Last night was the first evening of the seven week Letterpress I course at MCBA. Sara, our instructor, had us make artwork for pressure printing from self-adhesive sheets. The purpose was to show how, by layering and overlapping shapes cut out of the label material and stuck down onto plain paper, very little thickness is needed to change the density of a print in letterpress, as well as a way to produce quick and easy artwork. Even the addition of an extra sheet of paper as a backing can make a marked difference in the amount of ink laid down.

But I don’t paint, nor do I draw, so when it dawned on me that I’d have to create something freehand, I could just feel the blood draining from my head. The obvious solution here would have been to use simple graphic shapes, but, of course, I went for a more detailed approach using lots of curves, because that’s what I do, right? Make things difficult for myself. Halfway through I realised my mistake in choosing this option, but even my bad artwork didn’t fail to illustrate Sara’s point.

We were using a Vandercook No. 4 proof press which is about the same age as me (work it out). We learnt about the different parts of the press, especially the form rollers, the steps in pulling a print and the importance of the clean up procedure at the end. It’s like a GI getting to know his rifle. Soon I should be able to break the press down and reassemble it blindfolded. Other instructions are to tie long hair back and not wear frilly clothes. Damn, just as I was rediscovering the New Romantic look too.

During the next six weeks, as well as learning more about the press and its maintenance, we’ll be working on a broadside exchange. We’ll each set type of our choosing, use an image either printed as a pressure print or a linocut and print them in an edition of 12-15. That way we each get a small portfolio of nine prints made up of everyone’s broadside.

The California Job case, the rule of 5, furniture, quoins and keys. No, I don’t know what they are either, but I see all this in my future. Thanks Sara, I can’t wait until Mondays roll around now!