54 Fine Prints

Lo­cal in­de­pen­dent print­maker The Gen­tle­men’s Press gets a shot in the arm with the Claude Bernard Ar­ti­sans Pro­gram

World of Watches (Singapore) - - Contents - WORDS JAMIE TAN

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

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