Like any documentary focusing on a craft from a distant time period, it celebrates its legacy, and is also brutally honest of its fade into obscurity, and not too hopeful for its return. What surprised me, however, was how much I learned how much artistry was involved in the press itself, rather than just the design of the prints.
Beyond the lettering designs, this film also highlights the importance of considering what material of stamp or paper to use, relating to the style or substance. Knowing this could certainly make for smoother work and less wasted time. After watching the film, I’ve researched additional information, and discovered the reason behind the numeric values for font sizes, which has carried over to the digital writing programs of today.
As for the improbability of press making a comeback, I believe there are pros and cons to the case of it returning as well as it remaining in obscurity. On the one hand, digital printing doesn’t demand the same dexterity and exercising of skill as letterpress printing, but it also comes with little to no physical hazards. I don’t know about you, but I’m the kind of artist who needs all ten fingers. On the other hand, if letterpress were to suddenly return as an industrial necessity, we would be in for an economical rollercoaster having to reestablish all the other companies that helped keep it alive, some of which, would otherwise be a waste of space.
Personally, I don’t think letterpress ought to die off completely. With plenty of independent press companies powering through and welcoming curious newcomers, this craft could open more possibilities and innovations for future generations as it has for this one.
One fundamental truth that should be gained by this film, especially by young artists, is that rules and boundaries are essential to sprout one’s creative voice. As I always put it, you can’t go anywhere without a floor to walk on. But by the time you’ve built that floor, you’ll realize you have a floor to dance on.
R.I. Sutton, The Hair Brained Press Project. https://www.theharebrainedpress.com. 2017
4 thoughts on “Our Next Film Today is Pressing On: The Letterpress Film”
Economically, I don’t think that letterpress will ever comeback in the manner that it had before. It doesn’t make sense to most consumers nor to most publishers. However, I do think that they have a place, and you are right that there is a cost to bringing them back. What the letterpress needs in addition to publishers and consumers interest is engineering. Letterpresses are scarce at the moment. If they are to become common place, once again, they need to be manufactured again.
So interesting that you mention the physical hazard of using a letterpress! The danger speaks to the dedication of letterpress printers. They had to learn how to use a press properly, how to be careful, to avoid injury, and they opt for a potentially more dangerous technique in the name of art. It’s kind of a reminder that an artist has to take risks (physical, aesthetic, thematic, etc.); I think hazard makes art all the more thrilling.
I LOVE your response! Your description of how the documentary focuses on a craft from a distant time period and thus celebrates a legacy while also being brutally honest of its fade into obscurity is completely captivating! I also like how you expand on the point that the film highlights the importance of considering what material of stamp or paper to use, which relates to the style and substance.
Your response is very similar to my own! Yes, letterpress is very much a craft, and this movie is a hope to preserve its legacy. Your response makes it clear that without letterpress, we wouldn’t have the current fonts and digital world that we have today, so therefore letterpress must be important if it was able to make all of this, right? I also liked how you touched on the economic aspect of letterpress and why it’s faded away from what it was in another life, to what its become now.