Letterpress Class – Week 1

3257799126 1063343d60 Letterpress Class   Week 1

Some of my favorite images of letterpress type from around flickr. The lead and wood type is so beautiful in and of itself. (Click on the photo to get the links to the originals.)

I’ve wanted to try letterpress printing for ages and ages. I remember back when I was a kid we went on a school trip to some historic site or anotherĀ  and someone was printing on a old printing press and thinking it was absolutely amazing. I think it appeals to me much in the same way that sewing and screenprinting does–there’s something simultaneously challenging and rewarding about creating something in the Old School way. I take a special pride in being able to look at something sewn, for example, and knowing how it was made and that I could replicate that myself.

I was fortunate enough–thanks to Josh’s work–to get to enroll in a continuing education class in letterpress at the Pacific Northwest College of Art here in Portland. This is a ten-week class that’s actually intermediate level (they were cool with my never having done letterpress before, though) that is three hours long every Thursday night. I started the class this evening, and all I can say is that it was totally geektastic.

One of the great things about PNCA’s Continuing Education program is that the classes are very, very small. This is great for me, because I have never been in a large class of any sort (I know, I’m spoiled, and I’ve got the student loans to prove it!). My college was very committed to small class sizes, so I think my largest course was fewer than twenty people. Something hands-on like this, I really need a small group. While not everyone could make it to the first class this evening (it was First Thursday, so there’s a lot happening in the Pearl District), I believe the total number of student was fewer than ten. And there is a TA, in addition to the instructor. Needless to say, that’s an excellent student-teacher ratio. (A sidenote: I was struck by how many of the students had taken this class before and loved it so much that they were taking it again–one person said it was her fourth time. These folks were very happy to help out us newbies, which was great.)

This evening we learned how to navigate the printshop (it’s HUGE) and the basics of setting type. Additionally, while we were doing this, the instructor (who is from Albuquerque and was more than happy to talk green chile with me) talked to us about the history of printing, showed us examples of what previous students had created and got us up to speed about what to expect over the next couple of months. It was pretty intense–but in a good way. Then we were given the assignment to play with the type (there is both lead and wood type available) and set it in our composing stick or tray to create a design only using type. This is going to be printed into a class book–a collaborative project to start out the course.

3256879149 4850b90cd9 Letterpress Class   Week 1

That pound symbol was my big score--I love how thin it is.

I was immediate drawn to the wooden type, partly because it doesn’t weigh nearly as much as the lead type, but also because I love large, graphic elements in design. It was really interesting looking at the letters, numbers and symbols not as what they are functionally, but what they are in terms of their visual impact. Believe it or not, in that jumble of type, there was a lot of thought put into my design. The three hours just flew by.

Next week we’re printing our collaborative project–I can’t wait to see how my page, and everyone else’s, turns out!

219p Letterpress Class   Week 1

This is similar to the presses we'll be using--they're Vandercook cylinder proof presses. PNCA's have names--I think one of them is called "Tony."

Once we’re up to speed on how to use the presses, we’ll be able to use the print studio to work on our individual projects outside of class. We’re each expected to develop a concept for a project for the class, and work on it in the studio on our own time, in addition to the classroom instruction we’ll receive. I am actually at a loss as to what I’ll come up with for a concept for my “big project.” People have done anything and everything, but we do have to put together a brief proposal and have the instructor approve it, so I want to make it thoughtful and something that will be meaningful… I don’t even know where to begin developing an idea. Hmmmm… Tips on where to turn for inspiration are always appreciated.

My plan is to keep sharing my letterpress adventure with y’all… It’s pretty exciting for me–I hope you’ll find it fun to follow along as I learn this new/old craft.

~Sarah

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4 thoughts on “Letterpress Class – Week 1

  1. This class sounds like a dream! What a neat, rare opportunity. You have excellent judgement and great taste, so I know your big project will be amazing. :)

  2. Was your school trip to the Canby Depot? I remember going there and they had an old printing press and they gave us some teeny-tiny letter press letters. I still have mine. :D I’ve also picked a few up here and there at antique shops. They are just so cool! My favorite is a large, almost cursive looking, letter E.

    Have you thought about creating a cool letter press and then scanning it and printing it onto fabric? I’d love to see what you could do with that. :)

  3. GIRRRRRRRRRRLLLL.

    You are killing me over here.

    You have no idea how insanely jealous and simultaneously crazy excited I am. I have been coveting a letterpress experience since I was a kid and I explored these ginormous trays of type my dad had (he had gotten them from a friend who had him “store” them while he was moving and then decided he didn’t want them -wha!?)

    When I was in college, some friends of mine and I went to Nashville and visited Hatch Show Print. I was in absolute h-e-a-v-e-n. Seriously, I did not want to leave that place. One of the coolest things they talked about was how they could be making a poster for Reba McEntire and be using the same “e” they’d used for a poster for Elvis ages ago. Just so cool! And so – tactile! And so – purposeful! I just love love love it.

    And I’m a total letterform geek. When I taught high school journalism, I had a whole unit on typography and blissfully geeked out as I explained ascenders and descenders and bowls. The kids made *so* much fun of me, but I didn’t care.

    I know I’ve said it a million times, but you are absolutely living my dream right now. You have no idea! I am going to enjoy this journey vicariously – so don’t go slackin’ or I’ll smack ya. ;)

    AWE.SOME.

  4. Pingback: Letterpress Class - Week Deux | Sewer-Sewist

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