exhibitions, Letterpress, Uncategorized

A Grand Day Out

It’s been a very busy few weeks over here at Lestaret Towers, so last Friday I took off into the beautiful Suffolk countryside with my friend and fellow designer Jodie Cole to go to the Lettering Arts Centre at Snape Maltings for a bit of inspiration.
The Centre is home of the Lettering and Commemorative Arts Trust  and is currently host to an exhibition of the work of the legendary letterpress artist and designer, Alan Kitching. The exhibition included a selection of his work spanning his career that followed his unexpected departure in 1988 from his role at Omnific Studio Partnership with Derek Birdsall and Martin Lee where he had set up a letterpress studio in 1976.

The wonderful Jodie outside the exhibition

There are of course some familiar images included in the exhibition; the broadsides and typographic maps especially, which are even more spectacular in the flesh due to their scale – about A1 size!
As well as the more recognisable prints from his archive, there were also a number of little gems – mockups and markups and the like, as well a little pile of ‘make-readies’ – offcuts of paper and card used to slip under worn type to raise the surface to type height. These are little things that will be hugely familiar to anyone has experienced letterpress printing, and it is comforting to see the evidence of this wonderfully low tech and time-proven method.LESTARET-KITCHING-6
Jodie was as impressed as I was, and I had seen many of these prints a few years ago at an exhibition in London, but there were prints here I had not seen, as well as items from his own archive.LESTARET-KITCHING-8I had also booked us a couple of places at a talk by the man himself in the evening, and we took our seats amongst a small number of others in the exhibition space itself, which made for a very intimate experience!

Kitching was interviewed and prompted to discuss all kinds of issues and subjects, where he gave very personal and honest responses as well as answering questions. He also hung around afterwards to chat with people, and Jodie collared him for a photo. Fangirl!LESTARET-KITCHING-9The exhibition is to promote a new Monograph by John L. Walters (Laurence King) published next year. There were some copies for sale at the event so I had to indulge myself!
LESTARET-KITCHING-11I even got my copy signed! Fanboy!LESTARET-KITCHING-12At the end of the talk, he offered out a range of letterpress post cards, of which this is my favourite…
Good times. Many thanks to the Lettering and Commemorative Arts Trust for putting on such a great exhibition, and also to the man himself, for being so gregarious and not anything like the unapproachable grump I had mistakenly understood him to be!

Also, many thanks to Jodie who was great company – and who generously stood in when I forgot my PIN number when I was trying to buy the book! (It’s an old trick, but it never fails!)

Letterpress, Typography


It is the way of things that many old books are disassembled in order sell off individual engravings. These were taken from such a book “Britannia: Or A Chorographical Description of Great Britain and Ireland, Together With Adjacent Islands” by William Camden from 1722.

These are the first few pages of dedication, of almost no value to the bookseller/framer, but have so much charm to us almost 300 years later; they wear the traces of their construction in their slow decay and offer us a small window to peer through to consider the things that have happened since its publication…

It is worth noting here that the printer was one Mary Matthews (one of a number of female printers in London at this time) who was eventually hanged for printing seditious political pamphlets.

Hard to imagine that these few pages (approximately 390 x 250 mm) have survived 292 years.

The full book can be viewed online here – it is really fascinating, but I wonder how may pages were discarded just for the maps? Also, if you like looking at old books, take a look here and here.

Again, many thanks to Nick for loaning these to me and for allowing them to be posted here.



On super thick handmade paper. About A4-ish. Just for fun. One for me, a few for friends. Oh, and if you were wondering, it does…



If you would like one, you’re going to have to make me smile! Drop me a comment (by clicking that little box next to the date under the title of this post) and tell me something amusing about yourself. In seven days I will choose my favourites and contact you directly for mailing details. Winners will be announced as an addition to this post and on Twitter! Spread the word…


Many thanks to all of you who commented here – it’s nice to know that I am not the only one with odd habits! As I said in the post, I only have two of these to give away and feel bad about disappointing people, so I will be sending something printy to everyone! Everyone has been emailed – just let me know when you get your pack!

Thankyou to everyone who joined in, especially Phoebe and Justin who will receive one of these prints (and a few other bits)  in their mail soon!


Tickets Please!

The Lestaret Corporation has recently been granted a franchise on one of the divisions of Hell and as of May 2012 will be issuing tickets for the new system of entry (for a small administrative fee, of course.)  This will involve standing in lots of queues, and the continual listenening to the entire output of Justin Bieber. Not big changes then.

Just to demonstrate the levels of intense toil that goes into producing each ticket, here is a quick overview:

1. Taking reference from a classic format, all measurements were accurately taken.

2. A batch of sturdy card was trimmed to an oversized dimension (10mm all round,) for better handling during printing.

3. A template was created in order to gain an accurate position of the print. The centre was trimmed to show the maximum print area and used to overlay the makeready prints.

4. Printing. Well, not quite that simple. First the type needs composing – Univers 45 and 68 centrally aligned – this took around 45 minutes in all, particularly in the positioning of the type in the chase. This was then printed on the Adana 5/3 in a dark green. A day later, the numbering box was installed and the tickets were sequentially numbered in a deep red.

