Letterpress / Workshop

Printmaking has been the basis throughout my art practice and I’m constantly returning to old methods and wanting to try some new. I have been interested in the process of letterpress for quite a while, so this semester I decided to ask the technicians to organise a letterpress workshop so myself and other students could experiment with the method.

As my practice is text based, i discovered letterpress through my research. I haven’t seen a print created by letterpress in person before, so this was an opportunity to finally see it. For this session we were asked to write a haiku, so we could use this to make our prints. Haiku is a short poem from traditional Japanese decent, and it consists of 3 lines of text; the first and third lines are 5 syllabubs and the second middle line is 7, below is the haiku I wrote in connection to my work:

Look into my mind
Where the darkness wreaks havoc
it consumes my life

Going into the session, we were then asked to cut our haiku’s down, for the sake of the small amount of text the vice can hold and it also was to make our texts more to the point and evocative, so what I ended up printing was:

M I N D . .
Darkness wreaks havoc
Life consuming.

The next step was to decide a font, I used 18pt Perpetua; a very small text, reflective of the aesthetic of a typewriter. Now it was time to compose our pieces of text in the vice, making sure the letters were all backwards so it would print the correct way, and finishing the vice by using blank metal blocks, to assure the type wouldn’t move when being printed.


Below are images of my completely set text in the vice:

The next step was to remover the blocks from the vice, and place them inline on the letterpress printer, inside the metal frame. Then, just like the vice, packing out the empty space with metal bars and compressing the entire frame together so when ink is applied and then printed, nothing would move out of place.

Illustrations of the Letterpress process from the mentor.

We then each printed 2 pieces on thin white paper and also a warmer cartridge paper, the process of loading the paper and then rolling the machine that took the paper and pressed it onto the inked type was simple to do but the technical aspect of it is difficult to explain, so below is a video I found online, showing the letterpress printing process:

The Outcome:

I really enjoyed the entire process, it felt and looks very industrial with the metal type and machines. However, i’m not entirely impressed with the outcome, i feel it looks too simple; as though it has been printed through a computer. I think the detail can only be seen in person, with the slight impression it makes on the paper, but the process of making the haiku, setting the type in the vice and printing is the highlight of letterpress. I thoroughly enjoyed this workshop, but I feel the outcome is not correct for my practice.


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