Thursday, April 06, 2006

Touch type

I've just taught my first letterpress workshop, and it was deeply satisfying. I feel akin to a preacher who has managed to convert a room full of doubters.

It was small class, because it is review time here at the art school, and I suspect I was given this particular class time to keep the students happy while their normal teacher was busy assessing. But! The letterpress equipment has been in the workshop a long time, and no-one has shown students how to use it, so my class numbers fluctuated wildly as keen and interested students tried to attend then had to dash to their assessments then dash back to see what was happening.

They laughed when I confessed to being a letterpress geek (they thought it was a joke!), but as soon as I heard the collective sigh at printing the first page, I knew they had started to understand.

There is a thrill to a newly-printed page of text that you have painstakingly set yourself that a computer and inkjet printer just cannot match. It's a tactile thing. It smells great, and the words glisten as you hold it up in front of you. The black text on white paper (I kept it simple) is a deeply ingrained visual stimulant in our culture. It never fails to impress.

3 hours is not enough time to teach the finer points of printing (hell, I've been doing this for a few years now and I'm still learning something new every day), and I asked them all to lobby the head of workshop if they wanted more time. In that short time I taught them how to keep themselves safe, set type, clamp up a chase, work the press, tie up their type, and clean up. I also fielded questions about typography and design, subjects you can base a three-year degree upon... it was frustrating to give the precis version. I'll be happy if they retain half of what I told them today, and hopefully it's all the stuff I actually made them do themselves.

{a messy drawer of letterpress bits & bobs: a quoin key, spanners, allen keys, a roller gauge, scissors, sandpaper, a type pad, lino cutting tools (for adjusting polymer plates), screwdrivers... and many unidentifiable objects left over from years of people dumping stuff in the drawer.}

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