September 16, 2013

No Small Measure: A collaboration between poet Alex Johns and artist and printer Paul Moxon

No Small Measure is a collaborative portfolio of letterpress printed broadsides, which was organized by artist Margot Ecke, curator Beth Sale and poet Ezekiel Black. Fifteen poets have been paired with fifteen artists and each group was asked to create a letterpress printed broadside. The project was made possible with funding from the University of North Georgia Art Galleries with a generous grant from the Forsyth County Arts Alliance. Over the next several weeks, each collaborative team will be interviewed and asked about their experience working on the project.

Our third interview features poet Alex Johns and artist and printer Paul Moxon.

A Conversation with poet Alex Johns:

There is a wonderful levity to this poem. How did the piece develop?
I wrote this poem quite a while ago, but I think it's indicative of a shift I was making in my approach toward playing with a voice that might seem initially disparate to the subject matter of the poem. I believe I was considering how close the relationship between food preservation and flavoring must have been to mummification and burial preparation in the ancient world, how living in a time in which death was more present, persistent, and "real" might have influenced the aspects of life and survival we take for granted (i.e. preparing and eating food).

Paul is a real master when it comes to typography. How do you feel about type choice and its relationship to how a text is understood? Did your understanding of typography change throughout this collaboration? Paul chose the poem, and I was eager to see how he would bring color, image, and typeface into the experience.  I like fonts, and I'm intrigued by the role of paper (its weight, color, texture, etc.) and the nuances of typeface in the experience of reading. I lack the vocabulary to articulate the aesthetic dimensions of this, but I am affected by it. I love that Paul chose tones evocative of earth, clay, and sand and such an intriguing font in an almost cinnamon color for the title. I'm not sure if he had this in mind, but the faded images of dried flowers seem to be tossed by the wind from a dusty desert floor.  Paul's representation helps me to see the poem in a fresh way.

A Conversation with artist and printer Paul Moxon:

Tell us a bit about the mark-making that accompanies this piece. How did these marks develop and from what kind of matrix are they printed? I wanted to visually represent the smells and tastes evoked in the poem. I found a photograph of herbs, Photoshoped it some and then had a polymer plate made. With broadsides, I like to play on the press bed, so I eventually cut up the plate and rearranged some elements. I like the way the dense buds flank the title and the way the ones with leaves and stems trail around the edges.

As a designer, what informs your decision when it comes to type selection? What was it about this poem in particular that led you to choose these two faces? Do you consider yourself a rule breaker when it comes to type selection? I'm drawn to texts with a sense of place, that tells me something about the world and does it with wit. I thought that the typeface Fournier best conveyed the tone of the poem. It has a capital W (used in the first word) that crosses in the middle, which echoes the stems in the image, it also has an alternate short capital J (used in the poet's name) that doesn't descend below the baseline, because the name is set in small caps and I didn't want that character to appear larger than the others.

The title is hand lettered, which I commissioned. None of the typefaces to which I had access had the right look. I wanted the title to appear a little rugged, slightly eery, suggest distant lands, the span of time, death.

Generally I don't think in terms of rules. I ask is the design fit the purpose. This includes type and layout, but also materials. That's why I find fun in arranging almost any text--- broadside, book, signage or business form.
You have designed and printed many a broadsides over your years in the field. Do you find that the format is changing (presentation, style, distribution)? Is it the same crowd collaborating to create and purchase these prints? Format, presentation, style, distribution has always been subject to change--- just as societies are. Art and craft will continue to resonate with people who seek humanity as it has become increasingly absent from most commodities. The kind of person drawn to these works are probably of the same temperament as those in times past. I've read biographies and collected letters of designers and printers and experience a kindredness.

For more information about Paul, please visit his website:

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