“A Thousand Several is a letterpress book which I wrote and produced for Granary Books and exhibited at 871 Fine Arts last fall. My plan had been to design A Thousand Several as I went along, printing one element and then responding to that element with a new compositional layer. I had thought this would be a liberating exercise, an alternative to the master planning that books tend to demand, a way to make the most of workshop epiphanies.
“In fact, the process often proved fraught, as I attempted to build a graphic system in the dark. ‘What sort of constraints will I be setting myself if I add this?,’ I kept asking myself, ‘How will the dynamics I’ve established be affected by another component?’ I muddled through, and after a year of printing I had my book. I also had a pile of make-ready sheets and a list of design ideas that had not made it through the gauntlet of unknowns that riddled each stage of A Thousand Several’s production.
“One of those ideas finally led me to play: Using a tabbed die, I cut my make-ready into strips of variable widths that could be combined in more than one way to add up to a standard size. I laid all of the strips out on my work table and set about composing Piece-time, an edition of 50 modular collages. Lifting strips from among hundreds of visible variations, laying them alongside each other, sliding them into different arrangements, I felt like I was playing an instrument. Improvisation came easily. Rhythm more than judgment drove and decided the composition of each print.”
Emily McVarish is a San Francisco writer, designer, book artist, and educator. We invited her to share a moment of play with us.