I recently attended a half-day letterpress workshop – partly to keep the creative juices flowing, but mainly because I’ve admired the work of Zoe Papas of Zoe Ink for years, and wanted to experience the process first-hand.
My friend Lisa and I arrived at Zoe Ink and started with an overview of the history of printing and the evolution of this age-old technology. We picked up and examined antique letterpress artwork and letters, and marveled at the thought of hand-setting in row and rows of type, one letter at a time. We learned about different presses Zoe works with, and were awed by their power and precision. Soon we were geared up to dive into work on her large press!
Opening drawers and drawers of neatly organized artwork, Lisa and I finally agreed on our first design – an array of dahlia flowers. We painstakingly set up the press with clips and guides, and measured and cut paper for folded notecards. We mixed up cheery orange ink by hand and applied the tiniest amount to the press. Finally, we set up the artwork placement and transferred it to the block. A lot of work just to get to the starting line!
I went first. Holy smokes … it was quite intimidating at first. Zoe’s large press is an impressive and daunting machine, with moving wheels and rollers, a rotating wheel of ink, and a big gear to pull when you’re ready to press the inked plate into your paper. The timing is critical … get the paper lined up on your clips and guides before the machine clamps down and potentially takes a hand with it. Zoe watched patiently while my heart raced. We fine-tuned the press so the depth of the impression was just right – not too light so it appeared like traditional printing, and not so deep that it transferred to the other side. By the end of my first batch of cards my heart had stopped racing, and I was almost getting the hang of it.
Over the course of the next four hours, we made monumental progress – completed a few different sizes and styles of cards, cleaned the press, changed ink color, hand scored the softest folded cards, machine-scored the more forgiving ones, hand trimmed the final folded cards so they were absolutely perfect, selected matching envelopes, and packaged them all up in tidy cellophane wrappers. (Oh yeah, we did a fair amount of snacking over the course of the afternoon too!)
All in all, I have a newfound appreciation for craftspeople like Zoe who combine an artistic eye with a standard of absolute perfection in their craft. I was stunned by the amount of handwork she puts into every card — the type of work we take for granted when so many automated processes exist today. It was a refreshing change of pace to step away from a computer, and create a piece of art, one step at a time, by hand.
I couldn’t recommend her workshop enough. You can learn more about Zoe Ink and her letterpress genius at www.zoeink.com