WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S WORDS have been somewhat important historically to letterpress, so his birthday makes a good starting point for a broadside. Unfortunately this particular year, the Boston Marathon bombing clouded the bard's birthday. We decided to experiment to find a way to connect these two diverse topics. Shakespeare's perfect words got us started.
For the commemorative part, the visual needed to be thoughtful. Committed to using typography, we chose grey and rust to echo the pavement the runners had trod, the smoke, the darkness of someone's heart, the injuries suffered and the healing that was needed. And to bind everything together, we pulled out an untried technique of offset printing with letterpress equipment.
BRIEFLY, the technique involves using a very hard, non-absorbent sheet of paper as a vehicle for transferring (or offsetting) ink from one surface to another.
Printing this Shakespeare broadside was our first shot at an idea that had been bouncing around for a while : using the technique of offset printing with letterpress. The close-up below shows the blind-debossing with the offset-printed type. The inking rollers were not engaged at any time in this part of the process.
Step 1 : The Shakespeare name was printed three times. First, from a wood type that had been hand rolled in 3 colors (grey & black & rust) and printed onto about 40 sheets of hard paper, using very little pressure to keep the most ink on the paper. When you heavily ink hand brayers, you often get what is called "orange peel," where the ink has a rough quality to it. We wanted to keep that quality, so we lightly rolled the black and the rust. Those small, heavy spots get squashed when you print the sheet using the press.
The second printing followed when that hard paper print was offset back onto the wood type that had been cleaned and shifted.
The third printing occurred when the broadside paper itself was fed into the press, and the partially inked wood type was simultaneously printed and blind debossed onto its surface.
In the photo below we've already rolled the wood type fairly solid grey. We are now applying the black, very gently, to maintain that speckled quality.
Step 2 : We cleaned the wood type and changed its position slightly (the difference between the colored type and the blind-deboss).
Step 3 : We put the hand-rolled paper back into the press (we were using a Vandercook Universal III) and printed the ink from that paper back onto the wood type. Keep in mind that the wood type has been moved, so it is now askew.
Below shows the result of printing the sheet back onto the wood type, which has been slightly moved, before printing the sheet we wanted to offset.
Step 4 : Then we printed the type onto the broadside. So, Shakespeare's name took 3 runs to complete, though there is only 1 run that includes the broadside.
If you know how to letterpress and you understand our process of printing this broadside, you'll still be scratching your head.
Just for the record, we know we didn't break Shakespeare's name correctly between syllables. What fun would that be? We thought the type would have a shakey look and "Shakes" had a better feel to it. Keep in mind we were about 90% through a process we had only worked out in our head before we saw it on paper.
LETTERPRESS BROADSIDE : Shakespeare & the Boston Marathon
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Next broadside : Shakespeare's Sonnet 112 / the Bodleian Library