Archives for posts with tag: letterpress

Writing with a pen is one thing, writing by piecing together tiny individual bits of lead type is quite another. But in a strange way, it is exactly what I strive for when I create – the meshing together of verbal and non-verbal stimuli with the same juxtaposed outcome.

I did my first letterpress workshop this summer, through the Naropa Summer Writing Program (an experience in itself), with instructor Karen Randall, one awesomely creative letterpress maven. The best part was doing the workshop with my best friend, Kathleen. The worst part was packing our entire house one night to prepare for evacuation from a wildfire above our home in the foothills, and then unpack (thankfully) the next day. But, of course, we kept on printing throughout the whole thing…

First, you write a poem. Then you set the type. Upside down. And backwards. It’s awkward – and it completely separates you from the verbal aspect of writing, which is important, because then you can actually concentrate on the design of the layout.

Typesetting workstation

Mosey on up to the workstation, pull out the font of type that you’d like to work with (Times New Roman, 14 pt, for example), and get to work. I found the process relaxing (except when I was thinking about the fire) and strangely rhythmic. If you look closely, you can see that there is a lot of filler surrounding the type, to get it to sit just right.

The type is set upside down and backwards.

When you’re done, set the type into the bed of the press and lock it in. This is Kathleen locking her form (setting her poem).

Locking in the type

Then you ink the type (trip), set the paper, and run it through.

Finished product

The hands-on form of writing through letterpress is abstract and methodical, allowing you to slow down, focus on the primary elements of your form and words – the result is pure and beautiful to touch, as well as read.

The process of creating through the tremendous stress and anxiety of my home potentially burning down (which it did not) was quite another experience, but somehow strangely related. It took all of my inner resources to stay present in the moment, both for the ability to participate in the class, knowing there was nothing I could do (once our belongings were packed into our cars), and also to allow myself to see beyond the crisis. All I could do was watch and accept and release. Sort of like making art.

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On a recent trip to visit a friend in Portland, I got a tip to check out Em Space, a letterpress studio and book arts center. Very cool place.

Em Space is located in the heart of the industrial part of the city (south-east), and we noticed that there were other commercial printing companies around, so we suspected we were in the right place.

Em Space is a co-op, where membership allows you rights to use the member-owned-and-loaned presses, sets of type, and more. Rory, the founder, was very cool and explained a little bit about the structure of the organization, and she was very open to sharing ideas for those who want to start a print co-op in their own city.

One of the presses they have in the studio is the Vandercook, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2009! New York printers Barbara Henry and Roni Gross enlisted artists from around the world to create works on this press in honor of its place in history. The collection is named the Vandercook Book. Em Space was lucky enough to have access to one set of the prints, and we checked them out on the studio wall. Amazing work.

“The company was started in Chicago in September 1909 by R.O. Vandercook. Designed to proof a page of type before being sent to the press, the earliest proof presses depended on a roller and the force of gravity to make an impression of type on paper. The Vandercook proof press built upon this technology to incorporate a carriage and cylinder that could be finely adjusted.” (from The Museum of Printing History)