During the drive to Meshwork Press in Wilkinsburg, PA, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect of our class’s visit to Haylee Ebersole’s print shop. I think, at the time, I was nervous—whatever for, I have no idea, being nervous is sort-of a constant state of mine. Perhaps it was nervous anticipation; perhaps I was just so excited to try letterpress printing that my excitement manifested as a potent nervous energy. Perhaps I was worried it would be too difficult or that I would make a fool of myself attempting this new art form that I’ve never worked with before.
Regardless of the reason for it, my nervousness was entirely unfounded; though the process of typesetting wasn’t easy—it certainly took plenty of trial and error for my partner and I to arrange the type and the furniture efficiently in order to set the text tightly enough within the frame—the process was enjoyable and, to me, at the very least, rather easy to get a general grasp of. Letterpress seems like a medium that I would love to continue with, to hone and perfect, and even though I only have the most basic experience with letterpress, I’m quite proud of the prints my partner and I created.
Being able to create the prints by hand, to start with nothing but disorganized pieces of type and end with a proper, physical image, is such an intimate form of interaction with the final product; watching something you’ve created come to life makes that work feel so much closer to you, as if you are a part of it and it a part of you. Watching the press, witnessing our designs come to life on a previously-blank page, gave me such a strong rush of joy and pride, pride that I had taken part in the process of creating something.
I suppose this aspect—the intimate nature of letterpress, on par with other physical art mediums—is why letterpress printing continues to survive into the present day, despite being rather inefficient as a printing process. With almost everything done by hand, from the typesetting to running the press itself, surely presses that use letterpress are producing fewer final products than one that is entirely digitally-run. However, these letterpress printers are able to experience a much closer relationship to the prints they produce, and I think that’s the enchantment that draws people to letterpress: the relationship between the artist and the press (and everything produced with the press).