Derek Lamb with the old press used to produce his fashion inspired posters now on display at the Rockhampton Art Gallery.
Derek Lamb with the old press used to produce his fashion inspired posters now on display at the Rockhampton Art Gallery. Chris Ison ROK170817cpress2

The historic craft making a comeback in the internet age

IF YOU make a mistake with this printing, there's no Ctrl+Z or quick fix option: you're stuck with it.

In fact, it's a simple spelling mistake Derek Lamb made on his first letterpress poster that reminds him how important it is to triple check each piece before it's printed.

With the ease of modern computer design and proliferation of smart technology, it's easy to forget that a little over a Century ago, letterpress was still the main method of printing anything from books to posters.

Developed by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-1400s, letterpress remained widely used until the 1960s and involves a printing press where movable type is hand placed, inked and pressed against paper to create a print.

Derek's interest in the art of printing developed through his love of collecting fine press books ad desire to learn the techniques behind their creation.

He slowly became more involved in the craft until, six years ago, he bought an 1887 Alexandra Press from a printer in Katoomba.

The 130-year-old, one tonne beast now sits in the Walter Reid in Derek's studio, The Officina Athelstane.

Intruiged by the way this typically commercial printing method could be used in place of modern graphic design, Derek has designed a range of posters as well as his own fine press books.

Derek Lamb with his fashion inspired posters now on display at the Rockhampton Art Gallery.
Derek Lamb with his fashion inspired posters now on display at the Rockhampton Art Gallery. Chris Ison ROK170817cpress3

His recently finished long-term project, a 75 run print of Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, now sits in Australia's national and state libraries as well as at Oxford, Cambridge and the National Library of Ireland.

That 18-month project saw every page of the book hand set, letter by letter, with pen and ink sketches screen printed in to accompany the story.

On a smaller scale, his graphic response to Rockhampton Art Gallery's Coming Into Fashion has recently opened.

Running until November 5, locals can get a feel for his unique printing style which combines contemporary notions of fashion, pattern and colour with the traditional letterpress style.

It took Derek 12 weeks to put together the 10 posters for the Pret-A-Printer collection.

Although it seems like a lot, the very nature of letterpress printing meant this job was a tough task for Derek.

"Rather than modern printing where everything is done at the same time, letterpress you have to put through each separate colour,” he said.

"Some of the poster might have gone through the press eight or nine time to put different layers on top of one another.

"So as well as being a time consuming means of processing things, rather than typing things into a computer screen and manoeuvring it really quickly you have to actually take the letters and move them and take proofs and then take more proofs and adjust them, the printing process itself is quite lengthy.

"You obviously have to wait for the ink to dry between each one.”

That process alone can take three to four days.

Derek Lamb with the old press used to produce his fashion inspired posters now on display at the Rockhampton Art Gallery.
Derek Lamb with the old press used to produce his fashion inspired posters now on display at the Rockhampton Art Gallery. Chris Ison ROK170817cpress1

Derek has used a range of type faces and techniques to create stunning marbled designs and elaborate patterns built from small, decorative type.

"Letterpress was a commercial technique that really hasn't changed much since Gutenberg invented it,” Derek said.

"It's just using what was a commercial method and I just bring an experimental way.

"I'll ink the type in different ways and use different letters in an artistic manner rather than a commercial manner.”

Despite his striking designs now being on show at the Rockhampton Art Gallery, Derek said he didn't necessarily view himself as an artist.

"I think of myself as just a printer, but I have an interest in graphic design,” he said.

"It really depends what people want to look at it as. It can be art or it can be printing.”

While the traditional method does have its downfalls, a lack of automated spell check being one, there are benefits to being forced to work with what you have on hand.

Most of which, Derek has collected through travels in Australia and overseas.

"I have such a limited pallet of fonts and designs available to me,” Derek said.

"On the computer you have every font that's ever been thought of, but I have a very limited range of things that I actually have to physically posses.

"I might not have exactly what I want so I might have to adapt and be a bit imaginative with it.

"I think it actually helps the creative process to have something limited rather than infinite because you've really got to think and make something with what you've got.”

  • Pret-A-Printer runs at the Rockhampton Art Gallery until November 2, with a limited number of prints available for purchase.


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