Hot Bed Press began in 1994, as a group of graduates looking for a workshop where they could make prints. The artists formed a collective of printmakers and since 2006, have made Salford’s Casket Works their permanent home. Hot Bed Press has transformed the former Victorian Mill into an artistic hub, now home to several artist studios and a huge array of printing equipment.
Accessible membership costs and short courses are just some of the ways Hot Bed is realising its bold vision for the future of print. As well as providing a physical space for artists to work, the non-profit is committed to keeping print alive and exploring and challenging the potential of the medium.
I visited Hotbed’s Winter Print Fest, a mix of open studios, exhibitions and demonstrations, to get a taste of the collective’s work.
Despite the frosty temperature of the building, the atmosphere at the Casket Works was warm and relaxed. The building is a bit of a maze, but it was well worth exploring each part to get a real sense of the place.
The open studios provided an opportunity to chat with some of the Hot Bed artists, as well as showcasing a variety of styles and techniques. The facility boasts equipment for a wide range of printing processes such as screen printing, etching and letter pressing, and the art on display ranged from abstract compositions to familiar depictions of Manchester landmarks.
As well as the open studios, Hot Bed also hosted a series of demonstrations throughout the day. I attended the letterpress demonstration, led by Alan Hartley, a former printer and regular volunteer at Hot Bed. As someone with no previous knowledge or experience of printing, the demo was a succinct but fascinating introduction to the technique.
Alan started by providing an overview of the letterpress’ history. Johannes Gutenberg developed the first mechanical printing press in the 15th century, revolutionising the printing process, which had previously been a long and arduous task. Before Gutenberg’s invention, books were either made using intricately carved wooden blocks, which were time-consuming to make, or handwritten by scribes.
Gutenberg’s new machine used metal, rather than wooden blocks for printing, and the moveable letters could be rearranged into multiple patterns. The new process made printing faster, and more affordable. Literacy rates and the production of books soared in the wake of the letterpress’ invention.
Alan, who started work as a printing apprentice in the 1960s, described how digital technology and the invention of word processing tools have diminished the need for traditional letter pressing. However, the technique is still commonly used as an art form. He showed us the huge selection of typefaces available at Hot Bed, and how to arrange them before letting each of us print our own copy of the quote he had assembled. The demo was relaxed and friendly, and really useful for anyone intrigued to know a little more about print.
The ground floor of the Casket Works was home to the 20:20 Print Exchange, the fourth iteration of the innovative exhibition. Each year, Hot Bed works in collaboration with a selection of other printing workshops. Artists from each workshop produce a unique edition of 25 prints (all 20 x 20 cm), and send the first print from their series to Hot Bed, the first stop on a touring exhibition. Each artist then receives a random selection of 20 prints made as part of the project.
The 20:20 Print Exchange includes a variety of workshops, including community groups, and university print departments. The result is an extensive display of the possibilities of print. This year was the largest exchange yet, with 44 printing groups taking part. There was definitely something for everyone amongst the artwork on display, but my personal favourites included Manchester School of Art and Leeds Printing Workshop.
The Winter Print Fest offered a great insight into all the creative work going on at Hot Bed Press and really showcased the benefits of collaborative work and exhibition making. Hot Bed’s manifesto points to explore the full potential of print and educating people on the medium were certainly realised at the event. I even walked away with some new prints from last year’s exchange!