Letterpress has been an almost-all-consuming passion of mine for the past few years since taking a 3 day course at The Grange in north Shropshire in early 2013. I did letterpress at college 20 years ago, and wanted to see how I felt about it after years of working with a computer. Would I find hand-setting type tedious? Would it all seem too slow and laborious? Far from it. I had forgotten what a wonderful smell it all has. Ink, machinery, paper, white spirit; a potent and delicious combination! I was hooked as soon as I walked through the door.
Above: The gardens and approach to the print room.
My tutor at The Grange was Kenneth Burnley of Silver Birch Press, who has been printing ever since joining his school's print shop in his early teens. Ken showed me how to print on an Adana 8x5, an Eagle platen press and a Vandercook cylinder press.
Above: Cabinets full of wood & metal type.
On day one we set some type and a couple of blocks, and printed the same thing on each press, the idea being to learn about the differences between them and see how the prints varied. The Adana needed heaps of make-ready (in essence: faffing about with press adjustments, bits of paper and pritt stick until you get a good result), but by comparison the Eagle and Vandercook were a joy.
Above left: Jon (who runs The Grange with wife Rosie) with a couple of Adana 8x5's.
Above right: Fellow student Emma hand-feeding the Eagle platen press.
For me it was also great to see each press working. No matter how much you read it's no substitute for practical experience. I hadn't quite been able to comprehend the mechanics of it all before seeing it in action. No amount of diagrams in books can get you (by which I mean me) to understand how each bit of machinery actually works. But after actually *seeing* it, the penny drops.
Above: The Vandercook cylinder press. A beast of a machine. I want one.
Days two and three I got to do my own projects. I had ideas for a couple of A3 prints using wood type on the Vandercook, which you can buy in my shop.
Above left: Wood type from my Gin print on the Vandercook.
Above right: Cleaning the rollers is quite the job. These metal ones are seriously heavy.
I can't recommend the book arts courses at The Grange highly enough. As well as letterpress they do bookbinding and paper marbling amongst other things, and you get to hang out with a lovely group of book arts folk, eat great food and pretend that you're staying at Downton Abbey. Well, maybe not quite that posh, but it is an absolutely gorgeous old country house in stunning grounds. There's an open day each year if you fancy checking it out. Come say hi - I help out in the print room.