LOL Scholarship Report: Letterpress at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, June 2014

For two intense but pleasantly engaging weeks I studied techniques for "Drawing at the Vandercook" under the expert tutelage of Sarah Langworthy (Professor at The University of Iowa Center for the Book) and her teaching assistant, Kim Maher (recent UICB graduate). My purpose for taking this particular session was a desire to get beyond my habitual use of type and photo generated line art and expand into more colorful and nuanced image making to use in book illustration.


The printmaking building (above) devotes half of the space to letterpress (seen below).

The class was packed with information and demonstrations, a few of my experiments are shown below.

(Above) A pressure print from cut stencil (left) and the ghost image taken from the inked and printed surface.


Lots of fun making a printing relief plate using white glue and acetate (I recommend using heavy paper instead since the areas between glue had a nasty habit of puckering and printing). Below I used the glue to simulate an intricate pattern.

( Above) A simultaneous use of cut stencil pressure print and polymer medium relief print.


Relief printing with bent wire, wood and colored by hand with pochoir stencil.

(Above) Linoleum reduction cut

(Above) Scratchboard film to polymer relief plate test on newsprint.

More painterly techniques included painting directly onto a type high base for monoprints, altering the ink with substances such as mineral spirits, placing stencils or brayering ink directly onto the printing surface. 

(Above) Brayered ink, mineral spirits, painted ink and polymer type on Arches text.

**One of  the most interesting demonstrations was printing with transparent or white ink and then hand applying sumi ink washes and salt for softly dramatic results. I didn't get a chance to try it during the class but below is an example by one of my classmates, Mac Hill. Looking forward to using it on my next project.

(Above) Mac Hill's white letterpress ink with sumi washes and salt.

We were also well versed on Vandercook maintenance (several classmates owned their own presses). Another full day was devoted to binding instruction in the book arts studio with Julie Leonard (also a professor at UICB). We produced simple pamphlets and drum books.

Most of my 11 classmates were advanced artists and/or experienced letterpress printers which raised the level of the experience. We all experimented and shared our results of combining or adapting the demonstrated techniques. With 24-hour open studios, four presses (3 Vandercook SP-15s and a Vandercook #4) and much inspiration an impressive amount of work was produced. 

The entire campus was buzzing with energy. We could interact with artists studying 14 different craft media over the communal dinners or by visiting other studios. Each department conducted an evening slide talk and all of the work produced in the session was displayed in a "show and tell" exhibit on the last day of the session. 

(Above) A class display on the last day of the workshop.


Finally yet importantly was the beautiful environment of Penland. The spanking new print building has huge windows overlooking stunning views of the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina. From morning to night, fog, light, shadow and clouds put on a constantly changing performance to remind us of the passing of the days which flew by too quickly. 

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