Week 7: Visiting Paekakariki Press

This morning I spent a delightful two hours chatting to Matt Mackenzie of Paekakariki Press in Walthamstow. He set up the printing press in 2010, buying the unit and the land, and has presses, type and casting machines from throughout printing history. The press also works as a publishing house, where he publishes sewn handbound works of poetry and literature to a select audience.

He is studying for an MA in Local History, for which his dissertation is on the correlation between rising literacy rates and the printing industry in East London.

His father was a printer in New Zealand. He worked in sound in West End Theatres until redundancies coincided with his wish to reduce days.

When the screen has called for printing machines, he has played a consultant role to ensure the actors use the machine correctly and look like they know what they are doing! He helped on the filming of Pennyworth (Batman spin-off) and Paddington 2.

Some further questions I’ve asked Matt:
The name Paekakariki is a Maori word – why did you decide to name your press this and what significance does it hold for you?
paekākāriki – perching place of the little green parrot
pae – perching place
kākā – parrot
kākāriki – little parrot & green

I’m a great fan of alliteration: Paekakariki Press also I have a house there.

Whilst I was visiting the studio, you had two students on placement with you from university. How do you think this kind of training helps with their design training?
It’s a very good discipline having to arrange physical blocks of letterforms and seeing how it affects the design.  I had a little discussion on that subject as they were leaving today and that is what they found.

How does it differs from the traditional print apprenticeship?
The traditional apprenticeship was 7 years, so it in no way reaches the same level of skill and competence. You just can’t hope to meet and resolve all the physical issues that might occur or come up against all the design problems in 5 weeks.

How were you taught printing and letterpress?
My father taught me a great deal at his Bibilo press at VUW NZ. Subsequently I have learnt from various retired practitioners who have very kindly shared their skills and knowledge.

What is your favourite part of your printing process?
What is unusual here is that I have to be able to do all the tasks that would have been split between many different people and commercial companies. Obviously that means I cannot approach the technical excellence of my predecessors who were specialists. I do not attempt four colour photographic reproduction! Sadly the skill level in general has generally declined to that of the 1880s and very few could hope to emulate the work displayed in the Penrose Annuals from the early 20c.

Why is printing important to you?
I suppose because I grew up with it. It’s also very creative in a human way rather than the way Graphic Design has gone with the reliance on the computer.

What advice do you pass down to new printers?
I am trying to uphold the standards of the 1880s and rather advise against the current fashion of printing for the blind

Would you design your own letterforms? What would they look like?
Interesting. I often wonder whether the world needs any more typefaces, but then find one that I feel needs a little tweaking to make it perfect…

What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?
The good thing is that there is often not a typical day. There are so many different things that need doing: book design, casting, imposition, printing, binding. And then all the commissions that clients ask for which are often outside what I would normally do so provide a learning opportunity for me.

Favourite typeface? (difficult to narrow down I know)
Somehow Garamond features quite often.

Piece of typography you’d like to create?
Sometimes I think I would like to do some Kurt Schwitters like creations, but never seem to have the time.

Typographers/designers you admire?
Jan Tschichold, Berthold Wolpe

Favourite piece of type history/equipment?
The Hoe Type Revolving machine

Piece of type history would you most like to own?
I suspect I have most of it, somewhere.

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