Monday, January 9, 2012

Letterpress Studio Adventures

A friend recently told me about Dartmouth's letterpress studio, which, as a grad student, I am allowed to use for free, including materials. There are two required orientation sessions, and since the studio is small they fill up fast. So I had been waiting months, but tonight I finally got into my first session. My second one will be a week from now. And then I will have free range in the studio during open hours (which are also limited to 6 people, I believe)!

I got to the orientation session, and there were two girls already there, and an older gentleman, who I quickly learned was Bob, our instructor. The other two were sitting there silently, but I was feeling chatty, so I was asking Bob how long he's been working at Dartmouth (part of me thinks undergrads don't even think to ask questions like that (actually, I think I never knew to ask questions like that until I started meeting a lot of new people at contra dances, and then that is a pretty normal question)) and how he got into doing letterpress stuff. He said he took a class in high school, which I wish I could have done. He also said he started learning type-setting just as it was "going out of style" in favor of all automated things.

So anyhow, Bob is awesome. We are friends, and we are going to have a good time in that letterpress studio.

For the first half hour of orientation he told us a bit about the history of letterpress, gave us some handouts, talked a bit about the typecases. The terminology "upper case" and "lower case" when referring to THIS and this, respectively, came from the original typecases, in which the upper case letters were located in the upper typecase, and the lower case letters were located in the lower typecase. Pretty nifty bit of info that I never knew.

We were also instructed to bring a sonnet or other short poem to use as our practice piece. I am definitely not a poetry person, so I was having a hard time finding something that I was moderately okay with. This morning, out of desperation, I googled: "sonnets that don't suck", and was led to Sonnet 1928 by Elizabeth Bishop. It is actually quite nice.

Setting type is a wonderful process that takes a fair amount of time, all while being quite meticulous. The amount of care put into forming each word made me so much more appreciative of the richness of the poem, which is not something I had expected. That Elizabeth Bishop certainly could make words beautiful.

There wasn't enough time to actually do any printing of my sonnet, but next Monday I should be able to do that. I also forgot my camera, but Bob said that I can take pictures as long as I give him 50% of any proceeds of sales of the photos. So next week I will have another letterpress adventures post, complete with (hopefully) neat-o photos!


  1. Have you been to the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers?

  2. I had no idea that existed! Very cool!