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 another 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.
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!
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.
~SarahNo related posts...
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