Night Prayer: A Contemporary Book of Hours

Night Prayer: A Contemporary Book of Hours was my masters project and the culmination of two years of research, design and print-making. The hand-made book was produced in a limited edition of twenty copies, containing etchings, lino prints, digital and letterpress printing. Focussing on the text of Night Prayer, each day’s prayer is introduced by an illustrative section depicting the life cycle of a particular flower or fruit.

Uniting my interests in design, print-making, book-making and my religion, I took the theme of the Books of Hours and the text of The Divine Office as the subject matter of the book with the hope that I could give a new and suitable presentation of the text, based on the idea of an illuminated prayerbook but using a mixture of traditional and modern printing techniques.

The Books of Hours, illuminated manuscripts based on the breviary, were the bestseller of medieval times. They were famed for their decorative initials, elaborate miniatures and floral borders which surrounded the text of the psalms, hymns and scripture readings. Made for the laity rather than those in religious life, they varied from small pocket-sized prayerbooks for the masses to highly skilled and beautifully bound large manuscripts that were produced for an individual wealthy patron.

Consulting with religious and laity who use these prayers in their daily life, in particular Fr Damian McNeice the master of ceremonies to the Dublin Diocese, I decided to focus on just one of the ‘hours’, Night Prayer. Unlike the other daily prayers which follow the church calendar and are said in a four week rotation, Night Prayer follows a constant weekly pattern throughout the year, with some small changes for Eastertide.

A number of printing techniques were used in the execution of the book and can be seen in the short film above. Presentation of the text in a logical but interesting manner was of utmost importance and was achieved with segmenting the book into daily sections, each introduced by an illustrated piece: a six page fold out combination of etchings and five colour reductive lino prints.

These prints illustrate the life of a particular plant, most with a Christian significance and from my own surroundings, documented over a number of months as the plants developed. Following the seasons, the images depict the plant as it grows flowers, fruits and seeds, emulating the day as Morning Prayer leads to Evening Prayer and to Night Prayer and its associations with sleep and death. These sections are enclosed in a slightly transparent transmarque crystal paper that was printed letterpress with hand-gilding which compliments the etch on the following page.

The text was printed digitally, by GP Digital, and decorated with the psalm numbers printed letterpress using wooden type. The titles for each day and the colophon were hand set in metal type and printed letterpress. Letterpress printing was completed at Distillers Press in the Department of Visual Communication, NCAD, under the expert guidance of Seán Sills. An additional four prints of each etching and linocut were also produced.

The book and selected prints were exhibited in the end of year Degree Show in the Department of Visual Communication in NCAD in 2011. It was selected for exhibition in the RDS Student Arts Awards and the travelling show that followed that year. It was also exhibited in the IDI Graduate Awards exhibition and won the masters category. I was invited to exhibit it in ‘Crafting Type’ in 2012 and, as part of the NIVAL artist book collection, it was included in two exhibitions in the NCAD Gallery and the National Print Museum. The book is is the collections of the National Library of Ireland, Trinity College Library, NUI Maynooth and a number of private collectors. The book and the full selection of 21 prints were shown for the first time earlier this year at my solo show ‘Wild Flowers from Nature’ at Belfast Print Workshop.

The page size is 190mm x 265mm and the book is printed on a Zerkall mould made acid-free letterpress paper and a Transmarque Crystal paper. Striking red end papers were printed letterpress and the book was hardbound in a tan cloth by Duffy Bookbinders, finished with a gold emboss and slip cover.

Irish Print Awards 2011 ‘Print of the Year’ & ‘Books’ category
Masters Award, Institute of Designers in Ireland Graduate Awards 2011

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