Friday, January 30, 2015

Taxi Driver Curry Preview in California

At the Codex International Book Fair in Richmond February 8–11

Pre-publication special offer: $360 

Indian curries were voted Britain’s favourite dish for many years. No surprise then that curry is the subject of my new book:

Video transcript: "Taxi driver curry. – Roaming London in the early 1970s, English art student David Esslemont tastes his first Indian curry – he likes it.

Today a professional artist, book designer and printer, Esslemont lives in rural Iowa, a Midwestern American state so vast that England would fit comfortably within it’s borders. Unfortunately Iowa has just twenty-four Indian restaurants – a mere shadow of England’s thousands. Where, Esslemont wondered, can I go to get a decent curry?

Always a lover of good food, Esslemont began experimenting with his own recipes. His love of cooking became a passion – in 2013 he turned the recipe for his prize-winning chili recipe into an award-winning limited edition book.

Now Esslemont focuses his attention on curry as he explores the culture and cuisine of South Asia, experimenting with herbs and spices to transform not only his evening meal, but also lunch and breakfast. In his quest to understand the gastronomy of South Asia he scours cookbooks and food media and . . . talks to taxi drivers.

There are many different ways to cook curry – this transcript of a conversation with a taxi driver describes just one approach and was recorded at 4.30 a.m. while travelling between terminals at London’s Heathrow airport.

Kolam 06 – 7-colour woodcut

The woodcuts are based on Indian Kolam, designs traditionally created outside homes to bring prosperity and ward off evil spirits. Order now to take advantage of a special pre-publication subscription price at

Title page

Fifty copies hand printed from the original wood- blocks, the text from polymer plates, bound as follows: forty-five copies in cloth-covered boards, presented in a drop-back box – $460 ($360 pre publication) and five copies in a deluxe binding. 175 x 254 mm ( 7 x 10 ins) landscape, 24pp, 10 woodcuts. To be published in March 2015 by Solmentes Press." (Edited by Robert Wolf)

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Pizza (work in progress)

From weeds to wood-fired pizza

A montage of six woodcuts (72 x 18 inches)

This ambitious project begins with weeds and fire as the ground is cleared to plant wheat – clay is mixed with sand to make adobe bricks, and concludes with the magic of cooking in a wood-fired oven, with ferocious heat, rolling flames, and the tantalizing aromas of home-grown pizza.

A from-scratch recipe in woodcuts for making your own pizza.

Four woodcuts

The sand dome "form" for the adobe clay bricks

InsideOUT Bookbinding Show

M C B A, Minneapolis, 10 January - 28 March 2015
Bonhams, New York, 10-19 April 2015
S F C B, San Francisco, 6 June - 5 July 2015

My binding of New York Revisited by Kenneth Auchincloss is part of this touring exhibition organized by Designer Bookbinders UK. "InsideOUT celebrates the art and craft of contemporary bookbinding and private press printing. This ambitious project is a collaboration between thirty-four binders based in the United Kingdom and twenty-five based in North America."

 New York Revisited was designed, illustrated with colour wood engravings and printed by Gaylord Schanilec, and published in 2002 by The Grolier Club, New York. 7 x 12 inches. 44 pages. Edition of 250 copies (this copy ex-edition), 9 full-page color wood engravings and 2 vignettes by Gaylord Schanilec. Type composed in Emerson Monotype. Printed on Zerkall mould-made paper.

The binding uses white alum-tawed goatskin, inkjet, acrylic ink, blind and gold tooling, and is inset with diamonds and other gemstones. The main image on the cover is a detail of a view looking down Fifth Avenue – the view extends inside the front and back covers where it faces views of Lexington Avenue.

In these images we see a contrast between the rich and poor, exemplified by the stocking feet jutting out from a shop doorway, and the bustle of pedestrians. These are paste-grained and form the leather-jointed endpapers.

The polished leather on the front cover, embedded with real gemstones, again highlights this contrast.

