Back in July 2015 I had mentioned to Paul butler about my interest in doing an internship at a letterpress studio. He suggested Typoretum would be a good place. He also offered to put me up should I manage to arrange one there. Over a year later here I am, I’ve just had an incredible three weeks with Justin, Cecilia and Matt at Typoretum, and thanks Paul & Lucy for putting me up for a week!
I arrived on the driveway of a Victorian house on a sunny day after a three-hour drive from Birmingham. The smell of lavender as I climbed out the car hit me and took me back to my childhood, picking lavender to earn some money over the summers. I walk down the path with the house on one side of me and a huge glorified shed on the left of me–this is the studio of Typoretum.
As I walk through the door I’m greeted by Matt & Cecilia who are both sat at a computer. Cecilia, Justin’s wife, runs the admin side of the business, (and is impeccably dressed everyday) she tells me that Justin has been called out on duty. He works part time for the fire service also, which is just next door to the house. Cecilia shows me round the studio and chats to me about the business. She shows me to the kitchen and introduces me to the two kittens. I know this is going to be the best three weeks ever. And bonus because they both have moustache markings in their fur. I’m then left to nosey around the studio and familiarise myself with all the cases. I spy some incredible ornaments and start to plan what I could print with them. I also find a wooden box of circular quads. Oh my life I have never seen any of these before, only on eBay. And I got outbid by about £200. I plan to use them. Everything about this studio is authentic. There are no modern substitutes for type cases or hand presses etc. My favourite piece of equipment is the Victorian guillotine. It’s beautiful.
High class printing of all descriptions on the premises
Circular quads ❤
I want to print all of them!
& noodles (Or maybe the other way around, i’m not too sure)
I’ve only been looking around for 15 minutes or so until a bird from out of nowhere is flying around the studio. I watch it for a minute fly around but then it flies into the window, drops down the side of the Heidelberg and doesn’t move. It’s upright though, so no concern. Unable to get to it, I’m told that Justin is a bit of a Dr Doolittle. Sure enough upon his return he tries to scoop it up but it flies away around the studio. After about 4 minutes of mayhem the bird flies into the window again, this time, it’s on its side.
Justin immediately sets me a task. One I didn’t realise the scale of until I started laying down some type. This would be my largest typeset piece to date. He’s written down 34 printers terms from the 1962 book ‘A dictionary of printing terms’ and it was my task to design a broadsheet for handing out at a printers fair he was exhibiting at, at the NEC in a couple of weeks.
It’s day 2 and I’m frustrated with myself that I didn’t take the time the evening before to start on my project. Instead I have the task of dissing some type. There’s lots of tidying up to do as a new press has just entered the workshop. I accidently call a case a drawer and get a quick turn of the head from Justin and Matt followed by an exclamation. I’m not sure what came over me. Perhaps the one-month annual leave just before I arrived here, I’m not sure.
Lunch was had out in the garden in the sun in front of the vegetable patch and next to the chicken coup. Now that’s what I’m talking about.
Day 3 I come prepared, in shorts for the sunshine and with an idea for the design of the broadsheet. I sit outside vaguely designing the second impression on my laptop. I say vaguely because if you saw it you’d think a student did it in year 7.
Office life at Typoretum
I then head into the studio and start setting a background layer on the new Soldan proofing press for the first impression. The next day I proof the impression and do a make ready. This takes a long time and many proofs. When the make ready is complete I spend the last hour of the day getting my fingers in the metal type cases starting to realise a card design based around using the circular quads.
1st impression inked
While the fluro ink its out, why not?
After being told that we are awaiting an electrician to mend the motor on the Soldan I start typesetting the second impression. Before I know it the first week has gone like a flash.
I also make time to visit Nayland. A land after my own nickname.
At the start of the second week Justin is running a letterpress course. I continue in the background type setting my second impression and continue to do so for the next 4 days. The hair space cutter is my new best friend, I’d never come across one before and it made such a satisfying sound when used. The constant noise of the Gietz in the background was similarly satisfying. I am overwhelmed and amazed at the library of wood and metal type. Anything is possible in this studio. I realise that 3 weeks is not enough. I want more time. I want to design and laboriously typeset all the things.
The victorian Wharfdale
Slowly but surely
In week 2 I learn that lowercase lettering shouldn’t be letter spaced (and then I have to go through all the lines that I letter spaced) and also that sometimes master printer Justin also calls cases drawers, slip of the tongue I’m sure, but I made it know that I’d heard it, and that Matt has happily had nothing in his sandwiches but ham and cheese every single day for the past 30 years. I feel quite privileged to have witnessed the life changing moment he discovered ham and cheese on a crumpet that week.
Week 3 felt like I time was passing me by too fast. I finish typesetting my card design and Justin shows me how to print on the Farley. I get both colours down and the electrician comes and fixes the motor on the Soldan. By Wednesday we’re on for printing the first impression and by the end of the day I’ve covered the whole studio in prints. I finish by running a few prints off in fluro orange which Matt had on the Gietz at the time. Then it’s time to diss and remember which of the 80 drawers I got all the type from…
Trying to use all the ornaments
Unfortunately, but with no choice, I had set the second impression on the feed board of another press. I had the task of transferring all these 34 terms and definitions onto the bed of the Soldan. How I got away without pieing any type I’m not sure. By the end of the day the make ready is complete and I become more familiar with changing the tympan on the Soldan.
The finished forme
Paul whose house I was staying at that week runs St Boltophs press, a community letterpress workshop in the now derelict bus station of Colchester. He took me along one evening to show me the space. The studio, along with other artist’s workshops is housed in the old waiting room. I’m impressed with the small set up and equipment that Paul has acquired, and through doing so has taught himself the art of letterpress and has meticulously gone through all the type cases making sure all the sorts are in their places. 2 galleys of misc type are the result of such organisation.
Paul at St Boltophs press
I feel sad on the last day that I know I won’t be returning the next week. The place had come to feel incredibly familiar and I guess the friendly folk here help too. The second impression is down before lunch and then the afternoon’s activity is dissing. Unfortunately the afternoon wasn’t long enough to finish the task (Sorry Matt) but there were more important tasks at hand like having a go on the Gietz! I’d never used a platen press before, so it was pretty exciting for me. I had some plates made up for a business card, a bit of varnish on the rollers for a blind impression and we were off!
2nd impression inked
Hell box, my favourite part of the print
Can you spot the two errors?
This one is one of a kind…
So, in conclusion then, I can’t help but be incredibly envious of the lifestyle that Justin & Cecilia have and also the workplace that Matt comes to every day. I thank the three of you for making the last three weeks truly beautiful. The pleasure was all mine.
Oh, and don’t worry – the bird was released into the bushes, I like to think it lived.