Type. Set. Press.


On Saturday I was fortunate to drive to Houston for a Letterpress class at the Museum of Printing History. My friend Tania joined me both for the drive and the class. We had a blast. It was so fun! Not only did I get to spend that time with Tania, and meet the fellow Letterpress enthusiasts, but we actually went through the motions of designing, typesetting, proofing and printing.

(photos above borrowed from & property of weekendprojectgirl)

Tania and I left bright and early at 6:30am to make the 3 hour drive into Houston. We arrived about 2 and half hours later after a coffee stop and some pretty interesting sleepy-eyed conversation. Its always hard to form words, let alone complete sentences, when its still dark outside and my IV coffee drip hasn't been started. We arrived to an open but empty museum, it was a little erie. As other students and the instructor arrived Tania and I felt more at ease, knowing our 3 hour trip was not in vain. I have to admit that for a few minutes I wondered if the class was really going to happen.

(photos above borrowed from & property of weekendprojectgirl) 

Amanda, our wonderful instructor (also the curator of the museum), introduced the class with a selection of business cards that previous students of the class had created and that she had collected through the years. We each introduced ourselves and our purpose. There was an interior designer (thanks to Kelly for her pictures from weekendprojectgirl.blogspot.com), a marketing/advertising guy turned graphic designer -- due to accidentally falling more in love with typography in the ads than the ads themselves, and a married couple -- one a photographer the other an intern-architect who had fallen in love with letterpress during wedding planning (as many people do), Tania -- an intern-architect, and myself -- designer and artist.  The size of the class was a big plus, with only 6 students there was plenty of room in the workshop to move around and each have a chance to participate.

Amanda gave us a typesetting demo, using physical lead type and a composing stick. She taught us the lingo, most of which I have a cheat sheet for because I have forgotten. When she was done with her demo she let us loose to create our own "business card" design. The collection of type was incredible and I quickly just picked the first drawer I opened for my design. I didn't want to get caught up in choosing a font when I just wanted to practice the art form of typesetting. I created a card for my 22 month old daughter who loves to dance, hence the "dancer extraordinaire."

Because none of us had ever done this before it took us a little over an hour to actually compose the type for a standard business card size. Its a beautiful but labor intensive process. When we had all completed our composition, we lined them up together and locked them on the platen of the table-top press that we would use to proof. My Showcard press that I have at home is similar to this, but a smaller table-top size. We each had the opportunity to run the press once for a proof set. A few of us made some minor changes after proofing.

Amanda helped us to split them into two groups of three and lock them up together to move the set to the platen of our Kelsey table-top, and the other group's floor model Kelsey. We had the opportunity to "ink-up" the plates and rollers, set the paper guides and run a series of prints. Amanda showed us how to adjust the "packing" and adjust the pressure to achieve the perfect print every time. Of course every press is and will be different. Our group; Tania, Kelly and I, figured out how to do a double run on each sheet for the intensity of color. You should have seen our excitement after the first pull. WOW, it was incredible!

We ran out of time to cut apart the cards, so Amanda will be sending each of us our cards -- I will post pictures of those when I receive them.

Its been a dream of mine to learn this incredibly hands on art form and in turn be able to offer it to my clients. We are half way there! There is still so much to learn, but I really feel like I'm on my way to falling in love with the process. I returned from Houston gushing to my family and friends about the experience.

image: weekendprojectgirl

If you are in the Houston Area, please check out and support the museum and here is the class description if you are interested in the future:

Letterpress Business Cards

Learn the basics of setting type by hand and letterpress printing using the table-top platen press, still widely available on the market. Learn the california job case, set type, use a pica ruler and composing stick, mix ink, ink the press and print. Each student will set and print his or her own business card. We'll pull proofs, make corrections and print multiple copies; then we'll distribute type and spacing, and clean up.

Instructor: Amanda Stevenson
Level: all levels
Tuition: $90 plus $15 materials fee

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