Meander Book Creative Letterpress Workshop

Objectives

THIS WORKSHOP PROVIDES a variety of hands-on, creative typographic experiences to new design students or business professionals through an intense, one-day, collaborative introduction to letterpress. And for dessert, there is a meander-format bookmaking experience that is quite useful in a variety of situations. 

While this project is collaborative, it also neutralizes dominant and shy personalities—each person is responsible only for their page of real estate. By appealing to people's visual-creative side and acquainting them with letterpress processes, we hope these initiates will:

  • see the spontaneous qualities of letterpress,
  • think about typography and its partnership with design to bring conceptual understanding to the reader,
  • consider letterpress more often as a viable design tool,
  • result in a piece that demonstrates all of everyone's work that went into it, and
  • be more knowledgeable when applying letterpress to later projects.

Learning to keep your eyes, ears, hands, and brain open to new options—like unintended consequences and accidents—is an essential skill in developing creative work. It is hard to work outside the box when your thinking originates inside that same box.

A mistake or a chance combination becomes an aha moment when a capital M can also become a W, 3, or E by merely rotating it. Typical design rules don't always apply such as : avoid more than 3 typefaces on a page, or specific typefaces always have specific functions. Physically handling type and spacing elements encourages students to find new ways to break up space, overlap elements, substitute visual elements for one another, and think differently.

This creative workshop incorporates a number of letterpress elements and an intro to bookmaking, as well as history- and resume-building aspects:

  • composing with wood and metal type by hand
  • keyboarding their name in hot metal on an Intertype C4 linecaster, which is used in the colophon of their books
  • printing their book covers on a hand-cranked Vandercook SP15
  • printing their text pages on an automatic Vandercook Universal III
  • making 3 copies of a no-sew-no-glue meander book that can be easily adapted and personalized as a self-promotion piece, a project pitch, an interview leave-behind / thank you, or handmade gift.
  • earning résumé credit for the workshop and
  • establishing a sense of their place in letterpress and design history by including their book in the special collections at the Library of Congress and the University of Delaware Morris Library, as well as the library of their school.

Tools and Materials Needed

The broadside that becomes the book's text block is pre-cut to 16" x 20". This makes each person's page size 4" x 5".

Three key components make this project workable in a letterpress studio.

  • The organization of the workshops (run by a minimum of 2 people) has evolved to allow for the densest experience possible in a one-day workshop.
  • Second is the type of press. The size of the broadside and the ease of loading the press are essential factors. We use two Vandercook cylinder presses (an SP15 and a Universal III), and we believe iron hand presses would also work well. The broadside that becomes the book's text block is pre-cut to 16" x 20".
  • Third is using the pre-cut meander book page frame as a chase and ensuring that each attendee accurately fills it (size details below). Two complete sets of frames are required, one set for each of the 2 colors that will be printed. The frame forces a 2-pica margin so there are no bleeds on each page, and no one's design intrudes on a neighboring page. The frame also allows unskilled people to load their pages quickly and directly into the press.

Initial items distributed in a paper bag for each person:

  • 6 pieces of mat board, cut to 4 1/8" x 5 1/8", grain long
  • 3 matching pairs of paste paper for book covers (70# text), cut to 7" x 5 1/8", grain short
  • 3 matching pairs of solid color end sheets, Canson Mi-Teintes or similar, cut to 4 1/8" x 7", grain short
  • 3 spines, pre-printed on 100# French cover stock with the school or organization name and date, cut to 4 1/4" x 5 1/16", pre-scored (with 2 parallel scores 1/4" inch apart) for folding
  • bone folder

Items distributed to each person when beginning to compose a type form

  • a galley
  • pre-printed galley slip, turned in at the end of the day so Lead Graffiti staff can redistribute the type
  • pre-printed California job case layout
  • pencil
  • compositor's hook ruler
  • meander book page frame (2 lengths of wood furniture cut to 2 picas x 24 picas, and 2 lengths cut to 2 picas x 26 picas
  • 1 sheet of tracing paper, pre-cut to 26 picas x 26 picas.

