Sunday, 27 May 2012

a two pipe problem - letterpress workshop

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a letterpress workshop, run by Stephen Kenny from Two Pipe Problem Press. I've been obsessed with text and lettering for years, so I jumped at the chance to try my hand at printing. Currently Stephen runs the press from his house (although he admits he outgrew the space this year) and coincidentally, he lives on the same street I used to. Not only is it a small world, it seems E17 is crammed to bursting with clever creative types as lots of printers seem to be based here and no fewer than half the group attending last week hail from the same postcode.

Stephen's work is sold in the V&A (where he also has work in the collection) Tate, Design Museum and Liberty. He's stocked in boutiques up and down the country as well as as far afield as Sydney, Vancouver, Tokyo and Stockholm and you can pick up prints from many of Londons art fairs when he's in attendance. He runs workshops for small groups of five or six people where you learn about the letterpress process and history, and get to make your own prints.

Our workshop started out with us all getting to know each other and Stephen  talking about the process and the presses. In order to come up with a phrase for printing, we played a round of Exquisite Corpse, writing on the back up cut up reject prints that in themselves seemed too beautiful to write on! We chose the best one from the resulting seven and Stephen helped us set about choosing the fonts for the print from the drawers of typeface that lined the studio.

 Top left: Pencils and paper for playing the game
 Top right: Drawers of wood block lettering
 Bottom left: The press is set & ready for printing
 Bottom right: Inking the press

Once the fonts are chosen, Stephen set the press (a fiddly looking job using bits of wood and expandable metal spacers to hold all the woodblocks in place) before inking it up and showing us how to make a print. I wish I'd made a note of the paper we were using, a beautiful, smooth, biscuity off white heavy weight paper with flecks in. Once the letters were inked (I love the smell of printing ink!) the paper is placed on top and smoothed into place before adding some extra paper as padding. Then the roller is drawn across the press to make the print, the padding removed, the roller slid back and the print carefully be removed. As part of the group, we each made three prints and signed the ones we'd made, before they were stacked up for drying.

Apparently it's traditional to have a whiskey (or a beer) once the printing is done. I'm a great believer in honouring such traditions and there's nothing like a cool drink after printing on a warm afternoon.

 Top left: Stephen rolls out more ink while my friend signs his print
 Top right: Studio shot with another friend signing her print
 Bottom left: Finished prints drying on the racks
 Bottom right: Whiskey and beers on the big press!

The workshops cost £40 per person, more details here. Stephen delivered the prints back to us this week and I'm so excited about framing mine and putting it up in my flat. It got me thinking what a great idea this is for a group of friends to get together, create something special (the nature of the Exquisite Corpse game means this phrase could only have come from one particular group of people on one particular afternoon) and have something very limited-edition to hang on your wall when you're done. So why not consider going to the workshop for a few hours instead of buying something mass produced?

If you like Stephens style of printing, here are some of my favourites from his online shop:

L-R 'Andre Breton' £32, Experiment! £32, Be Yourself, £15, all from

I love purely typographical prints and it got me to thinking about using typography in interior design, in particular I remembered a beautiful set of drawers from John Lewis that are inspired by wood block lettering. So, when you've got your print to hang on the wall, here are my pick of other typographical delights to accessorise with...

1. 'Betsey' 9 drawer chest, £399 from John Lewis
2. 'Life is Beautiful' wall stickers, £36 from Rockett St George
3. Skincare from Philosophy, (I LOVE Philosophy!) from £8
4. Cushion, £12.99 from H&M Home
5. 3D industrial letters, £28 from The Letteroom on Not On the Highstreet
7. Typeface espresso cup in 'Impact' £16.95 from The Big Tomato Company
8. 'Formation' tea towel, £13 from Pedlars
9. Numbered hooks, £6.50 from typografika (the site itself is a typography nerds dream)

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