say cheese

by Art Chantry (

THERE used to a small book store in seattle in the late 80′s/early 90′s called “art in form”. it was a book shop that specialized in “art books’. they had the usual collections of fancy but obscure and obtuse coffee-table size art books and magazines and catalogs (but kept to a minimum). primarily, they specialized in books about and by thinkers and DO-ERS of art. they also included records by artists and (especially) books made BY artists.

this was a sort of special category that i really liked. i used to drop in there and find all sorts of amazing objects that were “sort of” books that artists created with their own two hands. the objects they made sometimes barely managed to fit the category of “book” and instead were just things that looked like books or may have started off as books or were just wholly created “art”contained in book form. there were really weird and wonderful items to be found.

AC:all these years i just assumed it meant 'cheese'. turns out it's a slightly more sophisticated take on the idea. i guess this makes this little piece more of a comment on fine art than on dairy products, eh?

this little item i post this morning is a book i found there. it’s a small saddle-stitched booklet, about twenty pages including a heavy cover. it measures about 4″x7″ in it’s finished folded format.

the title is “casein” (i believe it’s french for “cheese”). there are big and small holes drilled through the finished booklet to make the whole thing literally look like a cartoon image of what swiss cheese looks like. the holes manage to be placed carefully enough to avoid piercing the text inside, which compiles comments and facts about cheese (even a marcel duchamp quote). the little booklet is by david stairs and is copyrighted 1992. it’s wonderful.

the idea of using a printer’s drill as a metaphor/joke like this is one that i’ve used occasionally off an on for decades. i’ve drilled magazines, business cards, letterheads, envelopes, books, record covers, posters, you name it. it’s a wonderful trick, but it’s used here with such success and perfect adaptation, that after i bought this thing, i sort of had to stop. how do you top this?

for those of you who have no idea what a printer’s drill is, it’s fairly standard equipment at small print shops (at least they used top be before small print shops went away and became copy centers). it was how printer’s managed to pop those holes into three-ring binder sheets. every wonder how they do that? it’s not a die-cut (a much more elaborate and expensive process) it’s as simple as a machine shop.

basically, a printer’s drill is a small drill press. it has rigging and jigs to adjust the table top to fit a stack of paper exactly where to you want the hole to go. it utilizes a specialize d drill bit and will drill cleanly and precisely through an entire ream of paper an one simple pass. that’s all it is – a drill press.

the bit is a marvel of engineering, solving every problem you’d encounter in such a task. imagine a steel tube (like a plumbing pipe). it’s as small as 1/8″ in diameter or as big as 1″ (a set has about ten different bits and they’re fairly expensive.) the tube is simply sharpened on the drilling end (the other end is welded into a thicker ‘holder’ to fit into the drill’s chuck without crushing.

the really brilliant part of the bit is that it’s sharpened on the INSIDE EDGE of the tube (not the outside edge). that way, the damaged edge is on the inside of the hole rather than on the outside edge of the hole. that way it makes a super clean undamaged piercing. all the chad (the little disks of paper that comes from the hole) simply slips up inside the tube and falls out the other end. the biggest problem with using these things is that the chad falls ont

e desk top surface and you have a big mess to clean up after every pass of the drill. i think that’s why printer’s charge so much for it – all that clean up. all those little disks of paper get everywhere.

david stairs (the guy who did this little book) must have drilled these things with his own hands. there are too many drill bit switcheroos involved and too many carefully placed holes (had to avoid all those quotes inside) to have been worth while for an actual professional printer to bother with. no way he could make any money without charging a sweet fortune in time and clean up.

i assume david managed to talk a printer into letting him do it on his own using the equipment in the printer’s shop. it’s the only way you could ever afford to make something like this, especially in such a small “art book” type of edition. it’s a common way – the DIY technique- to get things done. many many times over the years, i’ve had to step into a print shop and simply do it by myself. i’ve set my own lead type, built my own layouts, drilled my own holes, perf’ed my perforations, die cut my own dies,trimmed my own special trim, etc. etc. etc.

i HIGHLY encourage all you designer geeks out there to actually learn how a print shop (and it’s equipment) works. it’s the only way you can afford to do all this cool stuff. you’d be really stunned how many of the record covers and posters and stationary (and even corporate brochures and commercial magazines) i designed over the years has my OWN hand-work in them. doing things with your two hands is WAY cheaper than hiring a pro. and the time-consuming aspects are a myth. it’s amazing how fast you can get this stuff done by yourself.

if you don’t know printing, you don’t know anything about design. it’s our canvass and brush and pigment. designing for print reproduction is without knowing how print reproduction actually works is like calling yourself an architect without ever having pounded a nail.

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