NCAD - Introduction to Letterpress and Block Printing

I have been working as a graphic designer now for over 13 years. But there was this very small window of time at college when computers were not a daily feature nor was the access to incredibly expensive software. Photoshop! What was that? Quark Express sounded like some mode of transport and Indesign hadn't even been invented.

My first introduction in to proper graphic design was in my BTEC Foundation Art & Design course I attended straight out of school. Watercolour pencils, rulers and letrasets were the tools of the trade. It almost seems hard to believe that this was only 1998! I suddenly realised how bloody hard design was when this was all you had to work with....but you worked with it and did your 17 year old best. 

We ring in 1999, return to college after the holidays to find the addition of three Apple iMac G3's to our very limited computer lab. Great stuff...but between a minimum of 30 students anytime spent on these colourful bubbles would be extremely limited, evetually leading to parents being spent out trying to keep up with the ever changing progression of computers. Fast forward to 2017 and here I am sitting with my Macbook Pro on my lap, the world at my finger tips. 

Margins, fonts, paragraph spacing, leading, print, all there at the touch of a button....but something is missing? Ah yes...that feeling of make and do from the 90s art room!

When I look in to night classes, I always look for something that lets me "make and do" and will technically take me away from the day job. I sit at a laptop all day, and at the moment that is an IBM laptop, so not the prettiest computer in the world. Previously I have done Life Drawing classes in both college and gallery environments. I've loved the creation of my own images. Albeit, not the most amazing, but it makes you remember why you're a designer, why you went to art college; the love of being creative. 

My latest venture in to the creative comes in the form of an eleven week introductory course in to Letterpress and Block printing in the National College of Art and Design here in Dublin. This is one of their non credit short courses which is an ideal length to introduce you to a new subject matter. What I liked about the sound of this course was that it was geared towards graphic designers but would take you through the incredible techniques of letterpress printing, the things the digital age now take for granted; type setting, locking up for print, registration, the use of multiple colours and lino cut to name but a few. The course is also held in the Distillers Press, the only working letterpress facility in third level education in Ireland and is taught by renowned designer and artist Mary Plunkett.

|  Project one and two  |

Our first two classes were spent with Mary going through the layout of the studio, the different presses they own, their collection of metal and wood type and lots of rules and words none of us knew! We would spend the first class setting up our first letterpress paragraph and very quickly realise that it will not spot your mistakes unless you do, and there was plenty in my section. It was a real eye opener in to how long it takes to do everything, even the most simple of tasks.

Week two saw us move over to wood type for the class. A much more elaborate and larger form that has a lot most graphic options. We were tasked with doing a simple group project where we created, set up and printed a statement poster in two colours. I really enjoyed this class as you realise that the expansion of wood type must of opened up a whole new world of options for typographers.

The forerunner of the block print in China was the wooden stamp. The image on these stamps was most often that of the Buddha, and was quite small. Provided with handles to facilitate their use, they were not unlike the modern rubber-stamps of today. In Europe, large letters used in printing were carved out of wood because large metal type had a tendency to develop uneven surfaces, or crack, as it cooled. With the expansion of the commercial printing industry in the first years of the 19th century in America, it was inevitable that someone would perfect a process for cheaply producing the large letters so in demand for broadsides. Wood was the logical material because of its lightness, availability, and known printing qualities (source

More projects to follow.