[email protected] Curtan



hello everyone thank you so much for coming this talk is part of the author's at Google series we have a couple other talks going on this week they're both actually tomorrow we have Gail solet talking about communication and positive limit setting with young children and we have a conversation with Nolan Bushnell tomorrow you can learn more about these at go / at Google but today we have Patricia curtain and we're proud to present her Patricia is an artist designer and printmaker she has a long association with Japanese restaurant in Berkeley as a cook a cookbook co-author designer and illustrator she's designed and printed letterpress and linoleum block special occasion menus for Chez Panisse for several decades the menus have been collected in her recently published book menus for Chez Panisse which will be on sale in the back for fifteen dollars in addition to cookbooks and specialty printing Patricia has designed images and typography for logo identity identity wine labels product packaging calendars note cards book covers and tattoos please join me in welcoming Patricia curtain hello thank you for inviting me it's really exciting to be at Google I came to talk to you about my book and before I get into exactly showing you all these things I want to tell you a little bit about my background and relationship to Chez Panisse how this came about I actually started working at Chez Panisse the first year was opened in 1971 which is 40 years ago the restaurant just celebrated its 40th anniversary and at the time I was an intern at the print shop of poster artist David slam Lance coins in berkeley and that's how i came to know the people alice and the people at Chez Panisse and ended up working there in the dining room and so for a time I worked in the daytime at the print shop and in the evenings at the restaurant and then I got very sort of swept up and very interested in all that was going on at the restaurant and the incredible food and the energy there and what was going on and I sort of started spending less time at the print shop and mornings than in the pastry kitchen and the other kitchens and eventually ended up spending most of my time in the kitchen and cooking which is a great wonderful adventure and after a time I ended up then starting a family and we wanted to change that and so I stopped cooking and about that time Alice started getting contracts to doing cookbooks and we worked on the first one and then I just sort of flipped over from cooking and went back to printing and design and cookbooks and but still working with Chez Panisse and still working with Alice and the Sol's still about the same thing which is really about the beauty of food and but now I work mostly in two dimensions printing and designing and making images so this this book here's the dining room at Chez Panisse about 5 30 before it dinner begins it's a little small place it's very intimate and these menus that are collected here were made for primarily the downstairs dining room for special occasions such as birthdays I'm going to come back to these images but birthdays anniversaries there's an annual Bastille Day dinner there's new years eve celebrations and the book is organized chronologically so the menu start actually in 1972 and alongside the menus are short texts that tell sort of different stories about maybe the event or the person it was made for or some visiting luminary or some other occasion and before we get into really really showing you those menus I want to tell you a little bit about the process of how they're made they're letterpress menus and I have a beautiful old cast-iron letterpress it's called a Chandler & price C and P and it is a it's has a clamshell action that sort of open closes like this and the paper is fed into the press by hand it sits on the area called the platen that's a flat area of metal and that's the part that closes and meets with the block or the type or whatever's being printed you can see the block there vertically and it's a one color press prints one color of ink at a time that's the ink plate and the rollers are spreading the ink on the ink plate and the ink plate slowly turns with each cycle of the present to distribute that in evenly and then it comes down and it rolls over the surface of the blog and the press closes that prints and paper comes out and a new paper comes in and it was built and this press is about 120 years old still a solid as the day it was made it was mainly built to print type metal type and set and this is a sample of a little bit of typesetting and that's a process that is pretty much outdated now purists still do it but it's it's putting the type together letter by letter space by space space between the lines very very laborious and handmade but recently last 20 years or so the advent of polymer plate technology has really regenerated and revitalized letterpress printing and that is still the same principle of relief printing printing from a raised surface like type but this material is a thin layer of metal and on that is another layer of polymer material that has a photo ground coating on the top and to to make the plate digital typesetting or some other form of image that can be output as a negative the negative and the polymer plate are sandwiched together it's exposed to light and where the light hits the photo ground on the polymer surface it hardens and then the polymer plate is washed in warm water it's a great thing because there's no toxic photo chemicals it's a pretty benign process and then the the software polymer material just rinses away and you're left with that relief surface so it's it's a very wonderful easy technology that means you don't have to set type and put the type all back in the box and so it then locks up in the