Something to Say, Blackwell, July 2022

Letterpress workshops on the theme of ‘Protest’.

Letter of application:

Dear Lakeland Arts,

‘Something to Say’


I am writing to apply for this Creative Call Out. I would like to create a collaborative piece of work with visitors to the site based on the theme of PROTEST.

I lived in Hong Kong in the 1990s and have close connections and family there. The right to protest has been radically and violently restricted in the past two decades. Hong Kong has changed from a free (albeit quite materialistic) society to a population of frightened and silenced people.

I believe that people should have the right to protest and make their voices heard, especially if their democratic and human rights are under threat. In the UK, the Police and Sentencing Bill has significantly eroded the right to protest since April.

I consider myself a minority in Cumbria because of my Chinese-Portuguese-Spanish-South-East Asian heritage. I always tick the ‘other mixed’ box, usually way down the list of ethnicities. I don’t consider myself ‘other mixed’, but nor do I hide. I just want my voice to be heard, equally and without prejudice.

I would like to make a piece of work that empowers people and reminds them that Cumbria, although peaceful and a place of that most people ‘escape’ to, has a radical history too.

My proposal is simple – a collection of small hand-printed letterpress protest signs that are mounted on short lengths of wood and stuck into the grass around the House.

The signs (about 15 x 20 cm) would be printed on 180 or 600gsm card and stapled to a length of wood about 40 cm long. I would help the participants set the letterpress type and print them onto card using my vintage Adana letterpress machines. All materials are biodegradeable and/or recyclable. I have been donated offcuts of card by local businesses so I am using materials that would otherwise be landfill. I expect that the installation would only last the duration of the week that I run the workshops and I would take it down at the end of the week. The advantage of printing the signs is that people could take a print home as well as leaving a copy at the site.

The signs would be about the right to protest and the rights we need to protect such as the right to roam, the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, the right to wild-swim or even the right to enjoy a hard-boiled egg in peace. I like the idea that radicalism (Latin radix, root) comes from the ground, that it refers to getting back to basics, and being grounded. Protest signs can be funny, unifying or divisive, thoughtful and challenging. I would very much look forward to seeing what people come up with for their signs.

The signs would not be weather-proof long-term but the inks I will be using will be oil-based and not run in the rain. The card is heavy enough to withstand some battering.

Printing has always contributed to an ‘interesting’ relationship between authorities and radical voices. In the sixteenth century, only licensed printers could operate printing presses. Printing multiplies the message, whether it is propaganda or dissent.

Printing also has strong connections to STEAM, in that much scientific knowledge was disseminated via the medium of print, and the technology in itself has changed the way we communicated and continue to communicate. We still use words such as typecast, cliché and out of sorts which all come from the printer’s workshop. Problem-solving is key to successful printmaking: geometry, measuring and estimation, mirror-thinking, process and the physical manipulation of materials and objects. All these skills are very STEAM.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Yours sincerely

Vega Brennan

Moths, part 2, 2021

The ‘real’ moths of the Solway are going to be joined by six fictional moths based on illegal night-time activities.

They are based on an incident last year when, during lockdown, someone dumped two televisions, a glass TV stand, a dart board, a shattered bathroom mirror, speaker and two vacuum cleaners in the ditch in the wood nearby.

I now need to select 6 moths, create scientific names, common names and descriptors for them. I need interpret them as reduction linocuts and print them onto the partners of the pages already printed with real moths and use letterpress to print the text. Then binding the books. Edition of 10. This will take a while.


We stole flight, 2020

Magpie feathers from wood printed with letterpress and then returned to the wood.

Some people class magpies as vermin and actively trap and shoot the birds, despite magpies being a protected species.

Magpies feature in the story of my Chinese name, they make a bridge after death to join the two lovers across the Milky Way. They are not seen as thieves or chatterboxes but instead bring people together.

Printing on leaves, 2020


my body bends to the familiar paths but
I only know the shapes
from certain angles

I will always be an intruder

I cannot tell the structures;
surface is not narrative

the deer have started following
the paths we have made

I am the first to walk the path;
my face is tickled with cobwebs

this is not a safe space

only I know the shapes
from certain angles


I collected the hazel leaves fresh from the wood at the turning of the season. They stood out golden and green when most leaves had fallen and were turning brown and russet. I was working against time. I kept them cold and cool. I assembled the lead type, changing words and rearranging phrases as I went along. I printed on the leaves, aware of the tone and contrast of the text against the surface of the leaves.

I returned the leaves to the wood after scanning the leaves. They will slowly decay with the other leaves to make leaf mould for the next generation of trees.

Elements, 2018, update

The Elements labels shifted form and I decided to make the Air cards into ‘Sky Labels’.

376 hand-set letterpress printed on handmade labels.


The instructions are as follows:

Take a sky label.

Take it home.

Pin it to the sky.


I also used the letterpress to print 36 words of the elements of ‘Growth’, ‘Soil’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Water’ onto hand-made paper. I framed 24 of each as part of the exhibition. They were pinned to the backing board using lills pins, used by entymologists, botanists and bead artists to secure objects. Fitting.

geltsdale 2018 elements soil and growth

Printing Nature, RSPB Geltsdale, 28 November – 31 January 2019