Friday, 15 June 2007

one on one

My affections for letterpress have been brewing for about two years now and I think it’s about to get serious. I am in love. I’ve courted these lovely creations for a while and gasping when I lay eyes on them. I want to touch the impressions and take them home with me. But looking is just not enough.
I was able to access a workshop yesterday and treated to a one-on-one demonstration of letterpressing and lithography. I had to restrain myself from pocketing the oodles of type sitting in job cases whispering my name. The studio technician at Open Studio started off by introducing himself and talking a bit about how he got into this art. It was great to hear his passion for the old art form and he was eager to share with a lone audience. A fellow type nerd and letterpressphile! The four hour session was light an unstructured. Whatever I wanted to see and do, I got to see and do.

He started off by showing me how to carve on a linoleum block. I was able to relate to this because of my experience with woodblock carving. Only linoleum is easier to manipulate after laying it on a hot plate for a few seconds. And who knew that spreading oil-based paint on a large sheet of glass was going to be such a wonderful, relaxing feeling? The sound of a rolling brayer when it makes contact with the paint against glass is heaven to me. And if that wasn’t enough, the paint colour we used (blue cobalt) was brilliant as it spread evenly on the surface. We rolled the inked brayer on the carved image and once we were satisfied, we put paper to block. A rice paddle was used with light to medium pressure to register the colour. The result was stunning. I am kicking myself for not bringing my camera.

We then moved to the Vandercook. He inked the cylinders with a gorgeous red and showed me the mechanics to operating the press. Not sure why I was a bit intimidated of this thing because it’s so easy to use. And you can’t really injure yourself with it. It only moves when you move it. It has an on/off switch, a trip mode and print mode. That’s really about it. After the cylinders spun for a few minutes, it was well inked and ready for me.

The instructor then headed to a cabinet and took out a drawer full of large type. He handed me a set of 60 point woodblock and said, “Go ahead, spell something out.” Sweet. Naturally I spelled out my name. He took the form, laid it down on the press in the chase. Took some furniture, puzzled it out and locked everything into place. We used a thin piece of paper to proof the image. He let me get used to taking the press for a spin on my own and I took to it like type in a book. And then the awesome happened. There was my name in a lovely shade of claret freshly pressed and printed on a glossy piece of paper. I marveled at it like it was my newborn. No sooner did I repeat the process with a heavier weight of paper and touched the image to find a delightful subtle indentation. Kill me now.

Everything about the printing process, to the tools, to the materials, to the design, the clean-up, to the shop itself is meticulous. I enjoy that. This workshop banished any fears I had of not being able to do this myself. I’m more confident in persuing my passion and I’m ready for the next step. So this is it. Commitment is on the horizon. For better or worse. For richer or poorer. I letterpress.

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