press it sits on a magnetic base so that thin layer of metal on the back sits on a magnetic base and then those two things together the base and them and the plate equal a measurement that is type high which is the universal height of type metal type and so that means anything you can make a plate out of you can lock it up in the press and print from it so a lot of small letterpress shops have come up because you don't have to have all the equipment and all the type and all of that you just need to press and access to a plate maker and it's done something pretty wonderful but how I make images primarily is linoleum block and similar to the polymer material linoleum block is matt is a thin layer linoleum mounted on wood and it's approximate type hi I usually have to build up the back of it and linoleum is a natural material this kind is called battleship linoleum it's made out of powdered cork and linseed oil it was developed by the military just before World War 2 2 as flooring for their battleships and submarines and which units per view impervious to water and it's soft enough to stand on so your legs don't get tired and and it has a sort of a little porous surface it's not flat like metal or polymer and so when it's printed it has a sort of stipple texture that I find really beautiful and you can you can really identify linoleum from that look once you know what it is and the process of making them the prints the the blocks themselves is I start with a drawing and then pretty simple drawing like this as you can see and then you have to use a drafting paper turn it over and trace it on the back when you're working in printing after work in reverse and then I put a sort of graphite crayon on the back and tape that on to the block and then trace the through the drawing onto the block and that leaves something that looks like a pencil line on the block and I do that for one block for each color in the print because the press prints one color at a time and so if the image has four colors then there are four blocks and then once that drawing has been transferred to the linoleum then it's cut and carved and that's a that's a process of removing all the negative space in the print so as you can see with this leaf the block on the bottom you can see that the lines of the gouges where the linoleum has been removed so that only that part that I want to print is there here's an example of this violent image the image is made from four blocks and the first one on the on the left is the dark green leaves of the image so that was printed first and then the second block is the area under the leaves just a solid and that's a lighter green so that's coming through the lines that are cut in the first image the veins and inside the stalks there the third one is another line image of the sort of outline and interior lines of the violets and then the last one is the tint the purple tint color of the violets so those are printed one at a time B there's also a little bit of an orange that you'll see on the image that is the center of the flowers that i just added by watercolor it's a little hard to cut those tiny little spaces and get them in the right place so that's that's the basic process here's here's the finished menu that that was made for a New Year's Eve menu so usually when I'm making these menus that have textile print the image first and the last thing that happens is the type is added at the end separate run so as I say these the organization of the book is the menus are phonological and the first ones that I made early on were really typographical I didn't know how to do this linoleum work at that time so I was setting these by hand metal type and using little type ornaments and that sort of thing and another another aspect it's sort of fun about this book is reading what's actually on the menus there it's kind of a snapshot of the history of chez panisse as well and really what was being served when and in this case for how much is pretty pretty astonishing homemade pastries for 75 cents Lindsay sheer who was the pastry chef the starting pastry chef at the restaurant made fantastic fantastic desserts and you could just go in and get wonderful little cappuccino and or a cup of coffee and and a slice of her almond tart k one dollar it's pretty amazing when that when the restaurant first opened with their four-course meal and they just became famous I don't know if you know about chicken ease but they became famous for serving one prix fixe dinner menu a night so it was either for or sometimes I'm weekends would be five courses but when they first started it was four dollars and fifty cents for a four-course dinner in 1971 of course they were losing a lot of money so after about six months I think it went up to 650 years so 6 25 or something like that but now it's far from that so I didn't really start making too many menus until after I stopped cooking i would i would dabble in it a little bit and i did acquire press during that time but i didn't really have time i was too busy in the kitchen but then afterwards when i started working on the book since i wanted to print more and i wanted to add images to the type and so I decided I maybe I would try to learn to do this linoleum work so this is one of the first blocks I cut a single color and it's really pretty simple but I I was thrilled by and I thought maybe I can do this you know and the other way that I was making menus at the time at the beach was in collaboration with my husband Stephen Thomas who is a printmaker and Prince etchings and italia printer and so we would collaborate and I would do a drawing on a copper plate that he would itch or something else and then combine it with type and so these are itching and when we were doing these because it's a really time consuming process