In late 2000 or early 2001, before our interest in printing slowly and patiently via letterpress, germinated, Bill Deering and I had a group of Visual communications students on the field trip to Ogilvy, an advertising agency in New York City. We had set up to meet with Nigel Kent, Ogilvy’s Director of Typography. Nigel was from London and we were in the process of scheduling our first VCUK trip that summer. We asked if he could suggest anyone outstanding that could talk to our group about typography. One of the main mantras of the trip was that after the experience “we wanted the students to hear their type hitting the paper when they were designing.”
Nigel suggested an instructor at the Royal College of Art named Alan Kitching. We didn’t know it at the time, but Alan was a superstar in London. After we got to London, Bill called him to set up a visit. Alan said we could come by his Clerkenwell studio, but that his shop was small. We set up to visit during a 4-day break we had scheduled to allow a chance for interested students to travel on their own, so most would likely be out of London.
The studio was a completely fun visit for about 6 of us. We asked Alan if he was willing to do some kind of letterpress workshop the following summer. So, on VCUK’02 we did the broadside below of an alphabet poem.
As Kitching’s studio was small, the students worked in 3 groups, with everyone choosing a wooden letter and setting its line of text, choosing from 6 or 8 cases of type Alan had set out. We weren’t confident the students would like working in a different century, but 80% of the students picked the workshop as their favorite visit of the 35 visits we scheduled for the trip. Letterpress was officially on our agenda and all of us could hear the type hitting the paper a lot clearer.
After another of our visits in 2002 was to the St. Bride Printing Library and Jill and I were hooked. We wrote a booh about our letterpress addiction entitled, “The Librarian Made Us Do It.” We came back with a plan to start a letterpress studio, which we named Raven Press at the University of Delaware. We’ve been doing letterpress ever since.
The image at the top was the resulting broadside from the Kitching workshop in 2003. The broadside below was from the summer of 2004.
I’ll just throw in this portrait of Alan talking at Central St. Martins showing a full-page newspaper ad he produced via letterpress. It is one of my favorite portraits I’ve taken of letterpress printers.