Keeping it Semple

I became interested in letterpress when I was studying Graphic Design at Plymouth College of Art and Design. My first prints were made using the few remaining pieces of letterpress equipment left after the college threw most of it out during the 1980s. Back then, I would hold together pieces of type with elastic bands, ink it, place paper over the top, and then gently use a clean roller to make the print. 

Herbert Spencer's Pioneers of Modern Typography was my favourite source of inspiration at that time – particularly the work of HN Werkman, Piet Zwart, El Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy and Rodchenko. The college library had one of the early hardback copies, which contained examples of Werkman's prints, replicated on brown paper. You can feel the ink under your fingers, sitting on top of the paper and interacting with it, and with the other layers of ink. (The paperback version of the book is useless.) Then a visit to Heidelberg and to Mainz with its amazing Gutenburg museum and a few happy hours spent in the druckladen... and I was hooked.

I now print metal and wood type and lino using a proof press and an Adana 8x5 and although elastic bands are no longer an integral part of my printing practice, the process is essentially the same. It's a simple process but it takes time to become really good at it.

So why Semple Press? The answer is Semple... sorry, simple! My grandmother, Katherine Semple, ran away from home to train as an artist at the Slade Art School just after the end of the first world war. She later designed children's fashions at Liberty's and after she was married, illustrated the Little Grey Rabbit books and others by Alison Uttley. The Press is also named after her older brothers William and Robert (Bill and Bob) who were both killed during the first world war. Robert could have been an brilliant artist himself, as his sketches made in school diaries and even drawn in sketchbooks and letters during the war are beautifully drawn and showed a wry humour, which suggest he might have been good fun to know.