Letterpressing

While I haven’t really written here since June, I’ve been busy on the back end, revising my exam article, passing my exams (hooray), falling into various research rabbit holes about anarchism, talking with faculty about directions for my diss, and on the home front, working on our house to prepare for our 5th family member (due in October). I’ve also been meeting with folks about planning Syracuse In Print, a small print festival to be held in late February as part of my fellowship for NY Council for the Humanities. In August I’ll be flying down to NYC for a 2-day orientation with folks there. 

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My type squeezed into a chase using quoins & furniture.

But one of things I wanted to do over this summer was experiment with other methods of bookmaking, to experience more sophisticated methods  so that I would have a better understanding of what that process is like, especially how it might be different from publishing on a computer, something I’ve done since I started making zines almost 25 years ago. But in order to do that, I needed access to tools I don’t have. So I took a letterpress workshop at the amazing Western New York Book Arts Center the last two Wednesday evenings. There I learned about tools like composition sticks and quoins, terms like pica and points, and how to set moveable type — a totally different design process than I’ve ever experienced.

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The studio in the basement of the WNYBAC

Probably the most interesting thing about setting type had to do with how the space — not a screen — served as the primary means for composition. Not only does the WNYBA studio embody the materiality of writing, but combing through shelves, drawers, and cases looking for lead or wood fonts, wingdings, and symbols, required me to bricolage my way to something. So as I produced mockups with my composition stick, I never really knew how it would turn out. Unlike digital layout, where everything is WYSIWYG, as a newb to typesetting, I just wasn’t really sure how my project would come out. But after several gaffes (i.e. using layers of slugs instead of spacers, which would have been the same point as the type), I squeezed the type in a chase using furniture and quoins, hopped on an Excelsior platen press, and went to town, making 100 or so business cards. There’s lots more to say and reflect on about this, but for now, I’m thankful to have a reference point as I continue to explore questions of printmaking in the 21st century. 

One of my business cards
One of the business cards made on a platen press

During my visit I was also able to chat with Christopher Fritton, Studio Director and the founder of the Buffalo Small Press Festival (BSPF) about some of the things he’s learned in running that festival for eight (!) years. While Syracuse in Print won’t come close to the scale Chris has achieved with the BSPF, he had a lot of smart, practical ideas for carrying out such an event.