In this hands-on typography class, students have the unique opportunity to practice what has become a Digital Age rarity: setting type and printing by hand. Students learn to use analog materials and methods, including an impressive set of printing presses and a rare collection metal and wood type, to explore multiple facets of typography and design.
ArtCenter: How would you describe this class to a prospective student?
Christina A. Aumann: HMCT Archetype Press is considered a "living" typographic archive, as we work with type and machines that range from 50- to 150-years-old. Students hand-set wood and metal letterforms from our foundry collection and print with hand-operated printing machines, while experimenting with type as image, type as texture, as well as type as voice to communicate meaning and context.
AC: What inspired the direction you took with the curriculum for this class?
CA: The process of letterpress printing is fascinating, meditative and empowering. It’s also slow, time-consuming and a fair amount of work. For these reasons, I encourage students to have fun and experiment, while keeping themselves (and our rare collection) safe.
My time in the Archetype Press has helped solidify my love for type and all aspects of the printing process. No experience can quite compare to fully being able to work with type by hand from start to finish.Ashley KakazuGraphic Design
AC: What are some of the most important concepts and ideas you hope students take away from the experience/classwork?
CA: Because of the physical nature of letterpress printing, students gain a unique historical perspective on design and learn aspects of typography that might be missed in digital-based design classes. Instead of always aiming for perfection, students see the imperfections that come with letterpress printing, which show a human touch beautifully. It's about appreciating that analog and digital technology can coexist, each contributing a different perspective to creativity.
AC: Why is it valuable to learn setting type and printing by hand?
CA: While technology is important, many students (and people in general) long for tactile experiences. Working on the computer is fast and provides immediate gratification. The letterpress printing process is very slow, and everything we work with is upside down and backwards. We must use imagination to envision how it will turn out. Although an older method of graphic design, letterpress printing can be a fun way to learn typography and create contemporary designs. Additionally, working with the physical letterforms helps us notice nuances in the typefaces.
AC: What are some of the different techniques students learn?
CA: Students learn how to handle and typeset metal and wood type, and how to lock their form of letters and words into the press before printing, which is a bit like Tetris. Students compose their final designs outside the computer. They proof their forms on tracing paper, then cut and paste by hand, with layering, to see what it might look like. They learn about the qualities of color by mixing inks, and how the printing process affects their design decisions.
AC: What are some of the assignments and materials you hope will challenge students to break new ground creatively?
CA: Students are working with a medium and process that's new to them. It's a challenge to design without knowing what's possible or exactly what it will look like. This encourages students to be more careful and intentional, as well as be more open to the imperfections and serendipity of the printing process.
AC: What were some of the most interesting/surprising ways the students responded to the challenges and assignments?
CA: I’m continually impressed by the wonderful concepts and goals of ArtCenter students. They come up with complex designs and manage to pull them off beautifully, while simultaneously learning to use this analog technology.
Open to all majors, Archetype Press stresses typography and is integral to the College's typographic programs. The facility is housed in the Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography [HMCT], the largest letterpress printing facility in California, and is under the direction of Prof. Gloria Kondrup. Archetype Press offers a variety of courses, and has several instructors that bring unique narratives to each class. Program offerings continue to expand. This spring the Press hosted an Artist-in-Residence, designer, typographer and letterpress printer Dafi Kuhne.