Monday, August 2, 2010

First Day of A Great Letterpress Class

For a long time, I've wanted to learn how to do letterpress printing. It is the old fashioned process of arranging individual metal or wood letters and images by hand and then printing the resulting relief surface using a press made with moveable parts specifically for this process. Letterpress printing is enjoying a new popularity and you've probably seen cards and small posters made this way.

The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, about 45 minutes from where I live, offers Letterpress classes and I'm taking one that meets on each of the four Monday mornings in August. Denise Figueredo is our excellent teacher and we met for the first time today. Wow, there is a lot to learn!

Two rooms make up the letterpress area in the education wing of the Armory. Most of the walls of these two rooms are lined with old cabinets like these, filled with hundreds of individual letters in an amazing array of different typefaces.

Here is a sample drawer. This one is filled with spacers. There are many spacers in many sizes because exact spacing is required when putting together a plate.

Each drawer has multiple small cubby holes in which letters are kept in a specific order called the "California Job Case," diagramed above. The letters of the alphabet fall in the sequence we know, except for J and U, which are kept in the cubbyholes following Z. Why? Because J and U are the least used letters in the English language and it is more efficient to store them a bit out of the way.

Here is one of the two rooms of the letterpress area. This room may look crowded but that is because it is! It houses four presses, multiple letter cases, the ink cabinet and other storage cabinets, surfaces to work on, and a few stools. See the large mural hanging on the back wall? That came from the famous "Women's Building" in downtown Los Angeles. The Women's Building was the home of art workshops for women and space where women artists could work. It filled a real need, especially in the early days of the feminist movement. When the Women's Building closed in the mid-1980's most of the letterpress supplies came to the Armory, along with this wonderful mural. What a thrill it is to see it!

This is the favorite of the letterpresses there, called a Vandercook 4. Letterpresses are no longer made, so the ones in existence must be well cared for so they will last.

OK, enough for today! More to come in future posts...


  1. ooooh...i wish i could have taken this with you guys! Can't wait to hear all about it and see the wonderful creations you both come up with :) xo

  2. Yes, Traci, I think you would love this class!