Workshop Day 10: For The Love Of Wood Type

Jun 22 2017

By Michelle Ng

At 9:25 AM, with high-contrast photos and text selected ahead of time, we headed to RUFA – Rome University of Fine Arts – for the letterpress workshop.

When we arrived, we were given a warm welcome by Mario Fois, Mario Rullo, Maria Pina Bentivenga, and Livia Oliveti. Mario (Rullo) first gave us a lecture on the Bodoni typeface and its history. We learned that having trained in Rome as a typesetter at Propaganda Fide press, Giambattista Bodoni dedicated his life to perfect his work and he impressively created over 25,000 punches during his lifetime (which now are at The Bodoni Museum of Parma). A versatile typeface that is exquisite as headline while works well as body text, Mario pointed out that “Bodoni doesn’t have the time sensitive baggage as other typefaces.” Perhaps that was the reason why it is one of the only five typefaces that legendary Massimo Vignelli used.

After the lecture, Maria Pina and Livia helped us prepare our images for the lithography process using computers, printer, and scissors. Then, they demonstrated how to transfer an image onto a polyester plate and helped us individually to prepare our plates. We could further enhance our images by drawing on the plates with markers. Then, Livia helped us to put a layer of synthetics so that the plates would be reusable.

With our plates prepared, we then put together our text using Aurora and Forma wood and metal type. Hand-setting type does require lots of patience – from finding the letters in the type case to adjusting and tightening the type into place in the trays. As Mario joked, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Once we set the text and grabbed a quick lunch, we proceeded onto printing our images onto the postcards. Using a color of our choice (red, yellow, blue, or black), we rolled the ink onto our plates and cleaned the negative image with water and sponge. We then transferred the images onto the postcards by running them through the press.

With our litho images ready, we selected a different color (any color – even gold and silver) for printing the text onto the postcards. After 8 hours of work, each of us produced three prints at the end. Everyone’s work came out marvelous. And we were very thankful for the kindness from Marios, Maria Pina, and Livia.