I really enjoyed this week’s exercise, just as I have enjoyed the hands on activities we have done in the past. One of the most interesting parts of this class so far, have been these opportunities where I have seen resources that, even as a senior, I didn’t know existed on campus. While I originally found this activity to be fairly challenging because my group managed to put our letters completely backwards more than once, I think I truly enjoyed our finished product and I look forward to using it in our completed project that is due after break. I have also attached a few photos from this week’s exercise. I look forward to reading everyone else’s responses about this exercise.
I was so fascinated today to learn about the wonderful world of letterpress machinery. I definitely gained a new respect for the craft. I never realized how much work actually went in to getting letters on a page. Microsoft Word makes it look so easy. For example, I took so many things in Microsoft Word for granted like the Font (or typeface), font size, line spacing, words per line, etc. Many of the features that I use every day in Microsoft Word actually came from letterpress. Even though it is so easy to change any of the above-mentioned features in Microsoft Word, it is actually a very physical and arduous process to change it on a letterpress. I could not believe how long it must have taken to press actual novels, especially lengthy novels.
It seems that, just like illustration, letterpress is also an art. Getting inked letters onto a page was a very subjective task. You can arrange the letters pretty much however you want on the page. You can mess with the spacing of the lines, the offset of the characters on the page, the margin width, and so on. Even though we can quickly do this with Microsoft Word, it seems you become much more in tune with the tools you are using when you must physically add line spacing yourself. It is the difference between drawing with a pencil and paper and drawing on a digital pad that transcribes onto a computer. Either way, you are drawing, but pencil and paper attaches the illustrator to the work.
Spending the past two classes in the letter press workshop has been an incredible and enlightening experience- I really wish we could spend more time here! I now understand and appreciate the attention to detail, the conscientiousness and caution that goes into this craft. It is a far more manual process than I had anticipated, which, in my opinion, makes it a more satisfying art form. Julia and I worked together on a print, and I suggested we use a quote from my favorite author, Joan Didion. It reads: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Although it seemed we were one of the only groups that chose a quote that didn’t directly link to My Name is Red or Don Quixote. Still, I think there’s something universal in this statement. The telling of stories can be equated with the creation of art: an act that is so often necessary, innate even. With the phrase “in order to live,” Didion suggests that storytelling, or writing, and, I would add, art, are a means of parcelling out the world, of absorbing experiences as we go forth. All art forms: writing, painting, printing, etc. become ways to digest lived experience. “In order to live,” to accept the chaos of the world, artists translate life into an accessible visual language. Still, Didion’s use of the term “stories” alludes to fiction, seemingly implying the idea that we strive not to confront the full truth of our experience in these crafts. Art is, then, a coloring of reality, but not necessarily a falsification. I think it’s fascinating to consider writing and visual art in these terms, as a reflexive means of processing the world and as crafts that can offer both solace and criticism to society.
How do you understand this quote in terms of our class?
Each time we take part in a workshop, I find myself growing more enamored with the people who used to and continue to create with these mediums. Even with help, it took my group nearly the full two days to assemble our phrase, choose a picture and then print the text and the images. The sheer amount of hours that people must’ve spent using the printing press to create books and accompanying images is astounding to me. I did however find a clear difference in the quality. The images and text that come out of the printing press, in my mind at least, are much more aesthetically pleasing than modern print today. I understand the appeal, and why it is that the use of the printing press is still preferred today for things such as wedding invitations and business cards. The quality of the pieces produced is second to none, and the fact that people still look to use printing presses in modern times speaks to that fact. I really enjoyed learning about the printing press, and being able to use one. It’s an activity I’m sure I never would’ve taken part in if it weren’t for this class.
Spending the last two class periods doing the letterpress workshop helped me appreciate the artistry that goes into using a letterpress. Before the workshop, I had viewed the letterpress as an old tool that had mainly been used to print text in black ink and not as a tool that could be used to design images as well. Actually using the letterpress helped me learn about the planning and design process. An artist must determine where on the page the letters will physically appear and then adjust the spacers and furniture on the machine accordingly. A decision must be made about how deeply the letters should make an impression on the page. For example, when we printed our text with three sheets backing the page rather than two, the letters made deeper indents on the paper. The artist must also determine how dark they want the ink to appear on the page and vary the number of sheets used to back the piece of paper being printed on accordingly. One especially interesting aspect of the design process is the fact that only one color can be used on the press at one time. The artist must determine how they want the colors layered on their paper and then run each sheet of paper through the press color by color.
