This past week was Design Week in Louisville, presented by AIGA Louisville, for which I am a board member.
There were various activities and presentations this year, which you can learn about here. One of the many activities was a letterpress workshop at Hound Dog Press in Louisville, Kentucky. Hound Dog is a letterpress print shop owned and operated by Nick Baute and Robert Ronk.
Having always wanted to learn some printmaking processes, I happily signed up for this workshop. At the shop, there were shelves and shelves with drawers of metal and wood type, in various styles and of varying ages. Just looking through the type alone can be thrilling to someone who loves typography and enjoys its history. However, being allowed to actually use these typefaces to build a poster design, was really fun.
After a short demonstration on how to place type and the proper leading and separators, we were tasked with creating a simple text-based design that we would then ink on an old press and print ourselves.
One of the employees of Hound Dog also showed us how they mix the basic pantone colors to create custom colors. I chose to use and bright yellow and custom mix a red-orange from the pantone book. These colors were chosen because I wanted bright colors that would mix to form a more orange tone when overprinted. Nick, one of the owners of Hound Dog, then showed us how to place “furniture” (wood blocks) around our type on the press and ink it up for printing.
I went with the phrase “Let your creativity run wild”. To add a little interest to the design I also carved an arrow stamp out of a scrap linoleum block. The typefaces I chose were mostly chosen based up on sizing to fit within the size paper we were given. I chose to do a mix of serif and sans-serif to add contrast, and added some lines between the words for some separation. The word “wild” has an offset overprinted color to make it different from the others, which is most apparent up close.
This workshop was definitely not for the faint-hearted. Though a seemingly simple task, this was very time consuming and in my experience – slightly confusing. My first several prints came out all wonky and it took several proofs to get it right. The employees teaching the workshop said it takes a couple years of practice to really understand the letterpress process, and even more years to truly master it. My experience at the workshop proved this to me very quickly.
Figuring how to layer my artwork and adjust from one color to the next was tricky. Once satisfied with the design, I was excited to see it completed. I’d love to explain all that we did, but it really is a hands-on workshop and requires being able to see it in person.
Overall I would highly recommend this experience to any designer or type enthusiast that wants to learn about letterpress printing. Though a very simple design, my poster turned out nicely and I hope to do it again someday.