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Rediscovering the Advantages of Physical Art in the Letterpress Studio

A press in the letterpress studio

If there’s one thing Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Troy Patterson wants you to know about the Letterpress Studio, it’s that the Studio’s capabilities are for everyone—not just Graphic Design majors.

“The type of thinking taught in Letterpress can be applied to many other disciplines, i.e., advertising, fine art, writing,” he says. “We teach critical thinking behind everything.”

A growing need

The genesis for the Letterpress Studio began in Professor Patterson’s basement in 2011. He was in graduate school at Vermont College of Fine Arts pursuing his master’s degree in Graphic Design when he began collecting much of the equipment that makes up the studio now. By the next year, he’d secured the first studio in York College’s Marketview Arts, located in downtown York.

“We switched studios four times,” he explains. “We taught out of the basement of Marketview Arts until 2019, when we moved to main campus.”

Now located on the first floor of Wolf Hall, the collection of equipment spans 17 operational presses and a multitude of machines from the 1800s to 1955. Professor Patterson’s own collection makes up a portion of the equipment in the Catch and Release Press Studio, as he titles it. It features a wide variety of equipment as well as metal and wood typefaces, including a Scissor Jack press made by Professor Patterson through a summer research fellowship grant.

“There’s been a resurgence in graphic design and letterpress in the past 15 years,” he explains. “I’m always on the lookout for new equipment.”

Applying the physical to digital

Professor Patterson emphasizes letterpress as “marrying the physical with digital,” while still teaching students skills they can put into their graphic design portfolio that can be shown after they graduate from college.

“Letterpress teaches students to slow down in a world that is nothing but speed and instant gratification,” he explains. “We learn a lot about history because we’re touching it. You use your senses with the physicality of the type and the smell of the ink. Then you apply that same thinking to digital mediums.”

Professor Patterson’s self-coined “type therapy” has resonated with students, both in the major and outside of it.

“It’s really hands-on, and that’s what it makes it fun,” says Graphic Design major Josephine Wagner ’25. “The typefaces teach us about the ‘Old Ways.’ ”

Letterpress will be open to a broader audience in the future, as the prerequisite for the class is being removed, allowing more students interested in the hands-on class to learn about the presses and equipment, regardless of their major.

“The goal is to reach non-Graphic Design students,” Professor Patterson explains. “We need to step away from the screens every now and then and reconnect with the physical side of things.”