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Central Print – The Power of Printmaking!

| By: Nathan Sprehe
Nathan Sprehe

Recently we had the pleasure of working with a new arts organization in St. Louis to develop brand positioning, messaging, and a visual identity. Central Print seeks to bring people together through classes (wanna learn woodblock printing?), programs (restore an old Vandercook letterpress?) and tours that preserve and promote the art of printmaking. We’re all about digital, but sometimes you just want to make something with your hands, you know? 

The organization’s name pays homage in part to the influential Central Type Foundry, (founded in St. Louis in the late 1800s) but also speaks to the geographic location here in the midwest.

The process of developing the visual identity was part detective work and part designer’s dream—read on to get the whole story!

During our research we came across this image, the “Original Design of the Central Type Foundry” (remember, that was located right here in STL). Unfortunately, we had nothing else to go on, so we started sleuthing. Our investigation included exhausting the internet’s tiny bit of information about the image, email exchanges with Luc Devroye of McGill University in Montreal (we found this image on his website) and discussions with St. Louis’ own letterpress guru Eric Woods of Firecraker Press, all of which came up inconclusive. The best guess is that these were designs for alpha blox, sets of lead characters that can be combined into different formations to create interesting patterns and designs.

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We loved this concept—the modularity, the combination of different shapes/ideas/perspectives coming together to make something better, stronger. It fit right in with the community engagement component of Central Print’s mission. They want to make it easy for folks to come in, explore their creativity, learn and understand printmaking. We knew we needed to make the identity simple and approachable.

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The mark Almanac developed is comprised of a set of modular shapes similar to those found in the original Central Type Foundry design. The resulting type for CENTRAL is modern and geometric while the handprinted typeface for “PRINT” seeks a balance with its more traditional form. One foot in the future, one foot in the past.

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We explored several different typefaces for the PRINT.ORG type, but ultimately settled on Corbitt (first option below), a face designed by Nicholas J. Werner and issued as a metal typeface by the Inland Foundry in 1900. (History buffs and type nerds will be interested to note that the Inland Foundry was established in 1894 in St. Louis Missouri, just down the street from where Central Print has set up shop in Old North St. Louis).

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One of the many benefits of the modular wordmark is our ability to pull out the components to make new shapes, including highly simplified versions of common printmaking symbols and tools: registration mark, ruler, a brayer and pallet knife, keys and quoins (if you don’t know, sign up for a class at Central Print!).

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We proposed the idea of creating sets of simple wood blocks. These blocks could be easily arranged to help inexperienced printmakers (young or old) jumpstart their first printed creation.

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Below, a poster concept highlighting the magnetic power of printmaking!

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Sample quickstart guides given to class participants.central_print_newstudent_guide

Sample exterior signage.

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Letterhead and business card concept (in production now!).

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And this is just the beginning. We’d love to see the simple tool shapes turned into 3D sculptures that could sit out in front of the shop, adding some playful, colorful forms to the historic streetscape.

As Central Print begins production of materials, stay tuned for some beautiful hand-printed pieces. In the mean time, follow Central Print on Facebook to stay up to date on classes and programs.