What does it mean to be the fellow-worker and accomplice of a (modernist) writer?

Linda Parr

Katherine Mansfield, Prelude (London: Hogarth Press, 1918). From the collection of the National Library of Scotland.

I’m a book artist, with an MA in multidisciplinary printmaking. I have studied contemporary critical responses to the 2007 work of Sophie Calle, ‘Take Care of Yourself’, and the ways that the death of the author (at the point when the work becomes public) becomes the birth of the reader. 

Until this workshop I had no idea that academic vocabulary was not only written but also a living language. I spent the first break-time checking the meanings of gloss, exegesis, hermeneutics and historicism, etc.

Virginia Woolf’s writing is full of references and allusions which editors can explain. The editors can enrich and deepen our understanding and appreciation, offering the help required to penetrate the full meaning and see the work as it was in the author’s head.

When we learn to read, we guess and infer the sense sometimes; if we don’t ‘get’ it entirely it doesn’t really matter. We make our own meanings and persevere, and the same occurs when we start to read in a foreign language. We understand as much as we are able. The more you know, the more you pick up, and with the more connections you can make, you become a different reader. Can only experts close read, can experts only close read?

References and footnotes can interrupt reading. Do annotations increase the space, temporal or physical, between the writer and the reader?

Perhaps the use of headphones in a gallery can explore that point. We listen through them to interesting facts about the artist, the context, the curation, the provenance. However they may also lead us too far, and inhibit our personal responses to the work. Headphones have even been used to manipulate the flow of the public through a space. It has also been found that visitors spend more time reading information cards than they spend looking at the art. We did this ourselves in our meeting room. We looked at the several paintings on the walls and read the labels with interest. The art looked very pale and grey, even drab. The fact that they were all seasonal winter scenes only dawned upon us slowly, and then made them worth a second look, close reading them.

I began to understand that in editing a work one has to make educated assumptions about the writer and the reader. The editors can bridge gaps, provide mediation and explication. I can see that good annotation can bring both editor and reader together as collaborators with the writer.

Does a fully-edited, foot-noted, annotated and introduced work by expert and erudite scholars in fact become another work?

Could footnotes become so comprehensive and diverting that they become the body of the work?

Are there different ways of introducing the extra material which could suit different readers? New super digitisation methods will be able to offer different levels of annotation, easily available but unobtrusive, invisible unless requested.


Dr Kristin Mojsiewicz

I attended the pochoir workshop, thinking I had some idea of what the process was. I had previously listened to Jane Hyslop describe her research and admired the delicately layered colour in her series ‘The Intelligence of the Flowers’.

As Jane introduced the group to the historical context and uses of pochoir technique from the late 1800s onwards, I was shocked to realise images I had always assumed to be painted, such as Leon Bakst’s costume designs from the 1920s, were produced by this method. More astonishing was recognising the enormous task of producing Blaise Cendrars & Sonia Delauney’s 1913 poem-work La prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France using pochoir. I was mesmerised by the numerous fashion plate pochoir workshops of Paris particularly the filigree detailing of the stencil templates, cut by hand in copper or zinc. 

I found myself thinking about how a worker would progress through the ranks of the pochoir studio – how many years might an apprenticeship be for these coloristes? Would it start with mixing colours or painting backgrounds? To me it seemed that might be the hardest thing of all – to create a flawless ground from soft layers of gouache. The variable texture, gradation, depth and density of colour signals the endless possibilities that hand colouring can produce.

Beyond the thrill of learning a new process, I wanted to participate in the Imprints of the New Modernist Editing workshop to think about colour in relation to Virginia Woolf’s writing. With my collaborators in Brass Art I had visited Monk’s House to scan the interior of Woolf’s writing shed as part of our creative research considering the use of colour in her approach to temporality. By coincidence I found myself working next to a renowned Virginia Woolf scholar in the pochoir workshop and these conversations added further dimensions to thinking about modernist text in general, and Woolf’s writing in particular.

Working within the time limitations of the workshop, and my own skillset, I focussed on the page of Woolf’s text and my memory of her Sussex garden. For me, the prismatic qualities of how Woolf uses light and refraction in her writing aligned with the specific sense memory of hands casting a shadow across the pages of a book as its being read. My pochoir endeavour then was an attempt to bring gesturing, reading hands, or manicules, to the text. It became clear that my difficulty creating opaque yet airy shadows meant that the density of the hands could obscure the written words. However, the negative shadow space of the pointing hand still acts like a manicule, elucidating and gesturing towards what is read and what can be read on the page. This is an idea I would like to work with further, in my collaborative research with Brass Art, looking at specific aspects of Woolf’s writing.

