Pop Press is a three floors high charming building, with showroom, demonstration space, and workshop stacked on top of each other. It used to be part of the Malt Cross next door, and maintains the old building’s anomalous architecture and huge windows.
For store owners, husband and wife Steve Dunn and Ming Chunn, the environment’s aesthetic appeal is a baseline. As they lead me up through the floors for the first time, I’m awestruck with the effortless beauty of their artists’ studio. The building is only made so spectacular when it is full of the letterpressed goods that the couple creates.
Their top floor studio is littered with experimental paper creations in vibrant colours, test prints for new projects, and equipment that only a letterpresser would know. When we partnered with Pop Press to make the second annual Print and Publishing fair possible, they lent us their studio to make an authentic letterpress poster, and Ming explained how to use a few of the pieces of equipment they kept on hand.
The little shop contains dozens of different typefaces, from sizes as big as a palm to smaller than half a fingernail, stacked in long metal drawers. As Kirsty, director of Bees Make Honey, explains her vision for the fair’s poster, Ming excitedly leafs through an oversized experimental letterpress book she has on hand, showing us images of posters so artful they don’t look like they were made using only alphabet shapes.
Ming shows us how to use the letterpress, explaining how we must fit everything we want to say into a frame, and lock it in with “furniture” – little wooden blocks used to fill up the empty space around a group of loose letters so that they stay wedged in place. After our design is arranged, we use a roller on the sticky ink to coat the surface of the letters evenly with a metallic gold.
Ming adjusts the height of the press, and explains that if it’s too high it won’t print crisply, but if it’s too low, the press is so heavy that it will crush and splinter the wooden typeface. To print, we lay a piece of paper over the type, and a blanket over the whole set-up, and roll it slowly through the press. Ming explains that it’s better to use this particular press with two people, because as the bed moves through the press and the rollers stamp the ink onto the paper, there’s nothing to stop it from falling off the other side.
After the first print comes out, I can tell why Ming emphasized the finicky nature of this art form. It seems like it will take several instances of trial and error for all the kinks to be worked out. First we add a thin cushion of masking tape to the bottom of a few letters, raising them up just that little bit more in order for them to distribute ink on to paper more lushly. As wood type gets used, over the years it becomes worn down, and needs to be propped up in order to press on to paper properly. Then we have to center the text on the paper make sure its spaced how we want it, all the time ensuring that we are taking the time to properly ink our type so that we get a true representation of its productivity in a test print.
Ming and Steve regularly run experimental print workshops out of their studio at Pop Press, using the highest quality materials and providing exceptional tuition for anyone who wants to learn the art of letterpress. You can learn more about Pop Press’ letterpress workshops, and sign up to attend, by visiting their website.
Pop Press recently ran a workshop on pressure printing, which is different from letterpress because of the way ink is distributed. In pressure printing, typeface is laid out just like letterpress, and paper is placed on top – however, cardboard shapes or other thin materials, like dried flowers, string, or spaghetti, are also placed on top of the paper. The effect of using a press on top of these additions is that more ink is distributed where they press into the paper, creating a myriad of whimsical textures.
Pop Press specializes in beautiful gifts including greeting cards, notebooks and coasters. All the merchandise in the shop is created from original drawings by the artistic couple, adapted for letterpress and printed beautifully with vibrant inks. In addition, the shop also stocks limited edition prints from other letterpress artists such as Stuart Gardener, Egle Zvirblyte, and East End Press.
If you decided to visit Pop Press at 14 St James’s Street Nottingham, we’re sure you’ll be impressed by the bohemian majesty of the shop, and the bright and curious artwork on display. Say hello to Ming and Steve and browse letterpressed goods when the shop is open, Thursday to Saturday from 12-5pm.
Pop Press will also be leading a workshop at our Print and Publishing fair at the Malt Cross on December 9th! Come along to their Christmas card and notebook printing workshop to have a taste of letterpressed goods for yourself.