Tipos en su tinta

Art and culture

Seeking perfection in imperfection

We have all heard of Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press. But did you know that Tenerife still prints like the 15th century? This masterpiece of technique and patience is the meticulous work of two passionate typographers: Matthias Beck and Lars Amundsen.

Before I tell you about their career and their project “Tipos en su Tinta”,

I’m inviting you on a little time travel.

Around 1440 Gutenberg took the risk of persuading the Church to entrust him with the printing of the Bible. When he succeeded, he had to find solutions. So he invented a series of techniques, the movable types in lead, the typography press, the paper and the specific colour for this purpose. This is how typography was born! It enabled the mass production of books and the dissemination of knowledge and information beyond the elite. Until the 20th century, when it was replaced by offset printing in the 1980s, typography remained practically the only form of printing. It still exists today for craft and artistic work in limited editions.

Let’s now discover the universe of the ‘Tipos en su Tinta’

One is German, the other Norwegian, but they met on Tenerife, where they both live.

They are graphic artists and each have their own studio. Thanks to their shared passion for typography, they got to know each other at a meeting for Canary Islands graphic artists in 2011.

Typography is part of the graphic design curriculum. This gave them a first insight into the subject during their training. And both of them were eager to venture into the typographic adventure themselves. But the lack of space and resources delayed the start.

They continued their training with an intensive workshop in Madrid and then searched for material. A book on printing in Tenerife enabled them to make a list of places where they could find machines and types.

Most of these places were closed, but a few machines had survived… kept as memorabilia by their owners or their descendants.

Some were damaged: termite-infested wood, the action of a fungus. Nevertheless, Matthias and Lars were able to make 75% of their acquisitions locally and restore the material. The remaining 25% come from different European countries: machines were bought in Germany and brought by boat, certain scripts were found on Ebay in Italy.

The Tipos set up a first workshop in Matthias’ house and then in a coworking space. The big leap followed – they settled in the old library of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. There they have gathered a dozen machines and all the necessary types and elements, which corresponds to about 6 tons of material!

But what are they doing with all this?

They use traditional techniques and antique machines in a contemporary way.

It takes a lot of patience, but they still manage to find a balance between perfection and imperfection due to the wear and tear of the types.

Considering the time it takes to experiment and design, this is not commercial printing. Although they can print on a variety of media and sell posters as well as business cards or holidays, calendars, but also T-shirts, cloth bags and pillowcases.

The editions are limited and the pieces are unique.

Specifically, how does this work?

The “Tipos” were kind enough to create a poster with me so that I could tell you about the different phases of the process.

First the composition has to be determined and the types selected. This is the right moment to let the creativity take over. For example, we decided to mix several sources to make the result look more original.

Then it’s time for technique and precision: the types are placed in a frame. We had to use some fine metal elements to create spaces between letters. Then it took other, larger metal parts to fix the composition. On one side of the frame there was a mechanism that could be used to compress and lock all the elements.

We placed the frame in the right machine: a “sample print” followed, with a large roll that rotated thanks to a crank and carried the paper over the tinted types.

Now we decided on the right holder. After some doubts, we changed the size of the paper to put our idea into practice.

Time for the choice of ink…Black and white? Colour? Just a color or a gradient? I chose a gradient that Lars skilfully prepared. Then he combined the types with a roll.

Matthias explained to me the technology used to insert the paper correctly and operate the machine. I started turning the crank. The paper rolled slowly. When it reached the end, we could marvel at the result of our work. The “Tipos” warned me: it would require several trials and adjustments to make a good impression.

In fact, we needed six attempts… but it was so satisfying when we turned the paper over for the last time and finally saw a poster of exactly the quality we expected.

I fell in love with the small imperfections that appear in every letter. They remind us of the story these types experienced before they found their way into this workshop.

Did I feel like doing typography again?

The answer is yes!

And what happiness…. The “Tipos” organize communal workshops in collaboration with the city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife. These workshops take place on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 17:00 to 20:00. The monthly registration fee is 30 euros for 3 hours per week. You can take your creations home with you.

Together with the CajaCanarias Foundation, they also organize workshops for children – a way for them to share their passion and teach new generations that it is possible to work without computers.

In fact, even though we live in an increasingly digital world, the return of handmade, vintage and the need to switch off from the hustle and bustle of the world is creating a prosperous future for contemporary typography.





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