It is astonishing to realize how underappreciated printing is as a form of art. Print culture is still such an integral part of our modern society – from the books that we read to the advertisement flyers we pass by to the newspapers we receive every morning; we are surrounded by print. Despite it being so prevalent in our lives, we rarely notice the amount of effort, time, and thought that goes into creating these works.
When I had the chance to personally set a couple of lines of type, I first thought that it would be a relatively simple task; after all, it was simply placing little pieces of metal into a composing stick (a tool that holds the line of type). However, a few seconds into my first attempt, I was quickly proven wrong. Before I even began setting type, I first had to select the typeface that I wanted to use for my text. When choosing this typeface, I had to consider not only its appearance, but also its history, the connotations that it evoked, and the circumstances under which the type was commonly used. At the same time, I also had to consider the more technical limits of the type that I choose. I had to make sure that the case that housed my chosen type was properly sorted, so that I didn’t have to spend extra time hunting for a single letter, and I had to make sure that I had enough of each letter to properly complete my lines of text. Consequently, it took a while to choose the proper typeface to even start with. I had never realized the sheer amount of work and consideration of details that goes into this single step in printing.
Aside from the typeface, I also had to account for the spacing between each letter, each word, and each line of text. It was necessary to make sure that everything was spaced apart properly, that there were no unnatural gaps between words or that no two words were unreadable because there was not enough space in between them. It was difficult to check one’s spacing by directly looking at the text on the composing stick; instead, I had to print several proof sheets and then adjust the type accordingly afterwards. This was a very messy and tedious task, but it reinforced my admiration for those who do this every day. It is something that takes a lot of dedication and a love for printing, which shows in the beautiful works that they produce.
Taking this class has really allowed me to experience the beauty of printing and partake in both the joys and frustration that it has to offer. Although I have only been part of this world for less than two weeks, it has already captured a special place in my mind and heart.
Letterpress Workshops around Baltimore and D.C. Area: