I'm a student at Camberwell University of the Arts and I am writing a dissertation on the process of letter press, it's relevance in design culture today and its future. James down in letter press showed me some of your work and I also checked out your website/ blog, and I love the work that you have done with this printing process. I wondered if you could answer some quick questions for me please?
Thanks so much,
1. What first attracted you to working with letterpress?
To learn about typography, even if we use only digital "instruments" in the end, we need to learn how to use type in the letterpress. It's harder to make it work because you have more constrains, and that makes you understand better how to work with type in general. When you need to spend more than 5 minutes just to find the exact thickens of a piece of metal to work the spaces between two letters, this space becomes much more visible. And you get much more sensitive to it. You will spot it all the time around you in every piece of text you see on the street.
2. Why do you chose to use the process of letterpress in your working practice?
I use letterpress when and if it makes sense to use it. It's not a rule, it's a tool/technique like any other. Like the computer is another fantastic tool.
When I was studying in RCA for one year and focusing on the idea of dematerialization of music (internet, mp3, etc) I wanted to work with the idea of reify music. I was working with video so I've decide to use metal type, compose the lyrics of one song and film it in the leterpress. In this case I though it was the best tool.
3. Why do you think letterpress is going through a massive resurgence at this current time?
I guess it's a circle. Everyone was fascinated with computers for a while. Then some people realize the physicallity, print quality, texture, one can achive in the leterpress is something very special and unique. So they went back.
Also I think that's a different approach over graphic design, that has a very artistic experimental side. Leterpress is like a type lab for people to do nice experiments.
4. Do you think letterpress could ever be replaced by digital technology? And why?
No. For comercial reasons. For money reasons. For time reasons. Lots of reasons. Also there are many many things you can't do in the letterpress and you can do digitally.
And I don't see it as being either one or the other. Both can work in paralel. You can start a project in the letterepress and finish it on the computer.
The last project I did in the Camberwell Leterpress I didn't print it. I compose the type, ink it, and photograph it. Everything else was done in the computer.
5. Do you think there is a sense of nostalgia attached to letterpress?
For some people it can be. But what about young students using it for the firts time? They don't have any reason to feel nostalgic. They never did it before!
You can imprint the feeling of nostalgia to a project by using the leterpress. But that can also be achieved with other tools and techniques.
My answer is yes and no, depending on the person and on the project.
6. Where did you learn to use letterpress?
I've learn with the leterpress monster (like he likes to call himself) Ian Gabb, in the Royal College of Art leterpress. He is a funny character. We where all the time listening to music with a very nice selection done by Ian (also a Dj). I've use his turntable for some experiences with a praxinoscope that I end up using in my final project at RCA.
7. Do you think people in general (not in the design world) really appreciate and respect pieces made in letterpress?
I'm sorry but I don't like generalizations. People in general is too vague.
And I don't think it needs to be respected. Let's not be too precious about it.
In graphic design what people can't see, doesn't exist. We are not supposed to convince people about anything.
Otherwise we are talking about an artistic practise.
Letterpress can be a self indulgent practise. If "people" don't apreciate it so what?
8. Letterpress is a very time consuming practice, do you think this adds to part of it's charm?
I like to spend time in the leterpress. And I believe that by spending more time on something you can make it better. Also allowing yourself time it helps spotting mistakes. But for me the charm is more on the touch, on the smell and on the result. Not so much on the time.
9. Do you think you get more self- satisfaction from using this printing process rather than printing something off the computer?
No. My self- satisfaction comes from getting to the end of a project and feel that I did a good job. That is to do with answering in a consistent way to a specific programme. I don't like self initiated projects. I like to work with clients and to have restrictions, budget, deadlines, an audience, a programme. I'm a graphic designer.
I actually think it's easier to get to some nice visual results using the leterpress than using the computer. And all this fascination for no reason can be silly. Everything at it's own place, please.
10. What are the disadvantages of letterpress in you opinion?
If you use it in a anapropriate situation. If it doesn't make sense to use it. If you are just fascinated by a visual result and forget the purpose of what you're doing. Then it has disadvantages. When it's inadequate.
Besides this you can find lots of obvious disadvantages: no repetition, time consuming, you destroy your clothes with paint, it's tyring, you have to carry heavie stuff, bla, bla. Or you can have a look at it from the opposite direction and say: you get unique print work, enjoy the time you spend in the letterpress, learn a lot, etc.