Dr Kristin Mojsiewicz
Lecturer | co-Director of Research
University of Edinburgh

Socratic Catalogue

R H Lowe

I lure a file
of literary estate
held in fee –
lines marginally scored –
temporary crossings –
best in class –
pause unfolding out of pregnant pads –
open clause –
labouring towards the elusive point,
all clarity is dash-
Apostrophe, wheres your object out –
Catastrophe –
the hare that failed to split before / after
terms defied
terms defined –

Pochoir Printing: Colour and the Textual Sphere

Pip Osmond-Williams

There is a photograph taken at a pochoir workshop in Lyon, 1930. A few people hold eyes with the camera but mostly they stare down at hands holding straight-edged knives poised above their designs, the long tables on which they work overflowing with materials. It is remarkable how captured moments can somehow echo through time. At our workshop in Edinburgh, February 2020, long tables are similarly covered by our chaos. Paintbrushes and scalpels, pots of pink and blue, loose alien shapes cut from the card: the swinging tail of a lowercase ‘g’, the half-moon crescent from an uppercase ‘B’. As in the original picture, workshop participants peer down at their work, teeth biting lips in concentration. The studio in which we are working (Jane Hyslop’s – artist and lecturer at the Edinburgh College of Art and our pochoir mentor) could be mistaken for the one photographed ninety years ago. But the Lyon workshop was captured on film in black and white, making it hard to imagine the vivid, block colours with which the artists would have been working. This is where, in my mind’s eye, the two workshops diverge: if I am to remember only one thing from our day spent at the ECA, it is colour. Our workshop is named ‘Blue & Green’, the collective title of two short sketches written by Virginia Woolf that we will  be using to explore the relationship between image and text, but there is no limit to colour in the studio. Throughout the day we mix dozens of different shades: thick, sticky butterscotch yellow reduced to pale banana flesh; cherry and white blended into pink lemonade; reds and blues swirled together to create the colours of bell heather, rosebay willowherb, indigo. In Jane’s studio, we become les coloristes.

Pochoir became popular as a form of fashion illustration in nineteenth-century Europe, with Paris at the heart of it all. The intensive labour required – intricate stencils created by the découpeur, the careful application of soft gouache by the coloristes through use of many different brushes and methods – meant that it fell out of favour as an illustrative technique, but many artists from the Modernist period became interested in how pochoir merged painting with printing and the ways in which colour could be brought into the textual sphere. One of my interests as an academic and poet is the collaborative world of word and image in concrete poetry and how their overlap urges further significance to poetic meaning. In our workshop we will not be creating images out of text, as in concrete poetry, but rather using the text as a basis on which to create images through colour. I wonder if this will achieve the silences and spaces that preoccupy concrete poetry and, indeed, modernist literature. How does colour feed into those spaces?

In the studio, pochoir is introduced to us as a collaborative effort – each table is asked to create an image of a parakeet or whale, with each person given a specific section to stencil: a wing, a ripple of  a wave, a teardrop. We are, on the whole, a room of strangers but as we begin choosing our stencil shapes, discussing how different colours will look when layered on top of one another, we are not singular artists but a collective group, represented in the work we create. On their own, the keyhole-eye and triangular beak I stencil and cut for our parakeet would be meaningless floating shapes on a page. As the final touch to our table’s creation, I have given sight and taste to our multi-coloured Frankenstinian bird.

While the stencils are given to us ready-made for the parakeet and whale, the design aspect of our ‘Blue & Green’ pochoir print is our own. What comes out of people’s imaginations depends on the artistic direction they wish to take. One participant responds to the colours and images of the two short stories, with tidal pools of soft blue followed by leaf-like feathers of a parakeet merging at the bottom of the page into a fishtail. Another seems preoccupied with representing literary notions of space, their copy of ‘Blue & Green’ overlaid with large pink and orange prints of a full stop and a comma. One of the most visually striking images is of two hands in silhouette, reaching for the text, seemingly trying to hold it into place and subsequently erasing it.

For my ‘Blue’ page, I cut out moons with a scalpel. It seems appropriate to offer a moon and all its tidal energies to a story consumed by water. At the top of the page and the start of the story, I paint a small pale orb, its unthreatening presence mirroring the sea-monster who appears almost comic, ‘snub-nosed’ with ‘blunt nostrils’ through which he sprays columns of water. The story continues and darker elements appear: the blue closes over the monster and ‘blue are the ribs of the wrecked rowing boat’, the final line of the story I leave whole. I layer paint onto a thick blue moon with a dark underbelly, which completely covers parts of the text. Through erasure, the blue moon creates space in Woolf’s text, further unsettling its meaning. We never find out why the cathedral’s different, what keeps it faint blue.

Listening for a velvet hiss

Anna Chapman Parker

Before the workshop, we are sent the text we’ll be working from. It’s a short prose-poem by Virginia Woolf: ‘Ode written partly in prose on seeing the name Cutbush above a butcher’s shop in Pentonville’. We’ve been asked to come up with our own title for the ode, which we’ll be printing today on our own book jackets. I spend the night before in a hotel room scanning the text for ideas. Among the lines I’ve picked out, these two keep coming back to me:

‘There are semblances of human faces, seen in passing translated from a foreign language. And the language always makes up new words.’ 