The Process : Good to Know

Lead Graffiti distinguishes between "creative" and "technical" workshops. For a creative experience, LG staff handle all on- and off-press makeready, type redistribution, and clean up.

Hand composition is explained, including rules of thumb for spacing, use of leading and furniture, demon letters, the importance of snug filling, without overfilling, the book frame, and maintaining the galley slip.

Composing sticks are not used as the page layouts are encouraged to be non-linear and irregular. Attendees are instructed that sketching is pointless. At Lead Graffiti they have access to 600 cases of metal type and 40 cases of wood type—almost all of which they have never seen before, many with unknown names, only a few of which are available in families or runs of multiple sizes, and some of which are incomplete. Each person is asked to visualize in their head and expect to problem solve on the spot as they progress. We tell them to "listen to the type." There is no automatic default safety net, which makes the results from this workshop unpredictable and often more visually exciting (and on their first try without choosing among multiple options).

Printing

The text block for the book is gang-printed in a 4 x 4-page array in 2 colors on a pre-cut 16" x 20" broadside. We typically use 80# Mohawk Superfine text.

  • Each person quickly submits 1 to 4 elements (i.e., initial cap, dingbat, or a word to standout) to be locked up early on in the press and printed in the first color while they continue to work on the balance of their page, which will print in a second color.
  • The cut-to-fit tissue paper is used to trace the position of the elements that print in the first color. Then the succeeding elements printing in the second color can be positioned more accurately. 

When the cover type is ready for printing on our Vandercook SP15, each person will print it on their supplied sheets of paste paper and dust them with cornstarch for quick handling during bookmaking later in the workshop.

Once all page forms are locked in the press and makeready is complete for the second color, attendees print one broadside each and dust it with cornstarch for easier handling so that the text block assembly can begin. 

Cover Assembly

The book covers are assembled while the makeready for the second color of the broadside is being readied on the Universal III.

  • Center the printed cover on one of the pieces of mat board with the top and bottom edges of the paper and board aligned. Fold the 2 side flaps tightly around to the back and crease the edges with the bone folder. Repeat for the back cover.
  • Remove the paste paper covers from the mat board. Center one solid-color end sheet on the mat board with the left and right sides aligned. Fold the top and bottom flaps tightly around to the back and crease the edges. Repeat for the other end sheet.
  • The object now is to completely wrap the mat board with paper so none of its surfaces or edges show. Insert one flap of the paste paper cover into the slot between the mat board and the end sheet. Wrap the paste paper around the opposite side and insert the remaining flap into the remaining slot between the mat board and end sheet. Repeat for the other cover.
  • Select a spine and crease both score lines. Insert one spine flap into the side slot of the front cover, and insert the other flap into a side slot of the back cover so that the paste papers face outward and the end sheets face inward. 

Text Block Assembly

They are shown how to fold the broadside in quarters lengthwise, then how to fold it in quarters crosswise. Each crosswise fold is refolded and creased with the bone folder enough times to make tearing easy along those fold lines. This is followed by how and where to tear and fold the sheet to make a finished text block and tips for inserting the blank end pages into the assembled covers and adding the spine.

The Takeaway

The people then print 2 more text broadsides, which are simply rolled and rubber banded for travel. This forces them to make the final 2 copies of their books on their own to practice the techniques and steps they just learned.

We supply a high resolution image of the lockup and broadside in juxtaposition, which the participants can use as they see fit. NOTE : in photographing the lockup image, we roll the form with white ink to help the printing surface stand out from the rest of the darker furniture and type shoulders.

A photo of the lockup and the finished broadside is supplied to attendees to use as they wish. Note that the first and third rows of the print have been turned right side up for easier readability in this position.

