Back to the Basics: Letterpress

This winter I decided to get back to the basics with my letterpress education at take a class at the School of Visual Concepts here in Seattle. They have a great letterpress shop with excellent and enthusiastic instructors. I decided for my final broadside project to typeset the lyrics to a song by Nina Simone that I like to think of when I'm down in the dumps. And since I had access to SVC's wonderful print shop and skilled printmaking instructors, I would go all out. I put together a complicated handset type lockup, using a combination of lead and wood type from their collection. I printed a split fountain background that I ended up doing as a "pressure print", a process that I would actually love to continue using in my process. Two press runs total. 

Everything was designed and produced off the computer. 

The Drawn Letter

Last month, I took a trip out to NYC to attend a weekend workshop at Cooper Type taught by Ken Barber of House Ind. Most of the room was filled with students in the Cooper Type certification program for type design, so I had to get over an initial wave of intimidation. Luckily, being at the Cooper Union building was aspirational enough to give me the gumption I needed. 

I was struck by how open Ken Barber is about sharing his process of drawing type, and how concisely he was able to articulate the concepts of lettering and type design. He wasted no time getting us right into it. The first exercise was to draw "hands on" using his process: starting with a typographic reference (Didot was my favorite), you then shift around the variables such as weight, contrast, width, proportions, and contours to create unique letterforms. I think the point in starting with a typographic reference is to make sure you are following some sort of system that unifies the letterforms. I find this method really helpful and much less daunting than just sketching letterforms out of thin-air.

Cooper Union
Cooper Union
Type Reference
Ken Barber

Other interesting points from the workshop:

This seems totally, "duh, Meg", but I had never thought of applying the basics of design (color, shape, contrast, scale, composition) on a micro level to typography. I guess that's why type is so FREAKING COOL! Volume especially struck a chord with me. When looking at a particular arrangement of letters in a sketch, some would appear heavier, messing with the overall color of the composition. So then I would fix the problem by adjusting some of the other variables.

Also, when you are initially sketching out a composition, breaking down letterforms into basic shapes (circles, squares, triangles) really helps to determine how much space they will encompass on the page. For example, pencil in a triangle instead of the whole A or a square for an N. Again, kind of a "duh", but it's a tip I had never been explicitly told. 

Type and Color
Type Shapes

The second day we were able to sketch letterforms of our choosing, and create a unique composition using Ken Barber's process. I chose to sketch out the name of a friend's home brew side business. By the end of the weekend, my fingers and hands were sore from all the hours of drawing :) 

Type Sketch | Meg O'Brien
Poison Water