I began work on the design for The River Merchant’s Wife on Friday night. I decided to use the Optima typeface because its simple elegance is reminiscent of Asian design, and I felt it would be a good complement to Papyrus, which I was planning to use for the original Li Po poem. I worked off a simple grid, trying to accent the vertical axis where possible, since that is the format for Chinese characters. Li Po goes by a number of different names but I clearly needed to be consistent, and I went with this version of his name, since it was the one most often associated with Ezra Pound’s free translation. My idea of spreading the poem over three recto pages worked out as I had hoped, and on the verso pages I placed Chinese characters from the original poem. I gave them a uniformity of size and a simple, black border. The design of the half-title, title, copyright and colophon pages came together as I had envisioned they would. This all took about an hour and a half.
On Saturday I tackled the daunting (to me) task of trying to work out how to do the printing so that the pages I had designed in numerical order on InDesign would follow sequentially when I printed them out and sewed them into a signature. I was also exercised in my mind about how to print on both sides of the paper. It boggled my mind a bit, but, with a fair amount of trial and error using Xerox paper, I sorted out the Print Booklet function, centering the print job horizontally, so that I could flip the pages as they came off my printer and print on the other side. (I still haven’t worked out how I will approach it for multiple copies of the book. That’s a problem for another day.) This took about two hours.
On Sunday morning, I started on the design of the original Li Po poem for the second half of the dos-a-dos book. Working from a template of the design for the Ezra Pound translation, I set up the original poem to spread over three recto pages, and used the same Chinese graphics on the verso pages for continuity. I decided to arrange the words in horizontal columns to emulate Chinese script (that took some doing!) and, as I said earlier, I used the Papyrus typeface. Because Li Po’s poem is in the public domain, I had to work out how the copyright page would reflect that. I am only including a colophon page for the Ezra Pound booklet, so I used an extra Chinese graphic as a kind of visual “period” to the Li Po poem. This all took about an hour and a half. I had actually expected the the Li Po design to go more quickly, since I was working from a template from the Ezra Pound poem, and all told the design took a bit longer than I had anticipated.
On Sunday afternoon, I started putting it all together. I decided to use antique laid paper instead of papyrus as I had originally planned, because I fell in love with the texture, and I thought it would be a good fit for this project. I printed out the two booklets and cut the pages down to size. I cut the long, three-fold cover and the two end covers from cover stock, and then I sewed the two signatures into the three-fold cover. A new development was that I was excited to discover a graphic online of a segment of the original poem by Li Po, so I Photoshopped that, printed it out and glued it to the end covers. I was pleased with the way the texture suggested something from the 8th century. I then glued the two covers to the ends of the three-fold cover. I printed out copies of the two title pages, trimmed them so they had a rough, deckle edge, and attached these titles to the two end covers. This assembly took about two hours, so the time I allotted for that was fairly accurate.
I envision the protagonist of the poem to be small, slender and delicate, and I wanted to try to make a book that reflects that. I feel as if I am more or less on the right track.