A photo of the lockup and the finished broadside is supplied to attendees to use as they wish. Note that the first and third rows of the print have been turned right side up for easier readability in this position.

Shown here is a completed book (upper left and center front), the lockup for a single page (bottom right), and an unfolded text block with the visible torn edges on the crosswise fold lines.

Shown here is a completed book (upper left and center front), the lockup for a single page (bottom right), and an unfolded text block with the visible torn edges on the crosswise fold lines.

This finished single page lockup is shown tied into its meander book page frame. At top is the ornamented copperplate A (inked white for visibility). At right is the complete 2-color print of the finished page.

This finished single page lockup is shown tied into its meander book page frame. At top is the ornamented copperplate A (inked white for visibility). At right is the complete 2-color print of the finished page.

The lockup and completed broadside for a different meander workshop group. As before, the first and third rows of the print have been turned right side up for readability.

The lockup and completed broadside for a different meander workshop group. As before, the first and third rows of the print have been turned right side up for readability.

A workshop group is just beginning to orient themselves and select some type.

A workshop group is just beginning to orient themselves and select some type.

This handset page shows the meander book page frame filled near completion.

This handset page shows the meander book page frame filled near completion.

A different meander book page frame uses wood press furniture to incorporate more white space into the page layout.

A different meander book page frame uses wood press furniture to incorporate more white space into the page layout.

One by one as each person completes their page, they are instructed how to orient the top of their page

One by one as each person completes their page, they are instructed how to orient the top of their page

Others observe as the press bed is filled with individual pages.

Others observe as the press bed is filled with individual pages.

All the pages are loaded, makeready is near completion and the broadside is ready to print.

All the pages are loaded, makeready is near completion and the broadside is ready to print.

While tearing the broadside is the scariest part, it also means you are very near completing your book.

While tearing the broadside is the scariest part, it also means you are very near completing your book.

An accordion fold from one end to the other finishes the text block.

An accordion fold from one end to the other finishes the text block.

To date, over 65 different meander books from this workshop have been delivered to the Special Collections in the Library of Congress and the University of Delaware.

To date, over 65 different meander books from this workshop have been delivered to the Special Collections in the Library of Congress and the University of Delaware.

H.N. Werkman Type Prints : A Creative Letterpress Workshop

Objectives

Two events make us believe this type workshop has a lot of value in the education of contemporary designers as the digital world becomes more and more the gravitational force that envelopes design.

  • An MFA exhibition with at least five graduates did not present an example of any letterform being used to serve as anything other than written language. Even logos with letterforms did not go beyond a letter being more than the starting letter of a company's name.
  • As a judge of a recent design competition, Ray was asked, "What do you see that is wrong?" His immediate response was that "everyone was pouring words" into InDesign. Design using type was almost always a shape confining the type, and that shape was most often rectangular.

Getting students to see letterforms as more than simply components of language is difficult. For a few hours effort, this workshop provides a compelling experience to enforce an interaction, showing letterforms as verbs versus nouns. It would make an excellent opening class for a Typography I course.

Based on the WWII-era work of Dutch designer and printer H.N. Werkman, this project provides lots of colorful fun for all ages 6 and better, as well as for groups of all sizes, with an almost complete focus on joining typographic shapes into a visual image.

  • We especially encourage its use for design and typography students early in the semester to promote experimentation and exploration with typography as shape.
  • It also makes a great half-day staff or business retreat for all sorts of professionals who want to recharge their gray cells away from the computer and tweak the way they think or solve problems.

How Type Prints

There's no lock-up of type (no magnets either) and no measuring (everything is by eye). Every print is one of a kind, instead of being one of an edition of exact duplicates. The group is given a short demo in the use of each kind of press. People are encouraged to use whichever press is open when they are ready to print their next run. In general, this workshop gives people creative license to use type as letters to play with, versus letters to write with. 

