Oh the loveliness of letterpress — the paper texture and heft, the tack of the ink, the artisan aesthetic, the historical technology, the gently indented printing, and those MACHINES. Oh the machines.
If you search for “letterpress” on Google or Pinterest, beautiful business cards, posters, and wedding invitations dominate the results. You get maybe a 3% return of images of actual presses, with the occasional photo of vintage type. I will assume then that most people don’t like to ogle machines. Nevertheless, I’m going to share some machines with y’all in this post.
No, Ben (above) is not a machine. He was our instructor. In this popular Lifelong Learning class, he and George (in the video below) guided us through the basics of design and the capabilities and limitations of letterpress printing.
We toured the studio and got to practice pulling prints on several presses. For me, turning the crank on the “proofing press” offered the most physical experience (a potential upper arm workout for those not concurrently enrolled in Pistol Marksmanship and Aerial Trapeze and Silks classes). Each time the roller passed over the plate there was a slight resistance that was very satisfying to push through. If I worked in a letterpress shop, I’d sign up to handle that task.
After becoming familiar with the basics of letterpress design and printing, my classmates and I took on the assignment of creating business cards, post cards, and small posters. These were talented and stylish classmates, mind you, so their designs elicited a lot of ooohs and aaahs and maybe a few eeeks (that being my preferred way to express glee). Our designs were produced using polymer plates, a process that is a hybrid of old and new technology.
But did I mention the machines? The production machines! I was entranced by the clickety-clack beat, the smooth yet jerky automatron motion of the press, the gears, the shininess. For some reason the environment reminded me of my grandfather’s barnful of antique steam machinery — I had a moment of nostalgia in the production room of the print studio.
I’ll append this post with photos of prints from the letterpress classes as I get them. Until then, here are images of “furniture,” ink tack, and another machine (with business cards in progress) for you to ogle. The experience of letterpress is hands on, so get yourself to a print shop or letterpress class and don’t be surprised if you find yourself enamored with it, too.