Letterpress | Project Three

You would think that an eleven week course in Letterpress would mean that you would get lots done - think again!

Week three, project three saw me begin my first self driven project. I'd like to say that I put LOADS of thought and planning in to it, but I didn't. An idea sprung in to my head that I would do a simple memorial piece to my grandmother, who had passed away the first week of the course. It seemed like the most logical thing to do. There would be no tricks or gimmicks, it would be plain and simple and would allow me to get another project in before the course ended.

I planned on using a mixture of Lino and Letterpress for this. Mary advised me that this would be a two-step or two-week print process. Both elements would not be printed at the same time which meant I could do a two colour piece.

I started off by finding a really strong image of my granny. A cousin of mine had taken one of her years ago and I loved it. It was her all over, the beaming smile, her distinctive hair and glasses. I brought it in to Photoshop and started to work with it so it would come out a very high contrast black and white image.

From here I transferred the design on to a piece of lino. My first attempt left a lot to be desired. I'd forgotten how difficult it is to carve lino, especially when it is cold, so I hacked around very faint pencil lines and around very intricate elements. The tools that I was using were brand new but didn't feel like they were doing the right job.

I left the class that night feeling a little dispirited about the execution so far on the lino cut. Throughout the next week, I spent some time looking up block printers on Instagram. Researching what others were doing and how they were doing it. It was a real eye opener! One person I came across was a guy called Jeremy Luther. What I really liked about his feed was that his work is so intricate and he has videos that show him at work with his tools. After watching a few of his videos I decided to go back to the beginning and take a different approach. This meant buying new Lino, a craft knife and some transfer paper so I could see what I was doing better! I also made sure that I heated the lino up gently to make it easier to carve. It made such a difference and in no time I had a brand new lino block ready for my next class.

Once the lino was cut then I had to set about getting my prose all typeset. I used XXXXX in 24pt for it given that this would be on an A4 sheet. Some of the fonts available have better stock than others, so you have to bear this in mind when picking a typeface. I planned to centre my text. To achieve this I had to pick the longest line and create it first as all other lines would then be based around that spacing. Then slowly but surely I built up all the paragraphs in to one block. It's only when you have the block complete can you really weigh up if your spacing is consistent but once you do your first print then you can see how each letter looks as some can be damaged.

My first print was going to be the lino block. Using a very strong double sided adhesive the lino was trimmed and attached to a wooden block. As I went out and bought my own lino it was a little thicker than they have their press set up for, so I had to use a thinner block and put a little paper underneath to achieve the correct pressure. I decided to use a 300gsm cream card and created a burnt umber colour which I thought would go well with it.  Once the ink went on to the lino you could see how the cut looked much better and I was really happy with it. The detail I was hoping for came out.

The following week would see me set up the letterpress element of the project, some more colour and position testing, and producing my final prints. In total I would have ten out of twelve printed. Mary mixed up a very dark grey for me as I didn't want to go with a stark black for the text. During the initial testing of the copy, we spotted that several of the letters were damaged so they needed to be replaced as well as some letters that were in backwards or upside down. Sometimes in their raw, metal state you can't make out these things, so a proper proof has to be marked up and fixed before the final run of prints are done. 

I'm delighted with the final result. It's very simple looking but I didn't want to spend the entire eleven weeks working on one project. I wanted to get a chance to try all aspects of what was available to us all. The indent of the letterpress on to the card was beautiful. Something that you never see in modern litho printing, unless you have a bespoke die made for embossing/debossing/foils. The print is crisp but you know its hand done as its not 100% perfect which is what makes it so special.

Those ten prints will never be done the exact same again. If I was to set it all up again it would have very slight variations which is amazing to think. In a world of perfection these are all a little imperfect and I love that :)