People tend to see me as relentlessly cheerful, and my work as vibrant and colorful. Today I have the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” stuck in my head. Today I feel hurt, betrayed, shocked, fearful, bitter and white-hot with fury. Today I will quarantine myself from other humans to avoid lashing out and saying awful things. Today I will clean my messy studio and catch up on mindless tasks. Today I’m putting my proverbial house in order, because tomorrow I need to be ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work. We all do. #imstillwithher
When we wrote and illustrated our new book, Dead Feminists: Historical Heroines in Living Color, it was important both to us and the publisher that we fill the pages with new content, rather than simply rehash the story of our previous broadsides. So it came to us that one great way to do that would be to have a new broadside appear in the book and in the world simultaneously. One of the biggest challenges of doing this (other than having to print the broadside ahead of publication and then keep the secret for months) was choosing who to feature, considering the fact that we’d be introducing the broadside to a brand new and much larger audience. We wanted to feature a woman who touched the world, and who reflected the world we had become.
We live in a global society, with different cultures mingling—and at times clashing—with a regularity we now take for granted. It is easy to forget the imperialist origins of globalization, where Western cultures sought to dominate and even extinguish the societies they encountered. Colonization of the Indigenous world has had far-reaching effects on both people and the environment, the consequences of which we are only beginning to understand. And who better to understand the ripple effects of colonialism than the queen of a colonized nation?
“E onipai’a . . . i ka ‘imi na’auao.” (“Be steadfast in the seeking of knowledge.”)
— Queen Lili’uokalani
Queen Lili’uokalani was the last monarch—and only queen regnant—of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Raised by traditional Hawaiian custom and a resident of a post-colonial country, she was fluent in the ways of both Hawaiian and Western cultures. Her reign was sadly brief—thanks to powerful foreign interests who refused to share the nation they had claimed for their own. Yet she devoted much of her life to preserving traditional art forms and recording them for others to study. Hers was the middle road—the road of survival.
For Indigenous women like Queen Lili’uokalani, there is no going back to life before Euro-American contact. Yet Lili’uokalani led a life that included and celebrated both the culture of her birth and the one imposed upon her later in life. Her example of sharing both traditions with future generations helps us all create a path forward. We are especially thankful to Alison Milham, a Hawaiian book artist who has extensively researched the Queen and who helped us fine tune our message.
Jessica and I have our own paths to walk when it comes to creating each new broadside in our series. In my case, I’m always eager to explore different historical eras and design styles. And Jessica is constantly looking to push the envelope of what’s possible with letterpress printing—she loves to experiment with different techniques, like the split-fountain inking on our Nightsong broadside, or the crazy metallics of Focal Point, or the large floods and knocked-out shapes of Title Nine Iron. This time we wanted to create a tropical rainbow, but rather than printing every letter in ROYGBIV separately, we puzzled out how to create an illusion of a full-color design with translucent, overlapping colors, which Jessica would print in just four passes on press.
Jessica’s job was extra tricky, since the different plates had to line up perfectly to make the illusion work. But my end of the process was confusing, too: since I do the original drawing in black and separate the colors by hand, I had to keep checking and re-checking to make sure I didn’t assign some blob of color on the design to the wrong plate.
Generally speaking, we usually print our colors from lightest to darkest. So this time we started with a deep saffron yellow—the color of royalty in the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and one symbolic of Queen Lili’uokalani’s reign.
Then we overlaid a hot-hot pink on top of the yellow, one that stood in both for tropical flowers and the blazing color of the sun setting on Hawai’i’s Indigenous rulers. Wherever the pink overlapped the gold, the ink mixed to create a fiery orange.
Next came a pass of cerulean blue. This part might seem confusing, because you can’t actually see any blue in the finished piece (though you can see it on press on the photo of Jessica above), but it’s an essential ingredient of our color scheme. Wherever the blue overlaid yellow, we got green. Where it hit that hot pink, a royal purple resulted. And where it touched any orange areas that resulted from the previous pass, a russet brown appeared.
Finally, we were ready for our last color, a rich black (actually, Jessica ran that last pass twice—the double hit of black made the ink nice and opaque) that brought everything together into harmony:
Our 24th broadside, Song of Aloha, depicts the lush flora and unique fauna of Hawai’i. Plumeria and hibiscus bloom, while leaves and fronds stand in silhouette in homage to traditional Hawaiian quilt motifs. At the center of the design is Queen Lili’uokalani herself, wearing a sash in royal colors, her signature brooch, a necklace of shells (from the extinct species Carelia dolei) and a Kamehameha butterfly in her hair. As a symbol of the vanished Hawaiian monarchy, every bird pictured is an extinct Hawaiian species—including the greater koa finch, the Hawai’i mamo, the Lana’i hookbill, the Hawaiian crow, and several species of endemic honeycreeper that now only exist as museum specimens.
