Letterpress love at Harrington & Squires

March 29, 2011 § 3 Comments

A long love of all things Letterpress recently led me to seek out an inspiring location in which to gain some hands on experience of this ancient artisanal skill. Last Wednesday, a fusion of synchronicity and inky threads led me to the door of 136a Fortess Road in Tufnell Park; the home of Harrington & Squires, a small and very special private press hidden away in leafy north London.

Set up in 2002 by graphic designers Chrissie Charlton and Vicky Fullick – my teachers for the day, the H&H hideaway is akin to entering a magic alphabet kingdom at the top of a Papyrus tree. Found a to z carved letters sit like broken jigsaw pieces in floor to ceiling plan chests; dripping ink pots stand piled under wooden work benches abord which beautiful red glistening Adana letterpresses wait patiently for their next master crafter – in this case, me.

“…this is our workshop – it is 1.2 metres wide by 3 storeys high. It smells of ink, white spirit and coffee. The ground floor is for typesetting, the middle floor for printing and the top floor has the computer, nipping press and little kitchen.”

In the company of the lovely Praise, a student graphic designer on secondment, we began by exploring the rings of our treehouse. After a welcome tea and biscuit upstairs we descended to the roots where we explored the different fonts on offer. I hadn’t any specific project in mind but was very quickly drawn to Bembo, a beautiful serif typeface originally cut by a 15th century Venetian punchcutter named Francesco Griffo. Contrasting with an 18 point Gill Sans – a well known sans-serif adopted by the BBC and London Underground, I began, with the aid of 2 composing sticks (handheld trays) to piece together a 2-colour design.

Here I reminisce about folding dough with Jane at Virtuous Bread and come to the sorry conclusion that I am all fingers! Arranging 12 point Bembo in a composing stick takes some getting use to and I found myself enviously watching the deft formation of beautifully arranged sentences by my mentors, but I persevered and with one line proudly completed, graduated on to lead spacing – the gaps between my lines.

Once finished, I happily transferred my work to the chase,  a metal frame housing the overall design, which I then had to pack out with ‘furniture’ and ‘quoins’ and tighten it all together to avoid a disastrous printers pie – the curious term that refers to the jumbled chaos that ensues when type unravels. Relieved that all talk of baking stopped there, I ascended with my masterpiece to the holy grail – the middle kingdom, home to the Adana 8×5.

These striking red machines are the REAL DEAL. Inked up, paper aligned and chase set I spend the following hour in a letterpress trance, churning out pink, blue, brown paper creations with my Polkadotty coordinates firmly, beautifully and colourfully stamped onto every bit of spare paper I could get my hands on.

And here are the results: In love. Buying a letterpress. This weekend.

{ Thanks to Chrissie and Vicky for a marvellous day }


Birds & Words

March 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

Talking of Flamingos {and you’ve probably long forgotten that I was – sorry!}, there is a rather friendly flock of them padding about our flat these days – Alain Grée’s arrived just last week. Sent by Noriko Oseko, enthusiastic Japanese collector of the french illustrator’s books, they were received with enormous excitement on my part. His work has only recently crossed my path but I’m already a bona fide fan with ‘Les Oiseaux’ and ‘Les Plantes’ patiently sitting on our book shelves waiting for future french tuition of mini-mes. You can get your hands on them at Noriko’s Belgian based website Ricobel.

The above are just two of an extensive selection of the now vintage children’s books published by Casterman and feature Grée’s distinctive graphics and words, teaching the little people about the world around them through a bold and colourful prism.

Making friends with the new additions are Charley Harper’s 1950s pink ladies, crown princesses of his exquisite compendium of illustrated feathered friends, ‘Birds and Words’. Silk screened creations that were originally created for the Ford Times {of the Ford Motor Company} they are pure inspiration on a grey winters day.

‘I didn’t see scapulars, auriculars, primaries, tail coverts, tarsi – none of that. I saw exciting shapes, colour combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behaviour and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. And so I have never counted the feathers in the wings, for that is not what my pictures are about. I just count the wings.’

Charley Harper, Birds & Words 2008

That leaves me with my final introduction – to John James Audubon’s Phoenicopterus Ruber Ruber, a fine hook-beaked fellow whom the celebrated artist and ornithologist spotted in 1830s Florida. Here he graces the front cover of Katrina Cook’s exquisite compendium of all things ‘Bird’, published by Quercus and which merits detailed pouring over during quiet Sunday evenings listening to Brian Eno’s Apollo. So there you go, you’ve met them all now – they send their best regards and hope to meet you soon.

Bobo happenings: Mind expansion, ‘Angel Headed Hipsters’, Paris flower punch and beautiful old bird ladies.

March 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

It certainly seems to be a really bubbling time in London with many interesting happenings coming up this month. I’m definitely feeling like there’s a strong undercurrent of creativity and inspiring occurrences on the horizon and am going to do my damndest to participate in them all!

The grand opening of the Idler Academy in West London on Tuesday 1st March has left me feeling quite heady and is a victorious occasion for the curious minds of the neighbourhood. A mix of an ’18th Century coffee house’ and a ‘good dose of the 1950s grammar school’ (need I say more?!) this is the place to go if you want to E X P A N D your mind. There, other than good coffee, you can pickup pointers on how to start your own cottage industry, listen to Parisian bobette Anne Pigalle speak on erotic poetry, make your own books, learn Latin and much much more.

