Letterpress Learning in the Windy City
August 22, 2007 2:21 AM   Subscribe

I have become very interested in letterpress recently and was wondering about opportunities in the Chicago area to learn more.

I would like to become proficient at letterpress and am debating whether to:

a) take a class at Columbia's Book and Paper Center (though Letterpress doesn't seem to be offered on the weekends, when I'm available...)

b) offer my services as a completely novice apprentice to a letterpress in the area (This is what I'd ideally like to do.)

c) something else, but equally enjoyable. (Are there other classes? An operation in a church basement? Someone willing to take on a sidekick?)

I've been reading Briar Press, so I'm familiar with the presses here in Chicago and the classes at the B&P. My question is this: does anyone know of the best way to pursue this? Which business to contact? The best way to offer myself as a free and completely-willing-to-learn volunteer? I work 9-5 M-F, so I can't do this during the week -- but I want to make this vision a (slightly indented and inky) reality.

Thank you for your help.
posted by moooshy to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
not related to chicago, but a little how-to build and use a homemade letterpress came up on instructubles the other day
posted by noloveforned at 5:43 AM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Have you checked to see what Lillstreet has going? They do some press classes, and they will arrange independent study.

Hummingbird Press shares their print studio, so it's probably reasonably well-supplied. If you can't find something at Columbia, you might have luck here. I have not taken classes myself, but I know people who have & were quite pleased with them.
posted by aramaic at 7:06 AM on August 22, 2007

If you aren't living in a tiny studio apartment, you could just buy a small letterpress and some type, and do it yourself. I've twice done this, and neither time paid more than $150 for a decent press and as much type as would fit in a small pickup. This approach works because there is always someone like me who bought a press but isn't using it any more, doesn't have much invested, and is happy to help out someone wanting to learn, or someone who is just getting too old to use the press anymore and doesn't want the press and typecases turned into curios at an antique shop. I always found these just by phoning around, but these days the internet might work as well, although you will miss the real luddites who aren't into the online thing. (If you do this, though, make sure you get a press with rollers in decent shape -- the first time I didn't, and I spent more money getting those stupid rollers recovered than I did buying the press in the first place.)

I also found (in the periods before buying a press, and between owning presses) that some letterpress owners are tremendously generous with their time and equipment (while others are cranky old bastards who think that someone touching their press will shrink their penis or something like that), so calling around and offering to trade press access for cookies or beer will probably get you some good results. A lot of letterpress printers are kind of like amateur astronomers -- they have the equipment, they have neat knowledge ... and the world just doesn't care. So when someone calls up and says, "hey, show me your toys" they can get really excited.
posted by Forktine at 7:27 AM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

My wife and I inherited a letterpress with our current house. She took a weekend class at a local studio, and now she's Just Doing It. Small projects so far. I get the impression there's really not that much to learn, unless you aspire to become expert at picking sorts from California boxes and hand-setting type—which may be personally satisfying on some level, but seems kind of backwards when you can just get a plate burned.
posted by adamrice at 7:55 AM on August 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Thank you all. This was extremely helpful, and I wasn't familiar at all with Lillstreet. I'm going to take a class there.
posted by moooshy at 8:54 PM on August 22, 2007

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