Lets talk about practice: Naomi Kent

Ever since I was taught letterpress at university I was hooked. Tiny metal letters in different founts in wooden type cases with lots of compartments was like a step back into history. Who had used these when they were brand new? What did they print with them? How can I serve them and present them to their best potential now? They are tiny metal soldiers lining up ready for another duty.


I’m not keen on drawing and I’m not very good at it so I like to illustrate characters with type instead. There is an element of constraint that pushes your boundaries of creativity. You only have the type you have, you are pushed to look at it a different way. How do I illustrate hands? How do I give a man a moustache?


The sum is greater than the parts, tiny bits of bent brass rule once used for printing tables and small brackets are now coming together to create a hat and some hair. These pieces are nothing on their own, the task is to create a character by assembling them together.


Letterpress is traditionally set linear, this is the way type is made to be set. I enjoy the challenge of breaking free from this, challenging the medium and the tradition. Mixing a 15th century process with 21st century technology to allow me push its limits. I use a laser cutter to cut wooden shapes so that I can set type at the angle I want & Anneal brass strips to twist and bend so I can print curved lines, this connects me to the artistic printers of the 19th century and their techniques. I always loved math at school and there is an element of math involved in letterpress. It’s like a puzzle, and the fun part is assembling it together. The ‘Lock up’ looks like an artifact in itself, this is the impressive part yet this is the part no one sees, so I always document it. I have learn how to set type from other printers by seeing lock ups, so I hope my documentation is useful to others. I have coined the term ‘Typesetting Puzzle’ – This is when you set your type/image and there are no 90 degree angles in which to lock up your type with spacing material. The game is anyone's guess, you stuff the spacing in, in the most logical way possible, and then you're all good to ink & print as long as that type doesn't move!


We live in a generation where we are all used to seeing and handling digital prints, but there is something special and tangible about a letterpress print, the feel of the ink on the paper and the slight impression where the type has hit the paper. I will never tire of seeing a print for the first time when I lift the paper from a forme that I have spent time setting. There is so much more satisfaction handling type by hand and composing your image rather than sat doing it on a screen. It is time consuming and it is a labour of love and it is my therapy. Type therapy.

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