Lab 6: Pulling the Press

Pulling the Press

I think there is always a certain amount of nostalgia for bygone technologies when it comes to the production of anything - food, books, art, and so on. The processes become artisanal, not practical; you can’t mass-produce and distribute texts via a printing press, but would use a standard ink cartridge printer or simply post it to the internet. In this day, working with the letterpress is, more or less, a hobby, for those with the resources and spare time for it. And if I recall correctly, even after the day of the printing press, the rich would still commission manuscripts for their exclusive personal use. Old techniques have always reoccurred once they have fallen away from being technological advancements.

There is an impression that I believe many people feel that newer, more advanced technology, causes us to become divorced from the process of creating. Electronic production is - in some opinions - more impersonal, distancing the creator too much from their work. I know that when I need to take notes on something truly important, I will copy them down again by hand, and I find that connects better in some way with my brain than typing those same words would. The printing press is not quite at that same level as hand writing; one cannot initially create a manuscript in type. Handwriting still maintains much more of a practical use and they are not exactly comparable.

I think, at this point, working with the letterpress and type is less about the writing process and more of a form of art. For laying out text, I felt that there was a certain amount of artistry involved in choosing font and size, the width of the leading, and setting the spacing on either side of the words. I enjoyed the physicality of the process, too, of having to properly fill in the spacing and setting the type and wood blocks in the frame. It felt like a puzzle figuring out which size spacers and which blocks to use. It’s a very different process than typing on a computer; it doesn’t really feel at all related, and I think that those differences can account for there being more than nostalgia. Though it is old technology, it is also something entirely new to most of us, and entirely different than anything we have done before.