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Embarrassing tattoos

Tattoos in foreign languages are pretty hip, especially if they are in a language with wicked characters that scream manga, samurais, and gomoku all at once. However, those looking to get some Japanese calligraphy under their skin should tread carefully — mishaps such as the misspelling, inverting, omitting, upside-downing, and general grammar-butchering of the language are more common than one might think.

 

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Hailing from Nagano, Japan, Maru is a tattoo artist at Imperial Tattoo and has seen his fair share of unfortunate Japanese tattoos. Armed with a long calligraphy pen, he explains some common mistakes made by tattoo artists who don’t speak Japanese.

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

Getting lost in translation is a global phenomenon. English tattoos are becoming increasingly popular in Japan — also foreign, also sexy, and also the breeding ground for potential mistakes. Maru himself already had a tattoo in English before he learned the language. Thankfully, his “PAIN IS TEMPORARY” tattoo is free of spelling mistakes.

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

When certain characters are not drawn close enough to each other, their meanings change. In the picture above, the tattoo on the left means “little sister.” The one on the right, distinguishable only by the space between the characters, reads “female market.”

Home brews

Bud Light and Molson Canadian might be two of the most consumed brands of beer, but drinking them is equivalent to eating McDonald’s hamburgers or reading nothing but Dan Brown.

Why settle for the lowest common denominators just because they have contrived, patriotic advertising and are easy to find?

The craft beer industry is big in Canada, and small brewers have found success selling in their local regions. For the particularly adventurous enthusiast, brewing beer at home is becoming an increasingly popular way to experiment with flavour and to learn more about the process behind beer production.

Chris Maddison, a U of T student, and Andrew Gordon, a recent alum, have spent the last few months perfecting the art of home brewing. Their latest batch is fermenting in a closet in Andrew’s Kensington Market house. That doesn’t sound too glamourous, but this batch will yield 5 gallons (19 litres) of beer.

That’s an impressive result for an investment of $40 in ingredients purchased from Toronto Brewing, a primarily online-based store that sells how-to books, equipment, starter kits, and all the ingredients required to brew.

Brewers use a large pot to boil the ingredients, a fermenter (a large bucket to hold the soon-to-be beer as it ferments), and an immersion chiller, which quickly cools down the hot “wort” (a not-so-fancy word for the liquid extracted from malted barley).

The number of steps in the process varies depending on the type of kit you buy and the ingredients you begin with, but despite the clear instructions, home brewing isn’t for those averse to risk.

If you’re doing things correctly, your brewing day will go something like this: you’ll assemble your ingredients (malt extract, hops, and yeast); sanitize all equipment and the space you’re using to brew; make your wort; boil the “brew water”; rehydrate the dried yeast; add malt extract and hops; shut down the boil; cool the wort; pitch the yeast; add cooled wort; and store the fermenter.

A single screw-up in the process can ruin a batch, and it’s often hard to tell if a batch has been compromised until you’ve actually had a taste, typically three weeks after brewing day. Oh, and on brewing day, be prepared for a strict regimen of sanitization, some heavy lifting, and a very messy kitchen.

Chris and Andrew put down about $200 as an initial investment for equipment. Their most recent yield is equivalent to two 24-packs of beer.

While there’s a chance Chris and Andrew will make a mistake during the process and wind up with 5 gallons of really shitty beer, they’ve gained enough experience to know what they’re doing. In fact, they’ve already made it through the most arduous and risky step: brewing day.

But it took some trial and error to get to this point.

“The first batch I did was in September and it came out pretty terrible,” Andrew recalls. “It was from one of those really easy kits that’s just hops, malt extract, and sugar. It was supposed to be an IPA [India Pale Ale], which is a hoppy beer, but it just came out as something weird that didn’t taste like much.”

Brewing day requires many steps, so it’s hard to pinpoint where you went wrong if you wind up with a bad batch, especially since you won’t know if you did something wrong until you taste the beer weeks later.

“We probably screwed a bunch of things up,” Andrew explains. “I think we pitched the yeast before we put the sugar in, and you’re supposed to do it the other way around.”