printing etchings it was usually just a small number four maybe that particular party one table of four or six or eight or something very small number this menu on the on the left the menu for the potato king was for a friend of ours who had a absolute obsession with potatoes and he always wanted potatoes with every meal it just wasn't a meal unless there was it some kind of potato dish so for his birthday we made him a menu that had potatoes with every course and put together quickly this is this little menu in a couple of days and Stephen printed it the other is a was for a dinner for James Beard who didn't often come to the restaurant but he came this one spring and it was the time we were just harvesting green garlic the young garlic that you only get right in the spring and at the time that was really a new thing now you see it in all the farmers markets but that was kind of a big deal to have this young green garlic so that that's what decorated the menu and Stephen and I did a number of New Year's menus together brew a few years in a row and and we we like to focus on a celestial theme and started the big picture and took some inspiration from some photographs NASA photographs that were coming back of the Earth from space for this one there's another a chain some mezzotint actually and this was an astronomical occurrence of a blue moon of the second full moon within one calendar month and it was that night of the New Year's Eve dinner so we couldn't resist that but then I started working on this linoleum thing and tried to get better at it doing getting a little more ambitious and the images start out very simple these are sort of just shapes with a little line work in them and often the imagery that I would do is you know I I was working at the limitations of what I could manage so they had to be simple but sometimes they were inspired by literally something on the menu that was an ingredient or something being served or oftentimes it would be something that represented the season or the time or the moment that's that's this one's kind of both and here's another sample of a kind of menu i would do sometimes and often times we there's somebody special was coming in there was two days notice that Elizabeth David or Richard only or julia child or someone was coming and Alice really wanted a special menu so in those cases I would do something very fast just set the set the text in type and print that and then do hand decoration a little drawing end in this case of watercolor filling in for for just that small group of people that table of four that table of six this was a special lunch for Richard only again he's he's no longer with us but he was very influential cookbook writer an American an expat who lived in France for most of his life and wrote about French food I wrote for an American audience really he wrote about the cuisine de bonne femme which is just the ordinary wonderful household cooking of French French homemakers and and and he elevated that and really broke it down really fantastic fantastic books so here this this was an important breakthrough for me this particular menu because the imagery is really simple but I drew it I drew it from life hadn't been doing that and i got these leaves and i wanted to somehow get this color and so i drew the leaves and figured out this competition and then I had this kind of light bulb go off that well maybe on my press that has this ink plate that turns around and spreads the ink maybe I could disconnect that I just connected the device that turned the ink plate and then mix different colors and just spread them spread them on the eat-in plate by hand and then just let the rollers blend them a little bit so that if you picture this menu turned on its side so that the block is 90 degrees you can see stripes of color red yellow orange and then Morial and and so with one pass through the press all these different colors on the ink plate it was like wow this could work and it and it's a little rough you can see where those limes are there and they're not blending perfectly but it was it was really an exciting moment and I and I thought this this could this could really lead to something I could play with this so then I decided you know I really I need I need to get better at this drawing thing and I was I've always been very influenced both typographically and with images and visually by older books and I really really loved old botanicals and herbals this is an image from John Gerard's herbal printed in 1633 which was the height of a scientific texts at the time of identifying plants and what their properties were a huge big book and these are woodcuts so single color cut from wood same process of linoleum only would instead of linoleum so I used to you know pour over these and look at these and think we will try and try and figure out how to do it maybe I could do something like that or I would do very simplified versions of them and so I started trying to do that sort of thing on this like the garlic a bunch of garlic here which again was I was starting to draw from life because that's what I wanted to see on the menus I couldn't you know find something directly to sort of emulator copy so i was trying to use the style but trying to do that and like this you can see the direct influence of those herbal woodcuts but I was I want it also to add color to them so then I would do the line work in black and then cut a block and add the screen to get a tent the purple in that turnip is a little hand work that was put on with watercolor the other the other source of imagery that I really really loved were is what Japanese woodblock prints and that whole tradition this print was made by boo tomorrow in a book called song of the garden that combined his images with the text of