Stephen Kenny in Lock-down, Locking-up
We are stoked to carry the show-stopping posters (also turned T-shirts) with a smart statement design and a retro-warm feel by The Printer's Devil. The master-mind-printer behind the works is Stephen Kenny, who kindly gave us a peek into his workshop in London. It's a small antique museum of a place where he spends all day "talking to himself," cranking out hand-set wood block prints on Farley Proofing Press from the 1940’s.
The Printer’s Devil is located in Hackney Wick, a neighborhood which the artist describes as having creative energy, cool places to see music and pleasant cafe by the canal. Two very good breweries such as Crate and Howling Hops of course adds extra charm. Stephen’s workshop is in an old Victorian building where Penny Black Stamps were made – the world's first self-adhesive postage stamps dating back to 1840, featuring a profile of Queen Victoria.
The wood type is made of various kinds of hard wood such as cherry, beech, or maple wood. Stephen sends a digital file to a local business that creates these wood blocks using a CNC machine. At times he uses vintage letter blocks obtained from special dealers.
"Tall Boy," as Stephen calls it, is a deep chest of 20 drawers where he stores most of his type blocks. It was a 5-year-hunt to obtain this piece of history, which originally contained tobaccos.
Q/A: Hightide/Stephen Kenny of The Printer’s Press
- Please tell me your background – where were you born, how your upbringing had an effect on what you do now.
I was born in Oxford. It was not a happy place or time for me. But things improved when I moved to Australia with my father and then to London at the age of 10. I don't think my background shaped my love of printing or typography at all. It's something that I found for myself. My love of old things comes from my parents’ Antique shop. They owned one in Oxford briefly so things that are well made and made to last have always fascinated me. I really love the way old wood blocks age and pick up marks and scratches in a similar way to an old pair of jeans - the wood type prints better over time - the older it gets the better it prints.
- What led you to open The Printer’s Devil?
Before The Printer's Devil, my workshop was called A TWO PIPE PROBLEM. So called because of my love of problems and also detective novels. In 2019 I changed the name to The Printer's Devil. A printer's devil used to be an apprentice letterpress printer when letterpress was still a trade up until the 1980s. There are 2 reasons I opened my letterpress workshop. The first one is that I’ve always loved eccentric typography from the 1880s - 1940s and printing especially ukiyo-e artists such as Yoshitoshi and Utamaro. The second reason is that I wanted to be able to look after my new daughter at home instead of sending her to nursery every day... so my original workshop was at home.
- A big part of your work is word-based – have you read a lot growing up, and do you still? What are you reading or listening to these days?
Good question. I love reading, always carrying a book with me. Currently it's Annie Proulx. I also read Japanese writers such as Haruki Murakami and Yukio Mishima. Music taste is varied... some jazz, folk, metal, experimental, electronic, punk. I enjoy to see live music in small venue, so I listen to mixture of old and new music. If I can see a band I like in small venue - then I'm happy.
- Do you have people or companies you would like to holler out, because you consider them valuable or inspiring?
Gosh. I don't really have any in mind. People and brands get in touch every week, people with a similar sensibility, so it's almost always a good collaboration. I do have favorite musician, brands and authors of course, but honestly I'm happy to work with so many people. I like the surprise of not knowing what the next day will bring.
- What is your treasure in your shop? Do you have a favorite typeface?
The current favourite is BASUTO, the FATFACE I used for THE NEW NORMAL. I love the angle of the O, it looks like a wheel in motion. The face is so fat, when I slightly under ink - it's possible to see the end grain in the print really clearly. Lovely.
- Do you have a daily routine?
I'm always up and out early. Out by 7.00, at work by 8.20. Usually start with a tidy up and end the same way. The rest of the day is spent designing, setting type, proofing and printing. I really enjoy working with wood blocks, paper and ink. I love how physical and and immediate it is.
- Would you say your work is inspired by your environment? Would you consider London as you home, and do you have another place in the world that holds a special place in your heart?
Yes, environment is important. My workshop is small and peaceful with a wonderful arched window, natural light is super important so I'm standing there all year round. Sometimes the light is incredible and I love the way the shadows of the leaves on the tree outside dance across the paper while I'm printing. It's like magic in a way. London is my home but I miss Japan all the time and I'm always working as hard as I can to go back and work there. And to see my friends. I miss Fukuoka the most, especially Yatai.
- What do you miss the most since the lockdown?
Freedom. My daughter.
- Where would you like to travel next when traveling becomes less off a scare?
I was meant to be in Japan in March 2020. But the virus put a stop to that. I'd love to go there in 2021 with my daughter if possible and also to come and see you and Yuichi in LA of course. :)