54 Fine Prints
Local independent printmaker The Gentlemen’s Press gets a shot in the arm with the Claude Bernard Artisans Program
Local independent printmaker The Gentlemen’s Press gets a shot in the arm with the Claude Bernard Artisans Programme
The forward march of technology has seen many mechanical and analogue products evolving into electronic or digital ones. Copper wires carrying electrical signals became fibre optic cables beaming light as a series of ones and zeroes. Film cameras gave way to digital imaging sensors. The hairspring and balance wheel was superseded by the quartz-based timekeeping chip. Despite these changes, older forms of these technologies still remain, whether because of an associated ideal or romance, as in the case of mechanical watches, or because digital technology just cannot replicate the output of an analogue device, like cross processed images from a film camera.
Printing, too, has seen revolutionary changes that have resulted in just a few staples: offset printing on an industrial scale, plus inkjet and laser printers for homes and offices. In Singapore, however, surprises abound if one knows where to look – independent printers still exist on the fringes of the market, with some specialising in very antiquated methods. One of them is The Gentlemen’s Press, founded by Michelle Yu after she graduated from Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Design. Named as an ironic jab at her detractors who were convinced that a lone female design graduate wouldn’t succeed in the industry, The Gentlemen’s Press has been in business for five years, and looks set to continue this run with some help from Claude Bernard in the form of the Claude Bernard Artisans Program. This initiative by the brand supports and promotes local talent specialising in artisanal crafts, and Yu is the second such person that Claude Bernard has collaborated with, in a project that saw the two partners hosting a series of letterpress printing workshops.
At these sessions, participants got to try their hands at movable type printing, with a hand operated Chandler & Price letterpress that’s 130 years old. The entire process is strictly manual, and begins with a heavy cast-iron frame that must be filled with vintage types that Yu salvaged from flea markets. These types typically come in sets with identical fonts, with each type being an individual stamp carved/cast in relief to print a single letter, number, or punctuation mark. Movable type printing is so named because the types can be arranged in any conceivable order and spacing, much like how text can be dragged around desktop publishing software. With this freedom comes a corresponding level of work though – types must be inverted laterally to print correctly on paper, and the types must be secured to the frame by using spacers of wood or metal. Once a design is finalised, it’s a straightforward process of affixing the frame onto the letterpress, brushing the types with rubber ink, and transferring the design onto paper by pressing the two together.
Movable type printing is quaint, and both slow and inconvenient compared to modern technology. Experiencing it first hand, however, is a delight, knowing what one has put in to obtain the final result, and seeing how each product is subtly different from the next. The obvious similarity to watchmaking, especially mechanical watchmaking, lies in the time and labour each one demands for the best results. Better solutions may exist in their respective fields, but high output is no more the raison d’etre these days for the movable type printer as to-the-second timekeeping accuracy is for a mechanical watch. Each will, of course, continue to exist, whether as a niche or something more widespread. For Claude Bernard, the effort to promote such works that parallel its business will also continue.
Michelle Yu, founder of The Gentlemen’s Press A partially inked design Sorted types of a font family
The 130-year-old Chandler & Price letterpress Completed prints being air dried