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Experimental letterpress typography

A couple of weeks ago, SHARP very kindly sent me and two of the design team for a day trip to Leeds for a letterpress workshop. The workshop had been put on as part of the Leeds Print Festival, which is a great event that happens annually. If you haven't been before, make sure you check it out next year. 

Letterpress wasn’t something that I had a whole lot of knowledge about, but I have always admired the beautiful type based artwork and bespoke posters that can be made using a letterpress. So we jumped on the train for the short journey from Huddersfield to Leeds ready to arrive at the print shop for 9.30am. There were only about 10/15 of us as there were three presses to work on throughout the day.

Our letterpress guru started the day off with a breakdown of how letterpress works and what can be produced with this beautiful print technique. There was a lot of his work on the walls, which gave us a good idea of what was achievable – much more than I ever realised! The interesting thing about letterpress is that there is an awful lot of planning involved before you even start getting the wood/metal blocks out. Working out what type of font you want to use from the wood or metal blocks you have, whether your going to use letterforms to create shapes or words and how many colours your going to use.

The hardest thing I found about setting up your design is using the ‘furniture’ to fill out the spaces. So you have a metal frame that you place your letters in, but then those letters need to exist in that frame without moving when it travels from the desk to the press. So you fill it out with metal and wood blocks and vices so it all fits together without falling out! The hardest bit is finding the perfect size blocks to fill your frame with.

The raised shapes and letters are what gets inked and pressed onto the paper, whereas the other blocks are the 'furniture' that keeps everything in place. 

My favourite thing about letter press however, is that a simple mistake can turn out to be beautiful. Whether you put a particular colour on the wrong letter, or you realise you put a letter in upside down. Sometimes that mistake can turn out looking really awesome.

Whilst we were at the workshop, a really talented film maker and designer was there taking photographs and making a stop-motion film of our day, focusing in on the print process. I have included her film on the right, along with the results of my printing for the day below. I was pretty happy with my finished pieces and how they turned out, just need to get them up on the wall now! Make sure you check out Square Eye Printing, her work is amazing!

Photos courtesy of Square Eye Printing

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