5. The top and bottom are then trimmed. I set up a temporary jig on my cutting mat to speed this up.

6. The tickets were then perforated using a small perforating wheel bought from a local craft store. Again, a temporary jig was used for this process.

7. Holes were punched with a hand held single hole puncher, using a cardboard jig to ensure consistency of position.

8. Edges removed to enhance the reveal the ticket! 

This is a lot of effort for such a small bit of ‘stuff’ but I like it!


Top Deck (3)

…The next stage is to plan out the layout for the cards and run some set up prints…

The first part of this is locking up the type into the chase. This is more fiddly than you’d expect, and involves a fair bit of trial and error, inserting tiny slivers of metal to balance up the lines, then blocks of wood and metal (called furniture) to pack everything out:

As this was a test run, it really did not matter too much, but I quite enjoy the setting up so spent quite a while making sure everything as all set tight – if you look at the image on the left the ‘a’ is slightly lower, dure to some uneven packing, but a bit of finagling soon sorted this out. This adjustment is a matter of about one tenth of a millimetre…

And then to set up for printing. The forme was locked into the pressbed and inked up and a few test prints were made onto the cards – just to get the position right – I discarded these as soon as I knew that I could run prints at about the right place on the card. More fine tuning can be done later. 

I only printed six cards and found that I was very pleased with the first sighting, but unhappy with the quality of the print.

This is the first time I have printed on coated stock – card with a slightly shiny smooth surface and I think my set up works better on thicker, uncoated stock. Also the impression appears very slightly smudged, suggesting that I may be applying too much pressure – a lighter touch next time.

As I say, I am pleased with the general direction – clean and minimalist, but practical too.

As well as improving the print quality, I also want to work on the typesetting too – I like type that optically aligns (my students will testify to this!) and I need to apply the same standards here that I do on-screen, especially in the vertical alignment:

More work to do!


Top Deck (2)

My last post on letterpress was a little vague. Well, a lot vague really, so I guess I should explain a little further. I have been considering some possible new projects, mainly ‘old school’ letterpress but different from the short run abstracts that I have been doing up to now.

After a few days sketching out ideas I decided to make some typographic playing cards. Let me say this here first; this is not a new idea. Many people have made very a nice job of this, these people included:


But rather than follow them into the same territory and produce another set of typographic cleverness I decided to opt for a much simpler approach. Also, as I was going to produce them all by hand (and not farm them out to a commercial printer) these would be made in a very limited quantity, giving them a different status than a standard deck.

Letterpress playing cards are also nothing new. There are some lovely sets out there – I may just buy a set of these:
and I have been ogling these decks too:

There is a space for a different approach amongst these fine examples and so decisions were made to discard traditional conventions and typographic expectations. The first thing to go were the suit symbols. Yes, you read that right; playing cards without the suit symbols. Next were the numbers. Well, the figures at any rate – all were now to be spelled out fully

I had explored using Times New roman (mainly because I have a soft spot for the italics) and Rockwell because I have a decent number of weights and sizes, but in the spirit of the minimal approach I was taking I eventually opted for Univers Bold at 10pt.

I purchased a batch of pre-cut blank playing cards; blank both sides – I considered getting some ready printed with a pattern on one side, changed my mind when I saw this copper top block on eBay:

At the perfect size for me…

I’ll show the full image later on – this was just a quick test print!

The next stage is to plan out the layout for the cards and run some set up prints…


Top Deck!

“If you like to gamble, I tell you I’m your man
You win some, lose some, it’s all the same to me
The pleasure is to play, it makes no difference what you say
I don’t share your greed, the only card I need is…”

10pt Univers Bold. Nice.


Getting Shirty

I bought this printing block in a rash eBay frenzy the other day. It’s not something I would generally go for but this really caught my attention.  The eBay image was not particularly sharp with a very scant write up, but there were only a few minutes to go, so ‘bing!’ and it was mine.

It arrived this morning and it wasn’t a fully carved woodblock like I thought It was, but actually metal strip inserted into a heavy wood block. Absolutely beautiful!

If I print from this block (I am unsure whether to because I don’t want to damage it) I will only hand-roll it for a soft impression. I like the patina it already has too.

The block measures approximately 19 x 23cm and the design is raised 4mm high. This doesn’t mean much until you put it into proportion with something else:

So what is it?

And for those who can’t appreciate the reversed world of the printer:

I wondered if I could trace where it came from and did a quick search for shirtings, cotton mills, chorley and found that there were quite a few. Without any other identifying marks I think this is far as I go.


Long Live the ‘Isms!’

Tonight I got the urge to print and was drawn to this 1920’s style typeface ‘Broadway Engraved’ and set up the words VIVA MODERNISM but in my haste made a bit of a typo, which needed a full manual change – no ‘control-Z’ here:

Once rectified, the satisfying repetition of a well set up press and a whole bunch of cards…

Long live modernism indeed. Look out for more ‘ isms…’