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Letterpress was the manner in which printed materials were
produced for hundreds of years, and it instantly gives each
piece a nostalgic feel.
Hammerpress may practice an old-school way of printing, but that
mindset is not reflected in its creativity, just in its craftsmanship.
Hammerpress often incorporates idiosyncratic illustrations and
found art with typesetting and block printing. Combined with
vibrant inks and overlapping elements, the result is an intoxicating
mix of the past and the future on a single sheet of paper.
The designers also have a playful streak that comes out when
you learn a little of the behind-the-scenes goings-on in the print
shop. The firm’s unique approach to design is its single parameter
for each piece: The last element inserted into the current piece
must form the first element of the one to follow. This makes for
a string of posters forever linked by the studio but invisible to
the viewer, and it keeps the designers challenged at every turn.
Each poster bleeds into the firm’s other work as well. Vest says,
“We try to keep the boundaries open between the format and
function of different kinds of work. The poster work is a direct
influence on smaller, more commercial work, and vice versa.
Long in love with Jim Dines drawings and etchings, Vest had
something closer to home to absorb as an influence. “The
father of a friend in my high school art class was an art professor
at the local university. [The work] blew me away! There was a real
physicality and history to the work that I had never seen before.
Areas of the paper nearly disintegrated from drawing and erasing
so many times.This fascination with the effect of process
continued in college, where Vest’s printmaking instructor was
Hugh Merril. “His work, at the time, was mostly sequential
series of etchings, and he would pull a whole body of work
off of one zinc etching plate until it was just a thin sheet
of metal with holes eaten through it. The medium was not just
a production method but an integral part of the work as well.
Assorted ephemera pop into Vest’s consciousness as well.
He confesses to regular study of Asian pharmacy boxes,
matchbook art, old tickets, old billboards with nothing on them,
and old grade-school textbook covers.” Almost anything printed
is fair game. Vest admits that, to him, a successful poster “is
primarily a beautiful print.“ He knows “this may go against
some opinions of what a well-designed poster should be but we
at Hammerpress are not as concerned with illustrating an idea
as we are concerned with working the print to make something
that is really unusual and new and exciting while advertising
an event.
Hammerpress has served to bring some peace to Vest and his
crew as well. When he started out as a college student doing
posters and packaging for friends’ bands, “it was a total labor
of love and completely trial and error.As designing became
a full-time job, he found himself embroiled in the day-to-day
drudgery of printing for other firms and agencies. Vest admits,
“Mentally, I couldn’t justify the posters for quite a while
because there is not a lot of money in them.” Finally giving in, he
got back to “doing stuff I enjoyed with absolute creative control.
It became a way to balance myself.
It doesn’t take much effort to visualize Vest lovingly nestling metal
type together to form the beginning of another balanced day.
The medium was not just a production method but an integral
part of the work as well.”
The maker of the most tactile posters featured in this book, Hammerpress of Kansas City,
carries on a proud tradition of printing that requires a different approach to design than that
of many contemporaries—the beloved letterpress. Designer and printer Brady Vest is one
in a long line of devotees to this printing process. With its metal type and custom-engraved
plates biting into the paper, this age-old process provides vivid color and the unique
characteristics of hand-set type and borders married to custom images.
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