Tall Poppy Interview: Nicholas Kennedy, Printer, "Designer", Founder of Trip Print Press
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Tall Poppy Interview: Nicholas Kennedy, Printer, “Designer”, Founder of Trip Print Press

2006_4_7nicholas2.jpgThe keen-eyed music lover has probably seen Nicholas Kennedy’s work around town. Kennedy and Trip Print Press does posters for Toronto music fixtures like Wavelength and the Music Gallery. But his posters are very different, closer to 1930s De Stijl style art prints than the average thing you see on cafe walls and lampposts. After visiting Trip Print press we understand why. Kennedy uses old school letterpresses to print up his posters, typesetting them by hand, and the end result is something more organic, richer than mere photocopies and computer designed band posters. We chatted with Kennedy over e-mail about typography, printing and the future of letterpress.
What draws you to this older style of printing and design?
Letterpress is a perfected system. It has been tried and tested for 550 years. It works! It is old technology, but technology none the less. It is far more enjoyable to work with wood and metal then with film and files. The creative parameters help me stay focused. I really enjoy the hand and machine work of the composition of type forms. It’s like playing with my childhood building blocks.
I am interested in designs that are thoughtful, experimental, unique, simple and interesting. I believe that the compositions I produce are uniquely contemporary, but yes, I do wax political about my beliefs much like the designers of the 1920s – we also share the limited use of type high material. Designers today are basically fashion consultants, they know how to make things look cool as far as the flavour of the month is concerned. I don’t subscribe to that.
How did you get started in letterpress and printing?
A list:

  • Martha Stewart Living
  • Summer class at OCAD
  • Graffiti bombing —> arrest
  • Craig & Don Black
  • Ryerson University library

You do a lot of work for musicians, why do you think the indie-rock and music community like this work so much?
To be honest, I don’t really believe that people like it too much. Mainly because I don’t do what’s vogue. So the clients I do have like it because of just that – the work does not look like all others graphically and in its manufacture.

Who are some of your visual influences?
One of the major influences on me is the available type materials and the machinery itself. It can and can’t do certain things.
Old letterpress job printing i.e. tickets, tags, rule forms, envelopes, labels, bags, trolley transfers…Work done by anonymous compositors in a job shop some time in history. Early broadsheet printing.
European graphic artists:

Where do you get a lot of your stuff (old type, machinery, etc.)?

It is safe to say that without Don Black none of what I do (and many others around the world) would be possible. I got most of my large equipment from them. I have got other pieces out of basements and small shops that have been unused for years. Many old fellows who once worked for large printers were given the equipment when it was replaced by modern machines. A lot of them would set up shop in their garages and basements doing little (or a lot) jobs here and there.
When we were chatting you mentioned the legacy of printing/printers in Toronto can you elaborate a bit more about this?
Shops and machinery tend to change hands locally for obvious reasons, the shit is damn heavy. Everyone in letterpress printing tends to know about each other and what stuff they have. But nowadays the internet has grown this community – equipment and type is moving all over the globe. Like I said at the shop, the internet has saved letterpress from falling off the precipice.
Trades are a brain trust. There is plenty to read, and it really helps, but what you learn from watching other people work, their tips and tricks, their experience, is not published, it can’t be. Every shop is different, every machine has its own quirks and ghosts. Some machines have attitudes. Fonts of types are unique, one gets to know them on a sort for sort basis.
This is information you have to WANT to retain.
I have made an effort to visit as many print shops in Toronto as possible. There are still many I have not been to, that keeps me up at night. It is a bit of a hobby and a professional interest. I have met some very good
people, all of whom has imparted important trade knowledge on to me – only after they checked me out though, don’t expect to get much if you don’t speak in picas and points, in slugs and nonpareils.
Check out more photos of Trip Print Press here or go to their site. Trip Print Press items can be ordered online or at various zine fairs around town.