Detroit Litho Magic.

Category : art, travel
Detroit Litho Magic.

Last month I took a week off and went out to visit Lee Marchalonis in Detroit; she moved out there a few years ago to take a position as Printer in Residence at Signal Return, the fabulous public letterpress shop in town. Along the way, she also acquired a litho press and some stones and enough space to house them all in her place (the benefits of leaving NYC in action).

Studio assistant.

We spent the week setting up her own home litho studio and editioning a print.

I was not a printmaking major in school; there are great big holes in my printmaking knowledge, which I try to fill as I go and/or need to. I had only a dim understanding that litho had something to do with oil and water in some kind of mysterious way. Working with Lee one-on-one and having her explain the process-a multi-step, careful, complicated process – was super helpful in learning how it works. I’m going to explain to the best of my ability below- if there’s glaring errors anywhere please let me know!

We spent some time grading the litho stone first. This is pure physical labor, which erodes the top layer of the stone evenly, to expose fresh stone below. I was a bit awkward at it but luckily Lee knows what’s she’s doing.

Once you grind the limestone down to a pristine surface you’re ready to draw. The advantage for artists using this technique is that you can draw directly on the stone’s surface and pull a print that reflects the quality of all lines, and the tones, that you make. There’s a bunch of different materials that you use to make your marks, all of which contain grease.

Once the drawing is done, the stone is etched for the first time, with a combination of nitric acid and gum arabic, the amount of acid depending on what exact materials you’ve used in different areas of your drawing, which gives you control over the amount the stone is etched. Then you leave it overnight and have a beer.

Studio assistant resting after a long day.

The next day, you wipe the stone down, clean off the drawing materials, dampen the stone with sponges, and then roll out very stiff ink onto the stone, to reveal the image area. Then there’s some talc and rosin dust rubbed into the stone, then some more gum arabic is buffed into it, then you leave it for a bit.


Later on you get to print. It takes a while to get the density of ink that you want, you generally try to build up an ink surface. And you want to keep the stone wet while you’re working- the water keeps the ink from sticking to the background stone area where the image isn’t. So you go back and forth with dampening the stone with sponges and rolling out the ink. At this point it was helpful that there was two of us- I was on the sponge end of things keeping it all an appropriate level of damp, and Lee managed the inking duties.

Here’s the final print! I added the letterpress text at the bottom at Signal Return; I’m also planning on hand coloring the edition. The Diamondback Terrapin is a gorgeous turtle that is native to salt marshes along the eastern and southern coast, including here in Jamaica Bay-where their numbers are drastically decreasing, unfortunately, for reasons that aren’t clear, but that may be related to the ongoing loss of salt marshes. The turtles spend almost their entire lives in the water, except for when the female Diamondbacks come onto dry land to lay their eggs, so we don’t know very much about their lives and activities. In the early twentieth century, they were almost driven to extinction by hunters harvesting them to be cooked into Turtle Soup; they were considered a delicacy.





Walking tour

Category : pamphlets
Walking tour

This past Sunday I had a wonderful time out at Floyd Bennett Field wandering around with some good friends on a walking tour of the old airfield and the beach at Dead Horse Bay. The weather was perfect and the sun was out. Here’s some photos for your enjoyment.

Dead Horse Bay

Dead Horse Bay

Dead Horse Bay

At Floyd Bennett Field we walked down to Hanger B, to see the collection of antique aircraft that has been refurbished by a crew of volunteers. I gave a pamphlet to the Ranger on duty as thanks.

Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field

You can even go inside some of the planes.

Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field

Thanks to all for a wonderful day!

Dead Horse Bay

Category : Uncategorized
Dead Horse Bay

Across the street from Floyd Bennett Field are the remnants of an earlier piece of history, a bit of beach called Dead Horse Bay. Before there was an airport here, this piece of land was a separate island called Barren Island.

From the middle of the nineteenth century through the early twentieth, this was the remote area of town where New York City shipped its garbage, to be transformed through a process known as waste reduction. Factories on the island basically boiled animal carcasses and other organic materials down into grease, oils, and fertilizer, substances that could be reused. Dead Horse Bay refers to the dead animals brought here on barges to Jamaica Bay to be boiled down into new industrial products. An entire community lived out here, isolated from the rest of Brooklyn, working in the factories that dealt with the inevitable by-products of city living.