Japanese poets very popular book at the time and it was printed in 1788 and I loved the composition of these are so lyrical and beautiful we're in the combination of the text with the image and the space in there and I was also looking at like these leaves which had the line and the color and so graceful and trying to think how can I sort of incorporate that too so I started emulating that and here's an image made about that time is this was actually a card that folded in the middle so it had a front in the back but really conceived of as one image in that Japanese woodblock style here's another very simple but for me kind of markers at the time because I was breaking these into different colors and being able to put them together and without that without necessarily the black line but composing the image of these separate blocks just with color and then using the space like the beautiful spaces in those Japanese prints and this is not anything literal about the menu this is flowering quince but again it's about the season about just a moment here's where we are right now another amaj to Japan with the with a fade at the top one of the things that has always been very interesting in the studio and satisfying is to keep pushing the limits of the medium and keep pushing the limits of the press itself what what can I do on this particular machine with these particular materials and how one discovery leads to another and the impetus to try something new so I've been making some of these special menus for the downstairs restaurant and Alice really wanted to have something every night in there which was very difficult to accomplish especially with the changing menu every night so and then it was always right until the last hour really that that menu was getting determined so I worked at a system where using an eight and a half by eleven sheet I could print on one half of it and then they could set the menu for the for the evenings dinner you know on the computer output that and then put these in the copy machine and photocopy that onto the interior and then fold it and then there would be this combination of up-to-date menu but something pretty and printed so I started making these as seasonal imagery and printed them for about a year and a half or so you know like two or three thousand at a go but which was just not sustainable at all so eventually I designed something that could be printed offset and they could print multiple thousands and that would do for a while nowadays they they still use that same system they repre- cookbooks of fruit and vegetable illustrations so about the time about the time this menu was made I was working on a book called chez panisse vegetables where I really this is where the sort of drawing really had to get better and my task was to very specifically draw certain vegetables 50 different ones made prints of these and so I really started drawing from life going to the gardener bringing material into the into my studio and I didn't have to that was so consuming I couldn't really spend too much time making a menu so some of the images I made for that I incorporated and just sit all right I can do a menu if you it's got this on it but these are images that were made for that book actually but I found that just by doing it more and doing it more and doing it more I did get better at it here's here's another example of that split fountain so called technique of the multiple colors in one pass on the ink plate with the leaves of this image these are these two were fur then first lady hillary clinton and trying not to be intimidated by the first lady i went you know this absolute opposite way I made something very very simple the one on the left was a lunch and they were trying to serve as as many gather as many ingredients as they could from the Edible Schoolyard in berkeley to impress upon the first lady that the beautiful food that could come up from these school garden probe projects this is a New Year's Eve menu those are always celebrated in a some kind of galloway at the restaurant and extra effort was put into those menus that the menus for that event and and others too they're really souvenirs and people take them home and it's it's a way to remember something as fleeting as you know a wonderful dinner it's it's quite a reminder in the experience of being there at the restaurant here's some more Japanese influence of space and text and image combination these they're white dog woods Carrie Carrie Glenn was the florist at the restaurant for decades and she was very very extraordinary woman she made these amazing floral arrangements and this was her goodbye party dinner with mikhail baryshnikov here here again is that use of that multiple color technique and this time instead of one block it's three blocks so you can it then then it becomes even more interesting where you can put them right next to each other and you'll see in some areas where the leaves overlap there's a there's a little line well that's the double ink of that that instead of cutting a line like a drawn line it's just where they over print they they make their own line and it helps to separate one leaf from another it's kind of a nice way of subtly doing that this was a dinner for His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales who visited the Bay Area and he's very involved in in Britain in the organic food movement there and schools and school gardens and organic farming in general and in England is pretty great and so when he came to the united states to visit he wanted to come to the bay area because there's such a great movement here and he wanted to visit the Edible Schoolyard which they did it's very exciting and then there was this big dinner for both of them this is direct influence from Japanese burden flower prints