Pressing matters!

I recently attended a one day Adana/Letterpress course, run by Mick Clayton at St Bride Foundation,

The mighty and rather beautiful Stanhope printing press.

The one day course is for people who are looking to set up a small home studio using an Adana Platen press.

We received instruction in hand typesetting and printing on an Adana Platen press, as well as practical points regarding maintenance of the press, and what to look out for when purchasing equipment.

The Adana printing press in action.

The St Bride Foundation was established in 1891 and housed in a Grade II listed Victorian building. The Foundation was originally set up to serve the flourishing print and publishing trade of nearby Fleet Street during it’s heyday.

Formally a gymnasium, the Print Workshop was opened in 2010 giving visitors the opportunity to experience printing hands-on and learn traditional printing techniques using items from the Foundation’s collections. The space houses a number of historic printing presses, wood letter, and equipment used by compositors to typeset print.

Getting to grips with typesetting.

The first half of the day was used to practice setting some copy from a book. We were using 12pt Garamond, set as justified text. I thought this would be fairly easy but forgot how small 12pt actually is in real life and enlarged on a screen. I’m used to setting copy on a computer, zooming in and out for precise setting and visual alignment. However, standing up, holding a metal type stick and placing individual letters and spaces, one by one, by hand, was pretty tricky. It was an almost zen-like experience, peacefully setting type, spacing and leading. After a couple of hours, my eyes were sore from straining on the tiny letters, I was starting to get a headache being so focused on what I had to do and that setting monotype involved placing reversed text upside down in rows. My wrist hurt holding the increasingly heavy type stick adding the metal type row after row and my back ached from this new type of exercise!

Bollocks! I’ve never seen the word look so good! One of the students inks up some beautiful Wood type lettering ready for printing.
What a load of ********!

It was all great fun, and after we got to a point, we stopped what we were doing for phase two, proofing and pulling a test print. Blimey, when I checked my layout, I had upside down g’s and e’s, missing letters, miss spelt words, no spacing and too much spacing, to name but a few of my imperfections!

I corrected as many as I could before inking up the type and taking a test print. Last chance for any corrections before the type was transferred to the press and locked into place ready for printing on the Adana Platen press.

Setting up and getting the press ready for printing was pretty simple and straight forward. It didn’t take long for me to print off a few impressions from my earlier typesetting adventures. Even with typos, I had missed it still managed to look fab.

Two images above showing the old gymnasium, now home to the print studio.

At the end of the day, we still had some time to play around with some classic vintage wood type. I set my name, inked the wooden blocks and chose an appropriately textured paper to use on the Stanhope press. I was so happy with the way it turned out, which will take pride of place on my wall.

I would highly recommend the one day course. It’s great fun, easy-going, you learn lots, and there’s something really special about getting your hands dirty and all touchy-feely with these incredible printing presses.

The hands-on inking tabletop and a vintage ink roller.

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