San Francisco Center for the Book

The last two weeks of research have been fairly relaxed: no press visits or library excursions for a while. But yesterday I had the opportunity to take an introductory letterpress printing class at the San Francisco Center for the Book, which was so much fun! The Center is not too big, and its bright blue exterior reflected the atmosphere of the whole place: enthusiasm and energy were abundant. On a side note, there was a small exhibit in the center called “Exploding the Codex: The Theater of the Book” which contained one of the co-founder’s personal collection of artist books. And I was happy to see the same book that was recently in the Collins Library from Chandler O’Leary’s Anagram Press

I was one of about 12 others who had come to learn the basics of letterpress. We were introduced to the kinds of presses we would be using – 2 Vandercook proof presses and a little tabletop hand platen press – and then we inked up the presses and got busy. To get comfortable using the press, we pulled a pre-set card [see picture] from the tabletop press and a background pattern from one of the Vandercooks for our main project.

While this was happening, we were also in the process of composing a group poem, in the style of telephone pictionary…which just means that we could only see the line before ours and nothing else when writing our line for the poem. Once this group collaboration was complete, we got to pick our own tray of type from around the room and set our line. This was the most time consuming part of the process, and also the one where the most mistakes are made. To set type correctly, it must be placed upside down and backwards so that it prints correctly, making precision essential. Despite the tediousness of this part, it was actually pretty fun to make tiny metal letters into words and figure out the perfect spacing – kind of like perfecting the spaces and sizes and fonts in a word document, but all by hand. And then, after a couple proofs, we all had the chance to pull off a few broadsides of the finished project, in a deep navy that complemented the neon pink we’d chosen for the background pattern.

The experience was thoroughly enjoyable, and I loved learning a few essentials of such a fun and popular craft!

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