Creating Issue Ten
By Peita Jackson
Issue 10 of Ligature Journal has just been released and it has a lot to live up to, considering the calibre of the earlier issues. With an overarching theme of Imperfection, we dispensed with convention and experimented with layouts, typography, printing techniques and effects on uncoated, coated and coloured stock ... secretly hoping we could rely on the excuse of intentional imperfection if there were less successful outcomes. But, no need: the final magazine is a special treat. We produced a ‘deconstructed’ magazine of seven individual sections contained in an artfully dog-eared folder, hand printed on a vintage proofing press. I would like to take you for a behind-the-curtain look at the making of the magazine cover.
Felix Oppen, Publisher and Creative Director of Ligature Journal, has recently commented that the magazine cover was “one of those rare situations when a whole lot of risk and uncertainty came together and worked perfectly”. As the designer of the cover concept, I would like to put my hand up and assume the blame for some of that risk and uncertainty—with pride.
You may already know, Ligature Journal is produced annually by a team of selected design interns under the stewardship of Felix. I was lucky enough to be part of this year’s team and luckier still to be tasked with the design of the magazine’s cover and I took the opportunity to follow through to the printing process, cranking the handle of the press hundreds of times.
Creating the folder’s unique shape was a collaboration among the interns. To house our deconstructed sections, we knew we had to steer away from anything that looked like a conventional, corporate document holder. Arriving at the decision to use an exaggerated oblique fold was equal parts an elegant design solution and a light-hearted nod to an imperfect dog-eared page. A carefully calculated slit cut ensured the folder could be secured.
Like the individual sections of the magazine, the cover stock was ‘rescued’ from Spicers Australia’s old/discontinued stock lines – perfectly aligned with our theme of imperfection. It is a heavy, uncoated cardstock in a deep colour that sits somewhere between brown and charcoal—just beautiful. To highlight the rich depth of the colour, I created a design of intersecting, curving swirls in groups of ten to be printed in an opaque white ink in contrast to ten geometric blocks arranged across the outer and inner sides of the front cover—the significance of the number ten is to represent Issue 10 of the magazine, of course.
The covers of previous issues of Ligature Journal have mostly been hand printed on Felix’s vintage proofing press, using his amazing collection of wood and metal type to creative effect. To achieve this issue’s unique design, we used the rear timber faces of the wood type and Felix took a leap of faith by giving me the ‘green light’ to have the fine swirling design laser-cut on plywood.
Lining up our elements on the press bed (the reverse side of wood type, the laser-cut blocks, the bar code, the designer’s quote on the inner cover, the metal type words) to create the plate was adapted and estimated by hand and by eye from the original computer-generated design. The most straightforward part of the printing process was arranging the upturned wood type and locking it into place to create our first navy blue plate, but we had no idea of the warmth and beauty the timber’s fine grain would reveal as each print passed through the press.
Even old ink stains and paper previously glued to the backs of the blocks became an integral but unintentional feature of the printing. As we worked our way through hundreds of prints, the adhered old paper worked loose from the block with the pressure of the rollers and changed the textures of the shapes being printed. Each cover is slightly imperfect and absolutely unique. The effect of the old paper juxtaposed with the timber grain gave the effect of old cartographers’ charts with concentric circles radiating beside haphazard ‘land masses’ – you couldn’t plan something like that and the result is stunning.
Hand printing from a laser-cut plate is something I have always wanted to try and I am so grateful to Felix—as I’m sure the other interns are—for giving us all the opportunity to experiment with every aspect of the magazine’s design and for being nothing less than encouraging all the time. Laser-cutting the swirls allowed the opportunity to create perfectly accurate, fine linear detail and the impression of these swirls intersecting is intricate and magical. The laser-cut blocks themselves were beautiful creations in their own right—if a little fragile.
We needed the contrast of a light colour against the darker stock, achieved by printing with opaque ink. The thickness of opaque ink makes printing difficult and there was the risk of losing some fine detail of the design, but Felix was optimistic (outwardly) that we would press on by mixing in a little yellow, to thin the ink slightly and soften the starkness of the white. A tiny splash of yellow drowned out any suggestion of the originally intended white ... it was as yellow as banana lollies. We tried it anyway and it printed onto the cover stock as a soft cream. The resulting colour palette of the deep brown/charcoal stock with the navy geometric blocks and the warm cream had a beautiful mid-century looking cohesion to it—the result of mixing the inks by hand and perhaps the happiest accident in the imperfect process.
What Felix didn’t reveal until after the printing was well underway was his hesitancy about the structure of the laser cut blocks. He thought they may deteriorate from the pressure of the press combines with the thickness of the ink, pulling splinters of wood from the blocks. As the printing progressed, the prints were each unique in nature, owing to the changing texture of the navy blue blocks and the inking of the press, among other things. One of the ‘other things’ was that the laser cut blocks did indeed deteriorate, just as Felix predicted - but only slightly - and the luscious texture of something created by hand shows through to great, imperfect effect. There are more exact methods of creating printing plates...but what we would have missed out on!
The cover was printed over four consecutive weeks, with a full day of printing per colour, per side and a week in between for drying. Coming back each week for the next round of printing was increasingly exciting as the process headed towards completion. This was only surpassed by a trip to the printer on the day the die cutting was done. Although we had a waist-high pile of iterations and mockups along the way, to construct ‘the real thing’ was incredible. We pushed the boundaries and created something original that we are proud of. I appreciated this intuitive approach to design and could not be happier with the result—an amazing process for a very recent graphic design graduate to be involved with.