POSTED ON FEBRUARY 20, 2013:
Printing press drives to town
In the digital age, it has become commonplace for people who need things printed -- business cards, stationary, posters, and the like--to fire up a laptop, move some stuff around on a Microsoft template, hit 'print,' and be done with it.
But as Tulsa's Sharon Hutton of the Blue Dome District's Letterpress of Tulsa will tell you, that's a recipe for low-end quality. There's something lost from the old days of movable type.
What Hutton does at Letterpress of Tulsa is a style of printing called -- shockingly enough -- letterpress printing. It involves a printing press and movable type to which the printer applies ink and then creates the print on a piece of paper. It's what Gutenberg invented to print that first Bible of his, and it was essentially an unchanged process until the middle of the last century.
"There's a texture to this kind of printing that you can't get in digital printing," Hutton said. "People will put those kind of elements in their digital prints to make it look old or grungy or whatever, but it's not authentic, but that's what letterpress does."
It is perhaps unsurprising that letterpressers like Hutton proselytize about their passion as often as possible, and in that vein, Letterpress of Tulsa will host Kyle Durrie, who will bring her mobile print shop, Movable Type, on Tuesday, Feb. 26.
This ain't your average printing lesson.
"I've got two presses in the back of a converted 1982 Chevy step van," Durrie said.
That's right. This is what she calls a print truck, and she drives across the country printing things in it. And sleeping in it too.
Inspired a couple of years ago after tagging along on the road with her boyfriend's band, she found herself a van and struck out on her own to print things, showing the world what we at our computers are missing out on.
"It's not as cramped as you would imagine," she said of her van, which is surprising, considering she has a full working print shop therein. "It's not spacious, but it's a good use of the space. I have two printing presses in there -- one that I use for printing posters, and I've got a Golding Official Number 3, which is a style of platen press, from 1873. I use that for printing cards and bookmarks and small items."
But there are other accoutrements your average letterpress printer needs, so Durrie has worked in some storage as well.
"I have a bunch of cabinets where I store my collections of antique wood and lead type. I have some image cuts -- metal and wood blocks with images cut on them. And then I have a lot of paper and ink and various other equipment for printing and truck repair, and a sleeping bunk," she said. "I spend probably 75 percent of my nights on the road in the bunk."
Talk about your rock 'n' roll printing.
Talk about a phrase I never thought I'd ever write.
Anyway, with the aforementioned boyfriend, Durrie got a taste of life on the road and liked it. A lot.
"I loved the experience," she said. "It was great to see how their music guided them across the country. I just started thinking that as a non-musician, this is a way I could do something like that. I didn't need huge equipment, I just needed small stuff to get out on the road."
So that's what she did, and has been doing it for almost two years.
This came as the result, she added, of a kind of creative wall she'd run into after she finished studying printmaking, among other things, in art school.
"After I graduated, I was just looking for a way to start working with my hands again," she said. "It was kind of a whim. I signed up for a class and just loved the process."
The hands-on thing draws people in, she said.
"People come in and get their hands dirty and do it themselves," she explained. "Sometimes, I'll do a workshop where people can set their own type, but mostly it's an interactive demonstration."
"People will get their paper, and I'll show them how to set it up and ink their paper, and then people in line can see what's going on and a lot of times pick it up by watching the person in front of them. And it doesn't take a long time," Durrie said. "And Sharon will be talking about the process, too. She's got bigger presses in her shop. They're related to what I have, but bigger."
With Durrie's truck, as with Letterpress of Tulsa, there is a certain, built-on curiosity factor, largely due to the fact that a great many of us don't print anything that can't be done on our home computers.
"I think because we're all so connected to our computers, and there's this culture of instant gratification, I think it's important to reconnect with these kind of more stripped down, inefficient, hands-on methods of doing things," Durrie said. "Printing is something I love for so many reasons, but one of them is working for something and having something to show for it."
"It's going to start picking up," Hutton said. "I see this event with Kyle leading to something like a Print-a-palooza like maybe every year. There's a lot of new interest in superflat art. I think people are drawn to the simplicity of it."
"There's something very unique about this process of printing," Durrie added. "Both the finished product and the process are very different than digital printing. ... It's definitely a quality-over-quantity thing."
"Typically, letterpress lends itself to smaller projects like wedding invitations and things like that, but there's also a kind of rock 'n' roll aspect to it that Kyle is doing, and so are other people," Hutton said. "It's kind of a revolt against the digital stuff that's going on. There's an authentic nature to it. It's kind of a haven for graphic design. You won't see any Comic Sans in here."
You'll have your chance to rage against the digital printmaking machine Tuesday, Feb. 26 from 2-6pm. Durrie's Movable Type truck will reside for the afternoon outside Letterpress of Tulsa, located downtown at 412 E. 2nd St. More information on Durrie and Movable Type can be found online at type-truck.com, and Letterpress of Tulsa is online at letterpressoftulsa.com.
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