but the original imagery is painted with gouache. So I had to make my own gouache charts to supplement the Pantone choices in order to pin down the colors more accurately in the Yale facsimile. 

Gouache charts.
Meanwhile, I was teaching full-time at Scripps College and making letterpress books in editions of about 100 copies with my students in the typography class every semester, as well as teaching a Core Curriculum class. So it wasn’t until June of 2014 that I was able to take all this data back to the Getty to compare the original colors to the Yale facsimile colors. I laid out the Yale facsimile next to the Getty original copy, brought my Pantone and gouache charts and my printed photographs.

 Comparing the Getty copy, Yale facsimile, and gouache samples at the Getty Research Institute in June, 2014.
Every color was re-evaluated and a master list of Winsor-Newton gouache colors and Pantone colors was developed. 

Working on a color master list.
 My research took me to Princeton University in October of 2013 and again in July of 2014. Julie Mellby, the Graphic Arts Librarian, oversees the Charles Rahn Fry pochoir collection among many others. I was able to order books to study from the collection, and I actually found a Jean Saudé pochoir copper stencil from his 1925 deluxe edition pochoir book that they did not realize that they had. I’ll write more about the metal stencils used for pochoir later, but Julie was able to arrange for me to see the La Prose copy at Rutgers University nearby (#97). It was framed and under glass, but had once been folded into 21 panels. I compared my color charts to this copy as well, and later they helpfully sent me a photograph of La Prose for further research.

On that same trip in July 2014, my husband Gary and I visited our son Jason and wife Yuka who were living on Roosevelt Island in New York. Jason had made plans to play golf at his alma mater, Yale University, with his Dad and two professors, so I had the opportunity to view the Yale copy (#131) at the Beineke Library. 

Comparing the Beinecke copy with gouache samples at the Beinecke Library, Yale University in July, 2014.
 Timothy Young, Curator of Modern Books and Literature, who conceived and oversaw the project to print the Yale facsimile in 2008, met with me to discuss my findings. The vellum cover was still attached to the Yale copy on the map side, and the imagery did not fold toward the text, as in the Getty copy. Tim brought out the prospectus which was used for publicity, and I was able to photograph it alongside my color swatches as well as take extensive photographs of the Yale copy. I modified one of my color findings after studying the Yale original, but the colors were unsurprisingly similar to and as vibrant as the Getty original. 

Come back next time for the next step in my journey with La Prose.

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