Oh, and hidden in the design are ‘Iolani Palace and a line of music from Lili’uokalani’s famous composition, “Aloha ‘Oe.”
This piece marks the inauguration of the Dead Feminists Fund, to which a portion of our proceeds (and those of our new book!) will be donated. In honor of the power of women’s work, the Fund supports nonprofits that empower girls and women to create change in their own communities.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Song of Aloha: No. 24 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 192 prints
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches
Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.
Lili’uokalani (1838 – 1917) was the last monarch and only queen regnant of the Kingdom of Hawai’i. Born into the royal family, she ascended the throne in 1891 via traditional election after the death of her brother. She reigned for less than two years, until Sanford B. Dole—backed by American business interests and the Marines—deposed her and dismantled the monarchy. Dole placed Lili’uokalani under house arrest and despite her formal letters of protest, Hawai’i was annexed by the United States in 1898 without due constitutional process.
Queen Lili’uokalani lived with one foot planted in each culture, embracing Victorian dress and Western mannerisms while working tirelessly to preserve traditional Hawaiian art forms. A prolific singer, musician and composer, her best known song was “Aloha ‘Oe” (“Farewell to Thee”), written in both Hawaiian and English.
Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring, knowing that the spirit of aloha can honor what we’ve lost and save what remains.
Of course, we go into detail about the process and stories behind each of our broadsides, including a “director’s cut” of each print.
The great thing about the book format, though, is the ability to expand beyond the short colophons we include on each broadside. So each chapter goes in-depth about the women we featured and the social issues we highlighted with each broadside. Each story is anchored with archival photos and vintage ephemera to paint a more complete picture of these 27 women and their lives.
To tie everything together and reinforce our letterpress roots, the pages are peppered with vintage hand-set metal and wood cuts from Jessica’s incredible collection. Each one appears like an easter egg, linking our content to our process and bringing the past to life in the present.
Major thanks to our amazing editorial and marketing team at Sasquatch Books—every member of which is a fellow woman—for getting us to this point, and for continuing to support the Dead Feminists Fund through a portion of every book sale. And last but not least, thank you for supporting our series and our book. We hope that reading the book will be as rewarding for you as it was for us to write it.
See you tomorrow with more information about our 24th broadside!
Tuesday is the day! Our book will be released worldwide on October 11, and we’re celebrating with a costume party! This is where you can be the first to get your hands on the book—and extra worth the effort if you want to see Jessica and me wearing ridiculous wigs. We don’t want to be the only ones celebrating Halloween early, so come on down and join the party. We’ll have prizes for the best outfits, Dead Feminists cake and punch, and a printing press ready to make your own keepsake. We’d love to sign a book for you, too. If you’re looking for costume ideas, you might dress up as one of the ladies in our book…
…or you might choose another favorite historical heroine, or a beloved fictional character, or even an historic feminist dude! Anything goes, and we can’t wait to see what you come up with. Here’s the skinny on the event:
Official Book Release Costume Party
Tuesday, October 11, 7 pm
Hosted by King’s Books
218 St. Helens Avenue, Tacoma, WA
Event is free, all ages welcome; more info here
Come in costume, dressed as your favorite historical feminist!
In addition to finally sharing the book with you next week, we also wanted the chance to share some of our original artwork. So for the past two years we’ve been planning a big retrospective exhibit with the 23Sandy Gallery in Portland, OR. Laura Russell, the owner and curator of the gallery, has been a major supporter of our series since the beginning—and this week it was no different, as she jumped right in and helped us install our artwork in her space!
The show features 10 original letterpress broadsides from our series, two mini-broadsides, original process materials, plus vintage ephemera from our book. This is the first time we’ve done a show like this, and 23Sandy is the only place you’ll still find some of our older, out-of-print broadsides available for sale.
The exhibit also includes our 24th and newest broadside, but since she comes out on October 11, alongside the book, we have her hidden under a black veil for now. But you can see her—and all the other artwork—unveiled at our reception and book signing later this month. Here are the details:
Make-Ready: Dead Feminists from Print to Page
A Dead Feminists retrospective exhibit
on display through October 29
Reception & book signing Saturday, October 22
4 to 6 pm, free!
623 NE 23rd Ave, Portland, OR
If you can’t make it to Portland, you can also learn more about the exhibit and view an online catalog on the 23Sandy website.
