diy project: letterpress block wallhanging

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before we get started with today’s diy project from lauren and derek (which will go up at 1:30), i had to add this wonderful project submitted by andy beers (you may remember his incredible sneak peek from last month). andy created this incredible letterpress block wallhanging in his office using blocks he found at a fleamarket (andy shares tips for finding blocks after the jump). the result is a really fantastic art piece that serves double duty as decoration and a way to mitigate the incredibly high ceilings in his office. for directions and more photos click here or just click “read more” below. thanks, andy!

[looking for more diy projects? check out the d*s diy archives right here or a similar wall installation right here with keys]

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Andy’s Details:

We recently put up a new installation in the office composed of vintage French letterpress blocks. Jessica collected the blocks at a flea market in France, but you can find sets of old blocks online for incredibly reasonable prices. Try searching “wood blocks” in the Printing and Graphic Arts section of Ebay. There are also some Etsy sellers that post letterpress blocks from time to time. Make sure to stock up on enough blocks for the size of hanging you’d like to create. Ours is about 11′ by 7′, and we used 150 blocks.

The layout for the blocks was arranged to mitigate our very high (12′) ceilings, and to interact with the strong shadows that are cast throughout the day from the large wall of windows that front our office. I love how it turned out- it’s very topographical in person, with the different heights of the blocks reading in relief.

Installation was a snap- we arranged the blocks on the floor for general shape and density, and then transferred the blocks to the wall using double-sided foam tape. (like this)

The tape adheres to wall surfaces brilliantly. The porosity of the wood, however, allows the tape to sometimes fail on the block side of the connection. Either plan to have a few letters fall from time to time, or help the tape with some permanent adhesive on the wood side.

We also hid the acronym for our business, JHID, and our office-mates, Yianni Doulis Architecture Studio, inside the body of the shape. It was a fun, quick, simple project that would be great to try at home.

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Jen Clark

I would recommend 3M Command strips as an alternative to double-sided tape. They seem to stick to just about everything, and usually come off without leaving a mark.

Erin Tyner

This looks awesome! As a renter I am always looking for inexpensive and non-permanent ways to add pizazz to our plain walls. Thanks Andy for sharing!

stacey

Brilliant! I love letterpress wood blocks, well any woodblocks in general. We have several huge empty wall space with high ceiling in our home that we don’t know what to do with. I love this idea. Thank you!!

val

it’s lovely, but as a printer it always pains me to see beautiful fonts on wood type broken up, sold for 10 bucks a letter, and used as decoration instead of their intended purpose- printing!

Jenny

I don’t understand how this is a waste of type. It looks to me like someone is appreciating the blocks as art and creating something beautiful from them.

If they’re just sitting around not being used, who’s to say this isn’t a good purpose. How do you know they’re still able in usable quality anyway?

Jenny

bonnie

I have to agree with Val and Patrick’s comments above. As an actual letterpress owner, it’s hard enough to find individual letter blocks alone at a reasonable price. Kind of a waste.

christa

this is just amazing! what an awesome idea for some inspiration! I love love love love love it! thanks for the idea!

Kristi

This is great! I was in a shop just last week and saw a ton of these! I thought they were so fun, but had no idea what to do with them.

Kristin

If anyone lives in nyc you can sometimes find these letters at the Hells Kitchen Flea Market Sat/Sun on 39th between 9th and 10th. This has inspired me to install a small wall hanging. THANKS :)

Patrick Thomas

Heres an idea what to do with them. lock into a chase and PRINT from them. Then hang that on the wall. You can tell from the photo that these are usable, some of the type i’ve got looks for the scrapheap but still works.

Jenny

So if I don’t have a printed and a chase I don’t deserve to have objects like these in my house? I don’t think that’s fair. If you want to print with these why not buy up the extras on eBay? There seem to be plenty. Not all of us have printers and machinery for these, but I don’t think that means we shouldn’t be allowed to display them.

liz

i love type and this is so gorgeous, i would have never thought to display pieces like this

Elizabeth

as a lover of anything with text, i think this is fantastic! plus, it goes into the cool -and- easy file! thanks for the idea!

shing

This looks beautiful. I love it.

