If you really want to learn how to print, do it for somebody else using their negatives!
Printing your own negatives to suit yourself is one thing but doing it for somebody else is a whole different ball of wax! Isn't it?
I just received a bunch of negatives from a friend who doesn't have his own darkroom but he has a whole bunch of negatives that he hasn't seen prints of. He asked me to print them for him and he'd cover my cost plus a little beer money. I've got the batch about half way finished and I think I'm doing well but I find it to be a whole lot different when it's somebody else's pictures.
You're not connected with the subject in the same way you would be if they were your own images. You're forced to look at things from a different perspective. You see the details in the image in a different way and that forces you to pay attention in a different way.
As I am working on this project, I'm beginning to think it's doing me a lot of good. For lack of a better way to phrase things, it's forcing me to do a better job and become a better printer.
I think this would be a really good exercise for anybody who wants to sharpen their printing skills: Print somebody else's negatives, previously sight unseen, and do it well enough that the other guy is satisfied with your work.
What do you think?
I imagine this would be a good assignment for a teacher to give to his photography students toward the end of the term.