To start, a piece of wood type is hand rolled with as many colors and in whatever pattern the person desires. A sheet of paper is then placed on the bed of the press, and the inked letter is carefully placed by eye, face down on top of the sheet. Considering standard letterpress procedure this method is upside down.

No lock up or magnets are needed; the stickiness of the ink is sufficient to hold the type in position. The paper + type are then printed by the press, and the letter is lifted carefully from the paper surface to avoiding smearing, revealing the print. Now it's simply a matter of repeating the process until you deem the print complete to your satisfaction.

Tools and Materials

Lead Graffiti distinguishes between "creative" and "technical" workshops. For a creative experience, LG staff handle all on- and off-press makeready, type redistribution, and clean up.

Any press that does not require the type to be locked in a chase is usable: table top proofing presses, Vandercook cylinder presses, and iron hand presses have all been used successfully in our studio.

For a group of 15 to 20 people printing for 3 to 4 hours, we supply:

  • 5 presses : 2 large iron hand presses (1928 Albion and 1869 Washington Hoe), 2 Vandercooks (SP15, and Universal III set to cycle), and a Nolan proofing press with a large galley locked up in its bed.
  • 9 or more hand brayers : supply at least half as many brayers as there are people printing; typically brayers 1 1/2" to 2" in width are adequate
  • small amounts (2 to 3 teaspoons each) of hand-mixed rubber base inks in 9 or more companionable hues. Colors right out of the can tend to be visually harsh.
  • a stack of white text or cover weight stock : about 8 to 10 sheets per person; pre-cut to fit the smallest press in use that day
  • a short stack of bond or other text weight paper for extra packing as needed
  • newsprint slip sheets and kraft paper folios for getting prints home safely
  • a large quantity of wood type : currently we use our "orphans" which are part of incomplete alphabets and damaged letterforms. We also include a quantity of graphic elements such as lines, dots, arrows, and other wood shapes that are .918" high.

Good to Know

A Lead Graffiti staff of 2 handles all clean up of type during the workshop to keep the creative juices flowing for all participants. We encourage people to look at what others are doing color- and composition-wise to capitalize on and advance fresh ideas.

  • This is a fascinating experience for young kids. Children as young as 6 can work with little assistance on our automatic Vandercook Universal III, and they will often do it for hours without a word or question, iPad or video.
  • The hardest part of the work is placing the inked type onto the paper to start and lifting it after pressing without smearing. That gets easier with a bit of practice and making sure your hands are clean.

While it's refreshing to be able to work quickly without worrying about lock ups, we discourage people from inking and placing more than 2 or 3 components at a time in a composition for many reasons:

  • you are discouraging "happy accidents" that inevitably occur when your entire composition is printed in one run. A significant part of this workshop is examining each run and creating a newly printed reaction to it. It also prevents you from overlapping visual elements.
  • it's easier to know when to quit working on a print and start a new one
  • though we have metered and tried to level all the type, wood always reacts to humidity, and swollen and shrunken pieces will affect the printing
  • you are preventing the use of a quantity of type by others while you are inking and contemplating your complicated composition
  • it's more difficult for staff to keep up with cleaning and redistributing type for the group when it is used in large batches by very many people
Getting started, some people spend more time selecting type while others head to the presses.

Getting started, some people spend more time selecting type while others head to the presses.

Heads are down, concentrating on exact placement of type elements.

Heads are down, concentrating on exact placement of type elements.

Reacting to previously printed elements, this designer inserts more complexity and repetition into the next run.

Reacting to previously printed elements, this designer inserts more complexity and repetition into the next run.

Hand rolling type involves lots of color and pattern choices.

Hand rolling type involves lots of color and pattern choices.

For ease of use, type is spread out alphabetically, with figures and additional graphic elements grouped accordingly.

For ease of use, type is spread out alphabetically, with figures and additional graphic elements grouped accordingly.

With the frisket removed, an iron hand press is easier to operate. Platen bearers installed at each corner even out platen pressure.