There doesn’t seem to be a pronounced lack of letterpress blocks to be found, so I really don’t think it is as if the prices are being driven up because some people want them lying around. It seems to be a very distinct aesthetic that won’t exactly start showing up everywhere(although there is probably a huge crossover between type aficionados and people that like old things).

Alexa

Who knew this idea would provoke such an emotional and argumentative set of responses from people who, clearly, have so much in common–a love for characters, type objects, and messaging? It’s another version of the old form vs. function discussion.

As for me, I do love the idea of embedding the objects in my home/on my walls as art. I think this is a great way to appreciate typography–whether you’re a hardcore typohpile or a softcore consumer.

Elizabeth

I’d like to chime in with Val and Patrick. As someone who uses and appreciates wood type for its printed quality, I am saddened to see it gobbled up simply to be unused for its originally intended purpose. And yes, people buying it for decorating purposes does in fact drive up the cost of wood type. Fonts are often split up and sold piece by piece which makes it inconvenient and far too expensive for the average printer.

Melissa

This is truly beautiful. I do feel the pain of breaking up hard-to-find sets of type, though.

Brittany

What an awesome idea! I’m a graphic designer so anything type related wins for me. I really love this idea. I’ve got to do this in my apt!

e.soule

That is awesome! It is so creative and fits that vintage/modern/twist theme, much like Anthropologie. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see this idea up at a few retail locations. Good work Andy!

Kim

What an absolutely FABULOUS idea! It looks so beautiful and I have a passion for type…. great job!

Leslie

Wooden type is few and far between. It’s not like you go to the letterpress store and buy a set. A printer cannot use one A, one B, one C, etc. in a press. It takes several of the same letter at a time to do a job. Many of the useable fonts are being broken up due to eBay, to be used for projects other than their intended purpose. I hope some of you can understand the sadness that it brings letterpress people when they see a font disbursed to the three winds… “Ah, if only the family were together again, what a beautiful life we could make…” sigh.

Johanna

I love typography – in any form, and especially in unusal ways. So working with type on one hand and transporting it in new surroundings wich might not be the intended ways of use in the first place doesn’t cancel each other out for me at all. On the contrary, I think one enriches the other.

Millie

Looks great, but as a letterpress artist, it just saddens me to see these blocks of type misused in this way. please don’t encourage others to do this. I don’t want to have to battle even more people on ebay.

questioningyrlogic

why is it better to use something for its intended purpose?

Amanda

Most things can be used other then their intended purpose. The point a few of us are trying to make, is that letterpress type is hard to come by and by having people purchase it for this purpose you are breaking up type familys, mostlikely. If you plan to do a project like this, understand you will be encouraging people who sell type on ebay to break up type families because they see a market for it. They think they will be able to make a better profit to sell individul letters. If you are a true lover of letterpress, I don’t think you would ever do this to your type, unless you truely know the block is damaged.

p.s. our logic makes plenty of sense if you understand how difficult it is to come by a complete family of type to be used on a press!

Holly

I can see what some of you are saying about breaking up sets. That is sad. But how do you know if someone is breaking up a set?

Many antique shops sell letters that don’t appear to be sets anymore.

val

many letters aren’t in sets anymore because they’ve been broken up in hopes of selling them for more!
i was just at a friend’s shop, and was drolling over his collection of hundreds of full fonts of wood type, many over 100 years old- representing the development of different faces and styles, and a truly irreplaceable source of history and knowledge. probably worth thousands to the trend-setting decorators, but priceless in the history of printing.

Jessica Helgerson

The photos taken are in my design office, where Andy works. Just for the record, since this has subject has created such a dialogue, the letters were being sold at a flea market in France where my husband and I were living at the time. We bought the whole lot (it wasn’t quite complete). The letters are attached to the wall with double-stick tape so they can easily be removed and reused (perhaps as type on a press) at a later time. . .

