Appreciation for Traditional Printing Techniques

Lynnae Strait
Graphic Design Major
Book Arts in Venice, Italy
Summer I short-term, faculty-led course

Now that I’m back in the good ol’ U-S-of-A, I’ve had some time to reflect on how my study abroad experience affected me.

First, I learned that when it comes to packing, mom knows best. She kept trying to tell me to pack more shirts and even though we were instructed to pack light, I definitely should’ve listened and brought more clothes. Doing laundry is my least favorite thing in the world to do, and it’s a miracle I did it the two times I did while

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Photo credit: Lynnae Strait

there.

Second, and most importantly, I realized what a significant factor studying in another country was. While the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center does have access to traditional bookbinding machinery, no place other than Europe has itself so deeply rooted in the practice of book arts. We were able to visit Tipoteca, a typography museum in Cornuda, Italy, that had drawers upon drawers of metal type, as well as dozens of traditional printing machinery. Because we were students studying abroad, we were allowed to use some of the presses too! We created a book using an Albion press that was over 200 years old!

While at the Florence School of Fine Arts, we had access to their letterpress. This was my first time using this kind of printing machine and I got to learn how to use it from a professional Italian printmaker! In groups, we worked to create posters. The poster my group made (depicted) engaged several techniques. One included cutting relief prints from cardboard to create specific shapes on the posted. We also included typography in our design, which allowed us to learn how to set the metal type onto a press. The process, although tedious, was very rewarding once the final product was revealed.

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Photo credit: Lynnae Strait

At times, I found using these traditional printing methods too slow and sometimes even boring. However, this experience has helped me garner a newfound respect towards those who used these methods hundreds of years ago, as well as those who use them today as an artistic form. Not only does the work take a lot of patience, but a surprising amount of physical strength and effort. Printmaking is not for the weak!

Another way studying in Italy made a difference in my learning experience was by how inspiring it was to simply walk through the streets of Florence and Venice. Buildings dating back to the 1500’s stand throughout the cities, their beautiful

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Photo credit: Lynnae Strait

architecture inspiring awe to all who view it. The amount of detail in the literally hundreds of churches in Venice amounts to thousands upon thousands of hours of work.

Although a lot of modern-day art—particularly graphic design—finds value in the reproducibility of digital design, I now have some experience with these traditional printing techniques. This experience will make me a better graphic designer as I will be able to use my knowledge of digital art as well as book arts to create more mature designs.

 

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