Not my Type

Nick Birchall: Keeping Gutenberg alive

Nick Birchall: Keeping Gutenberg alive

Dawn of the Unread is an interactive graphic novel and very much a digital child. However, the driving force behind it is to promote physical books and physical spaces (libraries, independent bookshops). Therefore it is the bastard child of digital and analogue parents, destined for a complex childhood and rehab at nineteen. To try and articulate the dual aims of the project I attended a print workshop at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio (part of the Memories of the Future festival) with the objective of physically creating a logo which could be scanned and live on happily ever after in the digital afterlife.

The workshop was held by Nick Birchall of Cleeve Press. Nick describes himself as a “visual creative” who “works through interwoven disciplines and themes in Graphic Design, Illustration and Photography to create a visual dialogue.” In layman’s terms this means he creates beautiful things by hand and has a lot of patience.

10 Not my typeFor the workshop Nick brought along his own letterpress printing office which consists of a treadle operated clam shell platen press and a range of typefaces. The letterpress is a mighty beast; an industrial lump of physicality that squats on the table demanding our full attention. But it is the accompanying trays of movable type, cast and carved from metal and wood, that exude aura.  Carefully selecting each letter to slowly form words gives language a magical quality… until you realise there aren’t enough ‘d’s to complete your desired sentence.

Artist Rob White

Artist Rob White

Accepting my syntax will have to make do with a different serif is one of many compromises and frustrations I will experience throughout the day. But it is worth it. Honestly. Other dramas include: taking one hour to assemble text on a setting stick only to discover it needs to read from right to left as it flips when inserted into the letterhead. When this has been rectified and you’re ready to print, you’re not ready. There’s the leading. These are tiny strips used to fill the gaps between letters so that the text doesn’t move about when it’s printed. Naturally they have to be hand-cut and there’s loads of them. And someone else is using the only cutting machine.

6 print

Once the setting stick is finally finished the assembled letters are tied up in string and transferred to a frame ready for printing. If these are not tied tight enough the letters will fall out and you’ll have to start all over again. *Breathe* If you manage to successfully transfer the text to the frame (“Nick….”) you then have the joy of discovering that comma was really a quote mark and half of the letters are either upside down or facing the wrong way. Repeat process. Consider starting up smoking again. 

2+3 cutout

When/if you eventually manage to do this correctly you will feel as good as you did when you resisted a fag earlier. Now it’s time to create an image (stamp) for your accompanying text. It’s a bit of a shock on realising you can’t just nab something off of google and drag it into the letterpress. You’ve actually got to make it. Fortunately this doesn’t consist of hand carving something out of wood. You simply trace a pattern onto lino, cut it out and then stick it onto a block of wood ready to be inked. I found an even easier method. I asked Rob White to do it for me. Rob is a superb artist who regularly contributes to LeftLion. I had no idea he was going to be here today and no intention of wasting his talents.

5 Print machine

‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.’ Steve Jobs

I opted for D H Lawrence to represent Nottingham’s literary past as he probably has the most easily identifiable traits. All I had to do was provide Rob with an image on my phone (come back google, I love you) and a brief: “I want a big beard and a man with arms like Mr Tickle fumbling after a book”. While Rob was doing this I traced out an image of Alan Sillitoe and quickly discovered that carving out lino is harder than it looks, partly because you need a steady hand but mostly because you have to have the patience to select tools of varying width to get the correct depth and lines. Obviously I hacked away with the same tool as quickly as I could. But it was a useful experiment as my shambolic efforts confirmed I was right to ask a professional artist to do the hard work.

Alan Sillitoe with pipe

Alan Sillitoe proves he’s not the kind of person to be replicated in any art form.

We were unable to fit all of the type and image onto one frame so I had to print them separately. As I was rushing I didn’t apply enough black ink which is how I fluked the gorgeous faded text of the title. I scanned in the prints and then fiddled about with them in photoshop and came up with the header design at the top of this page. I won’t tell you how many hours I wasted considering which angle to rotate each ‘o’. The small drawing of David Cameron bursting out of a library is by Si Mitchell which was originally commissioned for an article I wrote for LeftLion.

Every time I see the homepage now I fondly recollect the day spent swearing at tiny pieces of movable type. I’m told that it is easy to create this kind of effect in photoshop and that there was no need to spend a day swearing but I like swearing and I learned something important. I don’t have much patience and sometimes that can work to your advantage.

2 thoughts on “Not my Type

    • It was a fantastic day. I really enjoyed it. Digital technology is ace but you can’t beat getting your hands dirty. It was also nice to produce rather than consume. I’m sure we’ll see you at the Writers’ Studio again for another event…but hopefully the lift will be working and we won’t have to cart stuff up three flights of stairs!

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