Written by Tier Morrow
I stared from one coaster to the other, silently noting each flaw, each attribute. Looking at them side by side, the pieces were not perfectly straight and aligned like the design was meant to be. Each type piece and cut was supposed to cover its own space, stay away from mingling with the others.
On one postcard, multiple letters overlapped the image, but on another, the bottom of an “e” was the only encounter between the text and the cut. I loved that you could tell my hands had touched it rather than a cold, metal machine. I loved the disorder of ink across the page. I despised their chaos but loved their individuality. They were beautiful.
But my thoughts confused me. I could not understand where they had come from. Never in a million years would I say something off-centered and lopsided appeared beautiful.
Anyone who knows me, would have stopped me and asked me to repeat myself because saying “I love” and “disorder” in the same sentence would be a recordable moment. Half the time, I convince myself that my middle name is Order. Everything in my world has a labeled position where it belongs.
For instance, when I make a dinner plate, I don’t mix everything together in a bowl or stack it on a plate. I carefully take the time to arrange everything in a separate section so that no food touches another.
Or when I hang up clothes after doing laundry, I cannot just throw a shirt on a hanger and slap it on the rack, even though sometimes I wish I could. Instead I evaluate the color and the sleeves, so when I open my closet door, everything is arranged from long-sleeve to short-sleeve forming a rainbow from black to red.
My mind sees the world in parallel lines that never intersect. There is a giant book shelf built in my head with thousands of small cubby holes that each hold a new topic or a new idea. I cannot color outside the lines or “wing” an assignment.
When I signed up for this immersive-learning program, a Ball State University class called Book Arts Collaborative that partners with Tribune Showprint, I thought I would fit in well since I am a freshman double English and journalism major conscientious of all detail. I knew that books are made with perfection, and in order to keep 100-year-old presses in working condition, you need a keen eye to keep them clean and oiled. Yet I was hit with an awakening that reminded me of the push and pull in life: Perfection is a goal people strive for but is never actually obtained.
As I dabbled ink across the press disk, I was strict with my technique, making sure not to over-ink it. I carefully set my postcard markers that would align each one in the same spot. Each time I made a subtle adjustment, I made a new test on a sheet of newsprint and continued the process until I was satisfied.
Spinning the operating wheel, I watched as the press clamped the postcard onto the chase and waited for the return. I expected the metallic brand to be exactly where I wanted it, but instead it was crooked.
Witnessing my hard work not paying off, I had to stop printing. But I was not angry. I did not have the feeling of failure as I would have if I got a B- on an important test or missed an article deadline, and I was boggled. It was my moment of understanding that there are exceptions to my madness.
If everything in life were perfect, nothing would be unique. Each card, each poster, each book becomes more valuable when you can tell it was handmade; they are unique because someone had the creativity and invested the time to craft their vision. No artist is the same as any other, and the pieces they form bear some small symbol of them.
As a journalism major, the basics say that a news article should tell the facts without the fluff in between. Creative word choices and unnecessary descriptions have no place in the inverted pyramid. I leave my mark in the journalism world through my byline. But the products I make here at Book Arts are not news articles, they are keepsakes that the public can adore. They are meant to bear my creative mark -sometimes my literal fingerprint- because someone will come along and understand the piece the same way I did.
I have printed many postcards, coasters and cards since my first encounter with imperfection. I have found flaws in my designs and re-planned to create a better product, but I have never tossed something aside because it was not identical to another.
I am imperfectly crafted. I am growing my knowledge through schooling, and I still continue my orderly habits, but my black and white ideas have started to mingle and intertwine with whimsical creativity, forming new patterns that are shaping me into me.
This piece was written by a Ball State University student and member of the Book Arts Collaborative in Muncie, Indiana. The Book Arts Collaborative is dedicated to preserving and promoting the apprentice-taught skills of letterpress printing and book binding through community interaction. It’s not just what we make that matters, but how we learn from one another to make it happen.