I first met David Marshall on a visit to see Simon Goode and his London Centre for Book Arts. David and his friend Elizabeth Ellis were in the process of moving into their new studio space which was located close by. I had been following the pair (@thecounterpress) on twitter and was quite interested in what they were up to as we seemed to share a similar route into letterpress. I didn’t manage to get over to visit their studio that day but promised to return again before I went back to Dublin.
Both Elizabeth and David work their 9 to 5 as graphic designers for large international branding agencies in London, The Counter Press acts as their weekend escape from the digital realm. Although they were busy painting, polishing, sorting and building, Elizabeth and David managed to produce beautifully simple, typographically strong prints which appeared considered, clean and contemporary. They were producing these small prints on their own terms and for their own use, their printing fueled by a simple love of typography.
When my friends Seán Sills and Mary Plunkett came to visit in February this year I arranged for us to pop along to see David and Elizabeth and to see how The Counter Press was progressing. We were met at the door of the Bow Arts building by Elizabeth and led across the courtyard and through the opposite door. The Bow Arts building is sub-divided into a series of artist’s studios, we walked past large sculpture and spilled plaster, photographic work and empty paint buckets. Being surrounded by such a diverse range of creative arts practises must be an enormous source of inspiration. The Counter Press is nestled in the back of the building and is lit beautifully by natural light flooding in from a huge ceiling window.
David and Elizabeth have been extremely busy collecting and acquiring printing presses, wooden and metal type, furniture and cabinets. They are very well equipped to print with two reconditioned Farley proof presses and two newly refurbished Model no.3 machines. In the middle of the floor lay a partly disassembled Vandercook SP20 awaiting the care of Basil Head (now in his 80’s), the UK’s last remaining Vandercook technician. They have acquired an interesting collection of wooden and metal types in sizes from 8 point to 40 line and bigger still. Having trawled through all the cases of metal type and some which held wooden faces I was assured that the boxes stacked in one area all contained wood type, all they required was appropriate cases to store them in.
Because their weekends have been so busy readying a studio, prints have been rather scarce recently. That should all change now that they are up and running with their newly operational Vandercook (fixed soon after our visit) and we have already been treated to some sneak peeks of upcoming prints, including their first broadside.
In a letterpress world led by conservative design and perhaps overly traditional ways of thinking, The Counter Press represent a new breed of letterpress printer. They have their feet firmly planted at the coalface of contemporary graphic design but they also pursue another, more craft based outlet to explore typography through. They do this with a keen, informed understanding of what has gone before them. Their obvious love and appreciation of the technology and the materials of the craft can only inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
As both Elizabeth and David know, a commitment to the preservation of the craft is certainly a worthwhile undertaking. That preservation is likely to be achieved by people with a similar vision to The Counter Press – they actively acquire equipment and material to print with, maintain and refurbish it to an incredible standard to keep it in perfect working condition, seek advice and help from old hands and meet with as many studios and presses as they can.
Elizabeth Ellis and David Marshall have found the key to this preservation – they do all of the above while making beautiful work.
183 Bow Road