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MEET: Stephen Kenny of A Two Pipe Problem

UK Handmade contributor Mandy Knapp meets Stephen Kenny of a Two Pipe Problem, a letterpress studio based in Walthamstow in East London, to find out about his work and take a sneaky peek at his workshop.

Stephen Kenny


Please describe your work setting for us.

My studio is an L-shaped room at the back of my house, it has fantastic light and it's very quite. Perfect conditions for printing.


What are the tools of your trade and which is your favourite?

The tools of my trade are:

1. Stephenson Blake Proofing Press. Built 1930s (bed size 13 x 18 inches) Used for medium scale prints.

2. Farley Proofing Press. Built 1940s (bed size 18 x 26 inches) Used for large scale prints

3. Adana 8 x 5 press. (bed size 8 x 5 inches) Used for stationery, business cards & wedding invites.

a two pipe problem

Then of course, there is my wood type collection, I have over 50 complete sets from dating from the 1840s - 1930s.

I have a 40 Line (6.5 inches) hand cut gothic font from the 1840s, this might be the rarest font I have but my favorite face is a 2 colour (fill and outline) 18 line (3 inch) from 1936. It's incomplete but I love printing with it.

a two pipe problem

How did you come up with your 'brand' name?

I'm a big Sherlock Holmes fan, if ever he had a particularly tough case to solve, it would require 2 (or sometimes 3) pipes to solve. I don't smoke a pipe though.

a two pipe problem

What's the ethos behind your work?

I like letterpress at it's purest form, 'design by movable type' rather than design in illustrator to produce a zinc plate to print with - you can emboss with the zinc plate. But what's the point? It's soulless. Design by movable type is part design - matching a line of text to a wood font, and part compromise - setting text to fit the space you have. Also, printing with old worn out, wooden blocks that are marked and scratched makes each block and each print entirely unique. This is all part of the charm of letterpress.

a two pipe problem

Who are some of your favourite artists/designers/makers?

I'm inspired by musicians and artists more than designers and typographers to name a few; Andre Bretton (French surrealist), Harry Houdini (magician and escapologist), David Lynch (film director), Peter Doig (painter) and Bohren (German funeral Jazz).

a two pipe problem

What's your definition of a perfect day?

A perfect working day would be bright and sunny, and would start at about 8 in the morning with a slight chill in the air. I'd work all day on my own prints. I work on my own so I'd have a mixture of radio 4 and music from my ipod to keep me company. I'm lucky enough to enjoy perfect days every week. Perhaps to make it even more perfect, a new wooden font would arrive at the studio for me to clean and print with. I think I'd like to end this day with a glass of fine french wine in the company of my wife and daughter. Perfect.

a two pipe problem

What would be your dream commission?

I've had a few dream commissions already; Tate Modern book cover, several record covers and a branding job for Bread & Butter. A dream commission would be a large branding job where I'm given free reign on design or a book cover. I'd love to be commissioned to produce my own prints to sell in the V&A or TATE modern. I'm already in the Design Museum shop and that is such a thrill.

a two pipe problem

What is the best part of what you do?

The best part of what I do is that I love my work. And I love wood type and letterpress in general. Also, working for myself means that's I never know what is around the corner, I never know when I'll be designing another book cover. But rather than feel anxious about this - it means when I'm not designing for clients I can design and print my own work to sell in the Design Museum or other shops.

For more information on Stephen's work, please visit www.atwopipeproblem.com