Paste-up Before Cut and Paste

September 6, 2010

by Anne Campbell

The worst job I ever had was undoubtedly doing paste-up in the art department of an expensive department store in Pasadena, California. I enjoyed later jobs, working at an outdoor Christmas tree lot and typing and filing in a small veterinarian’s office and loved some of the jobs that were much harder, but this is the one I hated.

Back then, in the late fifties, ads were designed, artwork created, and copy written, on paper with pen-and-ink or typewriter, as separate procedures. Then the finished artwork and printed copy were combined into a mock-up that would be photographed and, if perfect, okayed for printing. My job was to fix any mistakes in the copy before the print-out was submitted to the local paper.

After this long, I have a hard time remembering what I did except move commas around. I’d cut a tiny square containing a comma out of line of printed copy (a spare print of the ad copy) with a razor blade, or maybe a 1950s version of an x-acto knife, dab a tiny bit of glue on the ad page and try desperately to get the little square in place where a comma was missing. Or, I’d cut a comma that shouldn’t be there out of the ad print, then cut blocks of print and move them, again gluing them in place, to hide the resulting space. Everything had to be exactly right, exactly even, and free of glue or smudges, so that in the newspaper ad the cutting and pasting wouldn’t show.

There must have been more than that to the job (fetching coffee, maybe), but this is what I remember: cutting and gluing, then getting glue on fingers that picked up tiny bits of paper and odd commas I didn’t want and got stuck where they didn’t belong. When I did put them in the right places the commas slipped, like tadpoles, from where I’d put them, so they were below or above the line, or slumped so they were at an angle to all the other letters. Sometimes they just fell apart—literally—into a full-stop and a tadpole tail. Some, I swear, just migrated to the wrong line or word. It was a mess and I was a mess, hot, frustrated, despairing. (Everyone else in the department was cool and calm and elegant. None of them did paste-up.)

It might have worked better if I hadn’t had my mind on other things; religion, politics, my own terrible homesickness for Europe, et cetera. It really didn’t seem important to me that hemlines were an inch longer this season or that the nineteen-twenties look had finally routed the pinched waists of the New Look; it mattered even less whether the copy describing these momentous developments was perfect or not. 

I had been hired on the strength of some experience, several years before, as a fashion sketcher, and with the promise that I’d get to do some artwork. Who knows why the company, or the woman who hired me, thought I could do this finicky, precise, paste-up. In fact, I had always been the child my mother had despaired of: ‘untidy’ ‘absent-minded’ ‘slapdash’, coming home from school with my braids undone, dress torn and smudged and socks crumpled. Later I had graduated to outfits that were tidy but weirdly unrestrained; ‘unconstructed’ clothes and wild stripes when only narrow sleeves set in tight bodices and ‘quiet’ plain colors were in style. 

Of course, I was fired after a few months. I don’t remember what triggered it, but it must have been evident by then that neat, tidy, and precise just wasn’t my forté and I was glad to leave.

Born and raised in London, Anne Campbell worked as a fashion sketcher before immigrating to the States in her early twenties. She lived in California and New York before settling in Minnesota, where she has worked as a university lecturer and psychotherapist.

She has written a memoir and two novels. Her latest work, Ssylka; Exiled to Siberia is published through Amazon’s Createspace. Set between 1898-1905, it’s the story of a family of privileged political exiles coping with life in an isolated Siberian village.

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