Letterpress: Sorting it Out

The session that I was booked in for would be my last chance to use Letterpress for this project, so I had to seriously plan for the printing that I wanted to do beforehand. I had three main ideas in mind with the concept of time as my springboard; I was attempting to give Letterpress some form of modern identity, showing how it is better than a lot of simpler, digital methods that we take for granted today; these ideas involved ‘Letterpress Est. 1440’ (playing on the modern identities like Abercrombie & Fitch), ‘Press VS Digital’ (an idea that I previously experimented with), ‘571 Years and Still as Bold’ (showing how Letterpress is very much alive today, boldness in nature, and playing with the typographical idea of type boldness), and finally, ‘Perfect Type’ (this does not have an obvious meaning when said, but this idea relates to how digital media is in fact superior in some ways, as Letterpress can never be perfect – contrasting the other ideas of mine).

I had learned from my previous session in the Printing Room, that the Roller Press achieved a better quality, more consistent print – whilst the Pressure Press may be superior for producing more stylistic work. Although other people I believe were more experimental with colours, paper and masking – I feel that for my brief and set of ideas I had to produce sets of black-on-white prints, considering how I was looking into the age, quality, and bespoke nature of Letterpress – and black-on-white was, in my opinion, the best method in which to show this.

I felt that my time management of the session was effective as I had enough time to spare, managing to produce three sets of work, set up my printing stations, and clean up within the time given. Letterpress is always an exciting method of producing artwork, and as I have said on my previous Letterpress post, I look forward to using this aged technique in the future.


Type & Tape
Experimentation with tape, typography and stock motion for the day by creating a typeface in a location of our choice. Within idea generation we went along with more symbolism and currency than actual letters, as well as adjusting their positioning to communicate through layout as well. The stock motion itself was shot in a ‘blind spot’ mirror, creating a reflective and distorted effect along a road, with automatic 10 second spacing between each photograph.

Our first project at Uni is the job of creating a map that isn’t a map, well not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. Instead it’s purpose is to bring a varied selection of exhibits from the vast expanse of the V&A museum together. The museum commissioned design company Johnson Banks to do this job which can be seen by following this link. I feel they did a reasonably good job of it by folding the different maps in the same manner it brings the different maps together as a collection and they also appear new and stylish.

A Brief Brief Of My Briefs.

This project aims to produce an introduction of skills towards the course and help to acquire knowledge and understanding of a broad range of contexts and principles related to Visual Communication. Along with developing research methods to enhance these skills in order to be more visually aware. I wish to develop my ability to explore these skills and the digital methods used in Visual Communication.

V&A Map - personal development
I’ve decided to bring my map to the next stage from just an illustrative piece. I’ve moved onto to tracing within Illustrator to turn it in a digital file. I hope to use a laser printer and get it carved into wood. The illustrations above the circles will be raised, keeping the original colour of the wood, whereas the circles beneath will be of a lighter shade due to the printer cutting deeper. Giving an archaeological artefact feel and weight to the final design.

Watch on davidtjpowell.tumblr.com

Type & Tape

A finished stock motion piece portraying our days work of using tape to create a word. Our location of choice was outside student services, providing financial advice and more. The piece itself represents equality within the university from the use of currency symbols connected with the English pound (unifying them together from beneath).

V&A Map
My interactive V&A map design in its near-to-completion. All it needs now is to be detailed and cut out. A puzzle involving a variety of circles in which the audience have to ‘unlock’ the conceptual image. During my visit at the V&A, I became fascinated by the Greek Sculpture, bodies and mythology carved into marble / stone. I decided to keep these memories and obsession and incorporate them into the map. I also became lost several times, involving confusion and bewilderment thus the puzzle to engage the audience with my experience.