But sometimes a screw-up doesn’t equal a wasted batch.

“The second batch we did, we accidentally diluted it with too much water. It still turned out really well,” Andrew says.

If you’re doing things correctly, your brewing day will go something like this: you’ll assemble your ingredients (malt extract, hops, and yeast); sanitize all equipment and the space you’re using to brew; make your wort; boil the “brew water”; rehydrate the dried yeast; add malt extract and hops; shut down the boil; cool the wort; pitch the yeast; add cooled wort; and store the fermenter.

SAM BOWMAN/THE VARSITY

Sounds a bit complicated, right? Well, it’s probably because home brewing is not a process many people are familiar with, but Chris compares it to cooking and following a recipe.

“You can get a book and learn why every step is important,” he says. “That will make you a better brewer, but anyone can go out and get a kit.”

Following a recipe is easy enough to do, but regular cooking doesn’t usually involve so much heavy lifting. Brewing day gets intense, and Chris and Andrew recommend having a brewing buddy.

“You have to time things right and it’s hectic, so it’s better to do it with another person,” Chris explains.

Patience is also a virtue on brewing day.

“You’re basically heating up three gallons of water on a kitchen stove, which takes about an hour,” Andrew says. “You have to time the addition of the hops and time how long you’re steeping the grains. It’s kind of like cooking, but you have to be really clean and it’s a lot more complicated. You also end up making a huge mess.”

After the brewing process is finished, the fermenter needs to sit in a cool place for about three weeks. The amount of time varies depending on the type of beer that’s brewing. Ales take only a few weeks while lagers require more time to ferment. Lagers also need a colder temperature to properly ferment.

According to Chris, some types of ale are more finicky than others, but they’re still what a beginner brewer should attempt first.

Bottling day is comparatively stress free, although it can be tricky too.

“You add a bit more sugar to the beer and you put it in bottles and cap it — that extra sugar is a bit more food to the yeast. Another by-product of fermentation is carbon dioxide and that’s how you naturally carbonate beer,” Chris explains, articulating the finer points of the process with the confidence of a genuine beer scientist.

“When it comes out of the fermenter, it’s flat. You put a little bit of sugar in, put it in the bottle, cap it, and then it ferments and creates carbon dioxide that gets trapped.”

Andrew explains that bottling day can get a bit sloppy too.

“The first time we bottled, we were using a funnel and measuring cup to take the beer out of the bucket and put it into bottles,” he recalls. “That took a long time and there was beer all over the floor. Then we got this thing called a bottling wand. You attach it to a siphon and then put that in the bottle, and it does it more automatically.”

Chris and Andrew had a friend design labels for their last batch. The words “Scribbler’s Brew” are pasted on every bottle. They plan on keeping the label design for their next batches.

WYATT CLOUGH/THE VARSITY

Andrew describes his exploration of home brewing as the natural extension of being really interested in beer.

“At first, you find different beers you want to try and eventually, you start to wonder what it’s like to make it yourself,” he says.

“Before I started doing home brewing I had no idea how the different flavours were achieved, and now, I have a better idea of how that works.”

Chris’s motivation for trying home brewing stems from an interest in local industry where there’s a lot of variation.

“I think [variation is] a big part of the craft beer industry in North America,” he says. “People really feel proud of local breweries and locality is a big thing. When I go travelling now, I get excited and I look up breweries that are located in the place I’m going to go. I might tell my friends ‘I’ll pick up some beer for you,’ things you can’t get anywhere else.”

While exploring the craft beer industry will likely enhance appreciation for the beverage, home brewing takes that appreciation one step further and deepens the understanding of the creative and technical processes behind brewing. You don’t want to wind up with 19 litres of cloudy water that tastes like rotten cheese. Yes, it’s been known to happen.

The art of the book

Nestled between Innis College and a sparse row of townhouses is bpNichol Lane, a narrow, concrete road. I have passed by this unassuming little street nearly every day for the past four years, thinking it was nothing more than a deserted alleyway. But now, amidst the gasping winds of an unseasonably rainy January, I head down the street for the first time in search of Coach House Books.

