Rudolf Kurz submitted a manuscript for a collection of thirty-six etchings, together with an introduction, three anecdotes and a recipe for Dutch Mordant acid sometime in the summer of 2002.Mr Kurz had completed his training as a physician in the employ of the German army. On graduation, he took leave from service and vacationed in Thailand where he met a young woman on a beach who whisked young Rudolf back to her cottage in the bush in the thick of the Hockley Valley north of Orangeville. There the artist abandoned medicine in favour of etching.
Mr Kurz was quietly confident that his ‘book’, as he imagined the publication, would be trimmed to eight and a half inches by eleven (the size of his Hilroy notepaper) and would consist of forty-eight pages which he had conveniently numbered, one to forty-eight, for the publisher’s ease of reference.
I indicated to the artist that my Baumfolder doesn’t much care for eight and a half by eleven inch formats because of problems inherent in folding the press-sheet first AGAINST the grain in the paper, rather than WITH the grain, which is much less challenging.
Also that my Smyth sewing machine doesn’t much care for large format books either, because tall signatures tend to become top-heavy with thread on the delivery table and then collapse, which pulls at the threads and loosens the tension of the sewing.
Mr Kurz professed himself bewildered by my sketchy explanation of the intricacies of the Baumfolder and of the Smyth sewing machines.
The ensuing battle over the design of page layouts raged for some months. Waxed and then waned, and then waxed yet again, and was complicated mightily by the introduction of the notion of multiple vignettes on the one hand, and the complexity of adding multi-page foldouts on the other, and by any number of unforseen circumstances that will best not, be remembered, at this time.
This may be as appropriate a place as any to explain that the maximum sheet one can print on a Heidelberg KORD is 18 inches by 25 inches.
A half of eighteen inches is nine.
A minimal eighth of an inch trim off the top and bottom of nine leaves an optimal spine height of eight and three-quarter inches.
The optimal WIDTH of a Porcupine’s Quill production is much less certain.
Twenty-five inches divided by four is six and a quarter, less an eighth of an inch trim would give you a book six and an eighth inches wide, and we have done that, on occasion, but not frequently …
in the first place, because the sewing machine operator needs to be able to find the middle of the folded signatures quickly, and easily, lest the saddle of the machine drag errant fingers into a rosy crucifixion, and
in the second place, because there was a time when I smoked a pipe, and wanted to be able to hold a book open in one hand while I cradled my Meershaum in the other.
My own hand is not large, and is partially crippled by a genetic disorder known as dubitrons, which is apparently common in the Shetland Islands, where my father’s father was born.
My younger brother was studying mathematics at the University of Guelph in the mid 1970s when I posed a theoretical question that pre-supposed a spine height of eight and three-quarter inches, and then asked what the optimal width of such a book might be, given that the answer had to be somewhere between five and a half inches, on the low end, and six and an eighth, on the high, and also had to make some sort of elegant sense, mathematically.
My brother’s answer, interestingly enough, was a trimmed width of five and nine-sixteenths inches.
The rationale had to do with the hypothetical diagonal that could be drawn through a rectangle of eight and three-quarter by five and nine-sixteenth inches — which then produces two angles (I forget the numbers) which, permuted and combined into all possible expressions of longitude and latitude, describe the precise location of the Bermuda Triangle …
I don’t often tend to want to alter the size of an artist’s image, particularly not wood engravings or etchings, but I don’t mind cropping & bleeding where appropriate, because I think that sort of obvious distortion makes clear enough to the reader that I HAVE, in fact, cropped, and also that the original image does extend further than the bleeds the reader sees on my final trim.
Mr Kurz had an etching, called ‘Levitation’ that was a bit oversize for the preferred format. I presented a page design solution as a bleed, four sides, which cut nothing from the original image that I considered significant.
The artist panicked. ‘The FEET!’ he gesticulated, wildly, throwing his hands about the room at the time.
‘What have you DONE with the FEET?!’
The compromise, in that one case, was to print the severed feet, but JUST the severed feet, at the top of the right-hand page opposite the page on which the feet had been excised from the bottom.
The image being called, as you remember, ‘Levitation’.
I submitted Looking for Snails on a Sunday Afternoon to the Alcuin competition for Book Design. On a whim. Not because I was particularly pleased with the result.
As it happened, Andrew Steeves from Gaspereau Press was one of the three judges that year and pressed the case for Snails in the face of concerted opposition from two judges who felt that art books should necessarily be large format, printed in full colour, on coated stock, and case-bound, with a dust-jacket.
Steeves thought not, necessarily.
Looking for Snails on a Sunday Afternoon was awarded an honourable mention by the Alcuin Society in 2005, and was subsequently shortlisted as one of the fifty Best Designed Books From All Over the World at a competition in Leipzig, one of only three books from Canada to be shortlisted that year.