Letterpress Workers Summit 2017

As I travelled through Milan on my own I felt incredibly daunted at the prospect of spending the next 4 days with a bunch of people from across the globe I’d never met before. The feeling only got worse when I arrived at Leoncavallo – a graffiti clad squat which is home to Letterpress Workers and my accommodation. But those thoughts are not for this blog. I clearly looked a little lost when I entered the large room, full of people, where we would be working for the next few days because Tiny (Thank goodness), from the Netherlands, was quick to come and say hello, asked if it was my first time here and made me feel welcome. It was good to have a friendly face at this point. I put my bag in the dormitory then came back downstairs for some dinner. I met some more friendly soles, then socialising continued in the warm outdoors after we had eaten.




We had all prepared 120 prints based on the theme ‘hope’, so we bring these to the table on the first morning so they can be collated together and we can each have a pack of everyone’s prints. I am also handed my ‘Letterpress Workers’ apron. I feel part of the club.

IMG_5639Bringing our prints to the table

Names out of a hat we are put into groups of 4. I’m working with John, a fellow Brit, Marko from Slovakia and Marie from Belgium. Together we start planning our poster on ‘Resist’, our theme for the week. There’s a whole array of wood type that Novepunti has brought and we quickly delve in to see what our options are. It’s not long before there’s ink on the wood and we’re pulling proofs. We’ve gone for the print one stage at a time and figure out each pass as we go technique. I’ve never really worked in a group before to produce an outcome in a day, the composing of the print might look good to one person but need completely changing in someone else’s opinion. There was lots of chopping and changing involved, it taught me not to get too attached to an idea! It was great wandering around the room seeing all the other groups prints pinned up on the wall and seeing how they had interpreted the theme.

With 4 people and 1 press, we had the teamwork down. Printing 4 passes in an edition of 50 was no problem, we each had our job which meant prints came off the press in a rapid and smooth manor.






In the evening a PechaKucha had been organised. A presentation containing 20 slides, each one lasting 20 seconds. 8 people had volunteered to give a presentation, talking about their background and print shop etc. Insightful and a good way to get to know people!

Day 2, Friday, I had learnt that the Italians time keeping was somewhat different to the English time keeping. But still, I wasn’t complaining as we sat outside in the sunshine chatting to one another until the workshop was opened – an hour later than scheduled. This time I was with Tara from Spain, Marieke from the Netherlands and Chris, another fellow Brit. This group was vastly different to yesterdays-we all approached the task really thinking out a theme and a design before we started getting inky. After a morning of brainstorming we had gone down the route of refugees/borders/brexit. Wanting to get away from the constraints of the standard paper size and with keen paper folders in the group, we started playing around with some paper folding. It was then the combination of the current brexit border talk and the paper folding method really came together and we had a plan mocked up. After lunch we started proofing our idea. Paper size and type size was chopped and changed until we were happy, then we began to fold our 50 pieces of paper and to print the first pass.

IMG_5733Fig tree shade

IMG_5656Sketching out our ideas




Paper folding

Our finished piece






In the evening, it was scheduled from 18:30-20:00 that I do a presentation. I had volunteered to do a presentation when we were all asked but the one I had prepared was certainly not 1.5 hours long! Thankfully the Italian time keeping was on my side and so it didn’t start until 8pm anyway. I had been looking into the printer Albert Schiller for my MA so I divulged some information on him.


By 9pm about 40 of us descended on the local pizzeria.

Calligraphy whilst waiting for our pizza

On Saturday morning a few of us headed out to Fratelli Bonvini, a stationary store and printers open since 1909. It was like stepping back in time – guilt lettering on the store sign, wooden counters, original floor tiles, ornamented radiator, original glass to the doorway of the shop window. We were let into the print room which housed 3 presses, Impressive considering the size of the room. I pulled open all the drawers and found some ornaments to die for. We were shown some wonderful work by Cabaret Typographie, which we were then inspired by for our next print.


Fratelli Bovini – open since 1909






More drool

Upon returning to Leoncavallo, we found that all the presses were being used. We stuck as a team of 4 and sat outdoors and planned our print. It was custom that when it reached 4pm or so and we all lacked a bit of energy and decision-making, we headed to the canteen for a beer or wine. It undoubtedly gave us all a pick up until we had finished our prints in the early evening.

