09 March 2010

Drag Race at the Dawson Printshop

“I’m PRINTING something tonight, for Pete’s sake!” I growled when I landed at the Dawson Printshop for the regular Monday night meeting of the Letterpress Gang. The last few meetings had been dominated by admittedly pleasant chit-chat and some productive sorting and organizing of pied type and cuts, but lacked something fundamental. If you never get around to slathering ink on type and slamming some paper into it, what you have is a museum, not a printshop. And after a day teaching the basics of Vandercook cylinder press operation to our intern student back at Gaspereau Press, watching her carefully print a few hundred one-colour invitations from photopolymer plates, I was ready to get my hands dirty.

I jumped in and started cleaning and oiling a rather grumpy and worse-for-wear SP15, leaving the better maintained Universal I for Paul Maher, and everyone aligned themselves with one press or the other. While I revived the press, my crew set a nonsense arrangement of wood type to serve as the background of our poster.

I had an ink that was a mix of half metallic silver and half slate blue. We ran the sheet through twice, spinning it head to tail on the second pass. The opaque ink looked great where it overlapped, and we printed it fast an loose, letting the ink vary and the type distress.

Over this we printed the main text in black, which announced the Letterpress Gang’s weekly meetings. Paul’s crew was printing a two colour poster too. It felt like a race with two Vandercooks cranking out posters.

The poster my crew typeset was a long way from a polished piece of letterpress printing, but it was striking and spoke to the informality and fun of the letterpress evenings. I pointed out the upsidedown and backward characters, but the crew decided to let ’er stand. Yahoo!

Of course, I couldn’t mind my p’s and q’s. Someone picked up my camera and caught me in the act of pointing my blue-gloved fingers into Paul’s press, blathering on about the inking system on that press and how it works.

If you’re in Halifax and you’re interested in letterpress printing, you should come and check out the Letterpress Gang. We’re in the printshop at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design most Monday evenings during the school term.



Rebecca & Anton & Asher said...

Thanks for your post Andrew! I was there myself- but it is even more fascinating to read your version! There is something really magic about seeing the print that the old wood type makes....

basma said...

Yes, yes and yes! I bet I'm not the only letterpress fan who has been waiting for this invitation.