Earlier this week I took a short introductory class in letterpress printing at the London Centre for Book Arts, where I learnt the basics of typesetting and how to pull letterpress proofs by hand. I worked in a small group of seven. The LCBA teachers, Simon Goode and Mark Pavey, were there to guide us but, most of the time, they left us to it. This meant we were learning through using our hands, rather than watching, which is the best way when you’re trying to get the hang of machinery.
Our first task was to set a short phrase with metal type. It didn’t take me long to decide what to compose.
Notice the big stash of Es in the top left. It’s the most commonly used letter in the English language, so there are more Es in a type case than any other letter. Check out a poem which focuses on this vowel here.
Once we’d finished composing our phrases they were locked into a chase, a kind of picture frame, which created the ‘form’ that was carried over to the press. We each pulled a proof and, remarkably, what we’d composed turned out to be a wonderful found poem.
It works so well. I mean, it concludes with a Dylan Thomas quote! I particularly like the humour in the unlikely (likely?) quantity of cakes.
You’ll notice that my phrase didn’t print as crisply as some of the others. This is because the font (Gill Bold) had become worn, meaning that the ink couldn’t spread across the surface evenly. I used a different font, one with a drop shadow, and it came out much cleaner.