Make-Ready is just one of many different exhibits in the works this fall—we’ve got the Dead Feminists coming to galleries around the country for both solo and group shows. We’ll be sharing more info here on the blog soon, but as always, you can find all our events, shows, book signings and talks listed on the events page.
See you Tuesday—in costume!
One of the biggest challenges of turning the Dead Feminists into a book was figuring out a way to tie all our broadsides together in a way that was engaging for the reader. Aside from the size and format of each broadside, our prints had little in common with one another. Our feminists were a diverse group without much of an underlying thread—even the style of illustration was different for each one.
Jessica came up with the solution: using action verbs to tell our story. After all, our aim with the series was to use the literal and figurative power of the press to change the world around us. The women we featured had also created change—they were active, not passive. So we divided our 24 feminists among eight action words, choosing for each chapter a trio of women who shared qualities or deeds with that particular verb. And since we’re so close to the release of the book (just two weeks!), we thought we’d share a few of those words with you.
The best part for me, of course, was being able to make more hand-lettered illustrations! Each chapter’s verb is done in a different style, and elements of that illustration are carried throughout the rest of the chapter.
Of course, shoe-horning each feminist into one of the eight action themes was sometimes a convoluted business, but we got there in the end. We’re super pleased with how it all turned out—and hopeful that it might inspire more women and girls to take the lead with some action of their own.
Our book is not the only thing coming out on October 11—we’ll also be releasing our 24th broadside. We can’t spill the coffee beans yet, but here’s a step-by-step glimpse of the process. As you can see, there were a lot of steps involved, from detailed illustration to some tricky acrobatics on press. We think the finished product will be well worth the wait!
It’s hard to believe we’re only five weeks out from the release of our book! A few advance reader copies are making their way around to media outlets already, and several people have asked us how we came up with the cover design. Since getting to the finished cover was quite a process, we thought we’d show you a bit of the winding path that got us here.
When Sasquatch Books first signed us as authors, they offered us the chance to design, illustrate and hand-letter the cover. Needless to say we jumped at it. But designing a book cover can be very different than designing other things—the stakes are higher, for one thing. In some ways, it’s more of a science than an art: a good cover can have a lot of sway in terms of book sales, so it has to be as eye-catching, informative and readable as possible. So to make sure we got it right, it was a hugely collaborative process—not just between Jessica and me, but also with the publisher, the art director, our editors, the sales team, and lots of other people we never even met in person.
Jessica and I started brainstorming and sketching cover ideas way back in November of last year; above are a few of the concepts we sent along. We had a lot of feedback that large, legible type was key, so that was a good starting point. We also had to be really careful about the hierarchy of type. We had to make sure “Feminists” caught the eye first, followed by “Dead,” then the subhead, then the byline, etc. Later, when we got the happy news that Jill Lepore would be writing the foreword to our book, that added another level to our type hierarchy. In addition to all of this, we wanted to give the Sasquatch team plenty of options, so we tried to make each concept distinct from the others. Right away the clear favorite was the one in the lower right corner, so that was the concept we took to the next level.
Then came a long parade of versions in color. We worked closely with Sasquatch’s art director and lead designer, Anna Goldstein, to try to catch that elusive unicorn that is a cover that works. I’d mock something up and send it to Anna; she’d mock something else up and send it back to us; rinse and repeat. Each time it felt like we were getting closer, but every time it felt like something subtle was missing. So we made a million little tweaks, to color, to lettering, to texture, to contrast, to composition, to kerning, etc. Each time one of us would have what seemed like a great idea, and each time the result was lacking somehow. I don’t even remember how long we stayed in this holding pattern. (Normally I keep all the iterations of a design carefully numbered in chronological order, but at some point I just lost track. I gave up and labeled that file “VERSION WHATEVER.” It makes me laugh every time I see it.) Everybody was frustrated: the elusive unicorn had transformed into the Holy Grail.
And then I think we all finally conceded that small tweaks were never going to get us there. We needed something to change in a big way, and we needed to scrap much of the work we’d done thus far. This is a really hard thing to admit to oneself—that maybe one’s brilliant idea wasn’t so brilliant after all. But the finished product is more important than anybody’s ego, and no matter how good a kernal of an idea might be, it’s not worth bringing down the whole design over it.