this was made for the wedding of a very close friend he and his partner were married just before proposition 8 passed on the ballot so they were legally married in California and the two birds on the on the branch there red-winged blackbirds and the Blackbirds the only the male's have color on their wings the females you know are just all one color so on this branch are two male birds and here's another wedding this this one has a quite a bit of little detail with rosemary flowers and that this is a combination of printing and then I went in and filled in the color and the little tiny detail of those flowers by hand so this is really quite enjoyable to do that kind of handwork actually and it's you can do things that are otherwise too subtle to do them on the press another wedding menu that Japanese did on a dinner on on an island the wedding was on the beach so I want to somehow to get sand on the on the menu itself and through some trial and error I figured out that if I put some vermiculite in a little cuisinart and broke it up and then put that on the wet ink when it came out of the press it would stick to the ink and it and it actually made something looks very much like sand and that is the summary so thank you I'd be happy to answer any questions if you have any talk about that what was the main influence of your choice of that particular press and mechanism was it its availability or did you seek it out well that's actually the the press I first learned to print on when i was in Davy Jones's shop someone he prints on an offset press but someone had given him this press and I was one of a couple of students of his and so an older friend of his journeyman printer came and taught us how to operate this press and how to print and I just fell in love with it and I've operated a few other presses but I really loved that one and it's I love the size of it and the simplicity of it these presses are like you know vintage cars where you can open the hood and you can still see how the whole thing works you know it's sort of the opposite of a computer but it has it has a very graceful wonderful mechanism that kind of fits the body it's not it's not a huge big thing but it it's good and solid and very capable and so I I have what I when I decided I wanted to press I started looking around and I found one at I used equipment printing equipment place and there was that same press i knowa this for me have you ever had any typos I can't even count how many typos yeah happens all the time so when you do is it just like oh well or do you have to redo everything well if you catch it in time you can change it but after after its printed its oh well but I always try and you know employ the services of a friend who's a good proof reader you mean you have to have somebody else look at it you just because when you're studying once the once you start printing or once you set it you sort of stopped seeing it as information you see it as shape and you know where it is on the page and you proofreaders are a special special group of people to be able to catch that but yeah I and I'm really prone to typos so something I have to watch out for hi for your menus that aren't for special events what's a lifetime of the venue like how many times can you repeat that I'm sorry didn't happen what's the lifetime of a menu so how many times can you give it to like a new customer before it gets bad or you know oh it's just it's if I wants to use it what once you just using much they get to take it home yes absolutely right you take me home so this I mean it's the restaurant doesn't advertise they've never advertised yeah I've never done anything like that and from very early on Alice knew about good printing knew about fine printing and she always loved that so that something she wanted as part of the restaurant so like in the very early days she would get local printers and they were the Bay Area there's always been a real printing community in the Bay Area a lot of letterpress printers are still are she would get these printers to make a special menu or you know a week of menus or something like that very cleverly in exchange for food and lime so they were so ready to do this and and then you know there are always these printers hanging around late night dinners at a little table of printers you know drinking and drinking but so it just became really a part of the signature the look and the style and the aesthetic of the restaurant but the ones that they use now they have a this kind of an inventory of maybe 20 images and that eight and a half by 11 sheet so then they can select for that night what seems appropriate for that menu or the season or that time of year and then it's they print out one for every diner and I'm sorry follow-up what percentage of people do you think bring home the menus as opposed to leaving them there um I'd say you know on a nightly basis you know maybe half of the special menus you know the hand printed menus that people people catch on to that and I take them home one of the things about letterpress if you're familiar with if you're not is it has this very tactile handmade quality you may not know anything about the process or you may not you know be familiar with letterpress really but when you hold it you know something has happened you know this is it's handmade and you you can tell and it communicates something it's in its in its intimate is personal it's one of the things I love about the medium is it it's called letterpress because it punches the impression into the paper so it has a kind of textural sculptural aspect there are shadows where the letter forms are and it's quite beautiful I brought some for you guys to see afterwards thank you so on the multi-block projects how do you keep the registration correct yes tricky I