Eugenia

This is lovely. It give me a lot of ideas!! Thank you for sharing!!

Praisley

Great idea:)

Great installation:)

Great American right to hang them as you have. They’re yours and thanks for sharing them with us. Let us enjoy the ART and toss the criticism. Wow!!!

MC

I agree that this is a lovely decorative idea, but it saddens me to see the letters used in this way. Wood type is for printing and that is what many letterpress printers still use it for…it doesn’t just sit around!

Chris

Yes Praisley, sadly you are right. It does seem to be the Great American way these days- forge ahead with your ideas, criticism be damned. My cat’s coat would would look real cute as a pair of mittens but… Design needs to go beyond the visual components or else you’re just decorating.

ethnicscrapbooking

I saw tons of broken letter sets at Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market this past fall in NYC. I only bought my initials, because I couldn’t think of any other use for a complete set (although they didn’t have complete sets) but now I wish I had bought more. Love the fact that they are removable from the wall and not damaged by this use.

beth lind

AS A TYPE SETTER MYSELF, IM GLAD THAT OTHERS ENJOY THE OLD WOODEN TYPE, I THINK THIS IS A GREAT IDEA , WE HAVE DONE THE SAME THING AT OUR SHOP, WITH ENGRAVINGS THAT WE NO LONGER USE. IT’S NOT LIKE THEY ARE BEING BURNED OR RUINED.

Adi

I totally and completely agree with Jenny, these are deffinitely not a waste. They are a piece of art, and prbably greatly appreciated. If they are old, at least they are not in a dusty basement. This is a FANTASTIC design!

That is a gorgeous wood table too!

Dan Howell

I have a few letterpress blocks used to print movie posters. I believe it would be a great collection to this idea. I would like to sell if anyone is interested:
Dick Tracy (made in the 40’s) –
2-3/4″ x 6-7/8″
Captain Marvel(made in the 40s) -2-3/4″ x 6-7/8″
Batman movie (made in the 70’s)-5-3/4″ x 6-7/8″

Sara

Working as a designer for an old newspaper/printer, we have many sets of blocks from years ago that collect dust in the basement. Being too sentimental to let them go, but long since moved to the digital age, this would be the perfect way to appreciate them yet not have to part with them. I do think that I would use Command Strips though so as not to damage the blocks themselves.

LoopyMind

To preserve the original letterpress blocks, but still be able to sell letterpress blocks as wall decoration, one could make use of a laser-cutter / etching machine. they’d lack the authenticity of course…

Steve

Chris,
That’s a pretty general statement – that the Great American Way is forging ahead without heeding the criticisms you may encounter.

You’re implying the most criticisms are accurate and should be heeded. I agree that design needs to go beyond the visual, but this isn’t really design since it’s not for a customer nor is is it solving a problem. Art yes, design no.

Claire

I have enjoyed reading all the comments. I am a letterpress printer and I love wood type! I want to say is that this wall hanging is beautiful Jessica. On another note. It is very hard as a letterpress printer to find complete sets of wood type! When buying or selling wood type for decoration please understand that it is NOT ok to break up sets!! I also have to say that it is nice that non letterpress printers do love wood type for its beauty, but this does also drive up our cost to be able to buy them.

Janet

Well, I have a large box of lovely type, blocks with signatures on them and advertising blocks. I will be willing to SELL them to the lovers of the print process here, since the lovers of the print process are so worried. I have not molested them in any way. They are just sitting there. Just kidding. I see your point, printers.

J.B. Taylor

Janet, I’d be interested in seeing your type for purchase. Is there a way you could send me photos? My husband and I run a letterpress co., and we appreciate that you are willing to give yours up, so they can be used in the way they were intended.

And to all the commenters above, who are pissy about the sad letterpressers . . . please understand that full sets of type are indeed becoming harder to find, and when we do find them, they are too $$$ to afford, so breaking them up for decorative purposes makes our job so much more difficult. Take an honorable part in helping the art of letterpress printing to continue, and not become a relic of the past. Amen.

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