A merry and anarchic magazine, The Idler, was set up by Tom Hodgkinson (a self proclaimed ‘professional loafer’) and I first came across it when my hubby S gave me a beautiful ochre fabric bound copy of their 2010 annual hardback entitled ‘Back to the Land’. Filled with essays from a range of luminaries including artist David Hockney and writer/environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth – they are treasured leaves growing on my bookshelf.

We flew with Angel Headed Hipsters at the National Gallery last weekend, enjoying an intimate exhibition of Allan Ginsberg’s personal photographs featuring Jack Kerouac, Neil Cassady and William Burroughs as well as other influencers in the Beatniks wider circle. My favourite photo was that of poet Gary Snyder at his forest woodshed. Highly recommended, the free exhibition runs until the 20th March and seems to be part of a wider Beats fever hitting the capital with the release of Howl, a movie about Ginsberg’s poem of the same name and ensuing obscenity trial as well as Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ later in the year. The Pilot Light Theatre Company is also staging ‘Visions of Kerouac’ at The Half-Moon pub in Herne Hill until the 19th March.

Rodchenko fans should head to Art Sensus this weekend where many of the artist’s formerly unseen photographs from the communist era will be on display. A Parisian import (known as Orel Art), my polish heritage predisposes my to be inquisitive to discover this interesting gallery which promotes Russian and Eastern European artists.

All this followed up with a Paris Flower Punch at the new and delightful Folly, an indoor secret garden north of London Bridge. Clearly a nature-deprived city dweller, the sound of a beehive-inspired drinkery, tree dotted eaterie and Borough market sourced delights has me hooked before I’ve arrived. There is also a deli, wine and flower shop on site and bundles of décor inspiration with the space cocooned in Sanderson wallpapers and Harlequin fabrics. What’s not to swoon over?

Tonight, I’m heading home for a peaceful night in, but lamenting finishing a marvellous book by the English born darling of Mexico’s art scene, Leonora Carrington. Entitled ‘The Hearing Trumpet’, it is about a dear old lady banished to retirement home by her offspring ~ which turns out to be the true beginning of her adventures and that which ensues can only be summarised as a heady surrealism with an eccentric cast of mad or sane fellow-interned colourful-charactered ladies. I may well reread it tout de suite, but in the spirit of getting older in body but more imaginative and childlike in mind, I will be filling the book’s void by watching ‘Turning’, a BBC film short by Karni and Saul which was nominated for the Bafta’s Best Short Film this year. I’m always enticed by anything featuring Flamingos, but old lady crossed Flamingos, eating cake off vintage crockery and telling magick tales of emperors without skins?! That’s sure to take one somewhere else. You can watch it here: Turning


February 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

The discovery of a bundle of yellowed dog-eared letters and postcards in an empty Paris apartment in the 6th has cast a spell over me. Enchanted by spidery scrawls and scattered sentences, their sense disjointed by missing pages, I have been trying to weave together these found fragments of correspondence between two beings I shall never meet.

Driving me, I think, is my lament at the loss of handwritten letters in my own life and the stories that their missing presence will keep eternally hidden. Call me sentimental, but there is a lot about the good ole’ times that I miss.

If you are familiar with french, you may know the word griffoner, meaning to scribble or scrawl and a griffonage is therefore an illegible scrawl. If like me, you feel the need to bring some griffonage back into your own life and reawaken that slumbering cursive hand, then here is some inspiration to set the scene!

Griffin and Sabine: An Extrordinary Correspondence’ is the first of a trilogy {followed by Sabine’s Notebook & The Golden Mean} penned by Nick Bantock, about a lovelorn postcard artist in England and the mysterious Sabine, a lady from the South Pacific who can see Griffin’s work in her mind’s eye. Filled with mythology and symbolism the story tells of their correspondence and sometimes wavering belief in each other’s existence which spans across different dimensions. The books are filled with surreal postcard images and envelopes containing actual letters that you can take out and read a la voyeur. I discovered these books 15 years ago and remain enchanted every time I reread them.

Present and Correct, if you don’t already know it, is my favourite source of handmade, vintage and beautifully designed paper goods and desk accessories. I’m obsessed with it and in particular, these pretty scandinavian writing sets.  http://www.presentandcorrect.com/item.php?item_id=631&page=1

Dempsey and Carroll of New York city have specialised in engraved stationery since 1878. You can find their classic cotton fibre writing paper at Ben Pentreath’s wonderful curiosity shop off Lambs conduit street.  http://www.benpentreath.com/shop/Books-stationery/Stationery/Basic-Dempsey-Carroll-Cards-Envelopes/prod_951.html

Fans of grid paper might prefer Rhodia – the french paper merchant does a nicely presented box set. http://www.papernation.co.uk/rhodia-essentials-gift-box.html

Colour heads like me should check out heritage label G. Lalo Verge de France who do a pretty range that is also good for minimum bleed if using a fountain pen. http://www.mappamundi.co.uk/verge-de-francebra4-writing-paper-p-1434.html

For recycling and reusing envelopes I find these japanese paper tapes indispensible to reseal and decorate. (Brilliant for wrapping with brown and newpaper too!) You can get them at Papermash, another excellent online stationer that sources indie paper goods from around the world. www.papermash.co.uk

My first letter of the year is addressed to Mr and Mrs A Greenman, treasured but long lost friends.


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