After the waste reduction factories were closed to appease communities living upwind, there was still a landfill on the island, a landfill which closed in the thirties when Robert Moses evicted the remaining inhabitants and bulldozed their homes. The topsoil cap on this landfill burst in the 1950’s, and decades of trash started leaking into the sea.

Today scavengers flock to the beach to collect things; they find a small beach covered in old bottles, stockings, leather shoe soles, an engine or two, the occasional boat. You can hear the tinkling of glass as the water laps the shoreline.

There’s a debate online about whether these people are removing history, taking archaeological items of interest from a National Park, or helping to clean a beach. Though it seems abandoned and neglected, this bit of land is technically under the auspices of the National Park Service, and it is technically illegal to take things from a National Park.

Not that anyone seems to be paying attention. And there are streams of people taking old glass bottles and carts of random finds.

Would you like to know more? Luckily, new pamphlets are here, just in time to answer all your lingering waste reduction questions. Many have gone in the mail already, and more are about to go out soon enough. I hope you enjoy them, I think they turned out quite nice. The first pamphlet of the year covers Floyd Bennett and Dead Horse Bay, and I hope will be a decent introduction to Jamaica Bay in general.

And more importantly, would you like to see these places for yourself? Next Sunday, May 21st I’m going to do a walking tour of Dead Horse Bay and Floyd Bennett Field. We’ll look at some old airplanes and listen to the glass tinkle. Email me at sarah at sarah nicholls dot com to RSVP so I know that you’re coming. We’ll meet at the 2 train station on Flatbush to take the bus down Flatbush together at 11am. I hope you can make it.


Floyd Bennett Field

Floyd Bennett Field

What kind of magical place combines a sanitation training center, community garden AND a remote control airfield?

Floyd Bennett Field, of course.

Floyd Bennett Field was New York City’s first municipal airport, opening in 1931. Airports are generally built on the outskirts of cities, in remote areas so that landing planes don’t hit anything. Floyd Bennett was built on land that had been known as Barren Island, one of the many bits and pieces of land in the marshes of Jamaica Bay, in the extreme southeast corner of Brooklyn. There was already a bare dirt runway used by a commercial pilot on the island, and when city planners decided that NYC needed its own airport, they chose this spot. The marshland around Barren Island was filled in with sand dredged from the bottom of Jamaica Bay, and many small bits of land were joined together and fused with the mainland. Flatbush Avenue was extended and straightened to provide pilots and passengers direct access to the rest of the city.  A state of the art, amenities-filled airport was born, complete with new features like illuminated concrete runways and comfortable terminal facilities.

Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia wanted the new airport to be THE commercial airport for NYC. Newark International, the first area airport, had opened in 1928; he wanted the city to have its own airport. But commercial aviation was new, and the number of people who paid to take commercial flights was limited. Most airports paid the bills by freight, not by passengers. Newark had an exclusive contract with the Postal Service to provide freight transport, which in turn attracted other commercial airlines to work out of Newark. Flights that didn’t sell all their seats could make up their costs through cargo shipments for the post office. LaGuardia was only able to convince American Airlines to move their operations to the new airfield, and passengers complained that the commute all the way out to the end of Brooklyn took longer than even the trip out to Newark.

But commercial aviation was only part of the story of air travel at this point. Aviators were excited about the new facility and its modern conveniences, and the airfield hosted many record-breaking flights, time records, and air races between the two World Wars. Howard Hughes and Wiley Post both used Floyd Bennett for record breaking around-the-world flights. Female pilots like Amelia Earhart, Jackie Cochran, and Laura Ingalls made historic flights out of Floyd Bennett.

Since the commercial side of the airfield didn’t, uh, take off, the airfield became a base for the aviation units of both the Coast Guard and the NYPD. During the Second World War, the Navy used Floyd Bennett as a Naval Air Station. After the war, and up until the 1970’s the field was used as a support base for Navy, Air Force, and Marine units,  as well as for the aviation units of the Coast Guard. But when the military moved their operations elsewhere, the field was decommissioned and began to decay. Control of most of the site was transferred to the National Park Service for inclusion in Gateway National Recreation Area, the sprawling multi-location National Park that encompasses many parts of Jamaica Bay as well as sites in northern New Jersey and Staten Island.