The small publishing company is located at the end of bpNichol Lane in a small brick building that was once used to store horse-drawn carriages. I can hear the hum of a printer through its blue doors and walk along a pathway that leads to the front of the premises. Two hulking antique printing presses greet me as I step inside. At the top of a narrow staircase is a cozy room with a large window and creaking wooden floors. Densely packed bookshelves crawl across the walls, reaching the tips of the triangular ceilings. A plush armchair rests by the window beneath a hanging sign that proclaims it the “magical sleeper chair.”

I have come to Coach House Books to talk to Stan Bevington, the company’s founder and long-time publisher, about the evolution of book design. Although its appearance might suggest that Coach House is nothing more than a quaint printing shop in a secluded enclave of the U of T campus, it is in fact a respected and established authority in the Canadian publishing industry.

“Our shop was the first to buy Helvetica … when it first came out,” he says. “[But] the lead and the brass moulds for the type were so expensive, we could only have two typefaces.”

Coach House has been at the forefront of technological innovations in publishing and printing since its foundation in 1965, and it has printed the works of many famed Canadian authors, including Margaret Atwood, Anne-Marie MacDonald, Anne Michaels, and Michael Ondaatje. Bevington himself has been honoured with a slew of awards recognizing his contribution to the field of book art, including membership to the Order of Canada.

As I sit down at a wooden table near the stairwell, Stan walks into the room, carrying a large stack of books. He takes a seat across from me and begins to tell me about the early days of Coach House. Suddenly, he slaps the surface of the table. “I made this table!” he exclaims and then laughs. “And these benches too!”

When Stan began publishing with Coach House in the ’60s, the process of printing books was almost as painstaking a task as crafting furniture from scratch. Each word of a book had to be typeset by hand and each page printed manually using the antique printing presses that now sit in the entrance of the building.

“[At that time], a lot of printing was done with letterpress — that is, little lead letters that were raised — and the top of the letters got [brushed with] ink, and then that ink got pushed into the top of the paper,” Stan explains. “So we had to have a collection of little lead letters.”

A few years later, Coach House purchased a photo-offset lithography machine, which allowed images to be transferred photographically to aluminum printing plates. Oil-based ink adhered to the images on the plates, which were then used to print the pages of a book.

“Being starving students as we were, I bought a $5 camera at an antique store, which is that one right over there,” says Stan, gesturing towards a box camera nestled into one of the shelves on the wall behind me. “That camera was used to photograph illustrations and turn them into negatives, and then the negatives got exposed to the photo-offset aluminum plates that would print the illustrations.”

He shows me a book that Coach House printed in 1967 on the early work of Jack Chambers, a contemporary Canadian artist whose paintings are now on display at the AGO. On one page, a black and white picture is positioned between two paragraphs of type. Stan explains that these paragraphs were typeset by hand, photographed, and then pasted next to the picture. The composite image was photographed once again, transferred to an aluminum printing plate, and finally run through the printing press.

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

In the 1960s, this was cutting-edge technology. According to Stan, offset lithography was a tremendous step forward in the publishing industry because it “drastically liberated” the process of creating printing plates. But the text of a book still had to be typeset by hand, which left publishers relatively restricted in other areas of design. As Stan thumbs through additional books that were printed using offset lithography, he laughs and points out that they are all set in the Helvetica typeface.

“Our shop was the first to buy Helvetica … when it first came out,” he says. “[But] the lead and the brass moulds for the type were so expensive, we could only have two typefaces.”

Oh, how the times have changed. Since switching over to new printing presses in the early 1980s, Coach House has digitally typeset all of its books. The advent of digital printing technology was also accompanied by a plethora of new typefaces, giving Coach House the freedom to both select and create fonts that would enhance the overall design of its books.

“We look for a font that’s appropriate for the job at hand,” says Stan. “We have an almost unlimited range of choices. What we’re more proud of is having encouraged Canadian type designers to design type.”

Stan walks over to one of the bookshelves and pulls out a catalogue that Coach House printed for the Fisher Rare Book Library. He flips through the pages so I can see the font.