The process of creating a book with the letterpress must have been an enormous undertaking. Setting each letter into its proper place was difficult and time consuming for one sentence and the idea of having to create an entire page of text seems daunting. Although using the letterpress was fun, I think that it would be more enjoyable to use the press for the creation of cards and posters rather than for books or newspapers. This workshop introduced me to new uses of the letterpress that I was not aware of before and it was a very enjoyable experience overall.
Confession: my favorite type of shopping is stationary shopping. I am obsessed with Rifle Paper Co., Papyrus and PaperSource. I just love paper and print! However, even though I am a frequent visitor of these stores, I very rarely buy anything because of the prices.
$12 for a Valentine’s Day card! That’s crazy.
But after spending two days at the letterpress, I now understand why. These prints are work! I guess it never registered to me that all the pretty cards that are displayed on the walls of my favorite stationary stores were hand printed, not digital. Those cards don’t just roll through a printer in hundred; they must be wheeled through a press one by one.
Another confession: over winter break, I applied to multiple printing presses – Steel Petal Press, The Found, Printventory, Snow and Graham… all those expensive cards (but also the ones that look the prettiest!) Now I feel silly for applying because I really didn’t understand all the labor that goes into their products. I really thought it was more about the art and the words. Then run it through a computer and then BAM product ready to sell. But no, this is more art than corporate. I now realize I’m probably not qualified for these companies because of my modest art background but hey, now that I have a little bit of experience with a printing press, maybe I’ll be a little bit more desirable.
It was interesting in class today to see everybody’s cover designs– I always love to see what different people come up with for creative tasks like that. As much as I enjoyed seeing them, though, it did strike me that the same imagery was present in each: Quixote and either a book, a windmill, or both. That held for all of the covers we saw earlier in the slideshow, as well. These are effective images for sure, and there is a lot lot of creative expression to be had in the way they are combined, but it seems strangely limiting that this pattern held for every single cover we saw or created.
So here’s the question: is it cliché or is it shorthand? I mean, I suppose that’s what a cliché is already, a way to let a reader or viewer on on something without their having to analyze it. It’s when things like that are overused that we take issue with it. And I do think it’s arguable that a 100% rate of occurrence is overuse. So what’s the alternative?
I’ve been trying to think of a different image that might pack a similar punch on a Don Quixote cover, and it’s not easy without having read the entire book. Besides, it doesn’t do to be too obscure just to try and avoid cliché. I once saw an edition of Les Misèrables that had a painting of some boots on the cover. Like, I’m sure somewhere in there they must mention boots. They mention everything else. But why boots? it gives the reader no information and no lense to read through, no comment on the plot or meaning, nothing to focus on– just something that looks kind of old and is probably worn. Sometime. So, a balance must be reached. If Don Quixote and a scary windmill is too specific, than a Spanish flag or a horse is too general. A book or some fire are integral enough they might work.
My favorite idea, though, was to give Sancho the cover. The poor guy deserves it, and it’s something not often seen. It would be a comment, besides, on what perspective to take. He is unarguably integral. Why shouldn’t he get as much focus as a windmill?
During our two days in the letterpress studio, I was particularly astounded at the lengthy process that is required to create a single page. Even with an instructor by our side, it still took us nearly two hours to create one phrase accompanied by an image. This process made me appreciate the luxuries we have currently with computers and that we do not need to go through this process as people once did. In addition, working with the letterpress made me further appreciate what individuals went through years ago to create a book. It must have taken months! Furthermore, when specifically dealing with the Bible or any other religious text where it needs to appear perfect, it must have been an extra grueling process. Any minuet mistake would not have been accepted and they would have had to start over. I will have to go back to the special book collection at the library and revisit any of the letterpress made items. This process has given me a better understanding of what it took to create them and I now have a greater appreciating for their value!
It’s interesting to think about the various forms art takes while undergoing changes in contemporary times. As college students, we are constantly asked to used modern technology to accomplish daily academic tasks, type up essays, print out readings, photocopy notes, and so on. I never really thought of printing as a form of art until I got a chance to work with the printing press this week. It’s such a meticulous job choosing the font, picking out each letter, taking care of the spacing, getting the ink ready, and lining everything up. Though it takes much longer and requires more effort than our regular modern printer, I thought the experience was really fun and it’s crazy to think people had to print out massive numbers of copies back in the day. In some sense, every single one of those scrupulous tasks is its own form of art, and has become a lost art nowadays, replaced by convenience and modern technology. It’s crazy how new inventions and technology can simply just in someways, eradicate a specific type of art (even if perhaps, the people using the printing press at the time did not think of it as an art, rather just work).