A couple of weeks ago we spent some time at Maryland Hall here in Annapolis making letterpress prints with Bob Hardy, owner and founder of American Primitive Letterpress. The art of letterpress is extremely time consuming, but when your print turns out just right, it’s definitely rewarding. We had a blast creating designs and quotes out of the vintage and wooden moveable type that Bob has in his collection. Bob was a fantastic instructor and has much experience in design and specialty posters and flyers, cards and invitations, hand-setting wooden and metal type and ornaments.
First, a little background. What the heck is letterpress and why should you care? The printing press and moveable type was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 1440. Thanks to our homeboy Gutenberg, literacy and the distribution of written works spread the globe. The process was pretty much used for the next 500 years, which is completely insane if you think about it. Gutenberg was a genius! And super, super patient.
The Original Gangster
Letterpress printing starts with arranging individual blocks of moveable type letters into a tray forming words and sentences from the combination of letters. All the characters are in reverse and the words need to be arranged in reverse. Once printed, they read correctly. At times this was tricky, especially when forming long words or sentences. Bob has a variety of graphics and designs in his letterpress collection, too! Ask him about the stars. He has a TON of stars.
Once our tray was set and spaced correctly (this is probably the most time consuming aspect of the process), we were ready to ink it up! Using hand rollers, we spread ink over all of the letters, making sure it was evenly distributed. We then gently placed paper on top of the moveable type and rolled over it with the actual letterpress, which could best be described as a mini steamroller. It was heavy. If you’re a weakling, you could probably ask Bob really nicely to help you out, but he makes no promises.
And ta-da! The finished product:
If you’re interested in learning about how much of a badass Gutenberg was, you should definitely check out the introductory workshops Maryland Hall is offering in July and August. The workshop is a 4 hour session that involves “small groups of students in the hands-on process of designing, typesetting, and printing their own cards, flyers, and small posters using American Primitive’s vintage wood and metal type and ornaments and flatbed cylinder galley-proof printing press.” We highly recommend it!