“This [catalogue] was the first showing of a type called Cartier Book,” he explains. “It was used for the Canadian Bill of Rights, and it’s used for historical plaques in Canada, but we at Coach House used it for many, many books. We helped the designer polish up the design of the face … until finally it [was established as] a really solid typeface.”

Advances in printing technology have also dramatically altered the nature of book cover design. During the years that Coach House used a photo-offset machine, it was incredibly difficult to print a book cover using more than two colours of ink. Stan excitedly shows me the fairly ambitious cover of Michael Ondaatje’s Rat Jelly, a book of poetry that Coach House published in 1973. Made with four different colours, it features a rather sinister looking baker holding up a tray of cakes. Each colour is marbled with lighter shades and outlined thickly in black, making the cover resemble a stained glass window. It’s a lovely piece of book art, but Stan tells me that it took an entire week of darkroom work to create the four-colour aluminum plates required to print the cover.

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

Stan pulls yet another book out from the pile sitting next to him on the table, this one made entirely with a digital printing press. About half a dozen colours are swirled together in the background of the book’s glossy cover. The pattern glides neatly around the cover’s crisp white lettering. In fact, Coach House’s digital press is so accurate that it was able to print the background design around the outline of the white lettering without any colour bleeding into the text.

Because Coach House can now print such intricate designs with relative ease, the staff are able to focus their efforts on creating covers that encapsulate the essence of a book’s content.

“We’re now able to make full colour covers on anything we want,” says Stan. “We’re usually looking [for a design] that will, at a glance, describe what a book is. If you pick up a book, look at the front cover, look at the back cover, and if you can get the gist of what the book is about, that’s a win.

“Each one of the books reflects the taste of the author, reflected through the professionalism of a good editor and a good typographic designer,” he adds. “But generally, we try to make a book cover that has individuality. There’s not a particular house style that makes them look similar.”

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

To illustrate his point, Stan shows me a book that describes the holdings of Chinese studies in the U of T libraries. The cover is floppy, and the paper inside is so thin that it could only be printed on one side.

“This book was made [with this paper] because in the Oriental way, they printed on rice paper,” says Stan. “So we chose the thinnest paper [available].”

He tells me to turn to page 32 of the book, where there is a beautiful Chinese illustration coloured with delicate strokes of red ink.

“In the history of Chinese printing, they only had that red, which was a vermilion pigment,” Stan explains. “So I printed this book with black and vermilion [ink].”

Although Stan has always welcomed the progressions in printing technology that have allowed Coach House to expand its repertoire of book design, he admits to being somewhat baffled by the ever-shifting nature of the industry.

“I think of how reassuring it must be for a craftsman who’s a bricklayer, because the materials haven’t changed. We’ve been on quicksand. We have to keep making the things look like books, but they’re always made in a different way.”

Yet there are some aspects of book design that Stan refuses to change. While most publishers now print their books on recycled paper (“post-consumer junk,” as Stan calls it), Coach House still uses the same type of paper that it commissioned from a Quebec paper mill during the ’70s. This paper is made from fresh, young trees and sized to fit the Coach House printing presses in order to cut down on waste.

BERNARDA GOSPIC/THE VARSITY

 

“We asked [the mill] to make the paper a little thicker … and we asked them to put a laid finish on it,” Stan says, holding a book up to the light so I can see the grids of parallel lines on its pages.

“Why?” I ask him.

He looks at me for a moment, as if wondering why I would ask such an obvious question. “’Cause it’s a tradition,” he replies, “A tradition in papermaking.”

As I walk back down bpNichol Lane later that day, I catch a glimpse of Coach House’s digital printing press through the windows at the back of the building. I can’t help but smile at the thought of such a cutting-edge piece of technology whirring busily away in the back of an old carriage house, and I find myself hoping that some aspects of Coach House Books will always stay the same.

