Meet the Maker: Kelvyn Smith, letterpress typographer

Creating my gift vouchers

From time to time I’ve been asked for jewellery gift vouchers. I previously hadn’t given them much thought and just had a very basic jewellery gift voucher design that I’d print off at home. It was only when a couple of people told me I really ought to have something a bit more special, something that actually reflected my work, that I decided to give it more thought.

For the love of crafts

Kelvyn Smith, Letterpress printing machine

As a designer and craftsperson, I have a lot of respect for other craftspeople and makers. I know first-hand how much effort goes into learning a craft or trade and the patience and dedication it requires. There’s something so special about buying a piece from an individual designer or maker and knowing a little about where it has come from, plus in doing so I know I’m helping to keep a craft or skill alive AND that my money is going to the maker rather than to pay off the overheads and expenses of a big brand.

Ask an expert

Kelvyn Smith, letterpress typographerAnd although I’m a designer and therefore a ‘creative’, I value the expertise and creative input others bring to their work within their own fields. For instance, I know what I like when it comes to typography, but I would never pretend to be a graphic designer. But luckily when it comes to lettering and type design, I had just the right person to ask – independent letterpress typographer Kelvyn Smith.

Meet Mr Smith

Catherine Hills and Kelvyn Smith, Maidstone School of Art, 1986Kelvyn and I met in 1986 at Maidstone School of Art when we were both doing our foundation course. Kelvyn went on to study graphic design before becoming the apprentice of legendary designer and animator Alan Kitching. Kelvyn then taught typography and at various colleges before becoming the head of Typo / Graphic at the London College of Communication. He set up his own letterpress business in IIiffe Yard in Kennington eight years ago, where he established his own typography guidelines, ‘Smith’s Rules’. As well as running his letterpress studio he mixes his own inks and teaches letterpress printing and typography.

At the studio

Letterpress metal typeI went to visit Kelvyn in his London letterpress studio to see my jewellery gift vouchers being printed. Having looked at my work and discussed the brief, Kelvyn felt that the design should be both formal and modern, yet with a hint of tradition. He used my logo and an exaggerated pound sign as the key elements of the design. He then had to choose from two hundred wooden and four hundred metal typefaces!

Letterpress printing process

Letterpress silver inkKelvyn started by setting the type on the composing stick, which is then laid on a big metal surface called the ‘stone’. Once he’d built up the type, he made a ‘forme’ using ‘quoins’ to lock the type in place vertically onto the press. The press is inked up before the type goes on. The silver ink was printed first and then left to dry before the gold print.

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Gift Voucher, Letterpress printingI enjoyed the process so much that I’ve arranged for my friend, artist Sophia Langmead, and I to go along to one of Mr Smith’s letterpress workshops this spring.

Catherine Hills Jewellery, Gift voucher

You can find my finished gift vouchers here and read more about Mr Smith's work here.