I got to try letterpress for the first time today. Considering I’ve built this up for years as something I really, really wanted to try, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a little bit underwhelming. It’s just occurred to me that not everyone who reads this will be graphic design lovers so I should explain - letterpress is a printing technique which uses metal casts of individual letters put together to create words. You know the printing press? That thing they used to make books before computers? Yeah, it’s basically that. I guess most people wouldn’t spend years really wanting to learn how to do this but I did. I love typography for a start. Working with type is the prefect meeting point of the geeky, bookish side of me and the aesthetic-driven side that just wants everything to be pretty. There’s so much beauty in language so I think it only makes sense to make that beauty visible, as well as legible.
But, no matter how beautiful a typeface is, fundamentally a font is a .ttf file; just a series of 0s and 1s arranged in a particular order. Even I find it difficult to romanticise that. But with letterpress, a typeface isn’t just an abstract digital file; it’s tangible. You can actually hold it in your hands. I guess a good analogy would be an iTunes library when compared with a lovingly compiled collection of vinyl. It might be quicker and easier to use iTunes but it’s so much more satisfying to actually have a physical collection.
And then there’s also the romanticised notion I have of printing in general. If you study the Enlightenment in any kind of detail, the significance of the printing press is obvious. I’d argue that it was the beginning of modern life as we know it. The fact that you could suddenly mass produce books in a relatively short space of time, instead of having a team of monks working around the clock transcribing a book - usually the bible - and only producing a few. Suddenly knowledge was everywhere, it was readily available (not to everyone, obviously education was still very much kept for the rich until the first public libraries in the nineteenth century. And the commodification of education seems like a pretty timely subject at the moment, what with the tories systematically turning university application into a case of your parents income, rather than your grades but that’s a topic for another time. I should really close these brackets now). In an age in which everything is on the internet and if we do read a book, it’s more likely to be an ebook than a real one, I think it’s worth remembering the power that knowledge has given us and the fact that that all started with some bits of metal and a big roller.
Saying that, my induction wasn’t that fun. Maybe because I’m still finding my way around the equipment. I’ll go back next week and do some more experimenting - I’ve got three paragraphs worth of rationale on why I should absolutely love letterpress so it’s not something I’m giving up on yet.