Sunday, March 5, 2017

Welcome to this exciting project!

The first time I saw the fold-out copy of La Prose du Transsibérien (#37) in the July 1987 issue of Fine Print, I was struck by the vibrancy of the imagery and the unusual presentation for a book published back in 1913. I couldn’t believe that the imagery was done by "pochoir," a French stencil technique used for fashion prints and in limited edition books at that time. The techniques were far more painterly than those I had learned in a pochoir workshop that I took in 1988, where we used 5 mil acetate for the stencil and a dry French pochoir brush with gouache.

When I discovered that there was an original copy of the book at the Getty Research Institute (#124), I asked Marcia Reed if I could bring my Women of Letters group (founded in 1980, all letterpress printers) to view it. The elaborate opening of the folds, seeing nothing at all until the last unfolding, created a dramatic moment that was certainly intentional. I read that painter Sonia Delaunay and poet Blaise Cendrars had not completed the projected edition of 150 copies, and I wondered why. Thus began my eager quest to find out more about the pochoir techniques used for La Prose, and to research why the edition was not completed. (You can read my conclusions in the article in the pages area.) Absolutely essential for my research has been the offset facsimile of La Prose (#131) published by Yale University in 2008, now out of print.
The 2008 Yale facsimile.

I found Nathalie Courderc and Christine Menguy at Atelier Coloris in Ploubazlanec, France from an online article by Paul Zwartkruis titled, Masters of the Pochoir. I realized that they were probably the only commercial firm left who understood the techniques that were in place in 1913. They had been trained by the venerable firm Daniel Jacomet in Paris, where they used metal stencil plates and a wet brush. I worked with Atelier Coloris for a week in 2015 while on a month-long research grant from Scripps College.

One day that week, Nathalie Couderc drove me across the Brittany peninsula along a maze of curving roads to visit Mme. Miriam Cendrars, age 95. Mme. Cendrars is Blaise Cendrars’ daughter, and wrote a book about her father. She also produced a facsimile of the Geneva copy of La Prose (#11) in 2011, which sold out within two weeks. As we drove back from the visit, I became convinced that a new version of La Prose could be done with original pochoir, now that I had found Atelier Coloris. Mme. Cendrars gave me her son’s contact information should I need to obtain permissions.

I am now in the process of producing a re-creation of La Prose du Transsibérien in an edition of 150 copies. I will work with printer/type collector Michael Caine in Paris to typeset and print the book. I will take the printed sheets to Atelier Coloris to work on the pochoir with them. Then the pages will be bound and the vellum covers painted in oils at my own Two Hands Press. The first copies are projected to be completed by November of 2017. Pre-publication sales information will be available in due course.

Atelier Coloris


Nathalie Couderc and Christine Menguy at Atelier Coloris

In this blog, I will discuss the distinctive production techniques used for the pochoir and explain how I discovered that Blaise used 38 typefaces for his poem. I will show where the book was printed and where the pochoir was probably done. The variations in the numbering of the edition and in the folding of the book will be addressed. I’ll have step-by-step photos of various pochoir techniques, and of the typesetting, printing and binding processes.  For general information about the project and my work, please click the links on the right-hand side of the page.

My long-term goal is to re-introduce the original pochoir techniques so that book artists have a revitalized tool to add to their repertoire. In that vein, I asked Talas a few years ago to start importing pochoir brushes. For an explanation of early pochoir technique, I recommend the 1925 book by Jean Saudé, Traité d’Enluminure d’Art au Pochoir. In 2013, Havilah Press commissioned an English translation of two sections of Saudé’s text, and published this, in a limited edition, accompanied by an introduction outlining the history of pochoir, two pochoir illustrations, and a list of references.

 In my next entry, I will show how I started my investigations with gouache color swatches and a Pantone color chart.

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