Monday, 21 May 2012

In the Pressroom

When I talk to younger printers starting out in Letterpress I'm surprised by the way they work. They seem to use computer tools as they were taught in university and then use letterpress as a delivery process. Often files are output as CYMK from Illustrator or Indesign/Quark and then the image is "locked in" using process inks and a platen or cylinder press to realise the image on paper using Photo plates.
 I have used Photopolymer and its not all that easy, as I'd be the first to admit. Photopolymer has a very shallow etch, so the lock up has to be perfect and the rollers set to the lightest possible setting. If not then non-image areas get inked and will often print. Its very frustrating and ultimately a fun day of press work descends into lots of cursing and frustration as the printer tries to get a plate to work.

This put me off using the material and sent me in the direction of using more traditional materials. Photopolymer is not all that sharp either. Nothing like new crisp type from M&H foundry or Dale GuiId with their amazing foundry types. Using woodcuts and Linocuts too gives a nice low tech picture which carries a beautiful rich layer of ink on 100 year old presses. they seem to enjoy these materials! It always pays to remember the age when these presses came into existence and work with them. Same goes for deep impression. Too heavy an impression is very wearing of the plate, press and type especially so I avoid punishing the materials. Simple materials puts it all on the creators. those who cut the blocks, set the type and mix the inks. The 'art' is in assemblage and making choices.

With my work, colour is one of the last steps. The right mood is important. I try to match the content of the block with a colour. Sometimes we will print a block in a range of colours - some cool, some warm, to convey different moods. On a platen press you can change colour in minutes. I do own a pantone colour guide (the industry standard) but usually I just flick through it to  get an idea of possibilities. We use just a basic range of rubber based non skinning inks and use opaque white and transparent inks. Incidently mix from very light. Mix by sight and intuition. Start light and very gradually add a darkening colour. Tap a small amount out on paper to check. If you go too dark, "can it" and use it for something else. Start again.

Real Master Printers

Recently we had the joy of handling some 19th century japanese prints. A friend had been gifted them as a bequest.
   These prints are made off carved wooden blocks, with a "Baren" (a pad of bamboo Leaves). Ink is made from soot (black) and various pigment sources, often vegetable. It is amazing to see and to hold closely such beautiful prints. They are printed on handmade paper and these ones obviously had been in albums and suchlike as the mounts were still attached lightly in the top corners.  They are printed in register from successive blocks of colour and were made in hundreds. Often very good copies were made and printers did forge each others work too as famous prints garnered better prices. These guys could really print!

  Our job was to encapsulate them in acid free archival mounts that effectively sealed them from hazards in the future. A good friend who practices these skills taught us how this is done. Core-flute backing board, Mylar, and museum quality materials are used throughout the process. The prints were then stored in a purpose made box. I have a feeling that these sort opportunities happen only once in a lifetime!

Making Cards

Lasting Impressions is a Private Press. This means that we primarily print for the pleasure only seek to trade in order to buy in supplies to keep the studio ticking over. 

Making cards is one way in which in which trade can be mixed with pleasure. Joanne conceives and cuts most of the blocks out of lino. Subject matter is usually based on local wildlife and are usually not message cards. People are buying these cards and framing them, and why not! They are hand printed and archival and have a great feel to them. You can pay a little more though and buy the same image signed, and on a good paper especially for framing.

 Sometimes I make cards based on type. These pull on our growing and excellent type collection and are the usual message based cards. They give me a chance to play with the colour of the 30's and using printers ornaments is a great way to build a distinctive design. Ones that can't be replicated on computer. Ornaments were invisible to me when I was in "the trade" of the 60's. The fad had past by and for me the designs I worked with were usually zinc blocks of plain colours - Gill Sans and Times Roman. It was all very Bauhaus.
  Dale Guild Foundry in New York make these wonderful sets of ornaments and they can be arranged in an infinite way. I spend a lot of time looking at print materials from early 2oth century to the 60's. I look for simple innovative printing and ink colours that come from mixing on the press using mixing tints. Mostly pre-photography and this helps widen my skills base.

  We aim to keep all these skills in use and the studio when we finish (when is that!), will be a unique collection of fine letterpress with the best equipment and tools in daily use by artist/printers. The small amount of product we make goes along way to keep us functioning. Selling at our local market and a couple of retail outlets. The markets are a great way of meeting people who enjoy our work and often we also meet those who are or were printers. Sometimes they have the odd treasure to donate like type or small pieces of equipment.