Portugal-based Designer and teacher Ricardo Dantas published a fascinating medium post about “How to design an awarded letterpress printed book.” In collaboration with Ruben Dias and author Hellington Vieira, Ricardo produced a letterpress printed graphic novel telling the story of a piece of lint [Fiapo] that got away from its cloth and started an adventure alone, exploring love, loneliness, and self-care.
The book is delightful and has been celebrated by the print and design communities. In his insightful case study Ricardo notes “The whole narrative and character immediately brought us a sense of lightness, delicacy, and naivety. So we put hands to work using this concept as the main premise.”
I caught up with him to learn more about his creative journey, the production process and heartbeat behind Fiapo, the book he is working on currently and of course the joys of letterpress as a medium.
Can you tell us a little about your career path (and any highlights) so far?
I've finished college 5 years ago, graduating in Graphic and Multimedia Design by Escola Superior de Artes e Design from Instituto Politecnico de Leiria, in Portugal. Since then I've had a small experience at an advertising agency, became a broadcasting designer for an entertainment/comedy cable TV channel for a year, juggled different freelance jobs in between and eventually started working at Item Zero. From then forward I've helped built Tipografia Dias letterpress workshop where I've teached some letterpress workshops, joined the independent type foundry Tipos das Letras, participated as a curator adviser for an exhibition about printing techniques in National Printing Office history, which was very rewarding.
I started lecturing at my former college, which has been kind of a personal goal of mine for a long time. Ultimately I've also become the Porto city host for the international platform The Design Kids where I curate monthly design-related events to promote a better connection and easier integration of graduates in the professional context. Since then as Tipografia Dias we've won a Type Directors Club award in typographic excellence with the collaborative project "Manual Prático do Tipógrafo" (Tipografia Dias + Clube dos Tipos) and also as Item Zero, seen this recent project "Fiapo" be awarded an Honorable Mention at Prémio Design Do Livro by DGLAB and shortlisted for “Best Book Design From All Over the World” competition held by Stiftung Buchkunst.
How did your collaboration with Ruben Dias begin?
Rúben Dias was my teacher at ESAD, since then we've maintained contact and when he decided to build Tipografia Dias as an operating letterpress workshop, he invited me for an introductory free workshop in letterpress in exchange for some help arranging and ordering the whole workshop space.
After that first workshop I was quickly invited to stay at Tipografia Dias and become a partner at his editorial design studio Item Zero. We've been working together since then, back in late 2015.
How does analog experimentation as Tipografia Dias inform your commercial work at Item Zero (or as a designer generally)?
Our whole practice is centered around Typography, we either are designing books at Item Zero or designing type at Tipos das Letras, so it is only natural that has highly interested type geeks we needed to duel ourselves in letterpress to better understand our digital practice, composing with movable type brings us access to a whole different way of interpreting design, we can better understand the importance of white space, grids, and harmony, the physicality of either the materials but also of the type itself, how to better shape letters, how to better compose a balanced page. Going to the roots of Typography and submerge in this analog process not only gives us more certain about some decisions, but also the confidence of having the knowledge by experiencing it, and knowing why things are like they are.
I like the distinction of "we didn’t want to be Printers but Designers that Print.” Why was this important to you?
Design as a practice is very rewarding when you can immerse yourself in the project from start to finish, and truthfully a designer can impact the project at every stage of it. As designers, we didn't want to use our time printing other people projects, we wanted to be there not only printing but also thinking what and why we are printing, Tipografia Dias started with this manifesto, we use it as an extension of Item Zero, we use it as a tool to nurture knowledge by promoting workshops, we use it as a printing workshop as long we can be involved in the design process.
How did the Fiapo book become a project?
Hellington Vieira contacted Tipografia Dias directly, he had seen a former book we developed and was looking for someone that could do the project and had the capabilities to imprint an analog feeling to the object, focusing on the materials and sensorial feeling of the reader.
As we got to understand the project better we realized we could go even further, it was a small print series so we could really up our game to deliver the most sensorial experience.
I love how you explored weight (or lightness!) and gravity in the layout, how did it inform your print methodology?
As we got hold of the initial drawings we realized they were very delicate, so it was rather instinctive to go for a lighter feeling of the object, so with the help of the white space and the object itself we could extrapolate this notion to the reader.
Was this the first project you have used the technique of rotating pages on the press bed?
We knew we would need some kind of composition mold so we could compose the text of each page for it to lay always at the same place each page, but we also wanted to have variation to different type of pages, so we needed to change the layout here and there.
As we sketched a layout we realized that the chapters titles were laying almost at the exact opposite of the page diagonally, from there we just needed to do some minor tweaks for it to lay perfectly on the page on both layouts and suddenly we reduced the time of the whole process quite substantially, it was the first time in such type of project.
What are you working on now and how has it been shaped by your work on Fiapo?
At the moment, I'm currently working with Rúben Dias and Fábio Martins (fonts.scannerlicker.net) (recent partner at Item Zero) on a publication and possibly an exhibition about bookbinding, we've identified a shortage of recent and updated didactic and informative publications about printing and also a bigger distance between designers and graphic production knowledge, there are very few design college degree courses that still have a graphic production component to their program, and we strongly believe that being informed about the different details and options in graphic production will eventually lead to better-produced visual objects.
What do you hope for the future of letterpress as a creative medium?
Letterpress is still full of potential, and it has grown in me the emerging necessity of at least exploring it a bit so as a designer you can understand better your practice. There are a ton of new techniques much faster and cost-efficient nowadays, but movable type has the magic of persisting as the initial effort to spread out knowledge. Obviously, it is not worth to maintain a letterpress workshop with the intention of competing with large printing offices, with the growth and improvement of digital and offset print, but I do hope the type, cabinets and presses can be put to good use in smaller specialized workshops, design schools and if nothing else museums or other preserving institutions.
What advice do you have for designers getting started with letterpress or other forms of printmaking?
Letterpress is slow! Letterpress has to do with concentration, planning quite in detail your path, and a handful of pre-established decisions before even going for composition phase, at least if you are executing a project with a deadline. If you are only exploring, it's still slow but is much more free in that sense. Research and be respectful of the materials you are using, there is not many people still casting type, or building presses, so almost everything you'll encounter will be old, and needs to be preserved so other forthcoming people can still take advantage of their existence.
And finally, where can people see more of your work or learn about the Fiapo book?
You can follow my Instagram (www.instagram.com/dantas_type).
If you did like the read keep your eye open for some upcoming articles at my medium account (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As Ricardo mentioned above “Fiapo” was awarded an Honorary Mention at 2018 Portuguese National competition “Prémio Design do Livro” and has been shortlisted in 50 books in “Best Book Design From All Over the World” 2019 competition held by Stiftung Buchkunst.
Read more about the typeface selection, binding, paper stock and production methodology in Ricardo’s outstanding “How to design an awarded letterpress printed book” article here.