At some stage in late 2011 I decided that after my MA in Design was completed I would like to experience working with an operational, commercial letterpress studio to get a feel for what it might be like. Having run my own design outfit for several years I wanted to see the differences that a productive letterpress workshop would throw up. Previous students from NCAD had been successfully placed on internships at interesting graphic design studios across Europe through the Leonardo de Vinci programme for continuing education. I had already done my fair share of internships with graphic design studios in 2006 when I graduated with my undergraduate degree. Having been pointed towards them by Matt McKenzie (Paekakariki Press) I contacted the family run Typoretum in the hope of working with them for a period of three months. I immediately got a reply from Cecilia Knopp and the process of filling out forms and preparing began.
Fast forward to October 2012 and I was on the first of many (22) flights to London to start work with Typoretum (I was too busy to find somewhere to stay before I first left but that’s another story). Typoretum is based in the sleepy village of Coggeshall near Colchester. On day one I got introduced to the studio and the crew. Justin Knopp takes care of the design and production end of the business and his wife Cecilia deals with the administration end of things. In a previous life Justin headed up a Design Studio in London having studied design at St. Martin’s in the 1990’s. Robert Pratley joined soon after he finished up his design degree at Falmouth University. A natural draw to typography and type history made the move an easy one for Rob who takes care of much of the commercial printing (with a keen eye for detail!). Day one also involved starting to make an experimental glow in the dark ink for an upcoming poster design, which was quite unexpected. We would go on to produce a very intricate Dia de los Muertos inspired poster that completely changed character after dark. It was created entirely from type ornaments in both wood (night glow) and metal (day glow). The poster was printed on a 1960’s Farley Proofing press.
This first project would give me a great insight into how the studio works. The design process in a collaborative one where everyone involved just gets on with it. Typoretum take on commissions large and small and for the most part concentrate their creative energy on wood type posters, broadsides and stationery. They have an outstanding selection of wood types to choose from. In my time there we were asked to design and print several wood type pieces for a variety of clients, from galleries to private individuals.
The work above was produced for Pure Evil Gallery in the Shoreditch area of London. The text was supplied and we were asked to produce typographic solutions in the form of limited edition posters. The posters were printed in four colour schemes on a variety of Waterford Saunders 300gsm mould made paper using wooden display faces from Typoretum’s collection. One of the many delights to be found in the Typoretum workshop is a fully operational Wharfedale stop cylinder press from 1888. It is noisy. It is scary. It eats ink. It requires the full attention of two people to operate it at half speed. Once you overcome the apparent peril that it manages to instill it is a truly magnificent piece of machinery, delivering sheet after sheet in perfect time. Like so much of Typoretum’s equipment, it is a working piece of Victorian printing history.
In my time with Typoretum we were asked on a number of occasions to supply printed material that would then be digitised and reproduced through a number of different methods, from cheap plastic packaging to screen printed broadsides. The example above (for Dynamo Works) is one of four designs set and printed by hand on a beautiful 1851 Hopkinson & Cope Albion press. This was then taken by the client and screen printed over retro cycle related imagery.
In an effort to display the huge range of wood types available at Typoretum we undertook to make a series of specimen sheets. The concept behind them was to display the entire range of the typeface, including all punctuation characters available, in a way that was visually striking but also differing with each design. I designed and printed the first four specimens – a 22 line French Antique, a 24 line Sans Surryphs, a 12 line Sans Oblique and a 14 line Pointed Antique.
Come back next week for part two where I’ll be getting deeper into the intricate workings of Typoretum. Questions answered might include: How often do old printing hands drop in out of the blue? How many bottles of extra hot chilli sauce to they consume a week? And, is it true that they also have an outstanding collection of founders’ metal type?