With the frisket removed, an iron hand press is easier to operate. Platen bearers installed at each corner even out platen pressure.

Peeking at others' work can spark all sorts of ideas about color usage and layout.

Peeking at others' work can spark all sorts of ideas about color usage and layout.

A typographic hand with fingertips on fire makes use of reprinting letters without re-inking.

A typographic hand with fingertips on fire makes use of reprinting letters without re-inking.

A large cap S makes use of transparency, overlap and rhythm. 

A large cap S makes use of transparency, overlap and rhythm. 

The figure 8 is only half inked and printed twice, giving the merest of hints that it is much narrower than it appears.

The figure 8 is only half inked and printed twice, giving the merest of hints that it is much narrower than it appears.

Careful placement and subdued colors loudly declare the tumbling motion and its aftermath.

Careful placement and subdued colors loudly declare the tumbling motion and its aftermath.

A simple, single block of 3 evenly spaced parallel lines makes a captivating textural statement in color.

A simple, single block of 3 evenly spaced parallel lines makes a captivating textural statement in color.

Quotable Broadside : A Creative Letterpress Workshop

Objectives

This 3-to-4-hour project acquaints groups of 6 to 20 people with the California job case, hand setting metal type in a specific typeface, and the challenge of needing to make a series of simple quotes memorable or interesting with some visual massaging. For new typography students, the finished print makes a great type specimen sheet for reference.

A group is asked to bring an overall theme and a different quote of up to 50-70 characters for each person to handset in metal type. The quotes are handset in any of our 36-point metal type and the participants are encouraged to create visual elements with the type to help personalize the quotes. The result is a one-color broadside titled with their theme and a collection of like-minded quotes with some attempt at individuality. Some cases of type, with few or none of some letters, will require a few people to be creative with letter substitutions. Each quote is also attributed to its author, its compositor, and its typeface.

Tools and Materials

Lead Graffiti distinguishes between "creative" and "technical" workshops. For a creative experience, LG staff handle all on- and off-press makeready, type redistribution, and clean up.

For this project, we use our largest Vandercook Universal III with a maximum print size of about 17" x 24". A large proofing press or iron hand press would also be a good alternative for printing. The individual quotes are loaded off galleys and onto the press by each person as they complete their composing task.

Each person keyboards the author's name, their name, and the main typeface name in hot metal on our Intertype linecaster for inclusion on the broadside. Alternatively, a couple of job cases of 12-point type can be offered to set the extra information instead of using the Intertype.

Once the makeready is complete, everyone prints 2 copies as a keepsake from the experience. Other necessary items include:

  • composing stick and a type galley for each person
  • a galley slip and pencil for each person to keep track of all type for redistribution later
  • Note : we typically provide job cases of only 36 point type for this project and limit quotation length to 50-70 characters or less per person. It is critical that the length of the printing area stays within the press and stock limitations.
Shown here is the press lockup and its associated broadside printed in one color.

Shown here is the press lockup and its associated broadside printed in one color.

A galley is used to hold the lines of type as the quote is composed. An accompanying galley slip noting any type substitutions is used during redistribution later.

A galley is used to hold the lines of type as the quote is composed. An accompanying galley slip noting any type substitutions is used during redistribution later.

This design student sits at the Intertype keyboard to input the text crediting the quote's author, typeface and compositor.

This design student sits at the Intertype keyboard to input the text crediting the quote's author, typeface and compositor.

As their quote is finished, each person off loads the type from their galley into the bed of the press.

As their quote is finished, each person off loads the type from their galley into the bed of the press.

The designer ran out of three different characters with a resulting piece that was all the better for it.

The designer ran out of three different characters with a resulting piece that was all the better for it.

The contrasting typefaces and letterspacing provided the quote with a strong, visual voice.

The contrasting typefaces and letterspacing provided the quote with a strong, visual voice.