Watch on davidtjpowell.tumblr.com

Killing Us Softly (2010)
A documentary speaking about the facts of advertising and the effect it has on the general public. Not forgetting the objectification of women and an opinion of the comparison between that of men. Ideal female beauty, striving to achieve a certain look and unrealistic standards. It talks of 4 or 5 women used to create one perfect woman whereby photoshop is the key to banish life’s insecurities. With such pervasion, how surgical (invasive and non-invasive) procedures on women rose 457% from 1997 to 2007. The manipulation of women’s bodies abstracted into art in a way that shows a constructed reality intertwined with the misconception of perfection.
The video allows some agreement from myself, but also (and more importantly) critique, from other research and opinion.

"Only 8% of an Ad’s message is received by the conscious mind, the rest is worked and reworked deep within the recesses of the brain" Rance Crain, Former Senior Editor, Advertising Age


When I was lucky enough recently to work with the traditional method of letterpress printing I thought there must be other ways of creating these unique organic prints using something other than the pre-cut wooden typographic blocks, the possibility to create unique abstract art would be cool if you could press the ink and get that organic look.

It was whilst reading the book ‘Data Flow 2’ researching another project that I came across an artist called Mark Webber who had created a series of prints recreating city maps using a technique called ‘Linocut’ which is essentially the same type of printing as Letterpress except that you carve your design out of Linoleum (a waxy kind of substance) instead of using pre-cut shapes.

The possibilities are huge with this technique as you can create whatever shapes you want to, this type of printing dates back to the early nineteen hundreds and has been used by the likes of Matisse and Picasso.


Project Two: Type and Tape

After a load of brainstorming, a long walk around campus, and an inspiring brief from Sally - Group 6 was finally ready to produce its masterpiece that was: Our Little Secret (see video).

Our first ideas erred towards placing our work in somewhere central so it could be seen from all across AUCB, like the wall outside the canteen, or stairs, or even across the Library; in the end though we decided to shy away from the obvious. The location that we finally went with was the spot behind the Security Area on the other side of the campus, on the two wooden walls. Why? Simply because there was nothing there but a turf mound and traffic cones, it was hidden from the rest of AUCB, and it had set itself up nicely for a typographical installation by being so pointless; we wanted to put something there, like a little surprise for anyone that might stumble across it one day.

The first challenge we faced was finding a word. ‘Empty’, ‘useless’ and ‘nothing’ all seemed a bit negative for a space that was full of beaming sunlight and green grass; ‘secret’ on the other hand, kept a bit of that magic that the space possessed, and had more of a positive message behind it.

After an hour or so of trying different tape colours out on our space, we finally settled with a yellow and black striped tape that relayed more of a ‘Top Secret’ feel – much unlike the plain red tape and the plain blue tape, we felt that the yellow and black helped portray the theme and message that we were trying to communicate. In order for our type to look ‘flat’ against the wall from the camera (that was positioned where we would like viewers to look at our installation from) we had to coordinate where to stick the tape with the camera team which involved plenty of ‘up a bit, down a bit, up a bit more…’

I think that it is safe to say that we were all very proud of our installation as it is something that we spent a lot of time on as a group, although if I was to evaluate our piece I would definitely suggest that the word ‘secret’ would be a lot smaller, because secrets are not often shouted about on a large scale much like our piece was suggesting.

At the end of the day, we thought of no better way of keeping our secret hidden then tearing down the installation. This piece of work, space, and idea was truly: Our Little Secret.

Watch on 1goodintentions.tumblr.com

One day project at Uni exploring the use of sticky tape to create unique typography. Our theme was money and was demonstrated using the four big currencies and combined with the reflection in the mirror that we filmed it in it gave a representation of the current mixed up global economy. The three currencies; €, $ & Y in fact spelt ‘Yes’ but as we had the words reflected in the mirror it was supposed to communicate the opposite meaning ‘No’, as the economy is not in a good state.