Brittany & Chris


On the last evening John Christopher from the UK headed up an auction of letterpress items and made a rather splendid auctioneer. It is then customary that spirits are consumed which each printer has brought from his or her country until the early hours…


Prints produced after 4 days of printing

Letterpress workers was such a unique and wonderful experience. 40 printers representing 13 countries coming together and printing, all bringing enthusiasm, knowledge, creative thinking and ways of working was a wonderful thing. We all received so much joy from printing a few wooden letters with each other!

Until next year Milan, Ciao.



Letterpress Workers Summit 2017

20 x 20

I’d say pretty much every hour of my day is accounted for at the moment so when I received an email from fellow printmaker Justin “11 days to get me your 25 prints for the print exchange” my heart sank. I had completely forgotten about the print exchange.

Organised by Hot Bed Press, participants must submit a print in an edition of 25 that measures 20 x 20 cm. I didn’t even have an idea for the print. With everything going on at the moment I started an apologetic email about not having enough time to be able to participate. But then I snapped out of it, Of course there is time! There is always time to print!

In and out of teaching that day my brain was trying to come up with an idea for a print. Are you allowed to be inspired by your own work? Well I was inspired by this piece made at Typoretum. I loved the overlaying of type and the shapes it created. I also had in my head this piece by Mark Pavey that i’d seen in Paul & Lucy’s house i’d stayed at in September. Again, I loved the overlaying of texture and colour.



With those in mind I started creating a square of type that I could rotate 90 degrees and overlay each layer.

I wanted to create a blank square within the square and challenge my mathematics a little more. If I was going to rotate the paper round I would have to make sure all the sides measured up exactly to avoid any mis registration.

I then thought the square in the middle might look a little plain, so I decided i’d put some manicules in there. I needed to do some tests, I couldn’t get my head around how i needed to lay out the manicules if I was to turn the paper.


Once i’d got my head around that, it was time to build the forme. I also thought that i’d like more manicules, so in they went.


This quick test run showed that i needed to shift the outer manicules in a bit


Manicules shifted


It took until printing a test colour run that I realised that with them all on one side they would be printing in block colours. I also realised that I didn’t need to print the green layer, It looked way better with just 3 colours, CMY. The transparencies meant that the blue on top of the yellow had created a green. Sometimes I can be a real div and not think these things through.



I was happy with the three layers. I then spent about 30 minutes fiddling around with the manicules on different sides so that the colours would appear random.

Paper cut, I laid the yellow layer down. It was pretty late by this time and I was hungry for dinner so I headed home. I showed my boyfriend and asked his opinion. Straight away he mentioned I didn’t need the manicules. At first I was saddened by this constructive criticism, but quickly realised he was right. The image works just by itself, it didn’t need the extra clutter in the centre. The next day I cut some more paper and printed the yellow layer again, sans manicules.

The blue layer needed some refining, I hadn’t mixed the opacity correctly and ended up with this ugly layer.


I then had trouble with the opacity of the magenta. Every time i turned the opacity down it still didn’t look half as good as the quick colour test run i’d done in 1o minutes! The magenta layer was too overpowering and looked liked it was sat onto of the print. I needed it to sink down with the other layers so it wasn’t obvious which order the layers were printed in.


Don’t be fooled into thinking these 3 colours are the same…

We got there eventually. Printed on 190gsm bockingford and measuring 30 x 30 you can buy this print on my etsy site here for £20.


The forme
20 x 20

Typoretum internship

­Back in July 2015 I had mentioned to Paul butler about my interest in doing an internship at a letterpress studio. He suggested Typoretum would be a good place. He also offered to put me up should I manage to arrange one there. Over a year later here I am, I’ve just had an incredible three weeks with Justin, Cecilia and Matt at Typoretum, and thanks Paul & Lucy for putting me up for a week!

I arrived on the driveway of a Victorian house on a sunny day after a three-hour drive from Birmingham. The smell of lavender as I climbed out the car hit me and took me back to my childhood, picking lavender to earn some money over the summers. I walk down the path with the house on one side of me and a huge glorified shed on the left of me–this is the studio of Typoretum.


