Big Jump Press

A carload of letterpress heads to West Dean College

IMG_9703Here are some things I saw while teaching at West Dean College last week.

dozens of melons hanging in little hammocks
two front-halves of two lions in separate glass boxes
a giraffe’s head on a wall
medieval tapestries
contemporary tapestries
an original Mae West lips sofa.
a thousand sheep

The only thing West Dean doesn’t appear to have is a letterpress studio, which meant that our (adorable) Nissan Micra had to bring one in. Thanks to Ink Spot Press and the London Centre for Book Arts, I arrived in Chichester with a car load of borrowed type and equipment.

IMG_9630When you are carrying a letterpress shop in your car, your press choices are somewhat limited. Vandercooks? out. FAGs? no way. In fact, let’s just forget about the flatbed cylinder press entirely. Enter the Adana, a friendly little hobby press that sits on a tabletop, just the right size for a Nissan. Adanas were the desktop printer of their day, manufactured in the UK throughout the twentieth century. They can still be found for sale for relatively cheap. For those of you in the US, a Kelsey is an equivalent tabletop press, identical in many respects.


I don’t normally teach with Adanas, and I had some reservations about these little presses. It is impossible to achieve the quality of print that larger machines are capable of. Additionally, the size restrictions inherent in presses this small make it difficult to work larger than 8×5″. But here is what I learned this week: Adanas are wonderful. They are sweet, they are fun, they are easy to understand and operate, and best of all, when someone asks me if it is possible to get one for themselves, I can say YES, unlike when I am teaching on a Vandercook or an FAG, whose prices and physical mass rule them out for anyone who isn’t a dedicated letterpress printer or a millionaire hobbyist. The most popular Adana models were the Adana 6×4 and the Adana 8×5, the numbers referring to the dimensions in inches of the chase, the metal frame which holds the type. I brought two of each.

I also brought type, spacing, leading, reglets, furniture, quoins, keys, composing sticks, pica rulers, and a hundred other odds and ends that we might need. A type shop is generally a haven of organization, filled with tiny compartments and shelves and cabinets of just the right size. Without this infrastructure, things can get out of hand quite quickly, so I spent hours setting up clear places for things to be:


It was a tiny class, just three students, which meant we could get down to business quite quickly. Before long, everyone was busy setting type and getting ready to print. Below we are tightening our type into the Adana chases.

IMG_9665Sam, Su and Margaret printed cards, prints, labels and even a book on these Adanas. We printed from wood and metal type as well as small, carved linoleum blocks. Below you can see some of Su’s plans


And the execution:


IMG_9736Sam wanted to use our time together to print labels for an exhibition of her work about collections. A brief sketch below gives a sense of her plans.

IMG_9678Here is the Adana 6×4, inked up and ready to work:

IMG_9677And the result:


The Adanas weren’t the only thing on the menu, however. While West Dean doesn’t have a complete letterpress shop, it does have a lovely Albion Iron Hand Press, which we put to heavy use printing from wood type on loan from Ink Spot Press.


We mixed up our ink and used brayers to ink the type:


A first proof wasn’t quite right.


Sam pulled another one and cut it into pieces so that she could rethink the positioning of the text


And the result:


By the end of the week we were wading through a sea of printed material, including a dozen folios destined for Su’s book on dying phrases, some of which are visible below:


There were a few casualties. The 14 point Gill Sans “n” on the left gave its life for our week of joy.


(moment of silence)


When I found a few moments to myself, I took a walk in the gardens. Here are those melons I was talking about:


I can’t show you the half-lions, unfortunately, as photos are not allowed inside the house. But look, this is beautiful:


And I swear this is true: When the evening gave us a little extra time, the other tutors and I played croquet out on the grounds. And now I have fulfilled a lifelong ambition to use the phrase “on the grounds” in a way that is relevant to my own life. check.

At the end of the week we got the chance to stroll around and look at what the other summer school courses had been up to. You won’t believe what was going on next door to me.


Making automata and moving toys. Possibly even more exciting than all of those half-lions all over the place. Also running last week: Rhythm and Repetition in Textiles, Creative Drawing, Working in Porcelain, Enameled Sculpture for the Garden, Seascape Painting, Metalwork, and Tapestry weaving.



It was a pretty amazing week. And then on the last day, This:


The Annual West Dean Chilli festival, where at one point I heard Journey being played on bagpipes while I watched people in Sombreros walk by. It was confusing, but awesome. Plus I bought a chilli plant.

So that’s the news! New flat on FRIDAY. Stay tuned for some amazing before and after.


Places are still available in my letterpress and bookbinding summer schools, week long courses at Ink Spot Press this month. If you book now, get a 15% discount. A full week of joy for £272, amazing value for money. Discounts are also available for Ink Spot participants at the Artist Residence Hotel. Details on courses below:

long and link

An five-day intensive dedicated to the exploration of  beautiful book structures.
5 full days, August 26th-30th,  10am-4pm

Join us for this five day bookbinding intensive! Participants in this course will begin with simple structures that can be combined to create more complex structures. As the week progresses, we will shift gears to study historic structures such as the link stitch,one of the oldest bindings, the long and link stitch, a decorative binding used in Italy and Germany centuries ago. We will discuss appropriate materials and tools as well as bookbinding terminology and history. Students will leave with a variety of books and the skills and instructions to make more books on their own. Suitable for all levels of experience.

This course costs £320, but book now and receive a 15% discount to £272
To get the discount, use the discount code SUMMER


text + image = glory
five full days: August 19th-23rd, 10am-4pm

Letterpress is not just about text! For decades, artists have been using these presses to produce beautiful, image-based work. Come and learn art-making letterpress techniques! Together we will cover several of these processes on the Vandercook and Fag presses including linoleum carving and pressure printing. Over the course of five days, we will work to combine the images we produce with text printed from metal type.

Participants in this intensive course will leave with the skills to hand-set and print from metal type, print from linoleum blocks, and create pressure printing plates for more spontaneous imagery. After the completion of the course, students will be able to book in private sessions with the Ink Spot Press equipment. The combination of imagery and well-printed text is addictive. Come find out why so many artists choose letterpress as their medium. All materials provided. Suitable for all levels of experience.

This course costs £320, but book now and receive a 15% discount to £272
To get the discount, use the discount code SUMMER


One comment on “A carload of letterpress heads to West Dean College

  1. metalandmettle
    August 22, 2013

    What a wonderful place! So much talent and creativity!

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This entry was posted on August 13, 2013 by in Letterpress, Visits, Workshops and Teaching and tagged , , , , .
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