WALKING into calligrapher and letterpress designer Sabine Pick’s studio in Byron Bay means taking a step back in time.
Taking pride of place in Sabine’s light-filled space in Byron Bay’s Arts and Industry Estate is a 1936 C&P platen letterpress printer, a solid-steel, rusty toned contraption that weighs a tonne and is entirely manually operated.
The letterpress sits opposite another printer, a 1940’s Vandercook SP15 that she uses with wooden type and nearby vintage cabinets are filled with printers’ drawers of original metal and wooden pieces of type.
On her desk are calligraphy quills and brushes that Sabine deftly wields to produce personalised invitations, labels and cards.
With a background as a graphic designer with more than 20 years’ experience in fashion and interiors magazines, Sabine moved to the Northern Rivers in 2003 and has gradually moved away from commercial graphic design into the world of bespoke letterpress after becoming enamoured with the process during a trip to the USA.”I found it was fascinating and I loved the tactile quality, so, I started to experiment with smaller letterpresses,” she said.When she needed help understanding the mechanics of the vintage machines, she was directed to an older printer for instruction who happened to have a 1936 C&P platen letterpress sitting on his veranda covered by an old sheet.Sabine bought the antique machine for $200 and hasn’t looked back.
“I love that it’s a physical process that you have to go through (to print on the letterpress).”Every job is like a problem-solving exercise for me. It’s a constant challenge in understanding the machine, checking on each print and seeing if more ink is needed.”It’s not just printing something off a computer. It takes effort to print and every single print is a little bit imperfect.”Previously letterpress printing was focused on “the kiss” between paper and ink, but as fashions changed, printers became more interested in the 3D impression that could be made with the machines.
Sabine now combines years of experience as a calligrapher and graphic designer with the old craft of letterpress printing to create cards that are indented with the design and have a soft, tactile quality to them.
“It’s what I would call a deboss, where the image is pressed into the paper,” she said.
Sabine’s calligraphy designs have been commissioned by Australian designer Collette Dinnigan for labels on candles and invitations to events and she has designed for the Eurogliders’ tour.”I’ve always done calligraphy. I first did a course when I was 17 years old with Donald Jackson who was the Queen’s scribe,” Sabine said. “He taught us how to make goose quills.”To make one of her prints, Sabine spends time getting the wording just right – “imperfectly perfect” is how she describes it – often rewriting many times if a splash or too wobbly a line ruined the piece.
When she is happy with each word created in her “loose italic” style, she creates a finished design on her computer and the design is sent to a specialist plate maker in Sydney who makes up a three dimensional photopolymer plate that will be used on the letterpress to imprint the design into the paper.”I’m trying to teach myself how to make my own plates,” she said.As technology advances at light speed in the digital realm, Sabine says there is a counter-reaction with people increasingly interested in the handmade crafts such as calligraphy.”It has the human touch,” she said, turning over a delicate debossed wedding invitation in her hand.
“They’re like reading love letters; it’s very personal.”
(This story first appeared in The Northern Star. Photo of Sabine by Megan Kinninment, photos of artwork c/o Pickme.com.au
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