ABOUT THE SET BOOK
Happy Abstract — A letter from William Blake to Thomas Butts, dated 11 September 1801
The letter that William Blake wrote to his friend and patron, Thomas Butts, on September 11, 1801, is of a type that most artists have written at one point (or many points) in their career. Were it a form letter today, it would read something like this:
Dear XXX, Thank you for your continued support, I could not make it without you. However, I still have not completed the work for which you paid me. Please do not take this inattentiveness as a reflection of my feelings toward you or your work, but I have been busy with other things that I find more interesting. I am sure to finish your job soon. Best, XXX.
The difference between the letter featured in Happy Abstract and most other letters written on this template is, of course, that Happy Abstract was written by William Blake. Blake is not simply busy. He is daily pulled away from Butts’ commission into a world of abstraction, a pull against which he is powerless to resist, rendering him a “wretched, happy, ineffectual labourer of Time’s moments….”
When Lang Ingalls and I first discussed printing Happy Abstract for OPEN • SET 2020, Lang was specifically interested in a book that had minimal text on the page, hoping that binders would not only design the binding of the book, but also be lured onto the books’ pages. Blake’s letter seemed a perfect fit for the project. It is a short text that is full of evocative visual prompts, allowing me to lay the book out with only one line of text per page, leaving lots of unused space for the binder to explore. The text begins high up on the page and progressively works its way one line lower down the page with each spread, until ending just at the bottom. The text is handset in Bauer Bodoni Italic with Donatello Eclaire titling, and printed on Zerkall Nideggen paper.
An Invitation In: the 2020 Set Book
It is not often that design binders are presented with the opportunity to express their artistic interpretations throughout the entirety of a book. With the Set Book, we present an invitation to expand your design interpretation beyond the traditional considerations of bookblock protection, to stretch your ideas as if elastic, to go in while executing your binding submission. We emphasize that this is not a requirement, but an open option.
William Blake was a poet of the Romantic period. But he was more: painter, printmaker, philosopher, illustrator—William Blake was a creative. He — like many of us — was touched by the muse and responded quickly if not passionately at the expense of all else. His letter is a tribute to the state of being that he calls “Happy Abstract”, or that place where artists delightfully lose themselves in their work and where the expression leads them.
Maret is a poet of current times, a writer of singular perception, and a printer of taste, honed over years of production. For the Set Book, he agreed to the parameters of a folio format with large margins. His choice of a William Blake letter on the topic of the creative act is superlative. OPEN • SET wishes to thank him for his steady and timely production, and acknowledge that binders do not often have the opportunity to bind Maret works. The choice of binding the Set Book is a choice that bridges the world of fine print with the world of fine binding. We hope that this bridging leads binders to their own place of happy abstract.
Please note that if the binder decides to engage with the pages, this holds no additional credit during the jury process. The intention is to have this exploration as an option, as a way to encourage the exploration of design ideas. If you opt to bind the Set Book, the cost of the bookblock is included in your registration fee.
About the printer
Russell Maret is a type designer and private press printer working in New York City. He began printing in San Francisco as a teenager before apprenticing with Peter Koch in Berkeley and Firefly Press in Somerville, Massachusetts. He set up his own press at the Center for Book Arts, New York in 1993 and has been printing and publishing ever since. In 1996 Russell began teaching himself to design typefaces, leading to a twelve-year study of letterforms before he completed his first typeface in 2008. In 2011, he began working to convert some of his type designs into new metal typefaces. Since then he has produced three metal typefaces and four suites of metal ornaments. In 2009 Russell was awarded the Rome Prize in Design from the American Academy in Rome. He has been the Printer in Residence of the Press in Tuscany Alley, San Francisco (1990); Artist in Residence at the Center for Book Arts, NYC (1996); the Bodleian Libraries’ inaugural Printer-in-Residence (2017); the North American Chair of the Fine Press Book Association; and a trustee of the American Printing History Association. Russell’s books and manuscripts are in public and private collections throughout the world.