Eroding Alphabets

Before I had the vocabulary to describe it, I perceived certain forms and beings in the landscape as ‘texts’: tracks, patterns in dry earth or tree bark, lichens and mushrooms fruiting, stones piled on a beach, waves, plant structures, and so on. These forms and patterns were communicating something, even if that something was inscrutable, or otherwise beyond my ability to understand.

Meanwhile, I took up letterpress printing, working with wood and metal type. While making ‘specimen’ prints, which display the characters of a font: letters, figures, punctuation marks, and ligatures, I often ended up with un-inked sheets with single or multiple type impressions from passing through the press as padding for another sheet. When cleaning up, I print several waste sheets to pull as much ink off the press as possible before cleaning the rollers. These sheets have faint inking but strong impressions. I keep this interesting stuff (that someone else might throw away) because I love these faint textures and traces, the suggestion of (unreadable) text.

It was a short, intuitive leap to drawing those organic patterns onto the un-inked type impressions, or the faint prints I made while cleaning the press, creating a conversation between alphabets: the English alphabet I work with as a writer and printer, and these natural alphabets I’ve observed in the landscape.

To erode is to gradually wear away, but the ‘worn-away’ doesn’t vanish. Erosion moves material (or meaning) from one place to another. In these images, it’s hard to discern where erosion ends and deposition starts. Neither text is meant to be read, but both could be. Just like out in the world, what you’ll see there depends on the light, the season, what you’re looking for, what you’ve brought with you, and what the marks themselves are willing to divulge.