Barb Tetenbaum’s Pressure Printing

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Barb loading a low-relief collage onto the Vandercook letterpress

This past weekend, we had the lovely pleasure of meeting Barbara Tetenbaum, a letterpress artist, bookmaker, writer and teacher, among other things. She came to lead a Pressure Printing Workshop for our Book Art Collective.

Pressure printing, a term coined by Barb, is an experimental letterpress technique in which a low-relief collage is made with thin objects (string, stickers, lace, thread), arranged into a composition (or not), glued onto a sheet of paper and then placed underneath the paper to be inked. The resulting image is similar to a rubbing, though (in my opinion) much more polished and lovely looking. Barb notes that the final piece is always better than you are, meaning that a simple arrangement can result in a beautifully finished piece.


Explaining registration and use of the (not-yet-inked) MDF board, which is topped with plexi glass

One of the most exciting learnings from the workshop was our binding technique, a whirlwind binding. The story behind the whirlwind is fascinating. In the early 1900s, caves were “discovered” by a monk in the ancient city of Dunhuang, in the Chinese province of Gansu, which contained thousands of manuscripts of various forms evincing the diversity and breadth of the art of bookmaking. The manuscripts, for which content was the driver of the forms, dated from the 5th to the early 11th century. Holy crap is right.

The binding techniques, with descriptions and instructions, are freely available here.

So. For the workshop, each participant created her own low-relief collage and then printed a small edition on silky kitikata, a handmade Japanese paper. Each person received one of every print, trimmed the pages to book size and bound them into a whirlwind book. The [modified] whirlwind is convenient for this project because each page size is the same, but they are glued such that a sliver of every page is visible, creating a lovely kind of pattern reference when the book is opened.


A few of the pressure printed compositions from the workshop

We’re still finishing up our bindings. Pictures to come. Anyway, the workshop was successful. An excellent combination of getting to know a strong thinker and eloquent speaker in the world of bookmaking, of learning technique and making something pretty. We also had a party with lots of delicious food, which helps too. Workshops are a great way of integrating yourself into your field.

Barb’s beautiful work can be found and purchased at Vamp & Tramp Booksellers. (I highly recommend having at least of her pieces in your collection.)