The Art of Letterpress

By Jacob L. Snizik

The documentary film Pressing On: The Letterpress Film is a fascinating piece about the industry of old fashioned letterpress which is still surviving in small parts of the US, now as more of an art form since the larger print medium has been taken over by electronic production and methods of fast, cheap printing and copying.

When I started watching the movie, I honestly thought, “why are these people doing this? This technology is obsolete and I don’t get why these people are wasting their time.” As it unfolded though, I learned that everyone interviewed were artists, and that their tools were no different than the brush of a painter or the chisel of a sculptor. Since the printing world has gone past the letterpress, those who still engage in it are now specialists who’s work is hard to come by, like a great tailor or a carpenter or a stonemason. They care about what they’re doing and they’re obsessed with putting forth the best product they can for their customers and patrons.

As a writer, the whole process of printing like this can easily be glossed over and placed into a “that’s someone else’s job” category within the publishing process. In a way that is true, and in some ways I still think that, but that doesn’t mean that the pressing and printing that the people in the movie did should not be studied and admired. It is a higher craft, one that should be shown to people in mainstream publishing and printing today so they know where they came from, and to never forget the value of honest, hard work that you use both your hands for; work where you get your hands covered in ink in order to create something on paper that will last as long as the ink does. I found the film very informative and I highly recommend it. It shows that quality still matters, from the ink color to the font and the shade of the paper, the work the letterpress produces is more crafted and refined, and shows to the onlooker and the buyer that they are buying something that not only will last, but that has shades of love and care pressed in with the ink.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Letterpress”

  1. I often tell students that art is possible once something uses its use…like, nail a chair to the wall, and it’s art (because you can’t sit in the chair anymore). I think that you capture that very definition of letterpress-as-art in this post…as if becoming ‘obsolete’ in the commercial sense enabled new possibilities for the very fine, durable technology. In the absence of its use (in this case, its relevance to commercial printing), we can recognize its beauty. I am glad that you came around from the beginning of the film to the end!


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