The Norlu Press and “The Art of the Album” Design and Printing Competition

LAPF Web Banner 2016VEarlier in the summer, Mark Barbour, founding curator at the International Museum of Printing, announced that a juried letterpress and screen printing contest would be part of this year’s  Los Angeles Printers Fair. To complement the fair’s theme of The Music of the Presses and an exhibit of the Vinyl Sleeves printed by the Stoughton Printing Company, the contest required artists to design and print an album cover for a fictitious band whose name must be derived from the name of a font of type.

Clearly, Mark and his colleagues had me in mind when they devised “The Art of the Album Design and Printing Competition.”

Having been steeped in great music as the Gen-X baby brother to three Baby Boomer siblings who each introduced me to their own preferred bands from a young age, I cannot remember a time when I was not keenly aware of music, bands, album cover art, lyrics and liner notes. Being the son of a trade printer and typographer who passionately printed for  more than 70 years, I began learning letterpress printing from him before I could reach the delivery board of a Chandler & Price platen printing press. I also attribute my desire to design and print an entry for this competition to studying journalism at St. Bonaventure University, working for a short time at Flower City Printing and later teaching media graphics as an adjunct professor at my alma mater.

And so, despite having other projects in various states of completion at The Norlu Press, I initiated the creative process in June to have an entry complete by the September 15 deadline. As it evolved, I embraced the challenge in the competition rules to incorporate printing and typographical terms and historical references into my work. In the end, I had three album covers for three different bands. I printed each on my circa 1863 Gordon Jobber with one hundred percent wood and metal types, cuts, engravings and ornaments from my dad’s collection, or reclaimed from other shops, and in a few cases, cast by 21st Century craftsmen who adhere to the old ways…no photopolymer plates here.

I will post more details about each design later, and if I am fortunate enough to be recognized at the competition on October 1, I will share that as well. For the time being, here is the front of each of the album covers and a brief description of the entry. Winners, or not, it was a whole lot of fun designing and printing these!

(Note: My medium was the 78 RPM album cover, as this was the largest format my 7×11 press could handle, and even at that size, I had to divide the design into quadrants to accommodate the positioning of the paper and gauge pins on the platen.)


The name of this fictitious recording artist is the Edward, or “E.” Longated Roman Orchestra, which is derived from the Elongated Roman font. Inspired by the design of 78 RPM phonograph record jackets printed in the 1920s, this design emphasizes function over form and reflects an era when individual recording artists were often less prominent than the titles of the works they performed. The ink is primarily soy-based Dense Black by Southern Ink. VanSon oil-based process blue, mixed with opaque white, produced the “gas-blue” highlight color that became popular at the end of the 1920s, as gas-powered stoves were gaining popularity in America.


The name of The Concave Tuscans comes from wood types that became popular in the second half of the 19th Century. On this record jacket, it is set in antique 10-line Concave Tuscan Condensed wood type attributed to Bill, Stark, and Co. circa 1856 and made popular by William Page (1829-1906). In recognition of the role he played in popularizing wood type in the United States, the affected Billy Page fronts the band and his name is set in 24 point Ray Shade, a 2014 revival of a 19th Century font by Hill & Dale Type Foundry. The inspiration for this design is the 1950s/1960s garage band genre.


The formal covers of Liberace albums in the 1950s and 1960s inspired both the design and the selection of a mononymous artist for this album cover. Theodore De Vinne,  a 19th Century printer, was not much like De Vinne the imaginary recording artist. He collaborated in the 1880s with the Central Foundry to replace the popular ornamented typefaces of the day with a simpler display face. Nicholas Werner and Gustav Schroeder (who receive credit as producers of this album) released the font before the end of the century and named it De Vinne, in recognition of the printer who first promoted its requirement.

I also want to thank Tonja Scott at Tonja’s Lil Shop for helping out with the large format die-cutting that I couldn’t do in my shop. Having full-size “records” cut from black card stock in the ten album covers I had to submit for each entry was a last-minute idea, and Tonja made it happen!

Those are the entries from The Norlu Press in the 2016 “Art of the Album” Design and Printing Competition. Please come back again for details about each one.


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