Learning Letterpress at Ink Spot Press

It’s been a long time since I found myself in an art space without a single computer in sight so a couple of weeks ago I took the plunge and signed up for a letterpress taster day at Ink Spot Press in Brighton (UK). Early Saturday morning, I ventured out of my mole hole without so much as a sideways glance at my laptop, popped some driving tunes in the CD player and headed off down the A23 towards the seaside for some hands on, typographic goodness.

Ink Spot Press is a wonderful little studio, set up so artists can book sessions and use the space and equipment to produce their works. The have facilities for letterpress, screen printing, and relief printmaking. They ask that you do a course with them first, so you’re familiar with the studio and equipment, then you can book in for sessions to use the facilities any time during their opening hours. The studio has a wonderful vibe, with artworks on the walls for inspiration and (on the day I was there) a soundtrack provided by a rather eclectic French radio station which some local pirate allegedly relays from the coast of France.

I arrived and was greeted by Les Ellis who was our tutor for the day. Les has a wealth of knowledge, skill and experience (including a number of years at Cambridge University Press) and a fair measure of patience for us newcomers and arty, designer types who are impressed by imperfections and more experimental approaches.

Ink Spot has an amazing collection of type and just looking through the drawers was impressive enough. I could have gone home happy at that point and I spent a great deal of the morning marvelling at wooden type and the storage cabinets it was kept in. But there was more to come. We started with a little practice using the presses with some type Les had prepared earlier.

There were two presses. I have no idea of the technical specs (so apologies to any letterpress geeks) but I worked on the green one pictured below. There were four students in total which meant we had plently of time to practice. My first attempt was met with the realisation of how weak and feeble I had become from hours in front of a computer screen. Took a little more oomph than expected.

In the morning session we got to grips with using the press, inking the type and getting a feel for the variations in effect you get with different paper types and weights. We chose some type, set it up for ourselves and printed some card with our initials on it. In the afternoon, we got down to the nitty gritty of setting a few sentences of type. Mine looked a bit rubbish in comparison to fellow student Claire’s so I took a quick snap of her’s instead (above).

Once we’d set our type, we had to master the task of moving it across to the press without dropping it (sounds harder than you think). Les was on hand to show me a nifty trick that would minimise the risk factor. Then we spent time tweaking the positioning and the paper weight til we were happy to print some final copies. Then it was time for cleaning up the mess we’d made while our work dried.

It all went far too quickly but was massively rewarding and fascinating at the same time. It reminded me of being back at school where you have and art room and equipment at your disposal. It’s only in retrospect I realise how lucky I was. My day at Inkspot Press has made me more determined to try new things and has reinforced the theory that getting away from the computer to create art is good for the soul.

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