In 2009 I spent some time thinking about what I really wanted to do with letterpress. I’d printed two fine press volumes, the kind of books that I’d always wanted to make, but they’d taken me three years to achieve amidst all my work and family commitments, and that’s not very good business. Plus, I’d tried to do every part of the process myself: planning, negotiating, designing, setting, printing, binding, publicity, sales. And that’s just exhausting.I do intend to make more fine press books, but they’ll be smaller editions, and far less ambitious.What I tend to do is work on other people’s ideas, and get them made. And I like to teach people how to do things for themselves, but again, running courses tends to take a lot of time, because I have to organise the course myself. (Why aren’t there agents for artists like there are for writers? I know there are galleries, but they just want to move the units, not get involved in the community.)
So I came up with the idea of offering a small residency to emerging artists I had worked with at the ANU Art School. The structure was already there: the Emerging Artists’ Support Scheme, which encourages members of the local community to donate residencies, funds, space in collections, exhibitions, whatever they feel they can do. At the end of the year, when the students graduate, the EASS Patrons (as they are termed) get first look at the Grad Show, and pick out the recipients of their largesse.
I thought I would buy some paper at one of the various paper sales (Neil Wallace and MES do good ones, usually twice a year) and offer the student/s (I’ll either choose one or two a year, depending upon that year’s talent pool) some time in my personal studio to make a broadside, which is basically a letterpress poster. In contemporary fine press tradition, a broadside is a beautiful typographical exercise in laying out poetry, and perhaps including a tasteful image or two (this site has some good examples); I’m all for that, and maybe some of my recipients will do things that way, but essentially I’m asking them to make a poster edition, and I’m leaving the brief very broad… one rule is that text needs to be in it, and the other rule is to have fun.
It’s quite fun, walking around the giant exhibition that the ANU School of Art becomes at graduation time, and thinking about who would respond to my opportunity. At first I thought that any student with a flair for design could be in the running — and I still think that, really — but this first year (2009/10), I thought that I’d make it easy on myself while I’m working out the arrangements, and chose two students with whom I’d worked in my Book Comp class, and who I knew had an interest in the process and could actually achieve an outcome without getting bored and wandering away…
As my first resident, Natalie Azzopardi, finishes her time with me, I think I’m very happy with my decision. Having someone playing with the equipment while I do other work in my studio is not particularly invasive, and I enjoy the chance to let them play without classtime constraints.
Another wonderful advantage for the recipients is that they can put the residency on their CVs, and if they want to travel, maybe others overseas will allow them time in their personal or community studios, since there are so few opportunities in Australia to access typography equipment. I’m going to provide each person who completes a broadside with a letter of recommendation, listing the skills that they have developed during the residency.
I’ve also decided to hold back the first ten prints of each edition, in the hope that after a few years I will have a set for exhibition, and a number of sets to offer as a mixed folio edition.