We put together a stack of eye-popping set-up sheets with layers and layers of our neon Day-glo ink that had been run through the press several times. The glowing result became a light source of its own! This is the Bella Figura design Polka Stripe designed by Erin Jang. It is a design meant for Great Fun!
Michigan is a swirling eddy of vibrant creativity and a full force of passionate people. From the endless cherry farms in Traverse City, the delightful scents of pasties cooking in the breathtaking U.P, and of course, the energetic letterpress work of Anna Tomlonson of Ginger Tree Press from Kalamazoo. Working with a keen know-how of typography and a fiery passion for detail & craftsmanship, Anna stops for a minute between runs to let us in on the loves and labors of letterpress.
1-2-3 TYPOGRAPHY I have a BFA in Graphic Design from Western Michigan University. I thought I wanted to go into Interior Design, but a freshman foundation design class and a lecture on typography by visiting designer Wolfgang Weingart prompted me to apply for the Graphic Design program instead. It was the idea of typography that is what first drew me to graphic design and, later, to letterpress.
GIVING SOME LOVE TO LETTERPRESS A few weeks before picking up the press, I took a letterpress workshop at the Kalamazoo Book Arts Center, which is located just down the hall from my current studio space and has been a great resource. In the workshop we learned the basics of setting type, locking up a form, and proofing a design. My Chandler and Price was quite different than the presses we worked with in the workshop and when I started printing on my own, I only had a vague idea of how my press ran, which I gathered from taking the press apart to move it.
It was a combination of Elementary Platen Presswork by Ralph W. Polk, Boxcar Press’ videos, and a good deal of trial and error that helped me amass what printing knowledge I have.
As I became more comfortable with printing, it felt more and more natural. I have always been very detail oriented and I have fallen in love with the problem solving that printing on a hundred year old press requires. In my design work I have also always been most interested with the substrate, in fact, it was the basis of my bachelor’s thesis. Having such a close relationship to paper choice and printing technique is one of the things I find most exciting about letterpress.
MUCH ADO IN THE MITTEN My studio is in a building called the Park Trades Center, it is an old warehouse that was converted to artist studios in the early 80′s. It is right downtown and participates in Kalamazoo’s Art Hops, a monthly event where downtown businesses host area art work and artists open their doors to the public. It has proven to be a great marketing tool.
INSPIRED BY CRAFTSMANSHIP While I don’t have any one particular printing mentor, I am always inspired by printers whose focus is craftsmanship.
CREATIVE GEARS IN MOTION I always start a design on paper, creating a word list before I even start sketching. If I am working for a client, I am trying to find a direction that is appropriate for their particular project. If I am working on a project for myself it helps to narrow down my focus and create guidelines for the project. I have found there is nothing more challenging than a project with no restrictions – it is hard to do anything when you can do anything.
DESIGN + PRINT Since my background is in design, I often think of myself as a designer first and printer second. My work falls into three categories: non-letterpress design work, letterpress for fellow designers, and most often, seeing the job from ideation and design through printing.
FULL TIME FUN? I don’t print full time, yet. I also do the food ordering for a local gourmet food and wine shop. Half of the week is pure studio time, and the other half I like to print after work with a chunk of cheese and a glass of wine.
LADY LUCK I found my first press very much by chance. A friend of my dad’s was trying to sell his parents’ house, which had a complete print shop in the basement. They were struggling to find someone willing to buy everything and, preferring not to turn it into scrap, they were looking to give it away. At that point owning a press was more of a long-term fantasy than short-term goal, but it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. To say moving the press was a struggle is putting it lightly. Thankfully, I have some dedicated friends who spent a 17 hour day with me, in mid-August, hauling as much as we could out of that basement and back across the state.
SHOP TIPS Find mentors and ask for help, both in business and in printing. While there is something to be said for figuring things out for yourself, building a network and learning from other people’s experience is an invaluable asset.
WHAT’S NEXT Next on the list of skill sets to teach myself is die cutting. An old blueberry box full of dies was one of the treasures that came with the press, and I’m excited to put them to use. I am also planning my first workshop for this fall and starting on designs for a full holiday collection.
