Friday, November 1, 2013

A Benevolent Skull

The annual Mexican fiesta Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, has crossed many borders over the years, and rightly so. To celebrate the memory of those we have loved and lost is a reunion of benevolent souls and keeps them with us for a time. Beginning the first day of November, this welcomed holiday tradition has come to be symbolized by skeletons and skulls (known as calaveras), which we owe to one of Mexico's finest artist and printmakers, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913), who died 100 years ago. Posada is best known for his satirical wood engravings of dancing skeletons in colorful costume. (Find more Letterology postings on Posada here and here.) Surely he has many dancing on his own grave today.

The Day of the Dead lives on

Posada would probably be quite proud to see the many modern day adaptations of his calveras. Being a letterpress printer, I'm certain he would particularly favor this typographical skull, which was born of a collaboration of three skilled printers, Jamie MurphyJustin Knopp, and Robert Pratley. The two-color Dia de los Muertos broadside was printed at Knopp's Typoretum Press in North Essex, England. It is built of two distinct layers—one of metal type and ornaments, and the other of wood ornaments, which fittingly glows in the dark. The wood layer was inspired by Aztec motifs, while the metal ornament design was influenced by the contemporary decorations of the Dia de los Muertos' masks. (And a wonderful likeness of someone I once knew ;)   

Jamie Murphy of The Salvage Press in Dublin tells me that the wood layer was hand-inked and printed on an 1851 Albion press. For the glow-in-the-dark ink, he hand-mixed phosphorescent powder with a matt varnish in various measures until arriving at the perfect printable consistency. Constructing the metal layer with the many small ornaments presented the biggest challenge, Murphy claims—though it appears to be an impressive lock-up in the image below. It was printed on a 1960s Farley proof press with a split fountain process combining two hand-mixed fluorescent inks.  

The broadside was printed on a 250gsm (110 lb.) Somerset Velvet 100% cotton paper in an edition of 100, and measures 297 x 420 (approximately 12 x 17"). Signed and numbered copies of this adorable benevolent skull can be ordered directly from either The Salvage Press or Typoretum

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