How to build a storefront

If you’re a storefront designer in Toronto, rare is the opportunity to fill a half block–spanning window with something as eccentric as a giant abominable snow bird — unless you work at Sonic Boom. The record shop features a different album every month and is known for its quirky, iconic windows, designed by Tim Oakley. Sonic Boom’s storefront designer for the past seven years, Tim Oakley gave The Varsity the lowdown on what exactly goes into designing the storefront installations…

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① After choosing Guided By Voices as the featured band of the month, the next step is to study the album cover and break it down. “Yellow and wood were the main reference colours here, with [a few] weird splashes of white. It’s a pretty simple, minimal cover … Robert Pollard is a big collage guy — all of their covers are sort of ripped out of National Geographic so I tried to use one of his signature [styles].”

② Though Sonic Boom doesn’t approach its displays from an advertising perspective, the store does have some techniques to attract the customers’ attention. “Sometimes I think if it’s a classy window they don’t do as well as if it’s a little scrappy in some way. Somehow, slickness just makes it fade into the architecture of the building.” Tim added a three-dimensional touch by filling the bottom with beer bottles, giving the window depth, and referencing the fact that Guided By Voices is a notorious party band.

③ The next step is making the window installation unique to Sonic Boom. “I try to think if there’s anything [new that I] can add. I try to encourage myself to develop new techniques if time and money allow. We found out that when GBV play live, they have a sign that says, ‘the club is still open,’ which is a lyric from one of their songs. We ordered one of those from the States — it has nothing to do with the album cover, but anyone who’s a fan of the band will get it.”

④ Constructing the storefront is as much about practicality as it is about design; all four walls must be accounted for, along with the floor and ceiling. “That’s the hardest part; if I like something [for one wall], then I have to start thinking about how I’m going to do the rest of [them]. That’s always been the struggle.” It just takes a small detail to bring an installation together. Tim fleshed out the rest of the GBV installation by adding a few non-specific ’80s records.

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⑤ On the festive side of things, the Sonic Boom holiday window was not inspired by an album, but rather, a few happy coincidences. The displays often feature one object or element that takes the bulk of the display. In this case, it is a massive bird. “I don’t even know how I came up with it. A friend made me make a bird mask a couple of years ago… Then I was making this Santa’s village, it sort of had no plan, and everyone was like, ‘Hey, bird houses!’ so I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll put some birds on it — that was fully intentional.’

WYATT CLOUGH/THE VARSITY

⑥ Piece by piece, the random fixtures find a place and a theme comes together. “I didn’t want it to be so Christmas-specific, especially now that we’re in Honest Ed’s and that’s their thing… So I made it this mythical Christmas; kind of like a 1600s Scandanavian interpretation of it. Maybe [the bird] is their Santa.” Typically, the displays take a couple of weeks to build. In the new location, Tim’s job also includes constructing walls and a great deal of carpentry — and then there are the little things. “Every one of those feathers I had to hand-glue onto him, and it took days. I actually gave up — that’s why he’s wearing a sweater.”

We asked some Toronto bands…

Ben Cook of Fucked Up/Marvelous Darlings/The Bitters:

Island Life by Grace Jones

“This cover blows my mind every time I look at it. It’s just stunning, controversial, and sexy, and everything I like in a record cover.”

 

Doug Paisley:

Sweet Daddy Siki Squares Off With Country Music by Sweet Daddy Siki

“It always brings a smile. Country Music Sweet Daddy Siki has got to play the guitar but Wrestling Sweet Daddy Siki wants him to know that he’s got his eye on him and if he doesn’t get back to wrestling soon, there’s going to be trouble. It’s all on the cover!”

Daniel Lee of Hooded Fang:

Steal Your Face by Grateful Dead

“I grew up on my older brother’s Grateful Dead album covers and T-shirts. They always had the best logo and iconography.”

 

Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene:

Orgy In Rhythm by Art Blakey

“That red on the black and white made me want to buy this album – such a simple and bold design. The photo of Art is terrific, obviously: wonderful sweater choice, great expression on his face. Perfect symmetry.”

 

Jeremy Rossetti of Bravestation:

Helplessness The album: Blues by Fleet Foxes

“I very much enjoy the earth tones and if you look closely, there’s a kitty! And who doesn’t like kitties?”