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the art of letterpress

Reviving an old printing method…

Design and print studio Essie Letterpress may be known for their beautiful cards and invitations, but they also lend their letterpress skills to art in the form of limited edition prints.

Using a traditional letterpress print method, husband and wife team Ben and Vanessa Grib reproduce Ben’s illustrations. While Vanessa fondly refers to her husband as ‘a farmer by day, and designer by night’, Ben has no formal training in the arts beyond high school. Vanessa says ‘he made the most of long marketing meetings to practice his doodlings’. Ben now balances his craft between hand illustration and his computer.

Inspired by Victorian etchings, woodcuts, and sketches, Vanessa and Ben only conceptualise and design items they’d like hung in their own home. From old-world maps to graphic urban jungle designs, there are a variety of letterpress prints to choose from.

Situated in an old farming shed on a flower farm near Citrusdal in the Western Cape, Essie Letterpress prints are created with a vintage 1964 German Proofing Press and cotton rich papers. A time and labour intensive process, each artwork is printed individually, meaning no two are exactly the same. The letterpress punches the designs into the paper creating a unique relief that cannot be achieved with other kinds of printing. The result is a lovely tactile effect which can be felt when you run your fingers over the paper.

Vanessa recommends framing their prints in a box frame with the artwork ‘floating’ close to the glass. ‘It is best to have the artwork floating on a sheet of foamcore very close to the surface of the glass so that the debossed texture can be appreciated.’

Essie Letterpress prints range from R90-R248. For more information or to purchase, visit essieletterpress.co.za.

Text: Bianca Packham