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Archived posts: Letterpress

Interrobang: an international showcase of letterpress print

interrobang-cover

The lovely people at St Jude’s Prints have just sent us the latest edition of their Random Spectacular journal, Interrobang, and it’s a corker.

It’s been published in collaboration with Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, which is our new favourite place in the whole world.

The Sussex village of Ditchling was the home of letter-cutter Eric Gill (he’s the chap who designed Gill Sans) and calligrapher Edward Johnston (responsible for the famous Johnston typeface used by London Underground). The museum has collected together works from them, and from the artists and craftspeople who gathered around them.

We took a wander down that way a month or so ago. It made for a fantastic day out, starting with a stroll along the South Downs.

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Here’s a sign post set, of course, in Gill Sans.

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And an old National Trust sign, set in Albertus.

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On the way from the Downs to the museum, you pass the home where Edward Johnston used to work and live. (We believe the security light is a more recent addition.)

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The museum’s identity was designed by Phil Baines. And boy it looks great on a sunny spring day. Loving that arrow.

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The current main exhibition at the museum is a history of the development of the Johnston typeface, and that alone makes it worth a visit. Just look at this lower case qu ligature. And the alternate versions of the g!

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And check out this lovely set of Ws:

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If you do one thing this year, go to Ditchling. Twice.

Anyway, we digress.

As part of their brilliant Village of Type events which run throughout May, the museum has put together Interrobang – an international showcase of letterpress print. The exhibition is an open submission, with pieces selected by a panel of typographers and designers.

The journal, designed by Kenneth Gray, and put together by St Jude’s in tandem with the show, features a selection of fantastic articles about the current state of letterpress printing, as well as all the work from the show.

It opens with Phil Baines writing about Hilary Pepler, who set up the local St Dominic’s Press in 1919.

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Then there’s an insightful article by David Marshall and Elizabeth Ellis of The Counter Press about the state of letterpress. They rightly point out that letterpress printing is having a moment, with myriad new small presses joining the old hands who’ve been doing it for years. But they worry about whether letterpress printing is being valued purely for its old-world values: ‘it seems that more often than not, people struggle to leave the nostalgia and vintage charm of the aesthetic in the past.’ They warn of the danger of ‘pastiche and unimaginative reproduction’.

Coming from anyone else, this might sound like they’re just stirring the pot. But they’re one of the most exciting design teams working with letterpress at the moment. They specialise in what they call ‘traditional techniques with modern design thinking’. Here’s the cover of their recent publication Extra Condensed.

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It is beautiful. And we do care.

This theme continues in Patrick Baglee’s wonderful interview with Alan Kitching: ‘He is a designer that is surrounded by and works with letterpress type and letterpress technology. But it is the ideas and deeper meaning that step forward… This sense of expressiveness, of freedom and joy is still what marks Kitching’s work out from much of what passes for letterpress – where it is the means of production that people believe we ought to care about – rather than the final idea as evidence of artistry, craft and simple, clear thinking.’

Here’s Kitching’s recent print for Monotype commemorating Paul Rand:

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Later on in the journal, there’s an article about Adams of Rye, the printshop where Anthony Burrill creates his posters, including this recent one for the museum:

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Another piece looks at the collaboration between Tilley Printing and poet Nick Alexander, creating posters which are flyposted in the local Tinsmith’s Alley in Ledbury, Herefordshire.

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The bulk of the journal though is a showcase of the prints from the show. Here are just a few of those:

From Nicole Arnett Phillips in Brisbane, an analogue bitmap Q: ‘My intention with this series is to explore the space between analogue and digital type design and lettering. Each print translates form between analogue and digital instances. The letterforms start as pencil outlines. I then use physical type – either the face or the feet – (face being right way up type side of the sort, and feet being upside down backside of the physical piece of type) to typeset an analogue bitmap inside the pencil outlines.’

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From BunkerType in Barcelona, a print (#6) from their ongoing project, The New Call, based on the work of Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman:

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Artist Ruth Kirkby shows one of ‘a series of prints to represent the Western-imposed state borders and the effects they have had on the Middle East. The text in the prints is taken from recent Al Jazeera articles about the areas affected by the enforced borders.’

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From New North Press in London, comes a print from their ‘A23D’ 3D-printed letterpress font, designed by A2-Type, fusing old and new technologies.

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One Strong Arm in Dublin submitted a print featuring a quote from Rudolf Koch, but we couldn’t find a picture of it, so here’s one of their other pieces, with a quote from Roddy Doyle.

