Letterpress at Little Gold Studios

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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.

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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.

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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!

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It all starts with analogue

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I sometimes think that the problem with being being a designer now, in contrast to years ago is that we have so many tools available to us, particularly digital tools and applications. A few days ago I started a new set of designs for a logo project. Rather than start on paper, I went straight to screen. Not long after starting I hit a snag. My ideas felt a bit lacklustre and void of feeling; they lacked the mark of a maker.

The following day I started roughing out ideas for a poster concept, for another client. With a pencil in hand, I noted key words in my clients preamble, applied those to some thumbnail layouts which were created so quickly my annotations were illegible, then went to screen. That afternoon I’d created a polished concept and sent through a draft for client consideration.

On the day after, I reopened the logo file for my other client. Still, I felt stuck, so I went outside to rake up the last of the leaves from autumn. (The logo job was for a garden nursery, so I considered my procrastination as being more like research). Later that afternoon I grabbed some brush markers and started doodling. Before long I had a few filled up a few pages full of black scribble, it all looked like a mess, but a few sparks of potential logo images could be found among it all. After scanning these and converting them to vector, that night I had many potential iterations.

Moral of the story: start analogue before going digital. Free yourself before restricting yourself to the constraints of software and a mouse/trackpad. Ideas happen faster when the travel straight from your head to hand, to paper. I tell my students this all the time, but I need to remind myself of this too. Sometimes taking the time to explore before you do the ‘real’ work can end up being a big timesaver.

The mark you can make with a pencil or brush pen is unique to you, unlike those brush presets in your software apps. Offering a genuine, honest mark, generally equals a happy client. As a designer, it makes the process more rewarding too.

Autumn

The morning brings a refreshing cool.

Beads of dew adorn slender blades of grass,
replenished after the intensity of summer.

Golden light streams through leaves, tentatively
holding onto the branches that have sustained them.

Warmth sets upon my face.

The coming days brings gradual change.

Brilliant shades of yellow, orange, red and crimson.
A remarkable display, as leaves dance upon a gentle breeze.

Finally reaching a stunning crescendo.

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Illustration above by Mal Webster – Watercolour and pencil

An icy treat!

I haven’t posted here for while, but thought I’d share this little gouache illustration I made yesterday. There’s nothing quite like an icy treat on a scorching hot day!

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Happy New Year

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Rather than setting any new year resolutions for 2015 that I’d inevitably break, I decided to start a new creative project a few days ago that I could seamlessly continue with into the new year. The image below is an example of an unfinished piece of work from the project. Last year I seemed to experience a few bouts of creative block, but this little project seems to have freed me up a little… It has certainly felt that way over the last few days and I’ll have more to share about it soon. For now though, happy new year. I’m going to make sure that 2015 is a healthy and creative one. I hope that yours will be too.
Cheers,
Mal.

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Rendered Game Boy Micro

As a high school student, when I was in about Year 8, I remember the school Art Department received a sample delivery of a whole bunch of fancy marker equipment, otherwise known as ‘Copic Markers’. They sent them a bundle of markers and a really neat mini compressor and airbrush attachment, I was fascinated with it!

I’ve recently been learning to use these cool arty tools, as I can now actually afford to buy the things. I’m also keen to use them well so that I can teach my students how to use them too.

Here’s a small piece I drew up this afternoon. I love how marker drawings look kind of old-school. They’re reminiscent of the days when graphic design was almost entirely hands-on, without the aid of computer programs like Photoshop. My drawing below isn’t perfect, but I’m getting there. I might post a tutorial when I perfect my skills.

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Rendering and VCD 2015 planning

I spent this afternoon working on my marker rendering skills and planning some work for next year, for the delivery of the VCE Visual Communication Design subject I teach. I’m planning on sharing my new approach to Unit 3 – VCD in the not-too-distant future. I think many teachers get stuck on this Unit (particularly Outcome 1) since the introduction of the new VCD Study Design. I’ll be posting more about that soon.

Here’s a little snippet of my work from this afternoon:

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Also, tonight I’ve been playing with the new version of Adobe Illustrator (CC 2014), making some flat-style illustrations of my favourite design tools. This is a small sample (below) of what I’ve done so far. The final poster will be available as a print to purchase, but there are many more details to be added! I’ll post the final design when its complete.

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First Aid Kit band

I made this small watercolour and pencil piece of new Swedish band First Aid Kit for my portfolio. Drawing people (particularly faces) isn’t something I find easy, they generally end up looking cross-eyed, so I was kind of happy with the result.

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