Letterpress printing was the arcane image making experience available at High Roller Society this weekend.
Alex Booker, fine artist and printmaker has an ancient collection of letterpress block which he bought along, demonstrated and then let a crowded workshop loose on.
Twenty or so active participants at the workshop came up with a huge variety of different letter based vocabu=lettes to print. The idea is always the most challenging thing with art. Little Miss NoLions noticed she could use the letters to create an image as well as a word.,
After scrabbling around in the boxes of letters to make up the desired words or symbols, the first stage is to set up the letters in the frame. As with most things in life, it’s not a “skill” if it hasn’t got its own vocabulary so it’s not a frame, it’s a “chaser”. The key mental challenge here is to remember that what you see on the surface of the letters is the mirror image that will appear on the paper. So letters must be arranged in reverse order.
The letters need to wedged in place so that they don’t move around at the printing stage which would cause smudges and blurred images. Letters are secured in place using “furniture” which is another name for bits of wood ranging from long blocks to thin shims. Alex uses pennies as an easy source of wedges readily available to most artists but the final micro- millimetre adjustment to lock each row and column in place is done using an adjustable thickness metal wedge called, amusingly, a coin.
An oil based printers ink is applied evenly over the letter face, multiple colours can be used, the first colour is easily applied as the nearby letters can be masked, the second colour is tricky as obviously you can’t mask off the adjacent inked up letters .
Paper is carefully placed onto the ink, it is important that it shouldn’t slide once it starts to make contact with the ink unless you particularly like smudges.
Then rolling to ensure the ink transfers to the paper.
Finally, remove your paper to find out what letters you put the wrong way round and upside down and which letters you missed out.
The beauty of this coarse printing process are the idiosyncrasies which appear in every print taken off the letterpress. Variations in ink application and pick up result in areas of fade and as the ink gets used, grain effects appear in the prints.
Even the masters can get it wrong, two geniuses of screenprinting, well, one anyway plus her young collaborator, managed to get all the letters in, they just spelled the “txt” chat abbreviations back to front!
This was one of the most interactive of the High Rollers Society workshops we have caught since we started going about 18 months ago. Thanks to High Rollers Society for putting it on and Alex Booker for equipment, demonstrations and master craftsman expertise.
As the event ended, we picked up our union cards, took a mandatory 23 minute cigarette break then headed off to picket a newpaper.