Small Printer | The Tale of a First Timer

I joined the British Printing Society's Publishing Group (PG) back in May & made my first submission to the PG bundle in July. I documented the experience of submitting for the first time for the September 2016 issue of the Small Printer...

"...By day I keep order in Libraryland for a specialist conservatoire - purchasing, cataloguing, shelving and nurturing the books in my charge: by evening, weekend and sometimes into the dark reaches of the night I do things with ink & paper.

I’ve been letterpress printing since ‘accidently’ purchasing an Adana 8x5 (the Red Eel) back in 2011, and along the way I’ve picked up two Adana QH/HQ flatbeds, Gertrude and Maud. Then just a month ago, once again through accident and happenstance, I found myself the proud and slightly overwhelmed owner of a Peerless treadle made by Cropper, Charlton & Co., the 8x5 model - henceforth known as Lotte.

Early in my printing adventures I learned to let my work embrace, but not be constrained by, the size limitations of the presses I owned, my self-taught abilities (or lack thereof), the limited size of my print shop and the restricted quantity of lead I could safely add to the Red Eel collections before the floors in the house gave way under the accumulated weight. Embracing these constraints and finding imaginative ways around them helps shape what I produce.

I also decided that polymer plates were not for me and that I wanted to stick with lead, wood, lino and the occasional old mounted metal block - anything that had to be set or created by hand. I also decided that despite (and because of) these restraints, I was determined to print good quality items that made me smile.

Like many of the newer printers on the letterpress block I frequent social media and have a website; I lurk in corners gathering information and tips from printers across the country, Europe and the world; I take part in print exchanges and absorb the wonderful work of other print nerds. Being a shy bod and most comfortable in the company of books, I do all of this remotely by snail mail or online.

Samantha's first PG Bundle item

Samantha's first PG Bundle item

During my adventures I’ve fed my love of ornament/pattern, even setting up a new Glint Club in September 2015 with Elizabeth Fraser and Andrew Dolinski – glintclub.wordpress.com.

Somewhere along the way I stumbled across the British Printing Society, paid the very reasonable membership fee and joined this inky society of friends. Since joining a few years ago I’ve pondered the idea of opting into the Publishing Group (PG), but never quite had the nerve. Then the lovely Rachel Marsh became Chair and after an email chat plus an encouraging nudge, I bit the bullet. I planned my July submission, received the May bundle having completed my own print run and was feeling very positive about the whole thing, then it all went a bit Glinty.

Rachel wanted to encourage new members to join the PG and make them feel at home, so it was decided that the July bundle would become a bit of a Glint Mob. The call went out and my mind went blank. The end of term was fast approaching at work and all was busy in Libraryland. I had no time to do a Glint submission and realised I’d have to forgo the invite to Glint and submit what I had already printed and hope it would do.

This wasn’t going to wash. As a founding member of a new Glint Club a non-Glint offering was not going to be acceptable. I pondered and planned; I panicked and I procrastinated. I tried printing a few pieces, squeezed in between dinner and dragging myself up the stairs to Bedfordshire after a day of pimping books… but nothing was working. So by 05 July I had nothing Glinty to offer and needed to get my bundle offering packed up and in the post no later than the 12th, this left the weekend to pull something out of the bag.

As I drifted off to sleep on that Wednesday night I remembered Rachel’s PG call to arms, ‘An eager and earnest exhortation to experiment!’. At some point between getting home from work on the Thursday evening and waking up on the Friday an idea that I’d have normally discounted for lack of time started to grow. I scribbled some notes, pulled some bits and pieces out of corners of the print shop and rushed off to work.

There followed 72 hours of madness: 5 print runs in 12 hours, manipulation of paper stock, waiting for ink to dry, gluing of 80 pieces of paper stock in one afternoon, pressing and drying of said 80 glued pieces, a 2 day sojourn in Libraryland, printing/folding Glint Club bits and bobs, stuffing 40 envelopes full of Glint, licking and sealing 40 envelopes, packing up the bundle and breathing a big inky sigh of relief.

Can you work out how this was printed?

Can you work out how this was printed?

Then I waited. Rumours started to abound that the submissions to the bundle were higher than usual, a result of new and established members heeding the Glinty call to arms perhaps? Brief hints and glimpses of work in progress were spotted on social media - the tension and anticipation began to rise. There was even talk of the bundle having to be upgraded to a bigger than standard envelope for dispatch!

Then on Friday 29 July I arrived home to discover a padded D1 envelope on the doorstep, lovingly packaged by Ron Rookes the PG mailer and bursting with offerings from Glinters and non-Glinters alike.  My pulse quickened and I suddenly felt very nervous. What if no one had Glinted? What if my submission wasn’t up to scratch? What if the envelope still wasn’t big enough?

All my nerves and fears melted away as I opened the bundle and started to explore its contents: a wonderland of printerly offerings awaited me. I experienced a warm glow as I joyfully handled, viewed and appreciated the work of fellow printers from across the society. Pondering the skills and sense of fun that the PG members displayed, I found I couldn’t stop grinning.

So reader, in summary, my first experience of PG membership and the bundle has been a positive one. If you have been thinking of taking the plunge I urge you to do so, it is a wonderful opportunity to print for your fellow society members and to learn from the wide range of folk who make up the group. Not only do you get to open a package of bi-monthly printerly joy, but membership and contribution makes you push forward with your practice, encouraging you to experiment and step outside your comfort zone.

And as Rachel, our Chair, highlights: there will be failures along the way but, as my 72 hour print panic proves, sometimes those failures and challenges lead us somewhere new, somewhere well worth the visit..."

You can see the wonderful submissions from PG members over on the Red Eel Instagram feed or on Twitter @redeelpress... a little taster to get you started...