Letterpress - take two

With time being constant, ideas of what some would consider life’s ultimate cruelty. Offering us a taste of youth and vitality only then to makes us witness our own decay. Yet with degradation, comes recreation. My choices of colour, with use of blending, are from what connotations that of an audience (and myself) would associate. Greens and blues signifying nature, growth and essence of life with reds and oranges touching base on danger, energy and also warmth. Much like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Even though I would consider this ‘trial and error’ as final, I would hope to extend it further with more sessions on letterpress, additional illustration(s); use of other materials, overall improvement and quality.

Watch on overonehundred.tumblr.com

Firefly Press

A beautiful insight into the world of Firefly Press, South Carolina; the contemporary masters of bespoke Letterpress design. I can’t say much more than that about this small documentary, as the artwork produced in this video speaks for itself a lot better than I ever could. Enjoy. 


Project Five: Editorial Design

Memories from childhood, learning experiences, imagination; these things make up who we are. There is no way for you to relive my experiences, as they are special only to myself - in the same way that no one else can relive yours.

It is not stages of memory that make us who we are, but years of blurred, overlapping experiences that create some kind of merged representation of ourselves that is visible only in the present.

Blending these ideas and making them into something new, this was my inspiration. Six books that have been most important to me throughout my life, merged and overlapped, combined and remade in chronological order; from these ideas this book of books was created. There is no way for you to relive my experiences, as they are special only to myself - in the same way that no one else can relive yours; you can only attempt to understand.


Letterpress: Getting it Together

Letterpress, a 571 year old form of printmaking using lead/wooden blocks to create an inked relief on paper; I had never used this technique before so I was curious to see how it worked. In the Printmaking Studio there were presses dating back to the mid 19th Century, and the letterpress blocks were just as old, whilst using such old technology it was difficult to be as firm as I wanted to be as I had a great fear of damaging them in some way. I’m sure that I wouldn’t be very popular smashing up blocks or ruining the presses – especially considering that most of the blocks were from my course leader Sally’s personal collection!

We were asked to research Letterpress before our session, thinking about the concept of Time, thus giving our letterpress projects some direction; my research had led me to think about the differences between the old and the new, Letterpress and Digital, Printmaking and Printers. The prints that I had in mind represented this battle, getting viewers to think about the different methods of typographical printing instead of just sticking with the convention of digital printing – I guess in a way my goal of this project would be to raise awareness of Letterpress by showing the ways in which it trumps the Digital methods that are so widely used today.

After arranging my blocks on the Press, it was time to ink-up and print. The two strap lines that I was using for my printing test session were: ‘Quantity VS Quality’ and ‘Press VS Digital’. I found that by using the Pressure Press I wasn’t getting very good prints from the blocks, whether this was because some blocks were higher than one another or whether the Pressure Press put pressure on a place that wasn’t effective, I don’t know. After using the Roller Press a few times I realised that for me, it was a lot more effective, giving an even spread of pressure onto the blocks.

I’m really glad that I was given a chance to test out letterpress before it was time to produce my final piece, as the experience that I picked up in that afternoon will really help me out next time. Not seeing how my finished prints looked after drying time, I am yet to see how the turned out, I’m going to collect them on Monday. I feel that I learned a lot whilst using Letterpress, and if I get the chance to use it in the future and experiment some more with it on other projects, I’ll definitely take it!


Our first Letterpress session; we were given the opportunity to experiment with the Letterpress technique of printing.

It’s a very nostalgic felling to work with this old method of design and to be able to give it a modern twist by abstracting layouts makes it even more interesting. It requires a much more considered approach compared to designing within Illustrator, when designing on the computer you’re able to play with designs constantly until the required effect is achieved.

Today was a test session to enable us to have first hand experience of the possibilities of letterpress printing, to understand the limitations of this technique, now I can go back to the drawing board and work on some designs that will work, looking forward to seeing what I can get out of this interesting technology.


When it comes to contemporary Letterpress obviously Alan Kitching is the man, he has created so many wonderfully abstract designs over the years that he’s been producing Letterpress designs, lots of variety and experimentation; he was a very useful research point for my Letterpress workshop at Uni.