Introduction to Letterpress.

Last weekend was one of the best experiences I’ve had for a long time. I spent two days at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop on an ‘Introduction to Letterpress’ course. I’d been waiting for it for months and by the time Saturday arrived I was a bundle of nerves. I’m not an artist of any kind and I didn’t quite know what I was letting myself in for!

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Thankfully, my nerves were unfounded, as I arrived to by met by my tutor, Nick, and a couple of other students, all of whom were utterly lovely. Nick’s teaching style was laid-back, inclusive and easy to follow and he put us at ease straight away. The facilities at the West Yorkshire Print Workshop are great – we had two print rooms and plenty of space for us to work in. The enormous ‘Imperial Press’, with the wooden type provided by Nick, enabled us to make big scale prints and the table-top Adana 8X5 presses in the other room were for smaller work. Two days later, I’d amassed a giant collection of prints, all made with the Imperial Press because I absolutely fell in love with creating images on such a large scale! The Adana can print with a far smaller type but it felt a bit fiddly for me, although I’d love to go back and have a play with it too.

Imperial Press

Modern letterpress, which has had a huge upsurge in popularity in recent years, often uses photo-polymer plates, with images made on a computer used to create brand-new plates for pressing with. However, all of the type we used was old, which gave it a wonderful tactile feel and created images that were made more lovely by their imperfections.

Things that we take for granted when typing on a computer require so much thought when creating in letterpress. Everything is mirror image, for a start, and you have to think about the spaces between rows of type (leading) and between words, so that things are readable and look correctly spaced out. All the negative space surrounding the words has to be considered and the type has to be locked into a frame (known as the chase) with leading and quoins so none of the letters fall out when you pick it up to take to the press. And this is before using tricky fonts and struggling to decide if the letter you have is the letter you think you have! No wonder that the phrase ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ came from letterpress…

I absolutely adored this course and found myself really absorbed in the process to the point where hours passed without notice. It’s a long time since I’ve felt that ‘flow’ and it was a definite sign to me that I need to spend more time with this rather challenging yet fascinating subject.

Letterpress Ink

At the end of the second day, I felt a bit like I’d only just got started and now am trying to work out how I can take this further, given my lack of any of the tools or equipment needed! I’m also looking through the list of courses at the Workshop and deciding what to try next.

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‘Never stop learning’ – detail from one of my prints.  Notice that I’ve got the ‘r’ in the wrong font! Not even trying for irony there…

For a ‘scanner’ like me, learning is truly addictive and this course has reignited my passion for study. And that’s made me very, very happy indeed…

6 Responses to Introduction to Letterpress.

  1. dakegra says:

    This sounds like enormous fun. I love playing around with fonts and typography anyway and would jump at the chance to give this a try if I ever get a free weekend…

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