The Handy Book of Artistic Printing: Artistic Printing and the Ethics of Ornament
Doug Clouse, Angela Voulangas
Princeton Architectural Press

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The publishers of ‘The Handy Book of Artistic Printing‘ (Princeton Architectural Press) are familiar to most for the creation of such ubiquitous titles as ‘Hand Job’ and ‘Over and Over’, both assessing extremely contemporary aspects of current design and illustration, so to create a entire book around such a brief, historically rooted movement to which only a handful are aware may appear initially as something of an anomaly to the roster. Upon a closer look, even though the movement was short lived, and is really never cited as a turning point of design, the obvious examples of fantastic colour harmonies, embellishments, compartmentalisation in the composition and interesting typography demonstrate that any designer or typographer would have a great deal to learn from the book. It is indeed refreshing to discover something within the field of often fairly ephemeral, trend led design books which happens to be so historically rooted, and even explores the academic nature of the movement; its inception, ornamented type, absurd images, bountiful decorative elements, and concurrent fade into the more practically minded, European influenced Modernism of the 20th Century.

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As the elaborate extended title would suggest, artistic printing was somewhat of a brief ‘flight of fancy’, so a little background interjection follows. Following the ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ path, artistic printing was borne of advances in printing, namely chromolithography (enabling coloured printing), combined with increasing demand for print media surrounding newly emerging products in the USA of this time. In conjunction with this new taste for excess, the style that evolved was equally as opulent.

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Even though complexity is clearly the order of the day, some pictorial aspects of the title do occasionally visually suffocate one another; photographic overlays of printing presses onto scanned pages from books being exemplary of what can be described as the only apparent stumbling block when considering the layout. A particular highlight however, has to be the rather thoughtfully crafted section displaying over 150 different examples of this craft (many being reproduced for the first time) is stunningly pieced together. Ranging from the quite benign everyday sources, such as a grocer’s advertisement, to covers, it really does encompass an incredible range of period ephemera, providing a fantastic insight when considering the application of this style. Not only are examples strewn throughout the book, yet the techniques and processes themselves are awarded a similar amount of coverage, leaving the reader with a complete overview of the movement. Summatively, ‘The Handy Book of Artistic Printing’ provides an incredibly detailed text surrounding a rather obscure topic, and considerably easy to consume for something so historically concerned.

Single sentence summary: Nice, previously unexplored interjection of design’s classical roots for folk of the digital age.

If you got this far you might want to check out:

This rather succinct, yet informative video about the printing of a simple election process using letterpress

or

For those of you considering printing as a realistic career option

and

a really nice blog about all things letterpress realted:

Woodtyper

Words- Charlotte Audrey Owen-Meehan

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