Letterpress Collective

Letterpress studio

What first got you into the process of letterpress?

So it’s kind of like what your guys did with the work shop. I was in the first group so I got to do it quite early on, and I kind of quickly realised that I loved doing that more than I did sitting on the computer. I was in uni a lot,  I was in pretty much all the time, and I wasn’t the most productive but I always tried to do as much print as I could. While on the course Carol told me to go and talk to Nick for a project, so I came and interviewed him, and I brought some cake, and he doesn’t remember me coming, he doesn’t remember our conversation at all. He thinks I’m lying, I always tell that to people and they laugh because they say that’s so Nick. And then when I graduated, his son had just quit cos his son was fed up of working with mainly old and grumpy men, so then I started volunteering and then I was working here for about six months volunteering and then Nick offered me a couple days a week pay and then I’m now full time, I think I’ve been full time for about three and a half years. The hours are ridiculously long and we don’t earn a lot of money, but its, I love it, and its much better than being sat at a computer so.

Well yeah, so its for the enjoyment?

Yeah yeah it just didn’t suit my way of working I don’t think, everyone is different, I’d get very distracted sat still for a long time.

What is the demographic of people that use this space?

It’s a real mix, so when we do workshops; half of what we do is workshops and the other is job in printing, and job in printing its me, Melanie and then we’ve got another girl Anna that comes in one day a week and she prints as well, and she helps us out, and then she prints somewhere else during the other time. So we’re, I’m 27 and she’s 25? And then Nick’s… a bit older,

(Everyone laughs)

We’ve got some old boys that come in, we used to get them in to run the Heidelberg, and then I got trained up on it, so they don’t really come in as much anymore, but they pop in and their like in their 80’s, can’t really shift em, once they’re in then they’re in for the day, but yeah mostly its an older lot really, and then workshops they range from like 18 to… I don’t know, we had someone that came in that was 75, but it’s mostly like 30’s.

What do you think is so appealing about the old technique?

I kind of feel like computers have been round for quite a while now, like I remember computers coming in and things on screen coming in, I don’t really remember it before that, cos I was too young, and you guys probably never remember it before. So for our generation its exciting because of that, because its like, you touch it, its all tactile and you can feel it, like letter spacing, like kerning, stuff like this poster, (pulls onto the table two similar posters) its just great like you just print sheets off and then you just put little marks to make more spaces.

So Physical!

Yeah really physical, you can spend all day doing something that would probably take you an hour on the computer, but yeah, I think its just the feeling of it, and everyone always comes in and says how great it smells in here and feels like a real place, me and Nick can not smell it anymore, you kind of get null to it, yeah I think its that, I think people are just bored of screens, cos there’s a lot more crafts that are coming back and I think its because of that, we’ve got hands and it’s a bit of a shame that we just type.

Can you tell us a bit more about the bike with the press on the back?

So Nick and Robin used to go to the coffee shop all the time, and they used to sit and they used to chat about absolute rubbish and they had an idea that they’d combine trades, so Robin builds bicycles from scratch, they were laughing and joking about how great it would be if they could put a printing press on the back of a bike and then cycle it, and then Nick told a couple of people this and then cos he told too many people he felt like he should do it. He previously cycled round the coast of the UK and Ireland, so he’d done a lot of cycling before and done books about it and then they decided that they’d go on a pilgrimage to Mainz in Germany, that’s where this kind of letter press stuff was invented, well print with movable type invented there, 1450. So Nick decided that they were going to cycle there. I think it took them like 3 weeks, I might be wrong, it might be less, but it took them a while, and they stopped off at different places and got people to cut linos so they could send post cards back.

Then last year he cycled Lands End to John O’Groats and he stopped off at places that are famous for making one thing, so all the craft places. I did the first leg, I did Cornwall back to Bristol, yeah Lands End to Bristol, and it was arhh.

You cycled as well?

Yeah, I followed him and carried like, pretty much, the tent and then like, everything that wasn’t the press. So yeah it was quite heavy, it was, it was nuts, and it rained. Nick, on the way down to Cornwall said don’t worry all the years I’ve been cycling, I’ve never known more than two days in a row to rain, and it rained every single day apart from the last day.  Oh and we printed a book, (rummages to find it) so this is like the book that goes with it (flicks through the pages) so they’re like big linos then, this is like 24pt type Caslon.

Oh my gosh that must take so long to put together?

Yeah and I’m hand setting it, so I can only set one page at a time. We’ve got a friend in Whittington which is near Cheltenham, and they’ve got a monotype caster. In the late 1800’s they developed this machine that you could, its so complicated, basically it just pumps out the type in the right order, and they’ve got one of them, and I went there yesterday and I was just so jealous.

So can you tell us some of the phrases commonly used that have originated from the letterpress process?

So ‘come a cropper’ that’s from the treddle press, cos if you miss timed it, you got you’re hands caught in the machine and the most common machines were called Cropper, they were just like the manufacturer and yeah so if you got your hands caught, you’d come a cropper.

‘Coin a phrase’ that’s a letterpress term, we had someone come in for a workshop and we argued with them all day about it, but it is.

What else, ‘mind your p’s and q’s’ it used to be ‘mind you p’s and q’s and b’s and d’s’ but it’s a bit of a mouthful so they shortened it.

‘cliché’ that’s a letterpress term.

There is loads, ‘upper case and lower case’ I always forget that one cos its just so, it just makes sense, I said it to someone in a workshop the other night and they were just like oh yeah that just makes all the sense.

And ‘out of sorts’ as well, so each letter, is a sort, if you run out of one particular sort then yeah you’re out of sorts, so this (points to the bike book) so I was setting it and I ran out of w’s, so me and Nick had to print what I’d already done, and then we had to get rid of stuff or change a word so that they’d fit.

As a creative person what would you do with 6 more hours in the day?

Erm, I dunno, time goes so quick, I’d like to say I’d get more work done, but it would probably be filled up with faffing and planning and chatting, maybe reading, I’d like to read more, we’ve got loads of old technical books.

What do you think is the future of print?

I’d like to say that it would go back to this more and I think more people are getting interested in this, and there definitely is a future in print, whether or not it becomes very expensive, a lot of things are getting shipped over to China, less is being printed here, and that’s just the way it is. I think definitely letterpress is going to be there, but yeah whether or not people can afford to do it, cos like, to be a printer you need a massive space, finding a space like this in Bristol is impossible, we’re quite lucky that we’re in a cooperative building, we own the building, so that the rent’s not too expensive, but we know commercial printers that have been, sort of bought out of the city, and they were pretty central and they been there for like hundreds of years and now they’ve just been moved out to the outskirts, I think that’ll happen, but I think it will still be here, we get so many young people come in saying oh I love this, I think as long as the young kids like it, it’ll be alright.

Well thank-you very much.

Interviewed by Holly Fisher, Ruby Craner-Buckley, Rebecca Jones


The Letterpress Collective is a printing press studio that teaches both type composition and printing skills alongside producing beautiful letterpress print work as commissions or for their own projects. The Letterpress Collective was founded by Nick Hand as a printshop for The Department of Small Works . They engage with artists, writers and community projects in Bristol. The last commercial letterpress printer shut its doors in Bristol in 2012 after maybe 600 years of continuous work in the city. The Letterpress Collective provide a chance to learn from the last of the printers and compositors in the city so that a new generation can understand and learn the thrill of working a small press and seeing your creation in ink on paper. We interviewed Ellen who is a full time printer at the studio.

Letterpress Collective.org