The Making of Character Traits
with Russell Maret
In this talk Russell Maret will discuss the three year process of making his most recent artist’s book, Character Traits. The book continues Maret’s investigation into alphabetical form, which he has undertaken over the last twenty years in a series of printed books and manuscripts, many of which are in the Athenæum’s collection. This newest project is composed of two parts: a volume of essays about alphabetical character traits, specifically how different lettering technologies affect alphabetical form; and a portfolio of twenty-five prints that explore these ideas in a series of texts chosen for their insights into human character traits, each of which is set in unique lettering designed by Maret. The making of Character Traits took on a whole new level of production because during the preliminary work on the project Maret realized it would be conceptually inconsistent to print the plates using the printing method in which he is trained—letterpress. Instead, he purchased an etching press and spent a year learning the necessary skills to print the plates intaglio. The ensuing process of teaching himself a new printing medium, while also wrestling with the creative and conceptual aspects of the project, resulted in many humorous episodes. The talk will cover the ups and downs of this process, and discuss the ideas that lead Maret to make the book in the first place.
Russell Maret is a letter designer and private press printer working in New York City. He was born in New Rochelle, New York and moved to San Francisco as a teenager. While studying poetics at New College of California he encountered letterpress printing and fell in love at first sight. Soon he was apprenticing with Peter Koch in Berkeley, before moving on to work at 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 2009 Russell was awarded the Rome Prize in Design from the American Academy in Rome. In 2011, he began working to convert some of his type designs into new metal typefaces for letterpress. Since then he has produced four metal typefaces, including one for Monotype composition casting, and a number of suites of ornaments. He is a Master Lecturer in the MFA Book Arts & Printmaking Department of University of the Arts in Philadelphia and the current North American Chair of the Fine Press Book Association. 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); Printer in Residence at the Bodleian Libraries Bibliographical Press, Oxford (2017); and a trustee of the American Printing History Association. Russell’s books and manuscripts are in public and private collections throughout the world.