“I’ve got what’s called a private press. And when you have a private press, you print only the things you want to print. I am beholden to no one,” declares Craig Jobson, owner and printer of Lark Sparrow Press (1726 Ashland Ave.).
When the RoundTable stopped by a few weeks ago as part of Evanston Made’s Open Studio Tour, Jobson was already engaged in conversation with two visitors. His wife, partner, editor, proofreader and adoring fan, Judith Grubner, stepped up and provided the tour.
Grubner is a retired intellectual property attorney and a flutist with the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra as well as two other smaller groups. The couple share many interests and are serious collectors. Grubner collects books, puzzles and teapots; Jobson collects solar toys, wooden cranes, paperweights, books of poetry and whirlygigs.
The space the studio occupies was formerly a 10-car garage owned by a car collector, Grubner said. After they purchased the property, Jobson consulted an expert from the School of the Art Institute for advice on how to set up the space.
The hallway leading into the main workspace is lined with what looks like sturdy baker’s racks, chockablock filled – “packed” is probably more accurate – with books, magazines, printed material and related ephemera. The materials include Jobson’s collections of books on bookmaking, graphic novels, typography, drawing, printmaking and magazines, to name just a few subjects.
To the left there is Jobson’s office, perhaps 10 feet square, with a sturdy wooden desk and more shelves. Every space is occupied, even the windowsill. This room, like the bookshelves, is dense with objects Jobson uses in his work, such as colored pencils, colored pastels, stubs (for rubbing the colors together), brushes, pocket knives and other tools. The desk is where Jobson plans his upcoming broadsides, stamps and books.
The broadsides are posters, vehicles to express a concept or a philosophical view. Broadsides are limited to editions of 120 or fewer, each one signed.
The faux stamps lean more toward expressing resistance or celebration; his “Potus Stamps” are a good example. The stamps are either letterpress or digitally printed, with perforations. They can be affixed to envelopes, though they cannot be used in place of postage.
Jobson has a master of fine arts degree in book and paper arts from Columbia College Chicago, where he later taught for 17 years. He has also worked as a design director in publishing and as an art director for graphic design and advertising agencies. Now he relishes his ability to pick and choose which projects he pursues. In an artist’s statement to the RoundTable, he described the hallmarks of Lark Sparrow Press as “contemporary fiction, excellent design and exceptional craftsmanship.”
What the press produces is rare and unique – it prints books in editions of no more than 100 copies, and often far fewer. Jobson’s pursuit is more artistic and cerebral pleasure than the amount of profit, although he tries not to lose money on the projects he accepts. “My aspiration,” he said in his artist’s statement, “is to craft a paper sanctuary for the story, a place that recognizes its beauty, dignity, and power.”
Every hand-printed book is slightly, perhaps imperceptibly, different from the other books in that edition based on the process used. Each one is a labor of love. And there is a lot of labor involved with making each one.
Jobson describes his arsenal of tools as “design, meticulously handset typography, exceptional illustration, patient letterpress printing, archival paper, hand binding and elegant casing” for each short story collection. A book with 32 pages and an edition of 30, for example, required “18,000 handset, typographic characters, and 1,200 hand-pulled prints.”
Every piece of type must be set right to left, upside down and backward in order to print correctly. Jobson said he has enough experience now to know how to eye the text of a project and have a pretty good sense of how many pages he will need to print it. He combines the text with his artistic vision to determine which font to use and the width of each page, then calculates how many pages he will produce.
His most recently completed book is Fortune Cookies by Lynn Sloan. Jobson describes it as a “multi-colored, 72-page, 20-copy, limited edition, illustrated, letterpress printed, handbound collection” of seven stories.
Each book uses five different printing processes: letterpress, intaglio, hand stamping, computer-generated typography (for the book’s different fortunes) and digitally engraved covers. There are two editions, deluxe and standard, depending on how the books are bound.
Lark Sparrow Press books are sold for hundreds of dollars due to their rarity and handmade production process. Customers are primarily private collectors, specialty libraries and university libraries. The Newberry Library, the University of Texas at Austin, University of Illinois at Chicago and Chicago Design Archive all have at least one of Jobson’s printed pieces in their collection.