VCD/KSU Graduate Program

“That’s why they call it Experimental Type.”

The finished, slightly imperfect, product.

VCD 53051, or Experimental Typography, allows students to investigate “form, pattern and texture in typographic usage” in the VCD department’s Type High Press. It additionally offered me something perhaps more valuable: an opportunity to get my hands dirty.

All photos by Jason Richburg.

After a semester of using my head my hands were itching to be thrown back into the mix. I wanted to do something that would motivate me to spend long nights laboring over a project, rather than long nights basking in the glow of my computer screen. (I believe Jason Bacher refers to this as “the designer’s suntan.”)

There is something singular about frustrations presented by craft—perhaps it’s the need to fix mistakes in real time or the necessity of having to turn those mistakes into something useable and beautiful. Or perhaps even more it’s the fact that mistakes don’t really matter; that the process of making something with your hands is the real reward. I think I’ll go with the third one, because I kind of busted up my little exercise in making during the home stretch.

During spring break I invited fellow grad Jason Richburg to join me in Type High to document my experiments with texture and transparency using wood type. The form I was using wasn’t really important—I pulled a number 6 out of one of our deliciously musty wood type drawers and got to work.

The first two runs of blue and yellow went well, but the project got off course a bit during the third magenta run. I’d been stabilizing the type with magnets, an approach that didn’t work as I moved to the other side of the press. Jason suggested a point of contrast to make my design “more gangsta” (what would I do without him?), so I left a space to print it on the final run. We landed on black ink because the C, M, and Y were already there, so why not round it out with K?

Despite my employment of math in arranging the furniture for what I thought would  be a perfect placement, the final black 6 did not land where it was supposed to. It’s still an interesting concept and one I may try to recreate with more precision. And it’s hard to call the night anything but a success, because I was able to experiment… and to get my hands dirty.

The type room houses dozens of metal alphabets in addition to a large library of wood type.

Some of Type High's collection.

One of Type High's Vandercook presses.

It's hard to disregard the earthy beauty of wood type when viewed close up.

Brass and copper shims / ink.

Preparing yellow ink.

The poster after two successful series of press runs. It's possible I should have stopped here.

But onward I went! ...Mixing magenta ink.

Tightening a quoin after misguided (yet mostly successful) attempts to stabilize the type with magnets.

Pulling the poster off the Vandercook press. Do you see that wily magenta 6 that refuses to cooperate and get in line?

Cleaning and recording inks. Important final steps!

Filed Under: Design, Graphic Design, Inspiration, Photography, Typography

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The School of Visual Communication Design is committed to fostering innovation, respecting traditions and pushing boundaries in pursuit of new knowledge in visual communication. The curriculum is flexible enough to meet the needs of applicants with varied backgrounds—supporting a broad range of intellectual and creative pursuits while providing a strong grounding in design research. Graduate faculty members are recognized nationally and internationally for their abilities to integrate practice and research to solve relevant challenges in today’s global community.