I spent the first sunny weekend of Spring inside a former metal works factory in Salford with a handful of strangers. There are hundreds of similar examples of Victorian industrial heritage in Manchester and Salford but this one was lovingly transformed into the home of Hot Bed Press in 2006.
Established 12 years earlier by a small group of artists and printmakers Hot Bed Press aims to support artists, promote printmaking and educate a wider audience in printmaking. They offer around 50 courses a year on every printing method imaginable with an interest in embracing and preserving the heritage of traditional skills and techniques.
How refreshing it was to see such a creative space with no computer screens in sight. It was my desire to try something away from pushing pixels and get my hands dirty that led me to book onto the ‘Adventures with Wood Type’ course led by letterpress artist, David Armes.
The first day of the two day course was spent watching demonstrations from the talented and ever patient David, whilst learning a little of the history of letterpress printing. This involved a complete new vocabulary consisting of chases, quoins, reglets and picas before delving into Hot Bed Press’ vast collection of wooden type.
The phrase ‘a kid in a sweetshop’ springs to mind but this sweetshop was a little dusty, showed signs of a century of wear and smelt of solvent. The childish joy was quickly ruined by confusion and mild frustration, as I then had to lock all my type within the frame so nothing shifted under the pressure of the hulking cast iron mass of Victorian printing press. The process was a mix of mathematics, using obsolete units of measurement that made inches seem positively digital, and a degree of, frankly, fudging it. I had to stuff every gap with increasingly skinny slithers of lead, wood and when even the thinnest piece wasn’t quite thin enough, strips of newsprint paper.
It wasn’t until day two that we experienced the smells, sounds and incredible vibrancy of pure pigment oil based inks. David demonstrated numerous techniques and then let us loose for the rest of the day.
As for the final results, they aren’t quite Alan Kitching and the kerning is terrible. However, I think they exhibit the level of enthusiasm to which I approached learning a new skill, and the enjoyment gained from getting my hands dirty.
I’d highly recommend any of Hot Bed Press’ courses. I plan to return in order to try my hand at Japanese Mokuhanga as soon as possible.