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Letterpress

Traditionally, letterpress printing involved arranging individual blocks of 'moveable type' into a caddy, forming words from the combination of letters. As this type was used to make the print, all the characters were moulded in reverse, and the words had to be similarly arranged in reverse. Images could be included in letterpress prints, but needed to be etched in either wood or metal, making it a time-consuming process.

Many of the typography terms and phrases we are now familiar with originate from the combination of moveable type and the letterpress process. 'Upper case' and 'lower case', for example, refers to the storage of the different type forms in type cases. 'Leading', the space between two lines of type, refers to strips of lead placed between lines of moveable type to space them further apart.

 

Letterpress printing is a technique of relief printing developed for mass production. Until the the introduction of Offset printing, Letterpress printing was the standard form of printing text from its invention by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century to the 19th century and remained in wide use for books and other uses until the second half of the 20th century. Letterpress printing remained the primary means of printing and distributing information until the 20th century, when offset printing was developed, which largely supplanted its role in printing books and newspapers. More recently, letterpress printing has seen a revival in an artisanal form.

Research

Books from the library - Alan Kitching A-Z Letterpress and Adventures in Letterpress by Brandon Mise

Printed by Drayson & Stock, England.

One Strong Arm, Dublin.

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Workshop

Mr Bingo, Hand printed in the UK by Typoretum

Unknown

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Vintage Jazz Posters

Shepard Fairey

Hennies brothers letterpress print shop letterhead detail, São Paulo

Theo van Doesburg and Kurt Schwitters, Kleine Dada Soirée -

-Small Dada Evening, 1922.

Vintage travel poster for

SS Great Britain

RNR Showprint, Texas

Shepard Fairey

We were fortunate enough to experience a two day workshop at the Letterpress collective.

The Letterpress Collective is run by Nick Hand, based in Centrespace, Bristol. Since 2013, The Letterpress Collective has been gathering beautiful wood and lead type as well as collecting amazing printing presses including a Heidelberg Windmill Platen (winched out of the MShed store by dockside crane), a Stephenson Blake proofing press and a set of  Adana hand presses. 

During our first day we were introduced to the work space and equipment. Nick demonstrated the full process from choosing and setting the type, then locking it in. Once we were happy with the form he showed us how to ink up the stone with the brayer and then ink the type.

He then aligned and fed the map through the press to produce an impression. It was really exciting to see how it all worked, but daunting as there was an awful lot to remember, it's a very detailed and technical process.  

I had a lot of ideas and it is not speedy process, we were also limited by the amount of space there was, we were a group of 9 and there were only 3 presses and while there was a really vast  and impressive amount of Typefaces and metal type there was a smaller amount of larger wood type and it became challenging to have enough letters if someone else had used the same size. which meant we had to get creative with how we used it.

As with most workshops I have taken part in during this course I have been over ambitious with what I have wanted to achieve, not that it has stopped me trying, much to the frustration of the team! I was keen to push boundries and not follow all the conventions, such as combining italics into my standard font. This idea had been inspired by a digital font I had purchased for my last project that had special characters which did this. I also used several colours on one plate.

I was a bit disappointed with some of the inks i used, I was hoping for more of a day glow effect from the pink and I found the black, white and silver didn't show up as well as i would have liked on my maps.

Another thing I wanted to experiment with was embossing my contours onto paper through the press. Due to the amount of us in the workshop I didn't get to use the proofing press until quite late on on the second day and this didn't leave me a lot of time to try everything I wanted. The reason for using this press was that the paper needed to be damp in order to make it more malleable and get a really good impression so the proofing press had no electronic parts and was much lower risk of damage. 

Outcomes

I didn't get the results I wanted from my laser cut contours, I did learn that I might have got a better outcome if i had done it a layer at a time, but i didn't have the time to achieve this in the workshop but I could go away and do it manually. I also had very little time to use the wires to create contour lines. This was more effective and I think could produce some really wonderful effects with some time and patience.

My typographic pieces were ok, there were plenty of learnings here and I would really like to go back after more planning but I did come out with 3 or 4 prints I was happy with, mostly on the colour photocopies of the old maps i did onto tracing paper. But I also especially love the print I did onto the maroon textured card.

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