The Master Speed – Robert Frost

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At our wedding in September 2013, our good friend made a beautiful reading of The Master Speed by Robert Frost. It is such a poignant poem and linked really nicely to the mountain setting of the day. As a thank you, I wanted to create a print of the poem to give as a gift on our one-year anniversary.

To date, it was my most detailed printing attempt. I had to combine a long prose of text set in metal type and a headline in wood, meaning that I would need to figure out how to align two impressions on a small galley press without any grippers or feed alignment.

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I started with the copy, which was set in 14pt Rockwell – this was mainly because it is my most complete fount. I only have so many characters in other sets, so this decision was made for me. It really pushed the limits of my leading and spacing materials but after several hours I was ready to take a proof. Aside from a few ligatures, the only error I made was to call the author ‘Rodert Frost’. Not bad.

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I took the proof on the press with the type in a galley, but despite being a galley press made the type too high for the thick Somerset cotton paper that I’d chosen for the print.  Accidentally, I noticed that without ink it created a really lovely blind deboss, which I decided to run with (after correcting the typo) for a couple of prints before adding ink. The cotton paper was quite soft and I wasn’t applying too much pressure, but I didn’t want to completely knacker my type by doing more than ten impressions this way. I then did a short inked run without the galley for a backup.

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Letterpress - The Master Speed

Next was to set the 10-line bold grot, and mix a nice light grey ink so that the title didn’t take too much visual attention away from the words themselves. I botched created an alignment mark in my furniture so that I could make sure of consistent placement of the paper on all impressions. Not perfect but it did the job.

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To finish, I float mounted it in a black frame, on a black background. I forgot to take any nice pictures of it before I gave it away, which was a bit daft.

In the end, I was very pleased with the outcome of the project. It’s not perfect (by a long way) but is by far the nicest and most complicated thing I have printed. Onwards and upwards… Thanks for the beautiful reading, Nick.

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still-
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with such a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar