Typography as an art

Leslie Cusano

Class experiments with printing press process

Jessica Mellen, senior visual communication design major, presses her type design tightly into the printing press in an upper division class called Experiment Typography. Students in the class learn how to use early type processes. ELIZABETH MYERS | DAILY

Credit: Ron Soltys

The smell of mineral spirits and ink mixed with coffee as bleary-eyed students trickled into the classroom. It was a bright and early 7:45, but soon the students in Steve Timbrook’s Experimental Typography class were wide awake.

“It’s a good way to get your day started and get moving early,” said Alan Groudle, senior visual communications design major.

In the class, students produce works on printing presses, which range in age from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century. The university used to use the presses to produce publications, but when the process became obsolete, they were given to the School of Art, said Zak Kruszynski, senior VCD major and a teacher’s assistant in the class.

“We have the luxury of using them more for art,” he said.

This is Timbrook’s first semester teaching the class, which is one of the few classes students are able to take more than once. He said the current project is valentines, and next they’re going to design a poster on which they’ll print a haiku they’ve written about typography.

Kruszynski demonstrated how the actual printing process is done. First, type is selected, then arranged, measured and set on the machine backwards and upside-down. After the letters are secured in the machine, ink gets rolled onto the type. Paper is inserted into the machine, and it is rolled over the type.

“Usually, there is such a focus on quality that you can’t experiment for fear of losing that quality,” Kruszynski said. “But in this class, the quality is in the experimentation.”

When the “E” he printed was slightly faint, he pointed out the imperfections on the piece of wooden type.

“But you might like the damaged E,” he said.

“Which I know you do,” Timbrook added.

“And by you, I mean me,” Kruszynski said. “It’s all about experimentation. This is a class where you almost have total freedom.”

Because of the demanding nature of VCD, Timbrook said many students take the class because it’s an opportunity to slow down.

“This class forces you to think about what you’re doing,” Timbrook said. “Some of the most creative work is done in here because of that.”

Carli Dottore, senior VCD major, said she took the class because students are able to work at their own pace.

“You get to play around with type,” she said. “It’s exciting to see how everything fits together.”

She also said the class is much more relaxed compared to some of her other VCD classes.

“It’s just a lot of fun,” she said.

Groudle said he enjoys the class because of the opportunity to employ new techniques. One morning, he was cutting a block of linoleum to make a new typeface, but they didn’t have an iron to soften the linoleum, which makes it easier to cut.

“So Steve put it in the microwave and it actually worked better,” Groudle said. “That shows what this class is all about — trying new things.”

Groudle also said he feels the class will make him more appealing to potential employers.

“There’s a certain appreciation there, because it’s not easy.”

In an increasingly digital world, Timbrook said the class helps students understand and appreciate the traditional processes of printing.

“You feel a real connection to the media,” Timbrook said. “It’s very hands on because it has to be physically manipulated. It’s a control thing, and you can’t get that on a computer.

“No matter how many times you press that button on the computer, it’s still going to print out the same,” he added. “You don’t have that with a process like this.”

Dottore said she likes how her pieces look and feel completely different from digital.

“There’s something attractive about the end result,” she said. “It’s an old school way of printing. I think we all appreciate it.”

Contact College of the Arts reporter Leslie Cusano at [email protected].