“Typesetting is like film cutting.”
This quote from the diary of Anias Nin struck a chord with me. I could immediately see the similarities between the two processes of film editing and typesetting. Both are incredibly painstaking with much intricate and patient work involved to ensure a beautiful, cohesive product where everything has its place for a particular reason. Both film editing and typesetting also go through copious amounts of trial and error in order to see what works and what needs to be fixed. But this repetition is necessary and justified in the end. Indeed, this comparison is made even clearer to me after the experience at Meshworks Press.
The main thing I noticed in my first experience with typesetting was how much rearranging is involved, not only to adjust spacing and see what designs work the best, but also to ensure maximum security so that the pieces stay tightly in the frame and do not fall into the press. My group must have adjusted the pieces dozens of times, with much appreciated aid from the wonderful expert Miss Haylee Ebersole, selecting similarly-sized pieces when we couldn’t make the original choices work, tucking rolled pieces of paper into the cracks to take up extra space, and tightening and loosening the frame to check the compactness of the chosen type. This long process of trial and error drove home to me how much patience and stubborn focus is required to work with letterpress and create the beautiful pieces shown. I was reminded of a clip from the film Pressing On which compared the constant adjustments at the letterpress to the computer editing taking place on Word, only the latter can occur at the touch of a few buttons. The hands-on nature of even the smallest changes in letterpress made me feel more connected to our finished design’s production and thus, even more satisfied when it was finally concluded.
This long procedure, I believe, is the essence of the letterpress and the core of its poetics. There is an uncertainty present in it, an unknowing of how exactly it will turn out or how long it will take. Letters may need to be swapped out, different blocks require testing in spaces of various sizes, and there is always a chance of that one crevice where nothing will fit except a rolled-up piece of paper. In this fashion, the art of letterpress could be said to compose itself because if something won’t work physically no matter how many attempts are made, the only option is to go back to the drawing board on that idea. Once again, compare this to a computer where it takes little effort to adjust letters to be of the same size or to center a certain design that could take minutes of tampering and jamming in letterpress format just to see if it will sit properly. Interestingly, while it too is modern technology, the film cutting mentioned in the top quote takes the same effort of attempting multiple tries. And truly, it may be pursued and studied profusely just as letterpress printing is for the same reasons : the magic involved, both throughout the complex creative process and in the final piece.