‘I salute thee, passing.’ (last line)

I like the implication in both of a still presence, a body paused midstream, observing things passing without understanding, and combine them into a new phrase, ‘Passing in a foreign language’. Hopefully it will be short enough for me to typset – this medium is a good inspiration for brevity.

In the workshop, Edwin has printed copies of Woolf’s transcript and points out how bad her typing is. It’s peppered with errors, many of them uncorrected typos (fusrt for first) or missed spaces (Bagsbulge). The apparent carelessness of the typing brings a feeling of lightness and urgency to it. The text feels more fluid, less fixed and certainly less laboured. Lines even wander off the horizontal, drifting down to the footer, as if in sympathy with the reverie going on in the text. It feels excitingly personal: not so far from looking at handwriting. 

Another thing that strikes me visually is the fatness of the left-hand margin. I’m thinking back to my childhood messing around on my dad’s typewriter and trying to remember the manoeuvre that sets the margins. A heavy shunting movement, with a satisfying weight. (Does a bell ring at the end, like someone opening a shop door?) Announcing the arrival of a new line: would that feel satisfying or an irritating interruption? 

I wonder if Woolf set such a wide margin to get a sense of how it would feel on a book page. The shift from typescript to a printed book is a significant narrowing of format, and I hadn’t considered before what a jump there is from the block of text in a typescript – whether typewriter or computer page – to the narrow confines of a book page. In a present-day Word doc with defaults of 12 point Calibri and 1 inch margins on either side, I might get an average of sixteen words per line. Woolf’s transcript gets eight and a half. 

Added to this, Woolf was using imperial-sized paper, which has a wider feel than the A-series in use today. It’s a more generous width to height proportion. To me, the 1:1.4 of A4 looks more serious – like a long face. But I guess that’s just my present-day eye.

Edwin shows us examples of hand-printed booklets with three-stitch binding, in the manner of the sixpenny booklets the Woolfs printed at the Hogarth Press. He explains that small presses like theirs mostly followed the arts and crafts model – disenchanted with mechanisation, getting back to the simpler methods of handmade. But this was also a kind of necessity as mechanised printing was massively controlled at the time, strictly unionised, and required 6 years’ apprenticeship. We hear extracts from Leonard Woolf’s biography of the Hogarth Press. It sounds like they were working it out as they went along.

The booklets are beautiful and inviting as objects. I don’t know if they would have felt more prosaic at the time – in a publishing era before laminated covers and e-readers – but it certainly seems that they were made with a sensitivity to the feel of handling them. Edwin tells us that the Woolfs collected fancy papers to use for flyleaves, indicating that they took pleasure in making them, too. 

It’s time to select the type. For simplicity, we’re all working with the Caslon typeface. Everyone sets to planning out their cover design and working out what sizes each bit of text should be: title, subtitle, author. I’m keying mine into my phone to play with the justification and line breaks, and the blank email I’m typing into has the default footer, ‘Sent from a mobile device’ below the text. I decide to include this in my title in acknowledgment of the journey the text has passed through: another passage. 

We are given a composing stick a bit like a metal scrabble tray in which to place the letters, known as sorts. The letters are placed upside down and back to front. (It sounds simple but for most of us, the first proofs reveal plenty of errors.) Ironically, the hardest part is actually setting the spaces at the end of each line, which must be filled with blank characters so that each line fits really tightly within the frame we have to set them in. The blanks come in many slightly different widths and getting the right combination of them is really tricky, but if we set the lines too loose, the sorts will just fall out when we pick up our frames to take them to the press. The correct tightness or ease is also necessary to get a good print, since type needs to ‘stand on its feet’ – sit firmly upright, not rock to the side. 

Between each line we insert a strip of metal (a lead) to create the space between the lines. The completed lines of text are then placed into a form, or metal frame, and packed with metal bars called furniture, which Edwin observes originally just meant something to fill a space with. Finally, everything is locked into place and tightened using quoins, expansion bolts. (This may be where the expression ‘to coin a phrase’ comes from). When it’s my turn to use the press, I pick up my form and take it to the press ready for inking. 

The whole process feels quite precisely choreographed – there are set ways of using your body for each step of the process, from the way you stand to pick out the type to the fingers used to tighten the quoins – the weaker fourth finger ensuring you don’t make it too tight. I guess each movement was designed over time to ensure efficiency, precision, and reduce the likelihood of potentially time-consuming accidents in a busy workshop. But the result is surprisingly physical – you’re really aware of how your movements need calibrating to play their part. 

The ink is really viscous and sticky as it’s rolled out. To get the right consistency, Edwin tells us to listen for ‘a velvet hiss’. I love the language that’s coming out of the whole process, and the slightly feral feel to a lot of it – a yapped edge, a flyleaf, muttons and nuts (M- and N-spaces). The paper is placed on the press held by small grippers, cranked through to roll over the type, and off peels the finished print. It’s a wonderful feeling. Perhaps when you’ve used your whole body and all your senses to make something, the satisfaction of the result has a compound interest? 

Imprints of the New Modernist Editing
Art Editing Modernism