So today when you go visit Floyd Bennett, it seems a bit forgotten. It still houses an aviation base for the NYPD; the training center for the Sanitation Department is also there. There’s a public campground, as well as a hanger devoted to the restoration of Historic Aircraft. Volunteers and park rangers give tours on the weekends.  Four hangers were renovated and taken over by a commercial tenant, the Aviator Sports and Event Center, which seems awful to me but I’m sure appeals to other people.

There’s a lot of empty space. Empty runways are a great place to fly kites, or drive remote control cars. An area of the site is a great place to hike, and offers good birding opportunities. Between the runways there’s also open grassland that people are kept out of as a wildlife habitat, and it provides cover and homes for grassland birds to live undisturbed. You can spend the afternoon completely alone wandering around what’s called the North Forty. Eventually you would end up at the Bay:

Where you can apparently kayak. Next to this bit is a Remote Control Airfield area, which apparently has a devoted community:

Spring migration is beginning; the Bay is right on the Atlantic Flyway, and I’m looking forward to going back over the next several weeks. More soon.

The Irish Riviera

Category : pamphlets
The Irish Riviera

If you take the 2 train from the stop near my home all the way to the end of the line, to Brooklyn College, you can find the Q35 bus. That bus will take you all the way down Flatbush Avenue, through Flatlands and Marine Park, parts of Brooklyn not served by the subway system. At the end of Flatbush Avenue you find Floyd Bennett Field, the city’s first municipal airport, the pet project of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Continue on Flatbush and you find a bridge, the Marine Parkway Bridge, home to Peregrine Falcons and the link to the Rockaway Peninsula. Right after the bridge there’s a random stop in the road next to an overpass where you can get off and start walking to the water. This sign helps show the way:

To your right is Fort Tilden, an abandoned military installation, and beyond that Breezy Point, the Irish Riviera, the private community of cops and firefighters that burned in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In front of you is Jacob Riis Park, the People’s Beach, one of the many public parks built in the middle of the twentieth century by Robert Moses. Beyond that is the Atlantic. It is a quiet place to watch the tide come in.

The body of water you just crossed is called the Rockaway Inlet, and it separates the Rockaway Peninsula from the mainland of Brooklyn. The Inlet connects the waters of Jamaica Bay, in the east, to the Atlantic Ocean.

Jamaica Bay is a marshy saltwater estuary that is home to numerous birds, fisherman, public employees, two airports (one closed, one still operating), horseshoe crabs, sewage treatment plants, coyotes, endangered turtles, and many others. It is one of the more isolated corners of New York City, and it is going to be the subject of three pamphlets this year, generously funded in part by the Brooklyn Arts Council. I’ll be looking at the history, the infrastructure, the communities and the ecology of the Bay, and I’m hoping to host a few events in the area as well. I’ll be updating myself and you on my progress here, hopefully semi-regularly. Wish me luck and watch this space.

CODEX 2017

Category : book arts events
CODEX 2017

A few weeks ago I was thrilled to be able to participate in this year’s CODEX Book Fair out in the Bay Area of CA. I had been to the fair before as a rep for the Center for Book Arts, but this was the first time I had my own table. I had a FANTASTIC time.

Saw so much great work!. This one is a beautiful book in a can called Beans by Ian Huebert. His press Engine and Well does a lot of relief prints and (wordless) visual narrative out of the Iowa Center for the Book at present. 

This is work by Imi Maufe; she is one of the subscribers to my pamphlet series that I was able to meet in person for the first time. Another bonus! Her work here is all about travel, great stuff. She had a collaborative project (up there in the upper left hand corner) from 18 different artists on the theme of voyage; that project can be seen here.

She shared a table with her collaborator Megan Adie, who made this book, Recto/Verso, which is much lovelier in person than my crappy photo can show you:

Many familiar faces were there, but I was mostly concentrating on seeing new work from new people I hadn’t seen before. Here’s some work by Amy Borezo, a new book called Kingdom of Earth. She’s used original paste papers throughout the edition and they’re lovely- fresh and contemporary, abstract and rigorous. Have you ever seen rigorous paste papers? I think that’s the word I’d like to use for these. A good use of the medium.