As I walk through the door I’m greeted by Matt & Cecilia who are both sat at a computer. Cecilia, Justin’s wife, runs the admin side of the business, (and is impeccably dressed everyday) she tells me that Justin has been called out on duty. He works part time for the fire service also, which is just next door to the house. Cecilia shows me round the studio and chats to me about the business. She shows me to the kitchen and introduces me to the two kittens. I know this is going to be the best three weeks ever. And bonus because they both have moustache markings in their fur. I’m then left to nosey around the studio and familiarise myself with all the cases. I spy some incredible ornaments and start to plan what I could print with them. I also find a wooden box of circular quads. Oh my life I have never seen any of these before, only on eBay. And I got outbid by about £200. I plan to use them. Everything about this studio is authentic. There are no modern substitutes for type cases or hand presses etc. My favourite piece of equipment is the Victorian guillotine. It’s beautiful.

High class printing of all descriptions on the premises


Circular quads ❤



I want to print all of them!
& noodles (Or maybe the other way around, i’m not too sure)

I’ve only been looking around for 15 minutes or so until a bird from out of nowhere is flying around the studio. I watch it for a minute fly around but then it flies into the window, drops down the side of the Heidelberg and doesn’t move. It’s upright though, so no concern. Unable to get to it, I’m told that Justin is a bit of a Dr Doolittle. Sure enough upon his return he tries to scoop it up but it flies away around the studio. After about 4 minutes of mayhem the bird flies into the window again, this time, it’s on its side.


Justin immediately sets me a task. One I didn’t realise the scale of until I started laying down some type. This would be my largest typeset piece to date. He’s written down 34 printers terms from the 1962 book ‘A dictionary of printing terms’ and it was my task to design a broadsheet for handing out at a printers fair he was exhibiting at, at the NEC in a couple of weeks.

It’s day 2 and I’m frustrated with myself that I didn’t take the time the evening before to start on my project. Instead I have the task of dissing some type. There’s lots of tidying up to do as a new press has just entered the workshop. I accidently call a case a drawer and get a quick turn of the head from Justin and Matt followed by an exclamation. I’m not sure what came over me. Perhaps the one-month annual leave just before I arrived here, I’m not sure.

Lunch was had out in the garden in the sun in front of the vegetable patch and next to the chicken coup. Now that’s what I’m talking about.

Day 3 I come prepared, in shorts for the sunshine and with an idea for the design of the broadsheet. I sit outside vaguely designing the second impression on my laptop. I say vaguely because if you saw it you’d think a student did it in year 7.

Office life at Typoretum

I then head into the studio and start setting a background layer on the new Soldan proofing press for the first impression. The next day I proof the impression and do a make ready. This takes a long time and many proofs. When the make ready is complete I spend the last hour of the day getting my fingers in the metal type cases starting to realise a card design based around using the circular quads.

1st Impression
1st impression inked
While the fluro ink its out, why not?


After being told that we are awaiting an electrician to mend the motor on the Soldan I start typesetting the second impression. Before I know it the first week has gone like a flash.

The start
I also make time to visit Nayland. A land after my own nickname.

At the start of the second week Justin is running a letterpress course. I continue in the background type setting my second impression and continue to do so for the next 4 days. The hair space cutter is my new best friend, I’d never come across one before and it made such a satisfying sound when used. The constant noise of the Gietz in the background was similarly satisfying. I am overwhelmed and amazed at the library of wood and metal type. Anything is possible in this studio. I realise that 3 weeks is not enough. I want more time. I want to design and laboriously typeset all the things.


The victorian Wharfdale




Slowly but surely

In week 2 I learn that lowercase lettering shouldn’t be letter spaced (and then I have to go through all the lines that I letter spaced) and also that sometimes master printer Justin also calls cases drawers, slip of the tongue I’m sure, but I made it know that I’d heard it, and that Matt has happily had nothing in his sandwiches but ham and cheese every single day for the past 30 years. I feel quite privileged to have witnessed the life changing moment he discovered ham and cheese on a crumpet that week.

