Kay’s bio

Kay Michael Kramer, Printer

Kay setting typeThe productions of The Printery are exercises in appropriateness of materials and format as related to the content. Kay works toward a unity — a sense of the piece as a composite of a myriad of possibilities refined into an end-product that is coherent, aesthetically pleasing, and most of all appropriate to the text. His approach to design is formal and yet not dogmatic. Following a sequence of steps from pencil sketches or electronic visualization in Quark, to hand composition in metal, to the use of tissues over type to visualize effects, Kay remains flexible and views each step as an opportunity for departure from the original plan. He frequently works toward typographic effects allusive to a particular period or place. He is enough of a student of the history of the printed word to know that, while the overall look and feel of a piece may be characteristic of a particular period, specific design components may vary from the formal typographic models of that period to suit the circumstances of the piece.

It is this possibility for variability that inspires Kay to experiment with new and innovative approaches to typographic arrangement within the framework of traditional typography. The inter-related elements that must be considered in the design of a single printed page are staggering: typeface, type size, line length, space between lines, placement of running heads and folios, use of ornaments and color, page size, margins, length of text, paper, texture and size, placement of watermark, direction of chain lines, press size, amount of time available — and that is just the beginning! It is the comprehension of the importance of all these variables, combined with a certain sense of rightness or appropriateness, that makes Kay, within the broad boundaries of traditional typography, one of the really fine typographers of our day.

The challenge of modern typography, from his point of view, is to enlarge the bounds of traditional typography, utilizing approaches that have been distilled and proven through the centuries as a point of departure. He feels that inevitably, typography that ignores the past will fade away — not simply because of an ingrained conservatism on the part of most readers, but because of the intrinsic merit in what has been produced through hundreds of years of experimentation, toil, failure, and improvement.

Perhaps the first step on the path that led Kay to his love of typographic design was when he found, as a high school freshman, some shiny bits of metal strewn outside his school because some printing student had tired of distributing type, and threw it out the window. Immediately intrigued, his interest was in the act of combining letters to form words — a simple statement of the magical lure of composing type by hand.

His interest grew from there and in 1957 he was accepted by the School of Printing at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where he grew his skills as a typographer and compositor under the influence of a talented faculty and, in particular, Alexander Lawson. After graduating from RIT, Kay accepted employment with The C. V. Mosby Company in St. Louis, a health science publisher. He retired as their Director of Art and Design 36 years later.