Johanna Drucker's Artist Books
An online repository of facsimiles, metadata, and commentary

Sample Dialog


Project Statement

This project was conceived as a type sample book and as a dialogue between the collaborators. The Bow and Arrow Press, in the basement of Adams House at Harvard, supervised and gently guided by the resident daemon, Gino Lee, absentee partner Jim Barondess, and the occasional pale ghost of Charles Steele (struggling to get through an architecture MA in the GDS) was the site and source for the project. The type was abundant and beautiful. The summer was rainy and Emily was learning to print. The project sat on galleys most of the month, gradually accumulating weight, as if it were a long and difficult project. We set in a desultory manner. The book became the thing we were not doing, each involved in her own other projects. And then, in a rush of final energy, we printed the whole thing in about a day, and collated, and bound it all in a rush. A pretty thing, with just enough oblique crypticness in textual texture to provide interest, though the remove of language from the real is all too characteristic of both of our temperaments at the time.

Production Narrative

We marbled the paper, wrote the text, printed most of it in one day in a continually changing ink color (without cleaning the press, just adding and subtracting ink). Then we collated it so that we got the maximum contrast page to page in terms of color and font. Emily had come to Cambridge to learn letterpress (!) hard as it is to believe she ever didn't know how to print. She worked at the Bow and Arrow with me and Gino in that summer, 1989, for weeks. She set her own bit of 6 point, unleaded type (some things one never forgets), and we conceived this project as a playful engagement with the many treasures of the Bow and Arrow. Time ran out, as it will, and we ended up printing it in a rush, binding and everything else all at once just as she was leaving. But we were pleased with the overall effect of the whole project once it was done, with its long off-cut format (maybe leftovers from The Word Made Flesh, actually) and its hard, heavy boards. We had trouble figuring out, later, who wrote which lines.

Critical Analysis

Design Features

typographic: A type sample book, this one is filled with beauties from the Bow and Arrow collection. Elegant and lovely faces. The sheer pleasure of printing them, looking at them, and working with them made the project worth it.

imagery: No images, really, except on the end sheets, where we printed some of the dingbats and cuts from the Bow and Arrow to make decorative papers.

graphical: The long format and double lines of type have a good, strong structure to them.

openings: These were incidentally determined, according to color and contrast, not text.

turnings: The long sheets make the turns slippery, kind of elegant.

development: none, really, none, and any reading that perceives such is reading too much.

sequence: Sequence was set by color and contrast, so it does register on the eye.

Detailed Analysis

We couldn't resist using the cuneiform cut and making a joke with it.

General Comments

This was a work of fun, friendship, exchange, and typophilic play. Making much more of it would be silly. The texts are goofs, one-offs, and probably give some indication of our vocabulary and sensibility, but not much else. Nothing substantive or really too deliberate was meant by any of it. Most of it was composed just to get something set in the particular font, and then printed.



Johanna Drucker

type: initiating


Emily McVarish

type: initiating


Publication Information

publisher: The Bow and Arrow Press was the place it was printed, but the publishers were McVarish and Drucker. No imprint.

publication: 1989-00-00

Aesthetic Profile

artists' books (LCSH)

themes: The themes were many, familiar, and part of a shared reference frame of common terminology for both authors. A whiff of the French, a dose of theory, a sense of the vernacular turned on itself to reveal the underbelly of quotidian existence, all with a sense of wit, play, and language game.

content form:
prose (local)
experimental text (local) A dialogue in the form of an extended exquisite corpse exercise.

publication tradition:
artists' book (local)

inspiration: The found language of type sample books, particularly 19th century display face samples, was a distinct inspiration for this project. The peculiar match font and tone those books embodies, often by accident, was part of the project.

related works: A few other font-based works in the Drucker bibliography include From A to Z and Prove Before Laying, thought neither is a sample book. From A to Z uses fonts and font families to indicate some poetic sensibility and connection among writers. Prove Before Laying takes its name from the etiquette on a freshly minted font and plays with the slow rearrangement of the font into a text. S Cramp S Ample references sample books, but only in its format of lapped leaves of increasing shorter pages that allow for display of some part of each page's text in juxtaposition. Sample books are great fun to play with as a concept and genre, and other related works are really inspirations, rather than books to which this refers.

other influences: Gino Lee's presence always had an influence, as did that of Jim Barondess and Charles Steele, the other Bow and Arrow habituees (Charles wasn't a printer, but a presence). Amusing them was a distinct goal of this book, particularly with the cuneiform errata slip.

community: press The Bow and Arrow (Adams House, Harvard University)

note: Book actually is a type specimen book.

Related Documents

manuscript type: other

location: artist's archive

note: Not many manuscripts of documents exist for this project. It was pretty much done on the fly, in the stick, and on the galley.

General Comments

Some projects have the stamp of their authors, some have the mark of their moment in time. This work is distinctly of the former variety. From conception to execution, this was as true an expression of both authors' sensibility at the time as can be imagined.


Publication Information

edition type: editioned

publisher: The Bow and Arrow Press was the place it was printed, but the publishers were McVarish and Drucker. No imprint.

place: Cambridge, MA

publication: 1989-00-00

edition size: 10 copies.

note: Conceived, set, written, printed, bound, by the authors.


horizontal: 13.25 inches closed

vertical: 6 inches closed

depth: .5 inches closed

Production Information

production means:
letterpress (local)

binding: hand sewn (local) paper-covered boards, cloth spine.

bookBlock: paper Mohawk Super Fine
endsheets: paper handmade

ink (local)


general description:

format: codex (AAT)

color: yes


pagination: unpaginated 54 pages

numbered?: unnumbered

signed?: unsigned


This specimen book was printed on Mohawk Super Fine by Johanna Drucker and Emily McVarish with the typical and ornamental resources of The Bow & Arrow Press, Cambridge, MA and in strict accordance with the daily weather forecasts that marked the passage of mid-July, 1989.

General Comments

As a very limited edition project, this was successful. No need for a larger edition of such a thing.