In a class full of exploration into the world of bookmaking, its only fair we decided to explore it out in the real world. I had no idea what to expect when we were first told about the trip. I’ll admit, I knew what a Chandler & Price letterpress looked like, but I had never seen one in person, only on TV. I didn’t even know how big of a studio space we would be walking in to.
Upon arriving at Meshwork press in Wilkinsburg, PA, I was pleasantly surprised at the lovely space awaiting us. While it was small, it was functional. Every drawer and shelf had its purpose and the resident artist, Haylee, made use of every inch of her studio. Her studio is full of various typography sets as well as large machinery and stacks of paper. The very air within the studio smelled of inks and inspiration.
Haylee gave a brief but thorough run through of how we would be operating the letterpress and then we got to work. We split off into pairs so as to speed the process along but also to provide the support of another person who was also new to the processes of letterpress. Setting type was not near as intimidating as I was making it out to be. Once we were shown how it all worked and operated, it made sense! My partner and I set a chase with a delicate yet simple design styled around summertime. We successfully made some prints of this set type and then we proceeded to try another arrangement, only this time, I got a good amount of things mixed up.
When you set type, it should be backwards and upside down, so when it comes out of the press, it’s oriented correctly and is legible. I did this entire process almost completely in reverse. My partner and I knew something was off, that something wasn’t done correctly, and even after consulting other classmates, we were convinced that we were overthinking the process and we had done it correctly…..but this was not true. While we did think the results were sort of funky and different, you couldn’t read the intended message. With assistance from both my professor and the resident artist Haylee, we were able to correct our mistake rather quickly and make a few successful prints.
This all just goes to show how much of an artform and a complicated process letterpress truly is. Just because you succeeded the first time doesn’t mean you’ll be able to pull off the next one as seamlessly. Letterpress is all about finding ways to make your text work with the space you have been allotted to work with. The process itself is rather straightforward, but to follow it through and get a satisfactory result takes a few tries.
4 thoughts on “Working at Meshwork”
Although the idea of setting the type and printing is rather simple, when working with words, it can be rather difficult, and you really captured that here! Even if it took a few tries to get that second print through, you still managed to do it, and it looked fantastic! It just took a little patience, perseverance, a bit of hard work to make something really cool.
I felt the same when setting up my type on the chase. I was so unsure that I was pretty sure I had set things the wrong way (and it turns out I had) but once you see through it and begin to understand, it can be really cool to see it turned into prints. And it was especially fun throughout.
I also mixed up my own type a little bit when setting it, and I think that it definitely relates to what you say about letterpress sometimes being difficult. It really is a skilled art form that needs to be practiced over and over again. It makes me think of the concept of master printers and how skilled they must be. I never really thought about that until I actually got to try my hand at letterpress.
I understand why a lot of people find backwards/upside down writing difficult, but I’ve always thought of it kind of like a code or a neat reversal of language. When I was a kid, I used to play around with codes and ciphers a lot, so backwards reading felt natural to me when I worked on the typesetting at Meshwork, though our result was far from perfect in a different way! You definitely show how complicated the process can really be!