Alan Kitching – A Life in Letterpress

British typographer Alan Kitching's influential designs are captured in 'A Life in Letterpress', a remarkable new book showcasing the beauty and power of letterpress printing...

BY DEE IVA

picture: DAVID BURTON

picture: DAVID BURTON

The art of typography is something we are all familiar with and which is all too often taken for granted. We come into contact with it every day but most of us don’t give it a second thought. Generally, it’s because the kind of typography we interact with on a daily basis is functional, telling us what’s happened in the news, directing us around stations or helping us to set up our WiFi.

To see a freer and more expressive approach to typography you have to step into a rather rarified world where it is not only the messenger but is also allowed to breathe and become the main attraction and image.

Alan Kitching, legendary typographer and advocate of the letterpress method of printing, is part of a select group of designers (think Jan Tschichold, David Carson, Armin Hoffman) whose skilful use of type is so powerful that all other imagery is rendered redundant. From his early days as a typesetter to becoming the world’s foremost practitioner of typographic letterpress design, ‘A Life In Letterpress’ celebrates over 50 years of Kitching’s love affair with type. Spanning his career from first tentative experiments to his iconic designs for the Typography Workshop, this stunning monograph by John L. Walters (editor of graphic design journal Eye) is an absolute must-have for graphic designers and type fiends.

ABOVE: 'Broadside Number 1' stationery designs, 1988
ABOVE RIGHT: Alan Kitching. Taken during the late Eighties and Nineties when he taught letterpress at London's Royal College of Art
BELOW: 'A Thing Of Beauty' edition print, 2012

ABOVE: London gets the Kitching treatment in 'Broadside Number 8' for High Quality magazine, Heidelberg, Germany, 1985

Whether clean and precise or distressed and painterly, Kitching’s typographic works have developed a visual language of their own. His use of colour often provides an emotive context for these carefully constructed designs, which have appeared in The Guardian, Dazed and Confused magazine, typographic journal Baseline and posters for the National Theatre and Tate Modern. In today’s world where meaningful design is often pushed aside in favour of celebrity pap shots and selfies this really is a sight for sore eyes… 
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BELOW: See Alan Kitching at work in his London studio as he comments on his life in letterpress

ABOVE: Cover for The Guardian's Weekend magazine, 2001

‘ Alan Kitching: A Life in Letterpress’ by John L. Walters is published by Laurence King. A limited ‘Collector’s Edition’, £200, includes a signed handprinted letterpress print. The ‘Special Edition’ with three-piece binding, is £75. Available exclusively from laurenceking.com. A ‘Bookshop Edition’, £40, will be available from March 2017 but a small number are available now at Somerset House, London. If you missed the recent Kitching exhibition there, don't despair; see upcoming tour dates for his 'A Life in Letterpress' retrospective in Snape, Suffolk, and Glasgow.