A lot of letterpresses have shifted into a more automated system, one that removes the dedicated worker from the process, one that’s much quicker and easier to produce works with. The issue is that you lose that personal aspect when you begin to become more industrial or more online; you don’t get to see every little chip or nick in the paper, every little splotch of misplaced ink, every tiny mistake that tells the audience that the art was created by a human being. You also begin to slowly lose that physical piece that comes with using a letterpress. When using the machinery to craft your artwork, you have to grab each of the letters, put them together, shift them, rearrange them, really think about where they have to go. You have to press them firmly together to ensure they won’t fall apart before rolling ink onto the machine, and then you have to slip the paper in and push the ink onto the page; the same design, same font and page, could be created in about half the time with only a few buttons in today’s world, no letterpress needed.
That’s the difference though, for where the individual today could craft hundreds of the same print using only a simple machine and a computer, the one with the letterpress creates a few dozen, but there’s personal connection to each and every print that that letterpress crafts. Where the modern person has no attachment to the hundreds, possibly thousands, of prints they create, for they can easily make and pass out more if need be, every print that the letterpress makes at the hand of an individual will hold some sort of meaning to that individual.
Although I’ve never made prints using a letterpress, I have made linoleum/ linocut prints before utilizing a similar process. The idea of cutting out your art piece by piece, be it with a piece of linoleum or with lettered blocks, rolling over it with ink, and pressing it down on the paper is nearly identical. It’s an art form much like letter press that is also very slowly dying out (at least to my knowledge), and while it’s a little more common to see than letterpress, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s necessary to try and spark an interest for the craft in other people.
A photo of my linoleum/ linocut prints that I made a few years back! You can learn more about linocuts here and letterpresses here!
It’s not exactly the same, I know, but the weight is still there; nothing will ever beat the feeling of holding a piece of your work and being able to know that you no one else but you created it, that someone can enjoy a piece of your art and you’re the only one who can make it the way you do.
4 thoughts on “Losing Letterpress”
I actually talked about linocuts in my post! Of course, I didn’t know the name, but that doesn’t matter now. While it’s not the same exact process, it’s crazy to think how similar linocuts and the letterpress. The only difference is — depending on the size of the art — human weight is the new letterpress, which still keeps the hands-on element in place.
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Your linocuts are amazingly detailed! This level of detail seems to be one that is only possible through a process that is personal and tangible, like linocut or the original letterpress. I must say that an automated letterpress almost seems to be an oxymoron; the letterpress, I feel, has come to be synonymous with physicality and palpability, both of which are lost in an automated printing process. Automation creates efficiency, but not the character, aesthetic, and history which was so apparent through the film and throughout the broader history of letterpress.
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I can say I have definetly seen the disconnect of pieces from more automated printings. From experience, modern printing offices may still sometimes get the occasional out of place toner spots on printings. But, normally when that happens and if found, we just print a new sheet right after to fix the problem.
It admittedly is very easy and simple to do, but it also can’t beat the more personal connections that letterpress printings have.
I love how you included your own linocuts– they’re so cool! I really like how you can see all of the intricate designs in the piece. It’s interesting to see how you have a personal connection with letterpress through them, as you have actually worked with it before. I also agree with your thoughts about the mistakes and markings on letterpress pieces. Though, the appreciation of these markings doesn’t really make them mistakes. If anything they enhance the work so much more.