Thursday, 20 December 2012

Merry Christmas from Semple Press

You can't have a press and not produce your own Christmas cards, so here are the first cards produced at Semple Press. Even now, many of them are snarled up somewhere in the Christmas post on their way to family and friends.

Letterpress Christmas card from Semple Press

The background is a lino cut printed on a proof press, and the festive poem (bah, humbug!) was printed on the Adana using Gill sans condensed 18pt. I even managed a "Merry Christmas!" on the inside of the card, printed using a 24pt type called, I think, Gulio.

The linocut was easy enough - I usually work things out on the computer first and then print out the design in outline back-to-front so it's easy to transfer on to the lino. But I must admit that I was dreading getting the poem to line up correctly as this was the first piece of work I've done which needed registering.

However, the Adana was much easier to set up than I thought it would be. Setting the layguage, which holds the bottom edge of the print in position, was relatively simple if a bit fiddly, and I used a spirit level to make sure it was dead straight. I set the left hand edge using a cunning trick which I discovered on the Happy Dragon Press website - just a piece of 30pt spacing stuck to the platen tympan with sticky tape. Simple! Much easier than the layguage pin, which I can never usually stick in quite the right place. I needed to check the position a few times as the print wandered off course a couple of times, but on the whole it was reasonably successful.

Registering the text on the Adana

I learnt the hard way that ink, like the printer, needs to be kept warm. It was freezing in the print shed when I started working on this project and the ink was most uncooperative. I think this is why the coverage on both layers of the print is not quite as dense as it should be. I now keep the ink in the house, so this week when I came to print the Christmas message inside a new batch of cards the ink was so much easier to roll and the print quality was much much better. Live and learn! 

By the way, if you're thinking that the tympan on the Adana looks a bit wavy then you'd be right. This is still the packing and tympan that came with the Adana and as it's exactly the right height I've been too nervous to sort it out. However, it's overdue replacement as I expect that wavy card isn't doing much for print quality! I'm curious to see what the previous owner used to pack the platen - it looks like there are magazine pages under that card...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Vandercook Has Landed

Vandercook SP20
When I was still looking for a press I could never understand why the proud new owners of a Vandercook press would post millions of photos of the removal and installation of their latest pride and joy on the internet. It looked a bit like gloating to me... but if I'm being honest I was just the teensiest bit jealous. 

Now that I have my own Vandercook, I completely understand. It's not gloating at all; it's just the enormous relief at having survived or - more importantly - that their press has survived the move.

Please bear with me as I describe my own survivor story - I need to get it out of my system.

There are companies who will move your new press for you, but I am lucky enough to have a husband who is an engineer and who, and I quote, "really enjoys moving very heavy objects", so this move was done at my own risk and without the aid of a safety net.

The story started with a 24 hour round trip to collect the press from North Yorkshire in a van, but that was the easy bit. After a few hours sleep back home we woke to torrential rain and the realisation that we would need to transfer the press from the two pallets it was resting on in the van, onto a custom built pallet that would allow it to be lifted out with standard sized forklift truck. Our lovely neighbours (at Mike Wye Associates) had agreed to help get the press out of the van, but the longer forks required to do this were not to be found anywhere in Devon that morning. 

So it was that as the rain poured down, we raised each end of the press in turn using a block and tackle suspended from a metal beam placed across the width of the van ceiling, and swapped the pallets with the aid of some metal rollers. We then covered the press in a blue plastic damp-proofing sheet, strapped it down and attached the lifting strops. 

We drove to our neighbours, where the press was carefully lifted out of the back of the van and transferred to a low-loader. (It was still raining.) We then drove it back home, with the press onboard, and then down the muddy and extremely bumpy track that runs behind our house. Did I mention that my workshop is at the bottom of our garden? Fortunately it wasn't too far to go before we reached the hole in the hedge cut specially to allow the press to be lifted over the top of the bank by crane, and placed neatly on the purpose-built scaffolding runway that ran from the bank to the door of my workshop. 

This was the most heart-stopping moment of the whole operation for me and it was hard to watch let alone film or photograph. There are photos somewhere but they were taken by one of our farming neighbours who arrived at the critical moment and found the whole thing completely hilarious. 

Moving the vandercook SP20Unfortunately we had the leave the press out all night as it was too late and too wet to do any more. It had rained continuously all day, in varying degrees of heaviness, with south westerly gusts of wind. The weather really couldn't have been worse. 

The following day it was still raining. By lunchtime things had started to dry out a bit and the press was gently rolled down the scaffolding runway on castors (yes really) in a very controlled manner. 

Moving the vandercook SP20
As my husband had made the pallet exactly 800mm wide (just less than the width of the doorway once the door and architrave was taken out) all we had to do was take off the handle to get it into the workshop. The whole thing trundled through the doorway leaving a gap of 20mm on either side. After the rain and other dramas, I was relieved to discover that the press was totally unscathed, just needing a little rub down on the bed and the top of the reservoir roller.  

Positioning the Vandercook
Having got it into the workshop I thought we were all done, but hadn't reckoned on getting it off the pallet (which involved building scaffolding and hoisting it up with blocks fore and aft) inching it into position and then levelling it with absolute precision using an engineering machine level. It is now level to within "a fraction of a gnat's cock" (I believe this is a technical engineering term) and I firmly believe it is the most level vandercook in the entire country, if not the world.

The vandercook has indeed landed, but of course that's not quite the end of the story... 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Hello World!

adana print: I love my little Adana

To start somewhere near the beginning... this was my first print on the Adana 8x5. I fell in love with it pretty much straightaway. This print was a mix of metal and wood type. Unfortunately I didn't have enough of the letter Ls so had to get a little creative.

This machine kills fascists – proof press print

And this was my first print on the Vandercook SP20 (more on that later). It's a tribute to Woody Guthrie who had a "This machine kills fascists" sticker on his guitar. Apparently the bombers in the Spanish Civil War also had the words painted on the sides of their planes. It seems an appropriate sentiment for a press as printing has often been a political (and sometimes dangerous) act. It feels like a manifesto and I printed it as a statement of intent. Not literally, obviously, although a vandercook would definitely make a nasty mess if it landed on one. 

A note on kerning: After printing this, the kerning between the F and the A of "fascists" really bugged me. A lot of wood type has chunks cut out of the blocks so the letters can be spaced evenly. That is of course one approach to take – however, I'd rather not take a hacksaw to my beloved wood type (plus it makes it really hard to lock it up in future printing projects) so I have taken to adding spacing to the other letters instead. I reprinted this later with much better letterspacing...