Part III, Printing on the Press: Steven Lee-Davis

This is part three of a three part conversation series on the Kelmscott/Goudy Press and the original William Morris broadside we commissioned to be printed on that press. Today, the artist Steven Lee-Davis joins us to talk about his inspirations and creative process.

Do you feel that Morris has influenced your art at all?

I attended art school in the 80’s and at that time painting was largely within the realm of expressiveness. DeKooning and Kandinsky were still the exemplars. So, I was a bit of an oddball as I sought out the Pre-Raphaelites, Nazarenes, and Neo-Classical painters. Even as far back as high-school I would study paintings executed by the Pre-Raphaelites reproduced in fairytale books — of course, I had no idea what I was looking at, but it fit well with my passion for fantasy illustration. It wasn’t until much later that I really began to pull out the different artistic personalities of the Victorian age and dive into the writing of Ruskin, Rossetti, and Morris. Fast forward two decades and I find myself a Roycroft Renaissance Artist working among artists and craftsmen that very much uphold the ideals espoused by William Morris. I guess Morris has been part of my artistic growth since I was a kid.
Can you tell us a little about the printing process?

Printing on an iron hand press is deceptively difficult. I regularly use an Albion “foolscap”, which is a tabletop model issued by Hopkinson & Cope and so I knew a thing or two about the process when I approached the Kelmscott housed at the Cary Collection at RIT. Since the press is so large and has such an historic presence, I was glad to be assisted by Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, the Associate Curator of the Cary Collection and the woman who restored the press over the past year. Together, we spent hours wrapping the tympan, adjusting the micro-settings on the bed of the press, measuring the exact height of the carved block, setting the position on the bed, setting the stop point, and cutting the frisket to make a perfect mask for the image. We spent more time practicing the hand-rolling of the ink and making sure it was the right viscosity. Actually, that ink is not straight black, but has reflex blue cut into it to contrast the yellow tint of the paper. Oh, it was a huge process, but we just had to glance the book display case to our left to see the Kelmscott Chaucer and we knew that we had to make Morris proud. I think we did.
How did it feel to use the Kelmscott Press?

Printing on the Kelmscott Press was the highlight of my printing career. Really, when I am hanging out with other printers and we are exchanging print stories over a beer, my story wins every time!
How did you approach the design of this broadside?

The design of this broadside was created in collaboration with the Board of the William Morris Society, U.S. Jack Walsdorf, the President, was a tireless communicator who made sure that this project came to fruition. I really think it is an amazing thing to have a limited edition portrait of William Morris printed on the Kelmscott Press. I hope that the proceeds benefit the Society and that members enjoy the print. It was a pleasure to work with everyone involved.

To purchase the broadside, visit our online store here. All proceeds benefit the William Morris Society in the United States. 

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