Week 3 felt like I time was passing me by too fast. I finish typesetting my card design and Justin shows me how to print on the Farley. I get both colours down and the electrician comes and fixes the motor on the Soldan. By Wednesday we’re on for printing the first impression and by the end of the day I’ve covered the whole studio in prints. I finish by running a few prints off in fluro orange which Matt had on the Gietz at the time. Then it’s time to diss and remember which of the 80 drawers I got all the type from…

2nd impression
Trying to use all the ornaments



Unfortunately, but with no choice, I had set the second impression on the feed board of another press. I had the task of transferring all these 34 terms and definitions onto the bed of the Soldan. How I got away without pieing any type I’m not sure. By the end of the day the make ready is complete and I become more familiar with changing the tympan on the Soldan.

The finished forme

Paul whose house I was staying at that week runs St Boltophs press, a community letterpress workshop in the now derelict bus station of Colchester. He took me along one evening to show me the space. The studio, along with other artist’s workshops is housed in the old waiting room. I’m impressed with the small set up and equipment that Paul has acquired, and through doing so has taught himself the art of letterpress and has meticulously gone through all the type cases making sure all the sorts are in their places. 2 galleys of misc type are the result of such organisation.

Paul at St Boltophs press


I feel sad on the last day that I know I won’t be returning the next week. The place had come to feel incredibly familiar and I guess the friendly folk here help too. The second impression is down before lunch and then the afternoon’s activity is dissing. Unfortunately the afternoon wasn’t long enough to finish the task (Sorry Matt) but there were more important tasks at hand like having a go on the Gietz! I’d never used a platen press before, so it was pretty exciting for me. I had some plates made up for a business card, a bit of varnish on the rollers for a blind impression and we were off!

2nd impression inked
Hell box, my favourite part of the print




Can you spot the two errors?
This one is one of a kind…

So, in conclusion then, I can’t help but be incredibly envious of the lifestyle that Justin & Cecilia have and also the workplace that Matt comes to every day. I thank the three of you for making the last three weeks truly beautiful. The pleasure was all mine.

Cheers lads


Oh, and don’t worry – the bird was released into the bushes, I like to think it lived.

Typoretum internship

Making more wood type

My previous blog post talks about the trial of making wood type. After it’s success, it was time to make some more! I wanted to see the project through from start to finish, and this meant designing my own typeface. Now, I’m no type designer, and I’m like a fish out of water when it comes to illustrator. I’d seen a type face by G.Collette & J.Dufour called l’independent designed in the 30’s and I fell in love with it. Given its simplicity, I was hugely influenced by this when creating my typeface. Each letter is made up of a maximum of 3 shapes and took a total of 2 days to create the 26 letters and numbers. Easy peasy.



Once cut out on the CNC, then the labour starts. The blocks are pretty rough at this point so there’s a lot of sanding required. Each one is first sanded down on all sides on a circular sander then sanded by hand on the top to get rid of any burrs, then with a finer sandpaper the face is sanded round the sides to remove any burs and finally the entire face is sanded down on a fine 400 grit paper until it is as smooth as glass. With nearly 150 pieces, this was no quick task and not easy on the hands!

Work must begin on sanding down…


Finally they were each given 2 layers of sanding sealer (and more sanding to be done!) and finished off with a layer of shellac.





Making more wood type

Making wood type

I love wood type. I like the look of it, I like the feel of it, I like the mystery of history behind it and I like to print with it. Maybe part of the allure is the scarcity of it.

Every letterpress studio I visit has me drooling over the wood type, weather it’s a huge font,  a tiny font or a super fancy font.  Every letterpress studio is unique in that it owns at least some incredibly rare or interesting type that no other letterpress studio has.

The problem with wood type is that it’s not being made anymore (At least not in the UK), there is simply not a high enough demand for it. Any type that is for sale comes with a big price tag attached to it.

Influenced by seeing the work of Geri at Virgin Wood Type and my time working at Birmingham City University, it had me wondering with all the available technology it boasts, if it would be possible to try and make our own wood type.

In 2014 I experimented with laser cut type, I don’t know if it was our lame laser cutters or what but it took forever. I had to keep sending it through so that the cut was deep enough.FullSizeRender copy

I needed a faster method than laser cutting, I also wanted them a little prettier looking. There was lots of research to do. Since we don’t have a pantograph at BCU I chatted to the wood work technician who suggested cutting out letters on the laser and then sticking them onto a wood block or we could try the CNC router which would mean we could cut down into the block keeping it as a whole. I much preferred the sound of this. As with every experiment there are questions to be asked. What are the limitations of the CNC router? The smallest drill bit BCU use is 3mm. But that wouldn’t get near enough detail into a letter as I would like. I’d have to buy a 1mm, but with that comes the risk of it breaking as it’s so small. What type of wood do you use? It had to be a hard wood so that the wood wouldn’t get compressed over the years through the press, causing it not to print. Geri over at Virgin Wood Type & Scott at Moore Wood Type use end grain maple, but I couldn’t get hold of that and the CNC couldn’t have coped with end grain. Instead I ordered some American Ash.

