This month … When she’s not busy with her day job, web designer Dulcie Fulton runs her own letterpress studio. For the past two years I’ve been obsessed with letterpress printing. It’s a form of relief printing that’s been around for more than 500 years. There is a genuine craft to be slowly mastered; a refreshing counterpoint to the breakneck pace of web development, where we are always playing catch-up. What started out as a three-day refresher
course soon resulted in the purchase of a tabletop press. Over the next year and a half, I gradually took over our entire dining room, filling it with three small presses, type cabinets, and piles of inky paraphernalia.
When I bought a free-standing, treadle operated, cast iron platen press with a whacking great flywheel last year, I realised I really did need a proper workshop to put it all in! That’s where you’ll find me during my time off now. Working with letterpress has meant I’ve
become more interested in learning about traditional typography. One of the things I find
so wonderful about letterpress is that it forces creativity because you can only work with the
tools and type you have available. It makes me come up with designs I would simply never
compose on a computer. For my cat and dog emoticon cards, I had to make the design come alive using letters from just three sets of type (all I had then). I doubt I’d have chosen an upside-down Playbill ’T’ for the cat’s nose and mouth otherwise!
I also delight in having full control over output, something that doesn’t always happen on web projects. With letterpress, there’s authenticity and tactility, a smell, a sound, and at the end of the day you get a tangible, physical result.
There’s something deeply satisfying about that. It’s helped me feel more at peace with the fluid nature of digital design nowadays. Setting type by hand is a slow and considered
process. You have to make all your decisions before you start, otherwise you’ll need to begin
again. This is a discipline that will benefit any project, and I think letterpress has helped me take a more methodical approach to all my work. When I’m at my workshop, I’m entirely focused on what I’m doing – not least for fear of catching my fingers in the unforgiving jaws of the press! It’s meditative and calming. After a day at the computer, nothing beats the shift to a more physical world, and the sheer joy of lifting a freshly inked print off the press.