Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Question from a soon-to-be beginner?

I received this comment from Anonymous a while back, so my apologies for taking so long to answer:

"I can't believe I stumbled on such a useful post by accident! That answered a lot of questions I've been chasing around in my head. Another question (and this will show how green I am): is it necessary to take classes or a course to learn to use a letterpress, or can it be learned (with determination) from books. If so, any you'd recommend? As a business owner and mother of a one-year-old, I can't manage to get outside the home for classes. But I'm dying to learn. Any advice would be so much appreciated!"

Can the art of letterpress printing be learned from books? Well, I suppose technically you could look up every resource available online (i.e. through Briarpress.org and what not), get out some history of printing books, and you could probably develop a basic understanding of how things work. You could even search online for videos showing how it's done (here's a good one from Firefly Press). But, in my very humble opinion, it is hard to fully understand how letterpress works, and the very mechanics of setting up, running, cleaning, inking a press until you can actually get your hands on one. And even if you were to go buy one, how would you know what you were getting unless you've used one or have a basic knowledge of how it works?

I've heard a few horror stories of people who've bought old presses off of eBay only to find that they do not work properly, have parts missing, or that the purchaser just didn't know what to do with it once they received it.

My recommendation for getting started would be as follows:

  1. Does your local art college offer book arts courses? If so, then they might offer an introduction to the letterpress course. Or, perhaps they have a letterpress room sitting idle with no one to use it (my letterpress professor told me stories of letterpress resource rooms in colleges across North America that were destroyed over the years because no one was using them anymore). If this is the case, there might be a way to get a hold of a professor who knows something about letterpress that could show you the basics.

  2. Look online for letterpress printers in your area. They don't have to be big commercial shops - you might find a hobbyist that just tinkers with small projects. Perhaps he/she could give you a lesson and show you how a press works (maybe offer to pay for a lesson). You could, if you were open to it, post an ad on Craigslist in your area requesting a lesson from someone with a press. Or, if you are interested in the commercial aspect, call a local printer and ask to shadow a pressman for a day. Some letterpress printers will take on apprentices, but this probably isn't something that would work for you as a mother.
It doesn't hurt to ask, and to be honest, letterpress printers are a kind and friendly bunch, most of whom know each other quite well and have their own networks (at least it seems this way in my area and the Pacific Northwest). From my experience, letterpress printers are very happy to show their craft, especially to the younger set that are developing a keen interest in this fine art.

This all being said, you will probably have to do some work to get some experience. At the end of the day though, you need to get your hands dirty (literally!) to see if you even like it. Letterpress printing, as I've discovered since starting, is a LOT of work, and takes a LOT of time - so it's possible you might not even like it.

So I hope I've answered your question - I wish you the best of luck!

Happy letterpressing...


  1. Hi Erin, can you tell me which letterpress course you took? I live in the Lower Mainland and am interested in learning more about letterpress printing. Thanks.

  2. thank you!!! i love your blog! this is all so helpful!


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