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The Handy Book of Artistic Printing
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The Handy Book of Artistic Printing

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Nice look at The Handy Book of Artistic Printing by Doug Clouse and Angela Voulangas.

“Degenerate,” “meaningless,” and “barbaric” were some of the words critics used to describe artistic printing—an ornately decorative style that flourished in late-nineteenth-century Britain and America. Letterpress printers (small shops where type was laboriously set by hand) developed it in making business cards, advertisements, and other “ephemera” of daily life. It soon became known as the paper equivalent of a Victorian bourgeois living room: objects crowded on every surface, a profusion of colors and shapes juxtaposed with no concern for an overarching order. In artistic printing nearly every corner was filled with flowers, or fans, or frilly borders; typefaces grew horns and limbs and tails; white space was kept to a minimum, and contrasting fonts ran in diagonal lines, crisscrossing like railroad tracks across the page. “The Handy Book of Artistic Printing” beautifully reproduces more than 150 examples of this lost and disparaged work, along with essays that contextualize the movement in the history of American printing. Though many of these “specimens” (as the book refers to them) will appear gaudy to contemporary viewers (evidence of just how thoroughly the graphic design movement has repudiated them today), several, such as a red-inked ad for “Florida Water” perfume, surrounded by delicate depictions of butterflies and ferns, have an exquisitely quaint appeal. And even the most otiose of the printers—one detractor likens them to a girl who could not be stopped from “’wearing on all occasions her snaky gilt brooch and huge earrings,’”—are likely to inspire a nostalgia in art lovers. The book is a reminder that debates about aesthetics were once undertaken with a deadly seriousness, and that experimentation in the commercial realm was once the norm. – From WSJ



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