TEDIOUS TENACITY

AN ELEGANT PROTEST against mass-produced art, the classic printing technique, letterpress printing is making a revival in the arts scene, leaving one fine impression at a time. As with most art, crafting letterpress designs is a slow brew of conceptualisation, planning, drafting and execution. But it is especially arduous during the execution stage, as it is necessary to keep a close eye on the press to make sure that it feeds and releases papers smoothly.

Still, Jacqueline Goh of The Fingersmith Letterpress is gladly, pressing on. The 25-year-old design graduate from LASALLE College of the Arts started her letterpress printing business The Fingersmith Letterpress in November 2013, which now boasts a range of artisan-designed products like greeting cards, business cards, coasters, and even red packets. 

Letterpress printing, invented by Johannes Gutenburg about 600 years ago, was the predominant printing technique till the 1800s. A movable type, which commonly came in the forms of metal or wooden plates, would be locked into the printing machine and inked. As sheets of paper enter the machine, they would be pressed against the plates, thus getting imprinted.

True to the art, it’s all about going back to basics at every phase of the craft. Jacqueline hand-draws every lettering and illustration, combining tongue-in-cheek copies with quirky yet classy typography. 

LETTERPRESS PRINT MAKES ALMOST ANY DESIGN LOOK BEAUTIFUL BUT IT’S THE DESIGN THAT MAKES THE PRINT UNIQUE.

WE DON’T DESIGN FONTS, IT’S MORE OF FREESTYLE HAND LETTERING AND ILLUSTRATIONS. SO EVERYTHING WILL BE DRAWN ON PAPER FIRST (I’M OLD SCHOOL THAT WAY).

Jacqueline then polishes up her drawings on Adobe Illustrator, and takes about a week to complete the final layout.  After she is satisfied with her work, she sends the designs to be specially made onto a photopolymer plate. Photopolymer plates are the modern successors of the wooden and metal ones used in traditional letterpress printing.

It then takes Jacqueline about one to two days to complete the printing on her trusty Heidelberg press. The second-hand machine was found abandoned in a print shop, and is fondly named Klaus after the American Dad! character known for its dark humour. It also aptly means “victory for the people” in German.

Sure enough, Jacqueline has seen the success of her labour. She was scouted to make 200 pieces of seed-paper cards for IKEA’s Earth Day campaign last year. But while she has proven her artisan dexterity, ideas don’t always come easy.

Hence, Jacqueline constantly looks out for interesting angles in the everyday things. 

SOMETIMES, IDEAS STRIKE ME LIKE A LIGHTNING BOLT, OTHER TIMES, I LET THEM MARINATE IN THE CORNER OF MY BRAIN.

FOR EXAMPLE, THE ‘OOPSIES’ ICE CREAM ILLUSTRATION. WHO WOULDN’T BE EXCITED ABOUT BUYING ICE CREAM? BUT HAVING THE ICE CREAM MAN DROP HIS LAST SCOOP OF ICE CREAM WOULD BRING THE EXCITEMENT TO ANOTHER LEVEL.

Despite the tedious process of letterpress production, it is precisely the need to connect with the craft at its every stage that captivates Jacqueline. She says, “The fact that I am constantly surrounded by ink and being able to craft with my hands drew me most. Also, I love the whole process of it, from drawing and conceptualization, to hand mixing the ink and working with my press.”

WHEN I PULL THE FINAL PRINT, AND WHEN THE LIGHT HITS ONTO THE PAPER AT A RIGHT ANGLE, I GET GOOSEBUMPS AND IT’S AN AWESOME FEELING.

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