Letterpress is an inky, greasy business. It’s trial & error, mistakes & happy accidents. It’s a magic process that uses a greasy press, chaotic print shop and grimy printer (me!) to produce gleaming white sheets of paper impressed with clean, crisp type. It shouldn’t work, but it does. We often share the final product with you, but today i’d like to take a step back and share part of the process.
Tympan is a sheet of oiled manilla paper, fastened to the face of the platen. It is used to affix guides which hold the sheets of paper to be printed, and covers the packing (which affects the amount of impression to be printed). It is also often used to aid in registering the guides and paper to the printing surface. We will sometimes print an image directly onto the tympan (instead of the paper), and align the paper to the image on the tympan.
I try to use one sheet of tympan for as many prints as possible. In doing so, the tympan becomes a visual history of the work i’ve done on the press. There’s a poetry to the layers of ink & imagery on the tympan, and i’ve started collecting my favorites. They’re unintentional art – messy and beautiful and unplanned.