Down a little street in the old Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, you’ll find a back alley fondly named Little Gold Street. If you look carefully within that street, you’ll find a little door with a golden ink droplet, quietly proclaiming, ‘Little Gold Studios’. If you’re ever lucky enough to open this unsuspecting timber door, you’ll find a natural light-filled creative utopia inside, where during the week, ten makers, tinkerers and thinkers bring a broad range of concepts to life, from varying areas within the field of design. To me, entering this enchanting space felt like stepping inside Wonka’s chocolate factory.
On arrival at 13 Little Gold Street, I was greeted by the tiny letterpress powerhouse, otherwise known as Amy Constable, owner of Saint Gertrude Letterpress. Amy was our likeable and generous teacher for the day, sharing her wealth of self-taught knowledge. Starting with a seemingly simple Adana press about eight years ago, Amy worked after-hours into the night, teaching herself the art of letterpress. Prompted by a love of print, the growing letterpress movement in the U.S. and challenged by her boss that ‘print is dead’, Amy set about celebrating her love of analogue processes and printed paraphernalia. You’ll never find Amy reading on a Kindle or iPad, instead favouring real printed books, magazines and newspapers that you can actually feel, touch, hold and connect with. “You won’t see me scrolling though Twitter to keep up with what’s happening in the world, that’s what a newspaper is for!”
After sharing a brief history of printing, the dawn of mass production, printing presses and some basic terminology, it was time to roll up our amateur sleeves and ink up for our first foray into old-school printing.
For quite a while now I’ve wanted my own letterpress business cards, they’re simply beautiful little works of art. They beg to be touched and felt with their soft stock and debossed type. When one receives a letterpress calling card, tossing it away into the recycle bin isn’t an option. Attendees at the workshop, and myself included, admitted that we all have a little collection of them upon our desks that we’ve hoarded over the years. Letterpress printing isn’t cheap though, often reserved for special occasions like wedding invites and small run, one off jobs. However, for the next few hours we were to find out exactly why this printing method is seemingly so costly. Letterpress printing is labour intensive, REALLY labour intensive… And fiddly! In fact the cost of having a printer run off your cards for you is cheap, considering the difficulty involved in the process, the time it takes to set up a job and get it printed perfectly. It’s no easy feat. Fortunately though, Amy was there with us for the day, patiently showing us the way, tinkering with the idiosyncrasies of her pair of cute Adana presses. During the day, away from the glare of our Macs, we also learnt to mix Pantone colours by hand… Yes, by hand! (Not with that little colour picker tool in Illustrator!) Never again will I question a commercial printer about the fact the my finished deliverables aren’t absolutely exactly in line with the colour swatches in my Pantone book. Again, mixing colours is a lot like the analogue printing process, it’s open to chance and luck, particularly for a novice like me. The variations or ‘happy mistakes’ that occur, are all part of the charm involved in a hand-crafted process, which ultimately, is what makes letterpress so appealing. As Amy expressed at the beginning of the lesson, print isn’t dead. Print is being woken from its slumber, by a global movement of designers, printers, creators and makers. People who have an appreciation for tactile objects, created with care and attention to detail, that take us back to time when life must have felt a little slower and simpler.
If you ever have the opportunity, book in for one of Amy’s classes, I’d highly recommend it. Visit The School to see when her special class will take place again in the future, or book for one of Amy’s other course offerings via Saint Gertrude Letterpress. You won’t be disappointed!