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Tom Pigeon, the studio of Pete and Kirsty Thomas, show one of their ‘Cinematype’ prints. ‘Cinematype is an original sans-serif, geometric typeface designed by us and inspired by the typography of early 20th Century film. We’ve worked with British printmaker Thomas Mayo to create these exclusive Cinematype letterpress numbers prints.’

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The next print is from The Print Project in Shipley. We’re rather in love with their fantastic posters for the gig night Golden Cabinet, printed using metal type and overprinted laser cut abstract shapes:

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We’re also quite taken by this print from The Wireless Press in Brighton. It’s based on Parisian graffiti from the 1968 uprising (the text translates as ‘Stop clapping – the show is everywhere’).

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All in all, the journal is a wonderful record of a brilliant show, giving a really thorough sense of what is being produced by the best designers and artists working with letterpress print today.

The exhibition is on until 30 May. In the meantime, you can (and should) buy the Interrobang journal from St Jude’s.

Alan Kitching: A life in Letterpress

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The good people at Laurence King recently sent over a copy of their fantastic new monograph, Alan Kitching—A Life in Letterpress. It’s quite brilliant.

You will have seen Alan’s work before, even if you’re not a graphic designer. He’s designed book covers, stamps, magazine covers, protest signs, theatre posters, wine labels and more. All this is done using the traditional letterpress tools – movable metal type, large woodblock letters, ink, paper and a press. His work is immediately recognisable: bold, witty, elegant, colourful and thoughtful, often with a painterly use of ink.

Here are a few of his wonderful Broadsides, the large format typographic prints he has created throughout his career. This is number 1, from 1988, designed to be cut up into individual items of stationery (letterhead, compliments slip, label etc.).

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This one is number 5, from 1992. A typographic map, it represents the streets, businesses, pubs and history of Clerkenwell. It’s a beautiful and beautifully considered piece of work.

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‘Printing in London: 1476-1995’ (below) was commissioned by Heidelberg for their magazine High Quality, and was reprinted in a folder as Broadside number 8. A visual history of printing in London, it features printers, publishers, art schools and type foundries.

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In 2003 Alan produced a dual-purpose petition and poster for The Guardian, ‘Why Iraq? Why Now?’. Published in the newspaper, it was designed to be cut out and pasted onto banners by people who met in London for the anti-war rally on 15 February of that year. (On the day, David Gentleman’s NO poster for the Stop the War Coalition was more visible – though that may partly have been because it was so readily available at the event.)

Why-Iraq

‘Taxi!’ (below) was commissioned for the London Poster Project, part of the 2009 London Design Festival:

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The new book details the entirety of Alan’s career so far, from his beginnings as an apprentice compositor at 15, through his work with Anthony Froshaug, Derek Birdsall and others, to his time running the Typography Workshop in Kennington.

It’s especially wonderful to discover Alan’s early, less familiar work, particularly that created while working with Froshaug at Watford College of Technology.

Here are a couple of great experimental prints from the late 1960s using just metal furniture (normally used for spacing out type).

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Here are a few spreads from the book:

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Designed by Simon Esterson and Jon Kielty, and written by John L. Walters, three editions of the book are available. The book edition (£40) won’t be available until March 2017, but in the meantime, the Special Edition (£75) is available, and more than worth the cost. It features a three-piece binding with greyboard covers.

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Rather wonderfully, that’s the same style of binding as was used for the book Celia Sings, which celebrated the life of Alan’s late wife, Celia Stothard (and which was designed by the same team):

celia-sings

There’s also a boxed Collector’s Edition (£200), with the same binding, which includes a hand printed letterpress signed print, numbered and wrapped round the book to form a jacket. That’s only available in a limited edition of 200.

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You can actually get your hands on a copy of the book edition before March. In tandem with the publication of the book, a major retrospective of Alan’s work is touring around the UK, and a few copies of the book will be on sale at each show. We caught the exhibition at the recent Pick Me Up illustration show at Somerset House, and it was an absolute treat to see so much incredible work. Alan was even on hand to run printing workshops and discuss his work (that’s him in the red jumper below, and peering through the doorway).

Alan Kitching Pick Me Up

From 3 June to 20 August the retrospective will be on show at The Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk. After that it moves to The Lighthouse in Glasgow, from 1 November through to February 2017. More dates are promised. We can’t recommend it enough, so if you get the chance do make the trip.

This short film, created to publicise the book, shows Alan at work, discussing various moments during his career:

Fantastic stuff.