Huge thanks to Anna for letting us getting a sneak peek at Ginger Tree Press!
For the fifth installment of our letterpress roundtable discussions, we asked some of the printing and designing world’s die-hard denizens to show off their love of all things printing via their tattoo work as well as the stories behind the ink. And trust us, there’s always a good story to be told. As always, we’d love to hear of your own stories embodied in tattoo-form in the comments section!
I decided to get a Fuchs and Lang litho press tattooed on my back as a kind of homage to what is no longer made, and had plans to compliment it with an old style C&P 10X15 eventually; obviously not two at a time. These were by no means my first tattoos, and so I knew what I was getting into and knew what I wanted out of the artist. I found the appropriate engravings and took them to a few tattoo shops and talked to some folks/had consultations, and eventually settled on a fellow named Josh Egnew at 3 Kings who I had worked with before. Firstly, he did such a great job with the Fuchs and Lang that I was excited to bring him the drawing of this C&P; he kinda balked at it at first, as it was even more of a p.i.t.a. than the litho press, but after taking the time to trace it out for a transfer – he seemed happy enough, but a little bit reluctant. It took 2 sessions: one to outline and handle some of the shading, and the other to finish up the shading. By comparison, the litho press took him one session. I’m sure I squirmed a lot more for the C&P.
In the end I know he was very happy with the results, and the work is slightly out of character for him, but it was first rate work and the whip shading he used was top-notch. I can honestly say I will not be very likely to get anything as ornate or difficult to work with as this press, but I feel it is a commitment to what I love to do – and a fitting illustration as homage to this lovely breed of art that, if you are reading this blog, you undoubtably know and love yourself.
When I was about to graduate from CCA (California College of the Arts) with a degree in Graphic Design, I knew I wanted a bit more of a hands-on approach to design in my life than most of my classes had emphasized (I took a lot of letterpress and bookmaking on the side to make up for it). On a whim I applied to the Hatch Show Print internship program for the month after graduation, and I got accepted! Thus, my boyfriend and I relocated to Nashville, Tennessee for 6 weeks.
While at Hatch I got some AMAZING experience playing with type, designing and printing, and learning about the history of letterpress. I knew I had found my calling, and I felt that it was such a milestone experience that I wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate it. I have always loved the Caslon ampersand, and ampersands in general (my cat is even named Ampersand), so when I saw a Caslon ampersand woodblock at Hatch I knew it was the tattoo I wanted. My other tattoos are kind of hidden, so I also knew I wanted it in a place I would see (and others would see) all the time, which is why it’s on my wrist.
I pulled a print of the woodblock, and took that to the tattoo artist to copy. I specifically wanted it to have some woodgrain texture so it would look more like woodtype, and less like digital type. Overall, though getting the tattoo hurt a lot, I absolutely LOVE my tattoo. It is a constant reminder of my passion for history, letterpress, and things that are well crafted and handmade.
While I was at the Ladies of Letterpress conference this year, I decided to get a type related tattoo as a souvenir. It’s a less obvious version of mind your p’s and q’s. When I look at it, it is a p and q within curly brackets and from the perspective of someone else, it is a b & d.
My part time employee at the shop Bill also has a p’s and q’s themed tattoo. His is much more obvious with the actual moveable type forms tattooed with the wording of “mind your” I’m not entirely sure why he got his, beyond a love for letterpress.
I had the tattoo done just a few months after dropping out of college here in Mexico City. My job back then required me to do a whole lot of print work for the company I used to work. However, being so inexperienced and contact-less after dropping out, I had to try quite a lot of print shops, most of which produced less-than-stellar results.
One thing I never got to learn while in school was color matching and the whole printing process, since most of my education was focused around digital output. It took me a really long time to get the hang of these concepts, trying out an endless list of shops and ruining, I’m sorry to admit, quite a bit of paper in the process. At the time, I chose to have the tattoo done since it was very useful to have this comparison point readily available, almost at my finger tips. Now a days, it’s more of a welcome reminder that learning about anything is more akin to a practicing a craft than carrying out a job.
