An old uni friend once said to me that he thought typography will become the gramophone record of the design industry due to our digital age. He thinks typography will be a ‘luxury’ where only a handful of designers will continue to design type and only a minority of clients will commission the design of a new typeface. I was thinking about such lost arts last week when I encountered a new letterpress printing studio in my local area and attended their opening party on Thursday night.
The Distillery is Sydney’s only letterpress printing studio run by Nathan and Jess who’s mission is ‘to help spread the love of letterpress in Australia.’
There are a few things that really struck me about The Distillery. Firstly their mission to reconnect designers and the public with the lost art of letterpress, a printing technique invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century. Letterpress uses a plate to imprint ink onto cotton paper giving a slightly debossed feel and beautiful print quality. By the 20th century letterpress was taken over by modern techniques of printing (like digital) that were more cost effective and less labour intensive, so you don’t find that many letterpress studios around these days.
The Distillery’s printing press machine, a Heidelberg Windmill from 1959
Secondly, I absolutely love how they have set up the printing studio to look like a shop front. By doing so they allow the public to observe the process and tools of design, which is not often shown in such a way, and invite passersby to satisfy their curiosity and engage in a conversation about the art of letterpress. The studio is also open to having designers continue their involvement in the production process, to enter the space and watch the design work come off the press.
Image from The Distillery website
Finally, the creative entrepreneurship Nathan and Jess represent. Both passionate and honest about what they are doing and filling a creative niche bringing back a lost art in a new way (you can read more about in this article ‘Enter the new entrepreneurs‘). I thought it was also interesting that the both of them engaged a mentor, an expert in letterpress and retired head printing teacher at the Sydney Institute of TAFE, who taught them the craft, and how to use the machine that they affectionately call Wolfgang.
Nathan and Jess demonstrating how Wolfgang works at the opening party
The Distillery were the perfect hosts on their opening night. Check out some of the food below! I wish them all the best with growing their business and spreading the art of letterpress in Sydney and Australia.