“It’s an idea that had been growing in my brain for some time,” says Brian Trevaskiss from Sheffield Letterpress. Now, spurred on by the Tour de France’s excursion to Yorkshire, it has become a real thing: Brian has built a pedal-powered printing press, or PPPP for short.
“I’m mad about letterpress and mad about cycling,” explains Brian. “I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the Tour de France coming to Sheffield than to combine my two passions in a unique and slightly mad way.”
The first glimpse that Brian’s ‘slightly mad’ idea could become a reality came when Brian heard that the Sheffield Culture Consortium were looking to commission art projects for the Yorkshire Festival – a 100 day festival to kick off the countdown to the Yorkshire Grand Départ. Brian had never applied for any kind of funding before, but pitched the idea and got the go-ahead.
Over the next few weeks, Brian worked with product designers Click on the design for a printing press run by pedal power, and through a combination of prototyping, experimentation, late-nights and lots of bike parts, the PPPP came to be.
The machine works by converting the rotary motion of pedalling into the reciprocating motion needed to create and release the printing pressure on the letterpress blocks. Basically, as you pedal you apply enough pressure on the printing press to transfer the ink from the letterpress blocks on to the paper. The main “engine”, as Brian calls it, is made from six bike bottom brackets, various chain rings, and a crank spider from a BMX.
When he launched the PPPP at the Yorkshire Festival, Brian was thrilled with the reaction, and even more thrilled that all the mechanics worked. “Amazingly there were no breakdowns all weekend – I didn’t even have a chain come off, which I still can’t believe.”
The prints produced at the festival used a typeface designed by Stephenson Blake, once the largest producer of metal and wood type in the UK, and based at Kelham Island in Sheffield. “Stephenson Blake were at the forefront of type-founding and I wanted to use some of the typefaces they designed here in Sheffield,” explains Brian.
He has now designed two more prints based around the Yorkshire Tour and printed on his pedal-powered press. The two-colour prints are titled ‘En Danseuse’ and come in either white or, appropriately enough, ‘jaune‘.
“When the world’s greatest cycle race the Tour de France is about to descend on Yorkshire, what’s the best thing to do?” adds Brian. “If you’re a printmaking cyclist like me you build a pedal powered printing press and set to work printing Yorkshire Tour inspired prints.”
You can see Brian’s Pedal-Powered Printing Press in action at the finish line event on 6th July in Sheffield, where it will be printing for the whole of the Stage 2 race day. If you can’t make it on the day, you can still buy the pedal-powered prints from Brian’s Folksy shop Sheffield Letterpress
• Follow the journey of the pedal-powered printing press on Brian’s blog.