February 8, 2009

A Day at Toast Letterpress

Posted in Look tagged , , , , , , at 9:40 pm by onetinyacorn

The people at Pittsburgh Craft Collective have been putting together many affordable one-time classes on all sorts of crafty things: fused glass, bookbinding, knitting, etc.  My first experience with one of these events was an amazing demonstration at Toast Letterpress. The owners spent two hours with us, explaining step-by-step how they produce the lucious impressions that define letterpress today (in contrast to older letterpress fashions, which favored no indentation in the paper). Then, we got to create our own Valentine’s Day cards! I learned a ton of information, and the owners were extremely nice (and talented–they have a portfolio in their office that was filled with gorgeous work). And, as if this weren’t enough, they had heart-shaped cookies for us.

While I quickly realized that I should have been taking notes (I was too transfixed by the machinery), here is a glimpse inside the studio:

Contemporary Plate

A contemporary letterpress plate. In the past, wood was used. Wood gave way to metal plates, which are still sometimes used today.

Inks

The inks for the press, which are either rubber-based or oil-based. Rubber-based ink is generally preferred.

A Vandercook press, inked up and ready for action. This is what we used to create our cards. The plate is laying down, and I hand-cranked paper over it. This press is suitable for small runs.

A Vandercook press, inked up and ready for action. This is what we used to create our cards. The plate is laying down, and I hand-cranked paper over it (with the help of rollers). This press is suitable for small runs.

A windmill press: the Original Heidelburg (a platen press). This thing is amazing. It has mechanical arms to auto-fee paper, and it self-adjusts as the stack of paper gets lower. It was a whirl of activity, the sort of contraption that Willy Wonka might have thought up if he had turned to printing. Or, you know, been a real person. On this one, the type and/or images are kept in a vertical case, and it meets the paper. There's a glass funnel and hose, which was originally used to spray a chemical fixative so that the ink didn't smear on the paper. This is not necessary any more, of course. Built in the 1950s.

A windmill press: the Original Heidelburg (a platen press). This thing is amazing. It has mechanical arms to auto-feed paper, and it self-adjusts as the stack of paper gets lower. It was a whirl of activity, the sort of contraption that Willy Wonka might have thought up if he had turned to printing. Or, you know, been a real person. On this one, the type and/or images are kept in a vertical case, and it meets the paper. There's a glass funnel and hose, which was originally used to spray a chemical fixative so that the ink didn't smear on the paper. This is not necessary any more, of course.

Both of those presses were built in the 1950s. We also got to view an industrial paper-cutter, which instantly made me think of severed hands for some reason. I was assured that there’s a safety feature that makes it impossible for that to occur. We also got to use the corner-rounder, a cute little machine that produces the rounded corners that the kids like so much.

Here is my final product:

finishedcard

What a fun way to spend an afternoon! Thanks to Toast Letterpress and the Pittsburgh Craft Collective for putting this together.

If you want to see a letterpress firsthand, there are some good videos on YouTube (like this one). There’s also a really extensive introduction to all things letterpress here.

October 28, 2008

"Something Pretty"

Posted in Look tagged , at 7:12 am by onetinyacorn

My very first blog post! I’m coming onto the scene like it’s 1999.

I thought I’d begin this little adventure with a word about the title. Sometimes, when I’m bored and searching on the internet, I just want to find something pretty. Or beautiful, or awe-inspiring. There’s that ache to be inspired, to find something transformative.

If there’s one thing I believe in, it’s the importance of art. There’s a lot to hate about the “art world”, from pretentious gallery shows to gushing, pseudo-philosophical reviews of the same. But too often, I think that art is dismissed as peripheral, superfluous. I need beauty in the world. I am often inspired by non-profit organizations’ use of art as a community-building project, from the neighborhood murals I see here in Pittsburgh, to Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, to Zana Briski’s project of bringing cameras to kids in Calcutta (documented by the film, Born into Brothels).

I walk home from work a lot, camera in hand. It presents a new way of looking at things: slowly, deliberately. And I notice little pieces of everyday magic. Two recent findings: someone suspended autumn leaves with twigs and copper wire, in a halo around a tree trunk. Another is a mossy staircase leading to a wrought iron gate, covered in leaves. It looked like a portal.

Art is a portal.

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