So we quite literally went back to the drawing board. I knocked together a few more pencil sketches, and we asked the whole team again what elements they thought were essential. A lot of people responded to the little cameo portraits of the various historical figures, so we came up with the idea to use them as more of an overall pattern (that’s the green cover on the left, above). Then our editors gave us the feedback that maybe the cover should be more like the style of our broadsides, with bold lettering in many different styles. Anna added the suggestion of making those cameo portraits more of a faint pattern than a major focal point, and then the lightbulb seemed to go on at last. That peach version in the center, I think, was what I put together next. Jessica and I could see that the most recent advice was on the right track, but we were still worried it wouldn’t stand out when seen on a display shelf with a hundred other books. Our editor asked us if we had any ideas for how to make it pop, and in wild desperation I fished out one of our earliest pencil sketches (above), the one with the face in silhouette, and gave it another look. What didn’t seem to work in sketch form suddenly felt like the missing ingredient when paired with the cameo pattern and the bold lettering. We sent a version back to Anna, and she gave it that antique texture and the gold-grey-and-teal color scheme you see here. And that was it—it was like she’d flipped a switch, and voilà: finished cover.
Over the course of eight years of printing our broadsides, Jessica and I had grown accustomed to just doing whatever we want in terms of design and content. With small editions to print, and nobody to please but ourselves, the stakes were low—and there was always plenty of room for experimentation. This book has been an entirely different animal, and I think designing the cover has been a perfect metaphor for the whole process. Writing a 40,000-word manuscript about history and feminism was never something we thought we could do, but with the incredible help of our editors, we got there. Likewise, designing the container for that content was a massive group effort—so major props and big thanks to Anna for sticking with us. Getting to the finish line required stepping way beyond our comfort zone—and more importantly, it took the whole team. We couldn’t have done it alone, and that’s a good thing, because both book and cover are the better for it.
When it came time for us to find our next Dead Feminist, our thoughts turned to our own mirrors. Like every woman in our pop-culture-driven world, Jessica and I are bombarded with imagery and messages that urge us to scrutinize and criticize our own appearance. Unsurprisingly, we are taught to find ourselves lacking in one way or many, and to compare ourselves with an impossible ideal.
We were a little surprised to find courage and consolation in Ancient Greece, where they were all about the impossible ideal. Yet if you sift through the lofty architectural theory, stylized scenes and tales of the immortals, you’ll find a honey-tongued poet who speaks the plain truth: Sappho.
To be human is to grow old.
Our 23rd broadside, Age Before Beauty, reaches further back in time than we ever have before—to the 6th century BCE. As you can clearly see, the illustration is styled after the designs and motifs of ancient Greek pottery, right down to the amphora handles.
Yet even though she lived and worked thousands of years ago, Sappho’s words ring true as if they were written yesterday. We especially loved her self-reflection in the poem we chose, and the way she managed to view her aging body with kindness. It brought to mind, for me, an image of dual goddesses who are really two faces of the same woman—like the Maiden and Crone archetypes so common in other pre-Christian cultures.
Like the art of ancient Greece, the illustration is chock full of allegorical imagery. For instance, young Sappho carries Aphrodite’s mirror, while Athena’s wise owl looks over her aged self. Both figures play a seven-stringed lyre: Sappho was a lyrical poet, which means her poetry was designed to be performed to music. (Incidentally, some scholars also credit Sappho with the invention of the plectrum, a tool similar to a guitar pick that was used to pluck the lyre’s strings.) Finally, the band of dancing deer at the base references Josephine Balmer’s recent translation of Sappho’s Old Age Poem.
Compared to our previous broadsides, the composition and color scheme of this piece are fairly simple. The printing, on the other hand, was not. All those curves made it hard to line up the plates, and we had huge floods of color paired with delicate lines and text. To help her with the ink coverage and add just a tiny bit more pop to the color, Jessica ran the vase shape in a run of subtle cream first.
The cream pass helped with the super-tricky registration of the black and terracotta, as well.
All that fiddly and difficult technical stuff made the finished product that much sweeter. We’re pleased as punch about the results—we hope you will be, too.
To help all women and girls see themselves in a more positive light, we are donating a portion of our proceeds to About Face. Founded in 1995, About Face works to improve girls’ and women’s self-esteem and body image by helping them understand and resist harmful media messages.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Age Before Beauty: No. 23 in the Dead Feminists series
Edition size: 158 prints
Poster size: 10 x 18 inches
Printed on an antique Vandercook Universal One press, on archival, 100% rag (cotton) paper. Each piece is numbered and signed by both artists.
Sappho (c. 630 – 570 BCE) is the only woman counted among the Nine Lyric Poets revered in ancient Greek culture. Plato called her “the tenth muse,” but all that remains of her work is a handful of fragments. This quote is an excerpt from Fragment 58, a mysterious Old Age Poem that can be read either as a lament or a celebration of mortality. Illustrated by Chandler O’Leary and printed by Jessica Spring, in hopes that all women might see themselves both with Aphrodite’s gaze and Athena’s wisdom.