This is work by Nicole Pietrantoni, who does editions that can expand into installations. They’re all archival ink jet prints but the colors are all strong and saturated, really well done.

Then there’s this  gloriously pink book by Jennaway Pearson, who made this silkscreen edition about Tonya Harding.

Jennaway was sharing a table with Elizabeth Curren, another subscriber I got to meet in person for the first time! This is all a tiny tiny fraction of everything I saw, and what I saw was just a fraction of what was there. Codex happens every two years; if you are in the Bay Area in February of 2019 I strongly recommend that you go.

Since it was February, there was of course a snowstorm in NYC the day I was supposed to go back and my flight was cancelled. So I had a bit of enforced vacation for a day or two, which turned out to be lovely once I got my flight worked out. Steve the cat kept me company at my friend Asuka’s house:

And I got the chance to visit the American Bookbinder’s Museum. They had this rad ruling machine, for painting the lines on ruled paper:

And I got to see a Smyth Sewing machine in action:

Smyth sewing machine #bookbinding @american_bookbinders

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So that’s ok then. I’m going to leave you with this:


Glasshouse is here.

Glasshouse is here.

The second project I spent most of the fall working on is a new book project: Glasshouse. It is a limited edition artist book that looks at the history of greenhouses, a technology made to cultivate foreign plants in a controlled environment, originally in service to empire. How did we build structures to contain trees meant to grow elsewhere? What is it like to sail off the edge of what you know? What does economic botany mean?

I spent a lot of the spring taking photos of exotic plants in greenhouses and reading about botanical history. I learned a lot about why botanical gardens exist, which is something I don’t really think we think about when we enter one. Today, botanical gardens do a lot of important conservation science and research into how plants are used and have been used by various people throughout the world.

But when they began, it was a bit different. Botanical gardens were used as a research facility for European imperial governments. Their roots were in medieval medical gardens, where the students would learn about botanical remedies and their uses. As Europeans began sailing around the world, gathering plants and gold and various other things from other countries they suddenly realized existed, they brought seeds and seedlings of foreign plants back and tried to grow them in Europe. Elites had already developed the technology to build heated enclosures to grow oranges and citrus fruit trees from the Mediterranean; these buildings were used to house these new kinds of exotic plants, which often weren’t happy to be in the colder climate of Northern Europe.

As European nations competed for power and resources through exploitation of the rest of the world, one element they considered was, What kinds of plants are there out there and how can we use them? Colonialism and botanical gardens had a tight relationship that I don’t think that is obvious when you are casually walking through and enjoying a room of orchids. A glass room in London filled with tropical plants is sort of a perfect image of colonialism if you think about it.

I wanted the book to be like walking through a garden; visually engaging, with the text as a caption to the plants, but one that makes the narrative and the context of these plants clear.


There are some waxed pages in there for the transparency.

And the second section of the book is specifically focused on the specific kinds of plants that I’m talking about and how they were transformed into commodities.

I’m pretty happy with how it looks. I’m going to the 2017 Codex Book Fair in California next weekend, Feb 5-8. You can see the book in person there if you happen to be there, otherwise I’ll also be at the Manhattan Fine Press Book Fair in NYC in March. So there’s that. Copies will be available in February; I’m furiously making boxes this week.

The World Turned Upside Down

Category : pamphlets
The World Turned Upside Down


I promised to write something here about those two projects that kept me frantically busy through the fall. This is image side of the Fall Informational Pamphlet for 2016, The World Turned Upside Down. 


This one was originally going to be about GMO’s, and why/whether they are/are not evil, to fit into the gardening theme I’ve got going on this year. But then, you know, the World Turned Upside Down.


This one came together very quickly, partly out of rage, partly out of adrenaline from having to produce everything so quickly. Not how I would ideally do things, but the place I print at was scheduled to close for renovations, and well, things. There’s a few more typos than I would like as a result.


I like the color scheme the best, I love that purple. This is how I would describe the contents: The third pamphlet of 2016 addressed truth, fiction, the sound of type in your head, and the history of pamphleteering itself. Is the end nigh? How can one identify a witch? What is globalism? These questions are posed, but probably not answered. 

The starting point is a seventeenth century pamphlet called The World Turn’d Upside Down, produced during the English Civil War. That was the inspiration for the illustrations too. I’m pretty happy with them.


