Sunday, June 13, 2010

Another Time/Dimension

Descend multiple flights of stairs deep into the underbelly of CMU and you might miss a treasure trove of wonder, if the door is closed -- mistaking it as another classroom or storage closet. Stand in the threshold and discover that this dungeon is no dungeon at all; it is a cool temp, well-lit, organized and meticulously clean safe haven. Finally, enter and be transported back to another time/dimension; one where craft and creativity meet. Welcome to the AIGA Letterpress Workshop, hosted by Matt Griffin of Bearded Studio at CMU's Letterpress and Bookbinding Lab.

The master of this domain is pressman Joe Dicey, who (according to Matt Griffin) has forgotten more about Letterpress printing than most of us will ever know. Joe, Matt Griffin and Matt Braun (designer and letterpress enthusiast; Bearded Studio) became our guides for the 11 person workshop as we first learned the bare bone basics to the craft and then began exploring and experimenting.

My favorite thing about this studio experience was witnessing how much care was given to the craft and particularly the equipment. A consideration that's completely foreign in our modern-day, consumer-driven society; each pressman treated all the pieces to this process with respect (press, gears, rollers, wooden/metal type, etc.) in an effort to consciously preserve each piece because once something breaks down or gets worn out, it's probably gone for good.

Another great full-circle phenomena of this workshop was seeing contemporary, new school designers learning about this old school craft. The best was when Griffin would use current terminology that we could relate to as designers -- gradients or tint/transparency sliders in Photoshop -- to help us understand this craft. We discovered the origins of most of the terminology that we use today; even seeing/using leading used to space metal type and hold it in place during printing.

It's no wonder that our graphic design forefathers were such great typographers. When you work this closely with each piece of type for an extended period of time, it's hard not to become sensitive to the type's form and interactions with each other. It's reminiscent of working with a giant gigsaw puzzle. My team (Team Awesome, of course) came to this epiphany early on when we were searching through one set of type drawers (a row of about 20) for our letterpress project 'ingredients.' There were so many to choose from that we started picking the unique forms of certain letter/numbers out of each typefamily (1-2 per drawer).

Below are the pictures I was able to capture during our spurts of down time, when I had the presence of mind to do so -- there were so many awe inspiring collaborations of prints that kept us engaged throughout the day + great conversations among fellow designers. I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

After 6+ hours of play, we each walked away with 20+ prints of our choosing. Now... what to do with all those prints? A book, perhaps?

More than the great prints, my takeaway: I've caught the enthusiasm/passion of this craft and now want a letterpress workshop of my own. It will take years of searching and collecting, plus the need for a huge garage or basement. In the meantime, I can begin learning more about this craft, take more of such workshops and seek out others in the field as mentors/guides.

See more pics (via Matt Griffin) on Flicker:

Also check out Matt's post on Bearded's Blog (Thanks for the plug, Matt! That's my skinny little chicken arm/hand in the pic:):

Addition Letterpress links/resources for further exploration (via Matt Griffin)

Letterpress Resources:

Type Foundries:

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