Now available in our Dead Feminists web shop!
It’s that time again—we’re inking and printing up a storm right now, because we’re just about ready to introduce you to our newest Dead Feminist!
We hope you’ll like her as much as we do—after getting to know her history, we feel like she’s become something of a deer friend.
(Sorry, I can never resist a terrible pun.)
She’s already made her first (and second, and third) impression with us, and oh so soon she’ll do the same for you. Stay tuned!
Well, now that it’s been a whole year since I first showed you these, and the secret no longer needs keeping, I can tell you about what I did today. Today is the start of the lunar new year, and here in Tacoma we have a tradition that proves how wonderful this town is, year after year. The tradition is called “Monkeyshines,” a public treasure hunt through the city that falls on (or around) the first day of Chinese new year each year. The name comes from the Year of the Monkey on the Chinese zodiac cycle, exactly twelve years ago, when an anonymous artist going by the name “Ms. Monkey” created a few hundred colorful hand-blown glass floats, each one stamped with a monkey design, and hid them all over the city. Anyone who found one could take it home with them, and since only Ms. Monkey’s inner circle knew about it, it came as a complete surprise to those lucky few who found treasure that year. Over the years the tradition has grown and the secret has spread like wildfire, with more and more beautiful pieces of glass art being hidden around Tacoma with each cycle of the zodiac. Since the only rule is “take only one,” many people have taken to rehiding the ones they find, or contributing their own handmade treasures to the hunt. Not that it’s easy to find multiple Monkeyshines—or even one! Even now that there are thousands of treasures hidden each year, it’s still like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. I’d never been lucky myself, coming up empty-handed year after year.
2015, the Year of the Ram, completed the 12-year zodiac cycle that started with that first treasure hunt. Ms. Monkey approached me (no, I won’t tell you who she is!) and asked if I would contribute some “Monkeyshines” of my own to the cause. I jumped at the chance: even though I’d never found a glass float myself, I loved the hunt, and by then I’d amassed a mental database of potential hidey-holes. By then I was more excited about the prospect of hiding treasure than of finding it. Besides, even though my work has been moving away from letterpress printing in recent years, it was fun to do a printing project again.
So I whipped up a little medallion design, and hand-carved it in linoleum.
Then I threw it onto my tiny tabletop press, and set to work.
I printed close to 500 medallions (until I ran out of paper and the block started to break down!), and then hand-assembled them in the style of my other letterpress ornaments.
And then came the fun part: hiding them all over Tacoma.
Since there were so many medallions, and I had to go out of town over Chinese new year, I enlisted friends to help, and staggered my own distribution over several weeks. Together we managed to canvass almost the entire city map, hitting both well-traveled areas and less-visited neighborhoods.
The hiding was, indeed, the best part. I loved walking inconspicuously at weird hours, my hands stuffed in my pockets and posing as a searcher, waiting until the coast was clear to pop another medallion into one of Tacoma’s nooks and crannies. Sometimes I’d hang around and wait nearby until someone came by and discovered what I’d left behind. It was a thrill every time.
I saved this pictured for last because it echoes this year’s odyssey, when my chance finally came. Fast forward to this morning, and it’s the Year of the Monkey all over again. Since it’s now become a tradition as ingrained as Christmas, there was no question that I’d resume the hunt. A friend came to pick me up at 4:30 am, and after a quick swig of coffee, we set out.
And in less than an hour, in my eighth year of searching, I finally found my first glass Monkeyshine! Just like the previous picture, it was in the mouth of a fish sculpture—this one in the middle of a fountain downtown. Luckily for me, there was only about an inch of water in the fountain, so all I had to do was climb in and step right up. And yes, if the fountain had been full of water, I would have gone in anyway, 35-degree weather be darned. I wouldn’t have been the only one—tales of people braving murky koi ponds and polar-plunging into the Bay have become the stuff of legend around here. For some things it’s worth getting soaked and dirty!
My friend is still searching for his Monkeyshine—we spent the rest of the morning hunting on his behalf, but even if he doesn’t find one this year, we made sure to pay it forward by hiding a few small monkey-themed treasures ourselves.
So now I’m back home, refreshed after a nap and a hot cuppa tea, admiring the Monkeyshine that’s serendipitously in my favorite color. SO many thanks to Ms. Monkey, all her fellow ‘Shiners, all the friends and friendly strangers I hunted with this morning, and my art-loving city. Thank you for making this happen year after year, for making my year so far, and for bringing us all together for a chance to play explorer in our own hometown. Gung hay fat choy!