The book is presented in a drop back box together with an extra set of Schanilec's engravings and prints from the original blocks engraved by Rudolph Ruzicka for the book New York, published by the Grolier Club in 1915.

This binding is for sale.

Chili wins Printmaking Today Award

I was delighted to receive the Printmaking Today Award for "Innovative Printmaking" from it's Editor, Nancy Campbell, at the Fine Press Book Fair in Oxford 2013, for Chili: a recipe.
"Prize-winning chili in an award-winning book."

Thursday, September 5, 2013

"Englishman wins chili cook off, sells recipe for $$$$"

This is a hot story. Audacious as it may sound David Esslemont, won a chili contest in 2012, scoring 10/10 from all three judges; but the audacity doesn’t stop there – next week he’ll be cooking his chili in California! How come? Read on.

Esslemont makes books, not your ordinary books, but fine, hand-printed hand-bound collectors items, many of them prize winners themselves, that are to be found in public and private collections worldwide. He has a passion not only for books but also for food and cooking, a passion, he finds, he shares with many others.

Now he’s turned the prize-winning recipe into an illustrated book with a 4-figure price tag. The from-scratch recipe (there is no chili powder here) includes for example, instructions for making ancho paste and vegetable stock, and serving it with a topping of sour cream mixed with lime juice, cilantro, Maldon salt, fresh habanero, Fresno and jalapeno chilies sautéed with garlic; and a garnish of vinegar-soaked scallions and a sprinkle of julienned red, orange and green chili peppers. The recipe is presented in a series of thirty-nine multi-color woodcuts. There is no text, apart from the occasional word carved on the wood blocks. The ingredients and directions are presented as pictograms.

The book is available in two bindings: twenty regular copies are stab-sewn in chili-red-cloth-covered boards; ten deluxe copies in an elegant, white alum-tawed pigskin binding, blind-tooled to look like a white linen tablecloth in the middle of which sits a bowl of chili sparking with gold. Find out more about the book on the artist’s website:

Chili: a recipe was published this February at the Codex book fair in Berkeley and Esslemont will back in town next week to present a talk on Tuesday, September 10, titled “Making Books – and Chili” to the Colophon Club (members and guests only), one of the Bay Area’s three book clubs, described by the president, Susan Filter, as "a little more bohemian than the Roxburghe [Club]."

After a flying visit to Los Angeles to show his work to librarians at The Huntington and Clark libraries, Esslemont returns to give a workshop he is calling “Making Books and Chili – The Nitty-gritty of Publishing” ("What are you going to do with the books you make? Are you going to give them away, or perhaps sell them? Whatever you decide to do it’s called publishing, and there’s a whole lot more to publishing than you would think.") on Sunday, September 15, at the San Francisco Center for the Book. This will be followed in the evening by a “chili dinner” for which the artist will cook his legendary chili.

It’s not the first time Esslemont has cooked outside Iowa. In May this year he was invited to cook his chili for a private party in New York City! For a unique opportunity to see the book and taste the chili, come along on Sunday evening, September 15, from 6 to 7.30 pm, to SFCB, 375 Rhode Island Street, San Francisco. Contact: Malgosia Kostecka or Kathleen Burch, telephone (415) 565 0545.

David Esslemont studied fine art at the Central School of Art in London and was Artistic Director of the University of Wales Gregynog Press from 1985 to 1997. He has won several book design awards including the Felice Feliciano International Award for Book Design in 1991. Esslemont has lectured widely in the U.K. and U.S.A., and his work can be found in both private and public collections worldwide. His archive to 2005 is held at the University of Iowa. He now lives with his family on a farm in northeast Iowa and continues his work as an artist, designer, printer, bookbinder, publisher and farmer. ###

Friday, March 15, 2013

Inaugural Trash Book

Last week, after the inaugural lunch of the "yet-to-be-named" dining club with friends Robert Wolf (author of Grand Tally), and artist Jeremy Marlow in a downtown Decorah, Iowa restaurant, I was about to get back in the pickup truck when my eye caught sight of a slush-sodden, folded piece of feint-ruled paper, lying in the gutter – it appeared to be a hand-written shopping list. I was intrigued. Memories were rekindled of the “trash book” I bought several years ago in England at a London Artist’s Book Fair.

