Inside Fort Langley’s contemporary Flatiron building sits a mass of antique equipment that continues to pump out products daily, thanks to Paul Wood.
Through the building’s front window, passersby can see the Langley artist perched over a vintage printing press, and carefully measuring the alignment of wooden letters before hand-cranking a heavy roller across.
“It takes a long time to set stuff up, it’s not like a computer,” Wood explained, as he re-measured a line with a ruler. “If you don’t like the way a line of type is set, you can’t just kern it in. You can’t just change the font size, you have to go and get a new font size out of the case and distribute all of the old type back and reset it.
“And then you proof it, check out how it all looks, make sure your line spacing is right and look for typos. Sometimes that takes five hours or a couple of days.”
Using this process, Wood creates beautiful typographic and linocut art that he sells at his new space, Number 52 Studio + Gallery, which just opened at 23230 Billy Brown Rd. on July 1.
A longtime Langley resident, Wood has worked as a graphic designer for 20 years, and has always been drawn to the grittiness of letterpress printing.
He and his wife, Deb, had planned to open a studio in Fort Langley in their retirement. But when the perfect space came up for sale this year, they decided to move up their time line and jump in now.
Eventually, Wood hopes to run letterpress workshops, and use his gallery space to display artworks from other local artists.
“The truth is, when you do graphic design and you’re sitting in front of a screen all the time and you’re punching a keyboard, it’s great that you can make things that clients love … but there’s no tactile feel to it, there’s no working with your hands — they’re two totally polar opposites,” Wood said.
“Apple (computers) make all of this white, crisp, clean stuff, and then I go over to my printing press and my hands are black within 10 seconds of working with all of this handset type.
“So this, I get to decide what it looks like — no art directors besides me, no clients to tell me the colours are wrong. And I get to do what I want, and I get to just work with stuff that’s been around for a long time. And in the end, you come up with something that still feels new, but you couldn’t make it with new stuff.”
Since taking a letterpress course at the University of the Fraser Valley many years ago, Wood has been collecting bits and pieces of printing press equipment — something that is becoming much harder, and more expensive, to do.
He purchased his first press in the late 1990s for $1,000, and that same piece of equipment now sells for between $7,000 and $10,000.
He has also amassed more than 50 fonts of wood types, and another 50 of lead type, as well as original cabinets and cases to store them in. The current press he uses is from the 1950s or 60s, but he also has another, older “romantic looking” platinum press that is disassembled in his garage, and one more press on the way that he originally found in a barn in Abbotsford for $75.
“People collect this stuff more as curiosities or antiques,” he said.“These cabinets end up being kitchen islands in people’s homes, or they tear all of the guts out of the interior and they store magazines or they store beads in them — which works — but it’s not what they were initially made for. And that makes it harder, because there are less people like me doing this, so they get re-purposed, and then when you want one, they’re harder to find.”
Beyond his graphic design work, Wood is also a painter. Several contemporary pieces from his collection “Recalling” are currently on display inside his studio.
The images are based on Wood’s memories from everyday life and international travel.
“They’re all assembled from images in my head — snapshots of images, things I can’t recall perfectly. Some are a little bit scratched, some are a bit faded, some have a lot of detail because those things stand out. And the rest is just a feeling that I had when I was thinking about it or reflecting on those places or those times.”
Number 52 Studio + Gallery is open Sunday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment.
For more information on Wood and his art, visit www.number52gallery.com.