Ned Drew
Department of Arts, Culture and Media
Rutgers University

Brenda McManus
Assistant Professor Graphic Design
Dyson College of Arts & Sciences
Pace University

This letterpress project encompasses the traditional printing method with a contemporary and modular printing system. Inspired by the minimalist children’s book design of artists such as Blexbolex, Bruno Munari and Paul Rand, we set out to develop a narrative, and its accompanying visual vocabulary, based on a simple shape—the triangle. Using this shape we developed a unique story, generated through a system of expanding interpretations and multiple combinations.

The overall concept and design of this project revolves around our dedication to the foundations of design. Basic design principles, such as color, shape, abstraction and layering are at the core of this initiative. We developed a printing system based on a single unit, a one-inch right triangle. Like building blocks, we set out to create a series of simplified illustrations that were comprised of this single unit (the triangle).

Although conceived as a letterpress project, our process started with a more contemporary tool, the computer. We used Adobe Illustrator to design the animal illustrations, this process would later serve as a digital blueprint to work from when translating the various layers to the press bed. Once we worked through the design we produced one hundred, type high, 1” x 1” right triangles. To implement this system we produced 3D printed 1×1” triangular counter forms or “slugs”. These slugs enabled us to easily “lock up” different configurations on the press bed. We also custom cut a set of plywood “furniture” in various sizes that acted to fill and organize the unused areas of the press bed. This marriage of old and new technologies allowed for exciting possibilities, a departure from the conventional pica based printing process.

The use of digital tools in the design phase was instrumental in the success of our illustrations and in implementing and managing the printing process.

We often discuss with our students the concept of “1+1=3”. This simple concept helps to illustrate that, in design, basic elements can be combined to make unique combinations. In our printing process this is was also true. A major design consideration was the correct and balanced layering of colors to achieve the different components of the animals’ portraits. These whimsical and simplified representations came to life through the subtle layering and manipulation of various color combinations.