It was only natural when planning for a tattoo to use a ligature as my trade symbol. After a bit of research and exploration, I found this italic ampersand an allegory of my life: … always looking to what comes next... Over the years I’ve see a few other ampersand tattoos, but something about the way this one’s shaded and the subtle wrap of the terminals around my forearm have kept it distinctive.
I have many tattoos large and small, some of them pertain to printing and the rest are Victorian Luddite sentiments. The first and second printing tattoos I got at the same time: an ink brayer and a copy of a “poison” skull from ludlow specimen book. The third is the now famous “apathetic ink knife” of which is a bit cathartic now since some how it proliferated the web a bit after I got it. A friend of a friend drew it (lithoshop) and one of my tattooing friends convinced me to get it. The next one will be a little guy of a windmill……
Do you or someone you know have ink in the blood? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!
It has been over forty years since Ke Francis of Hoopsnake Press and Flying Horse Press set up shop in the creative haven of Tupelo, Mississippi. But recently, Ke has been bitten by the revitalizing bug and it shows—from spirited gatherings (with spirits) at the academic mecca of the Bellagio Center, revamping his dear and true Hoopsnake Press, and having his work shine in a multitude of galleries and collections, including The Polaroid Collection. Here, young-at-heart Ke reveals the awe-inspiring interstices found in the lush canopy of design and message.
AN ARTIST WITH MANY TALENTS I am a narrative artist with 40 years of experience. I came to be involved in book arts because I had written stories that I wished to publish and I am a trained printmaker. I set up a studio in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1970 and worked there as an independent professional artist / book artist from 1970 until 1996. I am presently in the process (a two year project) of moving my studio back to Tupelo. In 1996 I moved Hoopsnake Press to Orlando, Florida and became the Director of Flying Horse Editions at the University of Central Florida. Over the past 15 years FHE has had two other directors (Ryan Burkhart and Theo Lotz) and the press has become a world-class facility with their help. I have served as a tenured professor in a number of administrative capacities during that time period, but have always maintained Hoopsnake Press and an active studio career.
I am represented by Lowe Gallery in Atlanta and regularly exhibit there. My book works, paintings, prints, photographs and sculptures are in numerous public and private collections including The Getty Museum, National Gallery, National Museum of American Art, High Museum, New Orleans Museum of Fine Art, San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art, Yale / Sterling Memorial Library, Van-Pelt Dietrich Collection, and The Polaroid Collection, among many others.
THE ADVENTURE BEGINS I went to Italy on a Rockefeller Grant to the Bellagio Study Center where I was lucky to spend time with some very interesting professionals, including Carl Djerassi (Djerassi Foundation in California), Rollo May (psychologist), Paula Fox and Martin Greenberg (authors) and many other interesting characters. We drank bourbon and read each other stories in the evenings for entertainment. I was encouraged to find a publisher. Following up on their suggestions, I went to see Andy Hoyem in San Francisco. He shut down Arion Press for the afternoon and I read them short stories and showed them my woodcuts. Andy was interested and liked the work but he realized I wasn’t as well known as the artists and writers he has chosen to publish (Dine, Motherwell, James Joyce, etc.) and he would have a hard time selling my work. He’s a good person and a smart businessman.
I returned to Mississippi, entered a national print competition with a woodcut and won first prize (Warrington Collescott was the juror) and met a person at the exhibit reception that wanted to sell a 14.5 x 22 C&P. I bought the press then and there and hauled it back to Tupelo. With no formal instruction I printed my first book, Jugline, using woodcuts and lead type. This strikes me as silly to have started on this letterpress venture with no formal training but I did have friends who were commercial printers and they were helpful. I sold over 150 copies of Jugline and it is in some terrific collections.
