Finding Innovation in Old Practices

Why we chose letterpress and bookbinding to create something new.

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Not many people would imagine looking for innovation in the ancient technology of the print process. Even though the well-coined phrase ‘Print is Dead’ (Reitman) and (Gomez), has long been refuted and the craft of letterpress revived through new internet generated networks, questions remain as to what role print has today. Hand-printing books have moved out of the domain of industry into the hands of the artist, the designers, the fanatic, and those with the time and enthusiasm to explore. Now innovative practices unite the artwork with the print process. To work with books and print is to embrace a range of technologies and practices each with its individual origin and history.

The TYPA Studio is one of these places which fully embraces the book, with its collection of magical presses and the bookbinding practices which span over 200 years of papermaking and printing. The artist formerly known as the Estonian Print and Paper Museum, is a working museum and the only one dedicated to paper and print in the Baltic region. TYPA studio recently adopted its new name to better reflect its wider outreach as a working space where every piece of lead type is made accessible to artists, printmakers, bookmakers, students and researchers alike. I came here myself two years ago as an artist in residence, one dark, Estonian winter, a blizzard raging. I arrived at a time when the studio was changing location and the first thing I witnessed was their giant, eight-and-a-half tonne cylinder press, Victoria, suspended mid-air from a crane as it was hoisted through thick falling snow.

Working here is to be immersed in a buzz of machinery, to forget about the distractions of email and instant messaging, it is to find concentration and an appreciation for the long way round. There is something comforting in the rhythmic churning of a Heidelberg or the clatter of a Linotype. Managing to get three paragraphs in without dropping some press names is a feat for any letterpress printer. Let’s be honest, there is something excruciating in carrying large trays of lead (literally, that was what printing-type is made from) before meticulously arranging the layout of a book in this dirty, semi-toxic and lengthy process. However, for all of you who have spent long evening hunched over a composing-stone, swearing when your tweezers accidentally pi a whole row of type (apologies, more print terms), you know the satisfaction and enjoyment which follows a well-constructed layout. There is something in the process, which is concrete, the printed pages, are built up, bound and endpapers attached in a climactic finish.

This is a short account from the heart, giving an insight into our motives and passion for letterpress and traditional bookmaking. Currently, we the team at TYPA, are embarking on a new venture. As a team of small, bizarre (or eccentric, is the term my mum suggested trying to be kind) explorers who may as well be from another planet (no digs at Estonians) we have decided to produce a letterpress version of ‘The Little Prince’. We will be printing a limited edition of the most recent English translation of this beloved novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, using the unique letterpress technology available at the TYPA studio. Using historic craftsmanship in homage to the original 1943 edition of “The Little Prince”, we endeavour to create a book truly like no other.

Reitman, Ivan. Ghostbusters. Columbia Pictures, 1984.
Gomez, Jeff. Print Is Dead. Macmillan, 2008.

You can follow and support our exploits, here:

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Book printing in process

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