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Wood Type – Historic and Interdisciplinary Practices in Letterpress Education

Wood type has a significant and historical impact on American letterpress printing, defining the current techniques and practices taught throughout universities today. Wood type is highly desired because it’s light, impactful, and has unique character traits. The challenge lies in the lack of accessibility to these typefaces. Wood type is rare and scarcely made today due to the lack of knowledge and skilled makers. The wood typefaces that are available are hard to come by, creating sales competitions; even for the most dilapidated collections. How can students understand and interact with historic American wood type collections without having direct access to these letterforms in the studio? In an attempt to meet this challenge and also introduce students to interdisciplinary methods, Ashley Fuchs created a project called Big Letter, Little Letter. This project used Rob Roy Kelly’s book, American Wood Type: 1828—1900, as a primary source of documentation for historic wood typefaces. Kelly represents typefaces in their entirety, providing an opportunity for students to re-create any letterform in American printing history. In combination with the laser cutter, students were able to design and modify letterforms in Adobe Illustrator to build type high forms. This project also demonstrates the ability of letterpress to be updated and accessible with new printing technologies. Beyond historical implications, students were also able to understand the art of typography. The composition may have been restrictive by allowing the use of only two letterforms, but students were able to explore the designs and layouts that consider the spacing and patterns created by multiples of the same form. The compositions ultimately reflected the student’s understanding of letterforms beyond forming words and their individual, visual impact based on defining typographic features.


Ashley Fuchs

As an interdisciplinary designer with a background in architecture and graphic design, Ashley Fuchs’ strives to merge the best qualities of each discipline to create work that speaks about the current urban condition and an individual’s relationship to place. Fuchs' intentions are to find a way to combine the spatial qualities of architecture design with the obtainable design scale that graphic design offers.