I also had to enlist the help of product student Beau Birkett, as I had no idea how to work Auto Cad and all these letters needed to be in a file the CNC router could read.


Here’s an image of our first test and the 1MM drill bit didn’t break – wahoo!!

Just to make sure we were all good with the drill bit, we did another few tests


With the all clear from the 1mm drill bit it was full steam ahead! I ordered 6 1mm drill bits (Not cheap either at £23 a pop!) just incase it did decide to break. Because if it did we would have to replace it there and then so that we could carry on. So as not to wear the drill bit out we decided to do the outlines with the 1mm then the insides of the letter could be taken away with a 3mm.

The letters were then cut on a band saw and sanded down by hand around the edges. The type face was then sanded down on a very fine 400 grit piece of sandpaper until it felt as smooth as glass. A sanding sealer was then applied with a rag rather than a brush so as not to leave any raised brush marks which may be visible when printed, they were left over night, sanded down again and a 2nd layer of sanding sealer was applied, left over night again, sanded down lightly and then a layer of shellac was applied


A huge thanks to Beau for his excellent Auto Cad skills and for being insanely precise and patient sanding every individual piece down and making sure they were all 0.918″ heigh. And also Rowan for his advice & operating the CNC Machine. Without these guys there wouldn’t even have been a project. Collaboration makes so many things possible!


1st test print! I love the wood grain coming through in the print!


Don’t they all just look so yummy inked for the very first time?


Now to make MORE!!!!

(Type designer? Want to see your work in wood? Get in touch!)


Making wood type


Here’s my submission for the interrobang exhibition at Ditchling art & craft museum I heard about through instagram. Now, I know its not about interrobangs but when I heard the title of the exhibition this idea came into my head, and when I have an idea I like to follow it through. The idea was to laser cut a large interrobang symbol and fill the shape with question mark and exclamation mark symbols. I looked through all the ? and ! symbols in the collection and it would have been a bit of a weird mish mash but most importantly, there wouldn’t have been enough. But then I began to wonder if Andrew at Carpathian type foundry could cast me all the ? and ! I needed. Unfortunately he was ill and unable to operate machinery but he did recommend Matt at paekakariki press. He was most helpful and willing to cast me the symbols I needed. I took a look through the fonts he could cast and started making the interrobang symbol out of them to see which would work best. I wanted the ? and ! to be the same font as the laser cut symbol. I quite liked the look of perpetua, so settled on that. “How many were you thinking” “I need 12pt, so about 100 of each” I said.

After our phone conversation i began to doubt whether 100 of each would be enough. We both did some calculations and crazily we both came up with the same amount of ! -2.

Using my highly technical and mathematical skills i divided the interrobang symbol into ems, and counted all the em spaces up. My initial estimate of 100 ? and ! each were massively incorrect.

I would need 432 ! and 768 ?


My symbols arrived within a couple of days, and I started to fill up the laser cut symbol on the bed of the press. To start with, the tiny 12pt symbols just kept falling over. I knew this was going to be a long process. Not only that but it felt like i wasn’t getting anywhere, that the space wasn’t filling up. I had to take photos to show myself that I was getting somewhere


I can’t quite tell you the joy of seeing the completed symbol, and neither could my back after being bent over the press for about 4/5 hours.

I pulled a proof, and as envisioned, there were unsightly gaps in places (I had used 12pt spaces too to bulk it out a little and to keep costs down) and also symbols that had lined up together. I then had to spend another couple of hours taking out extra spaces and undoing the orderly symbols to give it more of a scattered look. Trying to find certain symbols that i has circled on the proof in the type itself was a bit of a mission, its a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle!

Here’s the finished print, printed mainly on Bockingford smooth 300gsm



Like my colleague said, they look like ants.

Only one thing now remains, and that would be to diss about 700 pieces of spacing into ens, thicks, mids and thins. Anyone like to come help?