Individual copies are available here and here for $20. And if you’re in the mood, it’s time to start thinking about 2017; I’m planning to do a series on Jamaica Bay in NYC, and am thinking about infrastructure, urban nature preserves, and vulnerable costal communities. Subscriptions for next year are available here and here.

Happiest of New Years to you.

My arms are tired

Category : art, book
My arms are tired

Hi Mom,

You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged in several months. I know! For a variety of reasons, I had to print an entire book and a pamphlet in the space of three months. I know, that’s a lot! A mad dash for three. whole. months, with no time to breathe, or cook, or clean, or certainly blog. This is a photo of the last run I printed last night:


I’ll post more soon about both editions. On to binding. See you at Christmas.


Category : pamphlets, travel


So last month I went to Chicago to print Tell the Bees, the summer Brain Washing from Phone Towers pamphlet. What a great time! It had been a few years since I visited, and I’m glad I went.

tell the bees
Printing went really smoothly; the studios at the Chicago Center for Book, Paper, and Print are fantastic. Great collections of wood type and stellar equipment, and plenty of light. Thanks to David Jones for being a great host.

Here’s some process shots of the book in progress:

Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset



When not printing furiously, I got to experience all that Chicago had to offer. Such as, excellent signs:


MA Donague

I enjoyed a local variation of a hot dog at a joint covered from head to toe with dogs of all sizes:


There was a TV in the corner that played a looped video of dog-related trivia, with more dog photos.

Speaking of dogs, there was this to greet me every morning in the gallery at the studio:

more dogs

Meow. I went to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where everything I saw was great, including an AMAZING Kerry James Marshall show, which you should definitely go see if you’re in town. Also sat through this video twice from The Propellar Group, because it was beautiful.


And then of course there was the pure joy of a Smiths karaoke in Columbia video. WHY DOESN’T ALL CONTEMPORARY ART MAKE ME LAUGH. #smithsfanforlife.

Now I’m back in the sweltering heat of NYC summer, putting the pamphlets together. I aim to have them done by the end of the month, out to you soon afterwards, dear reader. Watch this space for updates.



Landscape art under glass

Category : inspiration
Landscape art under glass


I’m in Chicago right now, as the summer artist in residence at the Chicago Center for Book, Paper, and Print. I’m working on the summer Brain Washing from Phone Towers pamphlet, Tell the Bees. It’s going well, I’m happy with it. More about that soon.

Right now I want to talk about the Garfield Park Conservatory, a local greenhouse and public garden located on the west side of Chicago. I went and visited on Sunday:


In the 19th century all three of the parks on the West side had their own greenhouse; in the twentieth century the three collections were consolidated into one at Garfield Park, under the direction of Jens Jensen the chief landscape architect, who then designed and implemented what he described as a series of naturalistic landscape scenes under glass. This was a new idea the time, when most greenhouses housed a jumble of individual plants lacking an overall design or story.


Jenson was identified with something called the Prairie School of landscape architecture, which highlighted native midwest plants and materials, and encouraged a sense of wandering through a natural setting. The room that made me want to look him up was this one:

fern room

The fern room, which he designed in 1906, was designed to give visitors a glimpse of what Illinois might have looked like millions of years ago. Jensen designed the lagoon and the lush ferns to evoke a swampy, prehistoric version of Chicago. Originally called the Aquatic Room, it was designed  to give visitors a glimpse of the types of plants growing in Illinois during a much earlier and much warmer geologic time.  Perhaps the room offers a glimpse of the future as well.


Make it big.

Make it big.


I spent most of the last month or so carving an enormous piece of wood that had taken up residence in my living room.


Finally finished in time. Guttenberg Arts, the generous hosts that gave me a residency this past winter, hold an arts festival in nearby Braddock Park, with demos, vendors, steamroller prints and more.


I did a spoon printing demo of some of the enormous blocks in the park with my co-horts Beth Sheehan, Amanda Thackray and Ana Cordeiro.


We had to fight some serious wind gusts but we recruited some help to make it happen.

Spoon printing #woodcuts

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I finally got to see my block printed!

finished print

Both by hand and by machine.


And Ana found a friend along the way, who cheered us on: