Derek Stewart, an Edinburgh-born, London-educated designer, has been design director, or creativo, at Metalli Lindberg, a studio located in a converted barn in northern Italy, since 1999. The firm, which I profiled in the May 2006 issue of Print, is dedicated to making work that encourages positive social values. The four designers there are busy with projects like helping create awareness of declining bee populations for Conapi, the largest association of beekeepers in Europe; advertising and retail design for NaturaSì; packaging for Ecor, Italy’s leading distributor of organic food; and identity work for Contarina, a major Italian waste management and environmental company.
With all that, Stewart and other designers in Italy—and around the world—occasionally feel the need to get away from the studio to, as Stewart says, “free ourselves from the restraints of client work and the computer for a different and gratifying challenge, an analog way of working that is creative and manual.”
One place they’re getting that challenge is Tipoteca Italiana, a printing museum dedicated to the typeface and the history of typography. A main attraction there is the vast library of wood type specimens, collected from printing offices across Europe. At hands-on workshops held there several times a year, a dozen or so participants get the increasingly popular experience of working with wood type and letterpress.
“Tipoteca is located in Cornuda, not far from our studio, which is in Conegliano,” says Stewart. “It’s quite a tourist attraction and a place of pilgrimage for typographers, designers and printers. For several years I’ve been going to their events and workshops, and I participated in the annual conference of the Association of European Printing Museums, which draws speakers and attendees from all over the world, such as Jim and Bill Moran from the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum.”
“A selection of Tipoteca’s typefaces is available for participants to use freely during the workshops,” Stewart explains. “The aim is for every participant to end up with, by the end of the day, with a printed example, be it a poster, short text, booklet spread or cover. It really is an opportunity to ‘muck in’ and be hands-on with type and ink and machinery and enjoy the magic of print: learning new-old techniques and getting surprised by the mistakes that happen. The experience involves concentration, ideas, passion and craft, and there’s a sense of history. A one-day workshop doesn’t give us much time, so the concept and composition need to be completed before lunch in order to print first thing in the afternoon. Lunch, by the way,” he adds, “is another delight; at Tipoteca’s own restaurant we are treated to great food and the opportunity to get to know each other over a glass of prosecco—which also helps the afternoon go more smoothly. The process is fun from the beginning, coming up with the idea and searching through the trays of characters. There’s the tactile aspect, too, the feel, the weight and the form of each individual letter. Then meticulously trying to make everything fit, up to the moment the composition is on the press, then the proofing and then the final print. Joy!”
Related: Paul Shaw shares the tale of the 2015 Legacy of Letters printing workshop with Alan Kitching at the Tipoteca Italiana.
Hervé Matine of posterfortomorrow.org, an organization based in France that holds competitions for poster designs intended to stimulate debate on cultural and political issues, asked Stewart to design a promotional poster with the slogan, “Make Extremism History,” the theme of one of their current competitions. Stewart spent a recent weekend at Tipoteca making and printing a two-color poster. Here are some details from the process of setting the type and printing, one color at a time:
And the finished product:
“The theme,” says Stewart, “doesn’t refer only to religious extremism, but to all forms of extremism: racism, politics, the environment, distribution of wealth, discrimination in all its forms, exploitation, hatred and violence, war. ‘Make Extremism History’ is an important call to action for designers collectively and individually to confront these issues, create awareness and encourage intelligent debate: to take action towards a better future. This poster is a play on the order of the slogan,” he points out. “The ‘is’ in ‘history’ appears within ‘extremism,’ emphasizing that extremism should be history. ‘Extremism’ is bold but not easily legible as a word—it’s too complicated to easily understand.”
“The terrorist bombing in Brussels last week is a brutal reminder that extremism is a part of our times. These events are too frequent yet too quickly forgotten, especially in places and cultures less familiar than our own, as well as in our daily lives, with gun violence and police shootings and homelessness, and sometimes even in our own behavior, be it at work, on the street, and in our homes.”
The competition will be open to designers around the world until July 10, 2016. Details here: PfT2016-Brief-ENG.
Stewart thanks Tipoteca and director Sandro Berra, as well as local paper mill Favini, who supplied eco-friendly Crush and Remake Stocks. The hashtag symbol was specially cut in wood for this use.