Last Saturday, I headed down to The Arts House for a Letterpress Workshop hosted by The Singapore Writers Festival 2016 and conducted by Yao Yu of the letterpress studio Typesettingsg.
I have always been curious about movable type. As someone with an early background in Journalism, I am reminded of the early days of the newspaper where each page was constructed by hand. Hands roughened by plates and types with nails steeped in ink. Proofreaders who go through every line making sure that not one letter is out of place and ample space is given for every body of text.
Yao Yu was amazing. Although most people won’t appreciate the history lesson, but I did. I learned how printing originated from China because they invented paper. I learned how the Church had once banned paper and printing because they associated them with evil but after a few hundred years, it’s the missionaries who brought printing to Singapore’s shores. I love learning about the difference between Western and Asian typefaces. Little anecdotes like Western typefaces are kept in drawers while Chinese, Japanese and Korean ones are kept in slanted shelves because of the wide range of characters that these languages have.
He also told us sad stories of how the printing heritage has been lost in Southeast Asia. Owing to practicality most of the wooden and metal typefaces have been discarded. Type studios have been abandoned instead of preserved.
I am not a stranger to DIY or to typography, both are things I dabble in during my spare time. For second part of the workshop, it was our turn to create something. I chose a quote from one of my previous works. I didn’t challenge myself to use small caps because frankly my brain couldn’t handle any more processing – where if you read it as “b” it’s most likely a “d”.
It was relaxing to actually go through the different typefaces and compose the sentence. I was also glad that our group had outgoing people and we had a nice chat while assembling our pieces.
These are our finished products. For first timers, I must say they turned out well. It kinda gave me the confidence to try more new things. Although I can’t help imagine how hard it must have been for printers before the computer came along!