I’ve had quite a week. I’m a member of a letterpress sale group on facebook, basically a worldwide classifieds site for letterpress equipment. Which means that usually when I see something interesting, it’s in Belgium. Or Brazil. Or somewhere enough remote from me to make it impractical.
I was beautifully lucky years ago to stumble into a Line-o-scribe proof press when a friend of mine was upgrading. It’s expanded my range and ability exponentially from what I was willing to do rubbing on the back of blocks with a flat wooden spoon. But the press bed is limited to 14x21”, which means if I want any margin at all, I end up cutting the 18x24” blocks I buy down to at least 12x20” and maybe smaller. I just rededicated myself to prints over the new year after spending more of the last year and a half painting. I’ll always likely move between the two, but I do think my most original voice is in prints. And I’ve been longing to do bigger prints. Just before this press floated across my fb feed, I had started a diptych on the old one, to be able to have a larger image and impact, even if it was in two parts.
Then this beauty showed up. It’s a Reynolds Printasign model 40 with a 22x30” bed, a huge upgrade. And it was in Oklahoma City, just a 7 hour drive. So perfect. It also has a self inking system and a custom table with a foot pedal to release the paper gripper. So I drove over Thursday to get it. I’m feeling ridiculously lucky this week.
There’s going to be another learning curve. My brain is really not skilled at mechanical things, and this has a couple of serious differences from the press I’m used to. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get the inking coverage I really want for my velvety black prints. I may keep hand inking a lot of what I do, but it would be beautiful if I can figure out a way to get that depth without hand inking the plate each time. Repetitive printing is my least favorite part of all of this. I love the designing and carving and tweaking to get the image I want, but once I have it, the rote printing is a chore for me. So fingers crossed.
This press was also made for use with its own type, which rests on rails, so regulation type (.918” for standard North American type) is too short for the inking rollers to even touch. I’ll have to build up the bed to use the type I have. It may be that my old press is better for some of the things I do. But having this size is just amazing, and I’m excited to have it placed in a window with lovely light to work in during the day time. I can’t wait to do a big print for it, though again, I’ll have to go out and find something to lay in the bed and raise the print up to the roller height. That should be easy enough though for a life changing kind of thing.
I played around with it after several really lovely friends helped me move it inside. Here is the first print, a celebration of the press and of this year when all my art ideas seem to be coming beautifully together. You can see that I used the heavy magnets that came with the press to hold the type steady in the bed. They’re not as totally firm as building wood all around it, like a jigsaw, but a lot faster. You can also see that I wasn’t getting a really sold, dark print. This faded look is really cool for some things, but for others I’m going to want something darker.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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