Have you ever wondered what happened with those huge printing-press machines in the art buildings and all of the equipment that went along with it? Check out the letterpress program at MSU to see for yourself how the old and underappreciated techniques are being used and taught in our modern world!
Letterpress is an outdated but unbelievably unique art form that creates beautiful prints. The process of printing on a letterpress machine is tedious, but worth it.
First, you must search through the cabinets of type to choose your typeface, style and size that you wish to print in. Then, artists carefully set the type backwards in order for it to be printed and read the correct way. The type must then be transferred to the press and prepped for printing.
The most important part of this process is packing the type in together as tight as possible so that the ink rollers do not have the opportunity to accidentally pick up any of the type. Once the type is packed in nicely, the press must be inked up and the ink must be transferred onto the type before printing on paper. This process is extremely time-consuming but can be very rewarding for those putting in the work.
This program is one of the amazing programs that is available through the School of Art and has unbelievable staff working to keep it going. The letterpress class is taught by Ashley Fuchs, who is extremely passionate about the art form. She finds intrigue in the nuanced way that each piece of type has a specific home in all of the cabinets and cases of metal and wood type that is available at MSU. She also is someone who is very adamant about keeping this class and way of printing alive at this university. This way of printing has a dwindling community simply because of the bulkiness of the machines and the amount of time that is needed to create a single print. Even though these are reasons that people don’t want to learn the medium, these aspects are the core of why many have grown to love the process.
The School of Art has many cabinets full of type that all have different sizes, styles and typefaces within them. The majority of the type is made by metal so the end result can get quite heavy considering this. When the type gets larger however, the metal is swapped out for a much lighter wood type that is easier to carry and not as bulky to place. The only thing that has to be considered when using wood type versus the metal type is the fact that metal will not compress underneath the press but the wood will. This means that the person creating the print will need to account for the millimeters lost when the wood is inevitably compressed in the machine.
Letterpress is a way of creating art that not many people have the opportunity to explore anymore. Thanks to Ashley Fuchs and the School of Art here at MSU, we as students now have the chance to study this amazing art form and to discover more about it hands-on. Next time that you pick up a newspaper like this one, think back to when publications were first being made and how difficult and time consuming it must have been for the typesetters to create in order for people to read them. If you are ever more curious about the process of Letterpress, take a look on the School of Art webpage and read more about the class.