Carpathian Type Foundry

I met Andrew & Jean, the couple behind Carpathian Type Foundry (coined as ‘probably the smallest type foundry in the world’) back in May at the St Bride Wayzgoose. Fascinated with the intricate monotype caster in which metal type is made, I asked if I could pay them a visit.

As I arrived in the village of Hurst, I think I expected some kind of barn workshop that housed the monotype super caster among the various other presses. I certainly wasn’t expecting to pull into a regular housing estate! There wasn’t even a double garage. I was intrigued. This really had to be the world’s smallest type foundry.

I was warmly welcomed into the house by Jean and Andrew and within 5 minutes I was sat down with Andrew explaining to me how matrices were made – I had examples of UK, American and Ludlow matrices in front of me. 20 minutes later with that background knowledge our aprons were on and we headed out to the garage. Now, I’ve got to give it to Andrew, he sure knows how to pack a lot into a small space. In the garage there was a Monotype composition caster, Monotype super caster, FAG proofing press and a platen press. Not to mention all the thousands of bits & pieces like mats & moulds that come with owning and running such equipment. There were splatters of molten lead all over the wall and floor, even on the ceiling! Andrew told me that we would be casting on the super caster, making some ornaments and type.

The beautiful beast
Matrix upon matrix
Matrix upon matrix
Tools of the trade
Tools of the trade

It is such a beautifully intricate machine; there’s a tiny tap constantly flowing with water to keep it cool, and a small blast of air to cool the lead down after it has been cast. Andrew started by giving the molten lead a stir to a good consistency. What was mixed and poured off the spoon was the most opaque looking silver I had ever seen. It was beautiful.


Within the first hour or so my mind was completely fizzled with information on how to work the very complex and technical super caster. There were so many settings and adjustments to make, and it wasn’t easy – there was maths with fractions involved! Now, I like maths, but probably not as much as Andrew – accountant by day, caster by weekend.

Andrews workings out on the galley
Andrews workings out on the galley
This smile didn't leave Andrews face all day
This smile didn’t leave Andrews face all day

Each matrix requires a different setting on the caster. After Andrew explained how to work out the settings about 10 times I could just about figure out the equation (remembering to add 17 if the number on the matrix is not preceded by an asterisk!) Even after the type is cast we had to make sure the baseline was constant (with the help of a monotype microscope), the set width was correct (vernier gauge in hand), that they were 0.918″ tall and the lead was behaving itself so that there were no large air bubbles in the body. Andrew broke open a piece of type and showed me the granite like texture of quality that he works towards. To ensure that each piece of type is up to standard, they are weighed. Andrew knows off the top of his head what each piece should weigh given the point size, then quadruples it so he knows what 4 should weigh. So they are weighed 4 at a time and boxed up. Rest assured when you buy from Carpathian, you’re getting good solid type!

Looks simple, right?
Looks simple, right?

After lunch (lovingly prepared by Mrs Carpathian), I jumped for joy a little bit inside when Andrew revealed it was my turn to cast some type. He asked me what I would like to cast. If only I could stop time and cast everything! I chose the manicule because if there’s anything the world needs more of, it’s manicules. And lots of them. By this point I knew how to insert the matrix into the matrix holder and into the caster. With a bit of guidance, I could also fine tune the settings according to the point size, pull a couple of leavers and I was away! The sweet, sweet sound of the mechanics of the caster churning out manicule after manicule was captivating. It’s what dreams are made of.

image1 copy

Every now and then Andrew’s ears would prick up as he heard air bubbles being created inside the body of type. We would stop the caster and give it a clean, then we could start casting again. I was very fortunate on my visit that the caster was behaving itself. I got the impression that it is very temperamental and things don’t go right all the time, resulting in a lot of time consuming maintenance.

At the end of the day I was taking home some treasured ornaments. I am eternally grateful to Jean & Andrew for their hospitality, opening up their home and giving up their time to educate me. Andrew’s all consuming passion and enthusiasm for casting type was oozing out of him the whole day, which made it all the more enjoyable. So a huge thank you to those guys, who made it an excellent Saturday. I just wished I lived a little closer so I could help out with casting. For now, I’ll put a super caster on my list to Santa.

Carpathian Type Foundry