Esslemont works in several different media and disciplines. He is best described as "an artist who makes books" that are published under his Solmentes Press imprint. His current passion for food and cooking have led to a string of "food" books – visual narratives that include his prize-winning Chili: a recipe, and Pizza from Scratch in which he grows wheat, tomatoes, basil etc and builds a wood-fired oven and cooks pizza.
His paintings, drawings and prints explore the relationship of elements in both the natural landscape and the abstract world. Often transforming and juxtaposing detailed images to create large scale montages in work such as 'To Autumn', where they become the background for lyrical calligraphy that further transform into a book.
His bindings have become blank canvases of leather or paper and increasingly his book art is moving beyond the covers to the walls and while the textual element may still be referenced, it is visual forms that are predominant.
From 1985 to 1997 Esslemont was Controller (managing and artistic director) of the Gregynog Press in Wales. At Gregynog he designed and printed several prize-winning books including Giraldus Cambrensis for which he won the Felice Feliciano Award for Book Design in 1991. He commissioned artists to illustrate the books, many of which have become sought-after collector's items. At Gregynog he was responsible not only for the design and printing but also the strategic development, marketing and general management.
As a designer Esslemont has worked on a variety projects from a book stamp for the Bodleian library to a whole new visual identity for the University of Wales Swansea, including design guidelines and the application to signage and marketing. Many smaller commissions such as bookplates have been undertaken for private individuals and the design of stationery and logos for associations and small businesses. Digital typesetting and design projects include books for the British Library, Previous Parrot Press, and the first two issues of Parenthesis for the Fine Press Book Association.
From the outset Esslemont has also bound his own books in full leather, quarter leather and designed fine bindings, often with gold tooling. Today, David Esslemont is pleased to offer his services as a bookbinder for small editions of fine print books. For example All in Good Time and Angels for the Celtic Cross Press. He also welcomes commissions for one off bindings such as the binding on Wood Engravings by Agnes Miller Parker. Occasionally he finds a book that inspires and will create a binding specially for that volume.
Solmentes Press and Solmentes are imprints of David Esslemont, a British artist, designer, printer, bookbinder, and publisher living in America.
Esslemont began publishing in 1978 and his books were issued with the imprint ‘David Esslemont’. The name Solmentes Press was created in 2000 and first used for Inside the Book. While appearing to have a higher meaning, Solmentes is simply an anagram of Esslemont.
His first books were hand-printed from metal type on a Columbian press, today they are still printed letterpress, but from photopolymer plates on a Heidelberg cylinder press. The letterpress books are generally categorized as ‘fine press’ and printed in limited editions of around 200 copies, sometimes less.
Inkjet printers are also used to make digital books and these are classified as ‘artists books’. The subject matter of Esslemont’s books range from bibliography to poetry. My Fellow Citizens, Barack Obama’s inaugural address, is a new departure that reflects the publisher’s independent vision.
Above all there is a desire to make distinctive, elegant and readable books that are not only a joy to read but also a delight to all the senses. The choice of materials and attention to detail reveal a passion for books and respect for the history of printing.
Esslemont was invited in January 2005, by the late Robert Woof, inspirational Director of the Wordsworth Trust, to be an Artist in Residence with the Trust in Grasmere in the English Lake District. This provided a unique opportunity to pursue watercolour painting and work on illustrations for a new edition of Wordsworth's poem, The Prelude.
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 has been artist-in-residence with the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere, England, and Minnesota Center for Book Arts (MCBA) in Minneapolis.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in 1953, Esslemont studied Fine Art (painting) at the Central School of Art and Design in London (now The University of the Arts). He is a member of the Double Crown Club and the Wynkyn de Worde Society.Download biography as pdf