February 22, 2019

Brown's Alphabet

        Here’s another block printed alphabet, and this time of a very different style.  James Brown’s alphabet doesn’t depict animals or people or anything starting with each letter, as my other featured alphabet books and collections have done.  Rather it’s simply a graphic representation of each letter itself.  Each of Brown’s letters is a linoleum block print in two colors, and the interesting thing is that they are actually the same block printed twice in different colors and at different orientations.  The way the letters are designed almost to tesselate, as the F, or to set up interesting secondary patterns, as the A, is clever and fun.  In some, such as the K, the letter would probably be clearer (if less graphically interesting) if it were printed only once, but in others, such as the Z, the double printing helps make the letter pop.  Still others, including the U, require both orientations of printing to be combined in order to form the letter completely.  In many cases I’m not crazy about the color combinations, but in some, such as the H, the layering of the two inks adds an interestingly different third color to the image.
        Another interesting feature of Brown’s printing is its imperfection.  There are areas of lighter ink, lines where the edge of the brayer isn’t smoothly blended, and even little bits and blotches where scraps of linoleum or dust got caught in the ink.  Normally these would be considered to have ruined the print, but Brown obviously embraces them as part of the graphic quality of hand-printed pieces.
        Naturally I don’t love these as much as my favorite black and white animal alphabets, but I do think they’re very cleverly designed.  I also think they must have been fun to play around with!  And of course they certainly make for some interesting variety, and variety, as we all know, is the spice of life.

[Pictures: Alpha, linocut by James Brown;
Foxtrot, linocut by Brown;
Hotel, linocut by Brown;
Zulu, linocut by Brown;
Kilo, linocut by Brown;
Uniform, linocut by Brown (Images from James Brown).]

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