As I write to record my experience as a summer intern at letterpress poster shop Hatch Show Print, the sun is beginning to descend on a humid summer evening in Nashville. In this, the first in a series of posts on my time at Hatch, I'm going to explain a bit about the process of letterpress, and show you some photographs of the process, and some of the final posters too!
But first things first; in case you haven't heard, Hatch Show Print is an historic letterpress shop, founded in Nashville, Tennessee by brothers Charles and Herbert Hatch in 1879 - that is the same year as the first successful light bulb. It has been around a while and is an integral part of the history and visual landscape that accompanies the world of Country music and Americana, which is how I first came across it. After visiting Hatch at its Broadway location in 2013, I began to deepen my appreciation for the work made there. I later found out that they offered internships based on submission of a portfolio of work, so earlier this year I sent my portfolio off across the pond to Nashville. A little while later I was ecstatic to find out there was a place for me!
When I arrived at Hatch I met the three other interns; two graphic design students from the US and one professional graphic designer from Spain. It was great to know I was part of a group who were all as passionate as I was about our visual world, but we all had such diverse reference points, which was exciting. For the first three days as an intern you begin by redistributing type from completed poster jobs in order to gain an insight into the diverse collection of type and imagery, and begin a mental map of where different typeface collections are stored around the shop. Day one was focused on putting away wood type and furniture, and metal was day two. It was tough at first. We had a whirlwind tour of the cabinets housing the letters, but it took a little while to find our feet. However, the wonderful Hatch staff were on hand to point us in the right direction, and eventually that mental map took root. On the third day we got to print some circus letter postcards for the retail shop as well as putting away remaining jobs. Then we helped with the Friday clean up, cleaning and oiling the presses, sweeping the floors and tidying wayward type and furniture.
The second week got off to a great start because we started printing poster jobs. As a team we set up a re-strike of Carrie Underwood's Grand Ole Opry induction poster for the Miehle press, which is used for large quantity runs as it is so quick and efficient. We also began designing. The first job was a group project. For this poster, there was a lot of text and information to fit on it, so it was a good challenge for our first design! For the next jobs we broke off into pairs and worked on gig posters for the Goo Goo Dolls. Thea and I collaborated on their tour date at Duluth, MN, which I found out is where Bob Dylan was born (pretty cool if you ask me). You can see below the physical components and the finished poster:
After we had set our posters in pairs and sent off proofs to the client, we began taking individual jobs. The first of mine to get approval was a concert poster for Bethel Woods Centre for Arts featuring headliner Dion with support from Ronnie Spector.
The first step in designing is to make quick sketches of composition ideas working from the copy provided by the client.
We usually sketch at least three different designs - they are functional drawings to get an idea of the relationship between text and image on the page. After reaching a point where you are happy with this template of sorts, it is time to set the type, line by line.
I like to keep this stage quite relaxed and
leave room for experiments without letting the initial sketch have absolute rule over the design. I actually tried a couple of ideas out before settling on one, as you can see here (right and below).
Eventually, you reach a point where you are happy with the design and then the poster can be proofed. Proofing is helpful for the designer to see how well the type and layers work, and it also gives the client an accurate depiction of how their poster will look, enabling them to request adjustments before going to press (if necessary).
At Hatch, all proofs are black and white. We hand ink the form with a brayer, place a sheet of tracing paper over it and press firmly over the form to transfer the ink to the paper, remove, then set it with a fine powder (instead of waiting for it to dry). After this, it is simple to work out layers and colour separation through 'low-tech' cut and paste, or photographing to edit in Photoshop. This is what my proof for Dion & Ronnie Spector looked like (left). FYI: The typeface I used for 'Ronnie' is one of my favourites in the Hatch collection, it's called Mandy, and is located in a very squeaky old drawer - the squeak is worth it for such a great font!
After I received approval from the client, the poster went on the approved jobs list to print.
At Hatch, all of the ink colours are mixed by hand. I pre-mixed my colours and put them in plastic cups ready for printing when a press was free (see below).
This was a three colour poster which means the paper went through the press three times; once for each colour. Above, you can see the red layer (second colour) on press.
Here is the final poster!
I will be posting more process and outcome photos as job's event dates pass. There are a couple that I'm especially excited to share! At the time of writing I have one week left at Hatch... For now, I will just say that I have had the most wonderful experience making posters and being a small part of the Hatch Show Print family for this short, sweet while.
If you can't wait till the next blog post and want to see more, follow me on social media, all of my links are at the top of the page!