Would you believe I once paid £15 ($23) for this “bound” (single-section) book made by Bill Allen from garbage collected in Vondel Park, Amsterdam? Mind you, it’s signed and dated by the artist, and remains one of the most treasured items in my collection of books and prints. [I wonder if it has appreciated in value.] It comprises a cigarette packet, a tram ticket and a hand written note together with other intriguing weathered pieces of foot-trodden, rain-soaked ephemera. The “pages” have a distinct patina and it was remarkably different from the other books being offered at the book fair – perhaps one of the reasons why I bought it. People like to wear gloves when handling this book.

Shortly after acquiring this book I was invited to participate in a panel discussion at Bob Fleck's Oak Knoll Book Fest in New Castle, Delaware. Ink on the Elbow had just been published, I was on a high, and decided to collect some trash for a book that would become the subject of my presentation.

Old colonial New Castle is a pretty, tidy, town and trash is hard to find. However, I was lucky enough to find enough pieces that might make some form of a book. “Trash books” can comprise anything and are composed of many different layers of material and meaning. On this occasion I was particularly excited to have found a hand-written shopping list on pink, ruled paper. Here was poetry. I collected my ephemera in a nondescript brown paper bag.

On the morning of the presentation at Oak Knoll I could not find the collection of trash. Why? – My housemate had thrown it in the garbage can! Naturally. Later, in front of the audience gathered in St Peter’s church hall I held up my brown paper bag and emptied the contents onto the table. “Here is my next book!”, I proclaimed. There followed uproar, a chorus of derision, disbelief and shouts of “I’m cancelling my standing order.”

Found words, especially as hand-written notes, of which shopping lists are common, have always been of interest. There is a strange poetry in the lists of vegetables, groceries, toiletries and mundane, everyday items.  Recently my growing interest in cooking has engendered a particular interest in recipes and their ingredients.

Picking up that slush-sodden piece of paper from the melting snow, and looking more closely, I deciphered the handwriting and read with palpable excitement, “lobster tails, white wine, little-neck clams, clam juice, coconut milk, star anise . . . carrots . . . celery . . . onions, Yukon Gold potatoes . . . leeks”, I thought, “Wow! who in Decorah cooks like this?” Not only had I found an interesting list but also an unusual list of ingredients. I put the saturated trash between some dry papers and forgot about it.

Yesterday, I remembered the intriguing piece of flotsam and jetsam, and found the now dry, folded page, stained pink and blue, in between some other ephemera. Opening it out, I grew increasingly excited – this was indeed a two-sided list of ingredients for a meal! Overleaf from the clam juice the first item was “bison tenderloin” – this was no ordinary meal. I set up the scanner . . . and then it dawned on me . . . 

. . . this was my own shopping list for our dinner recreating President Obama’s inaugural lunch!

Having published his first inaugural address in 2009 as My Fellow Citizens, I followed the 2013 inauguration with considerable interest thinking “sequel”. Perhaps the President's inaugural lunch recipe would make an interesting illustrated book . . . .

You can find the menu, recipes and photographs of the dishes together with lots of interesting commentary in Eddie Gehman Kohan’s post on the Obama Foodorama blog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chili: a pictoral recipe goes to Delaware

Earlier this month I took a mock-up of Chili: a pictoral recipe to the Oak Knoll Book Fest in New Castle, Delaware. The book was well received and the first pre-publication orders were taken. Full details can be found at solmentes,com. Following this outing a video trailer was posted on Youtube. A link to the video was included in the announcement on ARLIS-L and Book Arts-L of my upcoming Victor & Carolyn Hammer Lecture in Lexington, Kentucky, on Wednesday, 28 November: "Making books – and chili".

After this flurry of marketing activity I must now return to printing the book: