Fiona Dempster- Letterpress Demonstration

Lead type in a type case

Last Saturday, as one of the public programmes around ‘Regional Marks’ at University of Sunshine Coast, Maleny artist Fiona Dempster (ably assisted by fellow artist Barry Smith) treated a small crowd to a demonstration of the process of letterpress. Not for the fainthearted or mechanically challenged, letterpress printmaking requires a great deal of organisation, patience and skill, and if you are going to do public demonstrations,  a strong person to help with some of the lifting.

Letterpress is a method of relief printing originating in the 15th Century, that gradually replaced hand scribes and illuminators, and made the written word available to the masses. Variations of the original letterpress machines were used up until the mid to late 20th century when offset, and then digital printing took over.

Fiona’s short demonstration composition in the chase

Lead or wooden metal type (individual letters – see above) are assembled to compose text and locked into place on a chase. The chase is placed into the press, a machine that transfers ink from the type onto paper.

Fiona holds up a finished chase. Her small proofing press is behind. The round plate has been inked up with blue ink.
Placing the chase into the press.
Beginning the printing process. Each sheet of paper is fed into the proofing press individually.

Since letterpress has become mostly a thing of the past in the printing industry artist printmakers like Fiona are keeping the traditions alive and adding their own interpretations and creative skills to what was once a mundane occupation.

Fiona’s enthusiasm for the equipment and processes was delightful and infectious. It’s hard to fathom why we get so excited about messing around with metal and inks and heavy machines, but we do.

It was an informative and entertaining presentation that gave us deeper insights into Fiona’s letterpress works in the Regional Marks exhibition.  Thanks Fiona.

Fiona’s demonstration is part of the region’s celebrations for the Print Council of Australia’s 50th birthday and Regional Marks.



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