work very very methodically I mean printing is a is a methodical process it's not spontaneous you you know you have a plan and you work step by step and so you have methods of working but I start with that drawing that you saw and when I put it on the block and I trace over the drawing that part of the drawing for that part of the image I I'm very faithful to that line and so then the line is on the block and then when I'm cutting again i am very faithful to that line that is the real line not not near it not next to it it's the line and and then if you get everything sort of on the blocks in the right place then you have the potential for registering it on the press then it's a matter of printing in a likewise methodical way but it's it's just being very careful at every stage and you know my but there are lots of ways to go about this I mean many kinds of printing it's not so such a tight registration it's looser and colors overlap and it's a little more you know impressionistic looking but my particular style my particular aesthetic is for really close registration I always kind of go back to early botanicals and how beautiful they are and those often were engraved or etched or printed in one color and hand colored a lot of the really ones you might be familiar with but I'm trying to do that on the press I'm trying to kind of figure out a way so it's it's really just working very carefully do you have a favorite menu or a favorite story from the menus in your book would be hard to pick be hard to pick one the one the one I showed you with the leaves or I where the light bulb went off about the multi colors that one is a favorite for me because it it it opened my mind about what I could do on my press and I I think there's a principle at work there which is partly comes from learning about cooking at Chez Panisse because when the restaurant first started we really didn't know what we were doing there was a desire to to achieve something and cook for you know fabulous food but most of us were not trained and so Alice would make up these menus and put dishes on the menu that we had never cooked before and there there was you know one one chef who came to work and stayed for a long time jean-pierre moulay and he he was classically trained and he was French and he could like bring some hardcore information and technique into the kitchen but we would just put things on the menu and then try it and one thing we figured out right away and you because it's one menu one night you're not duplicating the same thing over and over again you know you're always there's always the next night and new things but is if if it didn't work if we were unsatisfied with that dish the thing is you just like let's put some version of that on the menu next week and we would do it again and we would do it again until we got it and then we had that technique or we had that that dish and the repertoire same thing with with something that worked fabulously well we would do it again soon so that we wouldn't forget because when you're cooking that when things are changing so often it's hard to remember you know you're just moving all the time but I so that same way of saying that same approach I took into this print studio when I stopped working in the kitchen which is you know go for what you want to see I would try it and sometimes it would work and sometimes it wasn't but then I would all right try it again try it again and eventually you know you kind of get there so for me than some of the memorable menus are the ones where I really I really discovered something thanks for coming out of your work I have a mimeograph machine I'm terrible at using it um I had a series of realizations like oh it matters what ink you use like oh it matters what paper you use I missed the beginning of your talk by just curious like how far down the rabbit hole do you go with the particular paper I know people who like they're not happy with what's available so they try to make their own and they're just curious like do you enjoy that part of it and how far do you go to get it just to your specification that's a good question very very far down the rabbit hole yeah what one another you know tremendous pleasure in printing and I think it's one of the things that really hooks people especially letterpress printers is paper a paper is just beautiful beautiful stuff at quality papers and they all print differently they all feel different you know they have slightly different textures and colors so you you have to make adjustments for all of that and you know when I would be conceiving of a menu making a plan part of that is you know what paper what color is the paper what what what's it going to do in the press and because not all papers are suitable for block printing our letterpress printing that kind of limits certain things but fortunately you know most fine papers are really really good I I don't make paper but you know we've done all kinds of things like print print some you know an image and then make a fan out of it cut it and glue it to sticks and you know in order to get a printed fan and you just there are all kinds of things possible but you build up your your knowledge of materials and inks and mixing colors and what happens when you put you know one color on top of another and what are you likely to get and all of that and it's just like all art making me this trial and error basically no rules you know you just keep you do it until you get what you want yeah yeah but that's the fun of it that's what I saying that discovery is you start you start in one place and you just keep adding to that and then you get into all kinds of new places anyone else thank you thank you thank you one more round of applause for Patricia

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