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  • Naomi Kent

Alan Kitchings 2 day workshop


Alan in his studio


Last month I had the wonderful opportunity of taking part in Alan Kitching’s concise typography workshop. I’m a huge fan of his work and have been waiting to go on his 2-day course for over a year now, so I was pretty excited to finally get the chance! As I was navigating around the streets of Kennington, Google Maps led me to a sweet cobbled courtyard lined with red barn doors in which his studio was housed.


I was surprised when I arrived to find that there were only 2 of us students; I was expecting 4. Alan also had 2 assistants, Christian & Marta. A teacher/student ratio of   1½ :1 sounded good to me! The brief of the 2-day course was to visually represent a printers’ term that was given to us, which in my case was ‘marginal reference’. Alan’s plan is to publish the students work in a book which would be a modern day version of his book ‘The printers terms’, first published in 1949 by Rudolf Hostettler.


Our first task was to typeset the definition of our printers’ term and then come up with ideas for visually representing the term. This meant proofing every piece of type/ornament we were considering using on the Farley. I had a bit of a creative block; I’m not too good at pulling a cat out the bag under pressure! Thankfully it was lunchtime before I got too frustrated with myself for not instantly coming up with an idea that I liked.


The workshop


The 5 of us sauntered down the cobbles towards the end of the street where there was a small café, and there we chatted about print. It was a bit surreal at first, casually having lunch with Alan. On the way back I noticed another letterpress studio, ‘Mr. Smith’s Letterpress Studio’. Alan told me Mr. Smith used to be his apprentice, and took us in to say hello. I love having a nose around letterpress studios! Basil Head was also there fixing a press. Through social media I know he’s the go-to-guy for press maintenance, and as our press definitely needs maintenance, I was sure to take his business card.

After lunch I was feeling refreshed and by the end of the day I had a mock up that I was mildly pleased with


Mock up at the end of day 1


Day 2 started by reviewing the first day’s work with a fresh head, making some changes, piecing the first layer together and promptly getting it on the press. Alan had a strict timeline for us! I was printing on a Vandercook, which I have never used before, so that in itself was exciting enough. Everything I know comes from books, YouTube & Instagram, so I learned a lot on day 2, like how to register a print properly and even locking up! We took an afternoon break in the courtyard, where I got chatting to a guy who has a ceramics studio in the building. He had been up all night making ceramic collars for shirt makers ‘Brooks Brothers’ on Regent Street, to go in their window display. Alan tells me that if you need anything making in London, you will most likely find it in this courtyard. It did seem to have a lovely creative community feel to it.


By 4:30pm our prints were finished and the workshop was tidy. We debriefed and then had a surprise trip to Alan’s home studio, which was AMAZING. His beautiful posters from years gone by lined the walls and in the far corner were shelves upon shelves reaching the ceiling of large wooden letters. I asked him how he started acquiring them all, but he just told me to ‘read the book when it comes out’. The room led into a conservatory where a very large Farley proofing press sat in the middle, housing a lockup from his latest project. On the walls were proofs from the project & stacks and stacks of type drawers on top of type cabinets. It kind of felt like that part in ‘National Treasure’ where Nicholas Cage finally finds the treasure room. I could have spent a whole day there opening all the drawers, pulling the giant type off the shelves and just sitting, looking at all of his prints on the wall.


Alan & his home studio


We rounded the day off by getting a drink at Alan’s local whilst continuing to talk type. I desperately tried to ask him all the questions I could think of before we finished our drinks. It was truly a wonderful 2 days!


The finished result


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