Tour de Lead Graffiti

As we did this on our Vandercook Universal III, we hoped some of you might be interested.

. . .

We would love for everyone to take a look at our effort in ‘endurance letterpress’ we called Tour de Lead Graffiti.

We wanted to do a series of typographic posters that took the memorable moments of each of the 21 stages (plus the 2 rest days) of the Tour de France and translate them into handset wood & metal type. One of the things we love about letterpress is the ability to work spontaneously and ‘switch horses in the middle of the makeready’ and this project allowed us to do that with reckless abandon.

The 23 posters are 14.75″ x 22.5″ and were printed on Somerset Textured White 300 gsm that we bought from Legion Paper. There will also be a title page, descriptive page, and a colophon. The portfolios will be housed in a handmade clamshell covered with custom Lead Graffiti pastepaper.

Initially, we set out thinking we would do 2-color posters and in the end never even came close to doing one. We did thirteen 5-color, nine 6-color, and one 8-color poster. Another fun thing was we started with 12 sheets and overprinted every run, which for the main area of the poster meant 103 runs. Overall we did 126 runs which included the signature blocks in the lower left corner which we did with photopolymer. Everything else was wood & metal type. We had a 12 line Clarendon Heavy in both an outline and a solid made into wood type as well as a series of arrows and a trident. That outline was important because of the overprint version as we wanted plenty to show through from previous runs. In the end there are only very small areas of white showing in the middle area of the print. The overprint sheet was beat to death and was like a damp dishrag in the end.

From 6:00 am – 8:30 or so I would scan the previous day’s print in 6 scans, piece them together, add the Somerset texture and the top/bottom deckle, resize into 7 sizes for various online applications and for our digital archive, write an explanation of the day’s events in the Tour de France for our website, post to our website, online store, Facebook, write a few tweets and head in to watch the day’s live TV feed.

From 8:30 to noon or so we would watch the live TV feed of the Tour de France on Versus.

17 of the 23 days we had additional people in the studio with us and it was great fun to share the event with them. We had people from as far away as Dallas and Indianapolis (we are in Newark, Delaware) as well as type designers, graphic designers, letterpress printers and friends of each. The youngest was 10 who worked with us (sans parents) for a full 12-hour day (including watching the TV, lunch, dinner, and lots of water & snack breaks). It was fun explaining the physics of the Tour de France to each new group. Most everyone thinks it is a bike race, but it is so much more than that. This year the whole race was wonderful with some amazing moments that will be talked about for a decade.

From noon – 1:00 pm we would eat lunch and talk about what we saw that might translate through the wood & metal type into a decent poster.

At 1:00 we would head to the studio to try and make something interesting happen. The earliest we were finished printing was 6:45 and the latest was 11:00 pm. Over the three weeks the lowest high was 85, about a dozen days were in the 90s and 4 were over 100. We don’t have air-conditioning.

We work with rubber-based ink and never cleaned the press at night. We would always try to do a quick color the next day using the same color in a way that you might not notice the same color. This happened about half of the days. Whenever we finished we would immediately head home, watch a bit of TV, try to settle down, go to bed, and get up and do it again.

I spent all of the time the three of us worked on the project. My total time was a bit over 345 hours spread over 23 continuous days which averaged out to 15 hours a day.

It was an interesting project, both for the attempt to be creative, as well as the endurance part. The endurance was only a problem right at the end, but I think that came mostly from just knowing the light at the end of the tunnel was getting brighter.

Take a look. We’d love to hear positive feedback.

. . .

Ray Nichols

. . .
Newark, Delaware

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