In the second part of his report from this year’s Leeds Print Festival, Sean McGeady shares some of the insights into contemporary printmaking that came courtesy of the creatives who spoke at the event.

Unfortunately scheduled speaker Si Scott wasn’t able to attend the talk. This left Nick Loaring of The Print Project and Peggy Manning of Print For Good to bravely take to the floor along with Amber Smith, who compèred an ad hoc Q&A session between the two printers and the audience.

The pair began by discussing the relative advantages and disadvantages of traditional printing methods. “It’s such a time consuming process to do letterpress properly,” Peggy acknowledged, deliberating the difficulties of typesetting and time management.

Nick, who got into printing through his love of skateboarding, music and graphic design, told of the heritage of print and, despite the frustrations, the importance of traditional methods. “It’s the DNA of design and typography. It’s in its blood,” he professed emphatically. “You can’t touch a digital typeface.”

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Above: A small part of The Print Project’s ever growing library of traditional wooden typefaces

It’s a sentiment echoed by Amber, who encourages her students to experiment with creative works, and especially with traditional printing methods. “You don’t learn with digital because you don’t see your mistakes. You think you’re learning but you’re just autocorrecting.”

Closing the day’s events was the editor of Creative ReviewPatrick Burgoyne, who was keen to convey the importance of the soul and story behind creative works. To do so, Patrick showcased a series of documentary videos exploring the cultural narrative behind print practices and projects.

The first of these videos documented the creation of Anthony Burrill’s North & South, a piece completed for the Manchester collective Print and Paste. Addressing the allure of the traditional processes used in North & South, including a Heidelberg Cylinder press, Patrick said “the more divorced we are from traditional techniques, the more seductive they are when we encounter them.”

Patrick then showcased Carter Wong Design’s bespoke typeface created for Howies, and the story behind the popular John Lewis Christmas TV commercial. Patrick praised the producers of these works for opting to use painstaking and expensive techniques despite having the option to do things easily. “By doing things in a different and intriguing way it creates a story,” he said, genuinely captivated by the achievements.

Celebrating the stories embedded in culture, Patrick went on to show examples of cultural printing scenes from South America: Lambe-Lambe, a printing technique native to Brazil, and Chicha, a Peruvian approach similar to screen printing, which uses hand-cut stencils. Creative Review utilised both techniques, working with São Paulo studio Gráfica Fidalga, and the Urcuhuaranga brothers to produce magazine covers for its January 2008 issue, and its January 2010 issue, respectively.

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Above: A look at the Chicha printing processes, in which a stencil is hand-drawn and cut before being added to a screen

Though Patrick recognised print’s unifying abilities, saying “print is the place music, ethnicity and language come together,” he also lamented the increasingly glamorous perception of digital printing in India and South America, an issue which is leading to the ousting of visual languages like Chicha and Lambe-Lambe, which eventually become confined to the world of art.

In an encouraging conclusion, Patrick declared that we’re undergoing a “golden age of creative magazines,” despite big businesses denouncing this view because they’re not making the money they used to. The Creative Review editor assured the audience that the “barrier to entry has come right down,” and that there is still hope for new models to exist as mass mediums.

If there was a pervading theme at Leeds Print Festival, it was one of heritage, narrative and community, and it was clear from the attendance and response to the festival that traditional printing is without a doubt, alive and well.

If you’re interested in finding out more about some of the printing processes mentioned in this article, then please visit our services page. Here you can see all the different types of printing and finishing techniques we offer. If you have any further questions about any of the processes, just drop us a line.