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Printing as Art & Craft

A dog sprawls comfortably, relaxed despite the clatter and thump of a nearby printing press. The smell of ink fills the air as a skilled craftsperson rolls a layer of pigment onto the printing plate, then checks the position of the paper.

While this scene could be from the 16th century, it’s being enacted daily across the country as a new generation of artists and entrepreneurs embrace the tactile, handcrafted quality of letterpress printing. Similar to artisan movements in cooking, design and fashion, the craft of printing is experiencing a revival of traditional techniques. Dogs enter the picture—often literally—not only as shop companions but also as muses. At Hound Dog Press, BirdDog Press and Paisley Dog Press, canine-inspired cards, posters and stationery are carefully pulled the old-fashioned way, using a type of press that Benjamin Franklin would likely recognize.

When Johannes Gutenberg invented moveable type and the wooden printing press in the mid-15th century, he started a revolution, and the technology he created prevailed for four centuries. At its finest, the process combines metal, ink and paper to create a three-dimensional effect: metal type presses ink into the paper, depositing it only on the floor of the impression and leaving the walls clean. A rich texture of light and shadow gives letterpress printing its unique beauty.

With the invention of commercial offset lithography (the method by which The Bark is printed) in 1904, letterpress gradually fell out of favor as customers migrated to a faster, cheaper form of printing. But fine letterpress printing has never completely gone away. New practitioners, respectful of tradition, are bringing fresh aesthetics and inventive techniques to the medium, evolving letterpress into something new.

Many of their working presses were built over a century ago and are operated by levers and wheels; type is set by hand, one character and space and dingbat at time. Little has changed, including the shop dogs who keep the pressmen and women company. Like the lucky dogs they are, they remind us that sometimes, what is discarded or lost can find its way back into our hearts.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 67: Nov/Dec 2011
Cameron Woo is The Bark's co-founder and publisher. thebark.com

BirdDog Press photo by Julia Vandenoever; all others by PhotoLab Pet Photography

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