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  • Naomi Kent

Letterpress Workers Summit 2017

As I travelled through Milan on my own I felt incredibly daunted at the prospect of spending the next 4 days with a bunch of people from across the globe I’d never met before. The feeling only got worse when I arrived at Leoncavallo – a graffiti clad squat which is home to Letterpress Workers and my accommodation. But those thoughts are not for this blog. I clearly looked a little lost when I entered the large room, full of people, where we would be working for the next few days because Tiny (Thank goodness), from the Netherlands, was quick to come and say hello, asked if it was my first time here and made me feel welcome. It was good to have a friendly face at this point. I put my bag in the dormitory then came back downstairs for some dinner. I met some more friendly soles, then socialising continued in the warm outdoors after we had eaten.


We had all prepared 120 prints based on the theme ‘hope’, so we bring these to the table on the first morning so they can be collated together and we can each have a pack of everyone’s prints. I am also handed my ‘Letterpress Workers’ apron. I feel part of the club.

Bringing our prints to the table

Names out of a hat we are put into groups of 4. I’m working with John, a fellow Brit, Marko from Slovakia and Marie from Belgium. Together we start planning our poster on ‘Resist’, our theme for the week. There’s a whole array of wood type that Novepunti has brought and we quickly delve in to see what our options are. It’s not long before there’s ink on the wood and we’re pulling proofs. We’ve gone for the print one stage at a time and figure out each pass as we go technique. I’ve never really worked in a group before to produce an outcome in a day, the composing of the print might look good to one person but need completely changing in someone else’s opinion. There was lots of chopping and changing involved, it taught me not to get too attached to an idea! It was great wandering around the room seeing all the other groups prints pinned up on the wall and seeing how they had interpreted the theme.

With 4 people and 1 press, we had the teamwork down. Printing 4 passes in an edition of 50 was no problem, we each had our job which meant prints came off the press in a rapid and smooth manor.


In the evening a PechaKucha had been organised. A presentation containing 20 slides, each one lasting 20 seconds. 8 people had volunteered to give a presentation, talking about their background and print shop etc. Insightful and a good way to get to know people!

Day 2, Friday, I had learnt that the Italians time keeping was somewhat different to the English time keeping. But still, I wasn’t complaining as we sat outside in the sunshine chatting to one another until the workshop was opened – an hour later than scheduled. This time I was with Tara from Spain, Marieke from the Netherlands and Chris, another fellow Brit. This group was vastly different to yesterdays-we all approached the task really thinking out a theme and a design before we started getting inky. After a morning of brainstorming we had gone down the route of refugees/borders/brexit. Wanting to get away from the constraints of the standard paper size and with keen paper folders in the group, we started playing around with some paper folding. It was then the combination of the current brexit border talk and the paper folding method really came together and we had a plan mocked up. After lunch we started proofing our idea. Paper size and type size was chopped and changed until we were happy, then we began to fold our 50 pieces of paper and to print the first pass.

Fig tree shade

Sketching out our ideas



Paper folding


Our finished piece


In the evening, it was scheduled from 18:30-20:00 that I do a presentation. I had volunteered to do a presentation when we were all asked but the one I had prepared was certainly not 1.5 hours long! Thankfully the Italian time keeping was on my side and so it didn’t start until 8pm anyway. I had been looking into the printer Albert Schiller for my MA so I divulged some information on him.


By 9pm about 40 of us descended on the local pizzeria.


Calligraphy whilst waiting for our pizza

On Saturday morning a few of us headed out to Fratelli Bonvini, a stationary store and printers open since 1909. It was like stepping back in time – guilt lettering on the store sign, wooden counters, original floor tiles, ornamented radiator, original glass to the doorway of the shop window. We were let into the print room which housed 3 presses, Impressive considering the size of the room. I pulled open all the drawers and found some ornaments to die for. We were shown some wonderful work by Cabaret Typographie, which we were then inspired by for our next print.


Fratelli Bovini – open since 1909







More drool

Upon returning to Leoncavallo, we found that all the presses were being used. We stuck as a team of 4 and sat outdoors and planned our print. It was custom that when it reached 4pm or so and we all lacked a bit of energy and decision-making, we headed to the canteen for a beer or wine. It undoubtedly gave us all a pick up until we had finished our prints in the early evening.


Brittany & Chris


On the last evening John Christopher from the UK headed up an auction of letterpress items and made a rather splendid auctioneer. It is then customary that spirits are consumed which each printer has brought from his or her country until the early hours…


Prints produced after 4 days of printing

Letterpress workers was such a unique and wonderful experience. 40 printers representing 13 countries coming together and printing, all bringing enthusiasm, knowledge, creative thinking and ways of working was a wonderful thing. We all received so much joy from printing a few wooden letters with each other!

Until next year Milan, Ciao.



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