Skip to main content area Skip to sub-navigation
Skip to main content

Book Arts and Letterpress Sets Creativity in Motion

Ironically, the overwhelming sound in the AS110 Topics in Art: Book Arts and Letterpress classroom space is silence. Not actual silence, but rather the ringing buzz of concentrated creativity, accompanied by the tinkering murmur of type being set, cuttings made, and discussions being had.

There are five students in the class, with the whole of The Press at Colorado College at their disposal. Thousands of pieces of lead type, along with illustrations cut from metal and linoleum, paper, glue, thread, ink, and many more creative options surround the table in Taylor Theatre’s south end creative space, right between the theatre and Bemis Hall. One of these creative resources is visiting artist Russell Maret, from New York, whose books and design work are being passed around the class and discussed at length. He cracks jokes, answers questions about process, and gives honest advice about the students work.

“One of the first things you learn about yourself,” he says, “in making books like these is that they become something of a Rorschach test for the people viewing them. My favorite books are the ones that people least understand.”

Basic Print Design Skills Can Express the Personal, Cultural, Political

The principle of this class is a simple one — to teach basic skills in design and arrangement across through printing, binding, and publishing. The practicality of those skills, however, is anything but simple. There’s a personal, social, cultural — even political — aspect to this work, and with that comes a preciousness to the process.

“Book art merges both traditional and contemporary technology — from the literally thousands of years old block and ink to the ultramodern 3-D printer we have on campus,” says Lucy Holtsnider ’11, the guest instructor for this Block B course. Holtsnider, a CC art major and 2011 graduate, is now a letterpress and book artist in her own right, who has exhibited around the country.

“It’s so useful, vital, to learn through using your hands. You’re literally holding the words that you want to be saying in your work, and there’s a value in recognizing the weight of your words.”

Students aren’t simply given expectations and assignments. They’re encouraged to “treat their creativity like a scaffold, a building structure,” says Holtsnider.  “You have to build a foundation of skill to construct the rest, and then use that scaffold of your acquired skills to climb upward to your final project,” she says.

The first week is spent setting type, and covering the history of the printing press and book art expression. The second is where they use that scaffolding, to create a poster for an event of some kind — real or imagined. It’s about putting process into practice, applicable learning. The third week is devoted to final projects of the students’ own making, with the only requirement that there be three copies of the same piece. The project is entirely open to interpretation, with a written proposal component needed before proceeding to the construction.

“They’re all very ambitious projects because they’re all incredibly ambitious students,” says Holtsnider. “I had to remind them that some of their early ideas were perhaps better suited to longer term projects beyond a block. But that’s the nature of these CC students — they just want to go, and go far, fast.”

The projects, reviewed at the table include a book with dozens and dozens of tiny origami roses, a cityscape dream print piece, diary books printed onto scrolls that incorporated fabrics and objects, an interactive book on family connection to ancestral lands. They are diverse in both method and in creative approach.

Not Just For Art Majors: Letterpress Printing’s Appeal is Wide

Among the five students there are two undeclared majors, one Neuroscience major, an Art History major, and an English major. Charlie Szur ’21 is the Art History major of the group.

“I’d done some linoleum cutting before, but never detailed printmaking like this,” he says.

“The cutting of the block is an intuitive process, it’s almost meditative — I’ve had 12-hour days in here, just carving away and working on my project.”

Szur’s final project is a cityscape design book, the interpretation of a recurring dream of his, poured and pressed on the page.

“The cityscapes in my dream are all made up, constructed of different landmarks and facets of major world cities. It’s been really fun to explore that through this process.”

Szur, who aims to focus on Middle Eastern art in his major and beyond into graduate school, “had done some printing of posters before, in high school,” but this project and style of work was the “first one I’d really want to continue with, to be honest,” he says.