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Re: Letterpress or DTP software?

Suzanne responded:

> [snip]
>My plans for creating books are not to produce large editions of elaborate
>texts; rather, I envision primarily one-of-a-kind artist's books, short
>collections of poetry, journals with brief inspirational passages to which I
>can add rubberstamped images, etc. DTP programs seem to me to be more than I
>need for what I want to do ...

On the contrary: the relative ease of DTP is ideal for what you state you
want to do. The amount of effort involved in setting the type for,
proofing, correcting, making ready, and printing (then washing up rollers
and redistributing type) is much too great for a one-of-a-kind book, unless
you are prepared for it. The whole point of letterpress printing, when it
was invented, was to make the reproduction of texts in multiple copies
easier than doing it by hand, one at a time. That's not to say it *can't*
be done but, if you are going to go to all the preparatory effort, why not
print at least a dozen copies?

The aesthetic superiority of letterpress was only fully realized after the
introduction of offset printing (and, following years of declining
standards in paper manufacture, type design, and the printing itself). It
sounds as though you do appreciate and cherish the difference, and I
understand your having been seduced by the possibility that you could
produce something similar. I know I was. However, based on my own
experience, I continue to advise you to think long and hard before
committing yourself to the establishment of a letterpress shop (see below).

>...  I've always had a vague feeling that advances in
>technology aren't always for the best, especially when they limit or supplant
>human creativity. What I'm seeking, I suppose, is to be convinced that it's
>*feasible* for me to take a step backward into history to be able to create
>the kinds of books I'd like to make.

Certainly it is *feasible*: hundreds of printers -- artists, bookmakers,
and even commercial printers -- continue to do it daily. But I do take
issue with the thought that technolgy limits or supplants creativity: there
are definitely limitations imposed by whatever technology you choose but
creativity has to do with overcoming those limitations, and soaring in
spite of them.

>I'd very much like to be able to do something like this [take workshops or
>serve an apprenticeship] ...
> I do have an offer of advice and assistance in
>acquiring a small letterpress, should I decide to do so. Could I teach myself
>enough through trial and error and lots of practice?

Yes, I suspect you could. I did, but I wish I had been able to take several
workshops or an apprenticeship: I probably would have learned more, and
certainly faster. I wouldn't give up my days of letterpress printing for
anything but I've now been seduced away from it by the computer, and have a
shopful of type and presses which have been sitting idle for at least five
years (that reminds me: I must go out and oil everything again and try to
keep the rust at bay).

As several others have suggested: you can do both and, I suspect you
probably will. But sooner or later, you will probably tend to use one
process more than, or to the exclusion of, the other. I continue to hope
that I will be inspired sometime soon to blow the dust off my type and ink
up my press and experience again the thrill of watching a clean sheet of
paper go in one end of the press and come out the other with a crisp black
impression of meaningful words.


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