Letterpress printing would represent about 15% of the concept development and production of one of my projects so it probably makes sense that my mentors cover a wide range of disciplines. Jim Trissel was an early letterpress influence. I went to Colorado College as a visiting artist, at his invitation, and got interested in his early work with photopolymer.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS My creative process is highly intuitive. I tell my students that if they successfully complete their envisioned project with no mistakes then they have probably plagiarized someone. Unless a person is a true”visionary” they are copying ideas they have seen and appreciated. Every time they make a mistake and find a creative solution that solves a problem (a fanfold to correct an imposition mistake, etc) then the creative project moves one step closer to being their own idea and not a plagiarized idea. Mistakes are your friend…maybe even your savior…
I have been working so long I can actively steal from myself. My process is a crossover of the creative writing process, the visual imaging process and the processes involved in multiple production. Each of these processes benefit from the mistakes made in their sister processes. Each mistake provides opportunities for innovation and creative problem solving. Every time a problem is solved creatively the whole body of work takes a giant step forward. Even the frustration becomes bearable when this principle is understood. Almost…
CRAFTSMANSHIP SHOULD BE NEARLY INVISIBLE The history of printing has produced an amazing group of specialists who have traditionally worked on the collaborative efforts involved in the writing, designing, illustrating, printing, and binding of a book. Each of these processes have their own heritage and history.
These craftsmen and artists have devoted their whole lives to their portion of these collaborations and it is not unusual at fine press sites to find projects involving writers with fifty years of experience, designers with fifty years of experience, illustrators with fifty years of experience, printers with fifty years of experience and binders with fifty years of experience. The sum total of their experience is often 250 years (or more). I respect these collaborative craftsmen and artists and often am amazed by their facility and their faultless production.
I really have tried, throughout my career, to stay focused on the communication of concepts and ideas and in order to do that I have maintained the position that I am neither an artist nor a craftsman. If the first response to one of my works was, “it is beautifully printed – beautifully crafted” then I would certainly feel that I had failed in my effort. If the first response was an intuitive strong emotion based on the content of the work then I would feel pretty good. I am of the opinion that the assessment of craftsmanship should be (at least) a secondary response to a communicative object.
Craftsmanship, in my estimation, should be nearly invisible.
SOURCES OF PRIDE I am proud to be a contributing member of an artistic community whose primary purpose is to encourage and support the highest cultural ideals. I am proud to have been directly associated with so many brilliant and talented people, and I am proud of my family (immediate and extended) and their ongoing contributions to make this a better society.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has played a supportive role in my efforts since Boxcar began. Early conversations about my work, advice on plate making, technical support for the photopolymer processing, printing advice and sometimes just swapping funny stories and the moral support given by Harold and all of the employees has helped me through relocations, equipment moves and the many ongoing frustrations associated with trying to achieve the experience necessary to produce the work at hand.
THE PRESSES It’s a long story [laughs] involving a bunch of great folks and many presses. C&P’s, Challenge Proofers, large and small Vandercooks, Pocos, Etching presses I built and purchased, and the old Reliance – I still own them all.
SHOP TIPS The best piece of applicable advice came early in American history…Ben Franklin said, “He who teaches himself has a fool for a master.” Hard to argue with or improve on that statement. I have flown in the face of that advice and paid a heavy price.
I have also learned some really innovative and interesting stuff from my mistakes. All of which would have not occurred if I followed some master’s advice. The important part of the quote is that it informs you, early on, that the creative and innovative path isn’t a pleasant experience….maybe rewarding, but not pleasant or easy.
WHAT’S NEXT I am currently on Sabbatical from the University of Central Florida where I maintain a research space as part of Flying Horse Press. I intend to finish some book projects that are long overdue and work on a series of paintings and engravings based on the theme of “Rafters” (people and animals isolated on rafts in dire circumstances)…stories will follow the graphic work and the books next. I have several one person exhibits (Florida Mining Gallery in Jacksonville in the Fall and Piedmont College in Georgia this winter). I am in the process of upgrading my studios in Mississippi and expect to be in production there again by the Fall of 2014.
Big round of thanks to Ke for letting us get the double-scoop on both Flying Horse and Hoopsnake Press!
A common downfall of new printers using light colored inks is thinking the print will be the same color as how the ink looks in the can. Here is a can of nice deep rust orange ink but it is actually meant to be a light apricot color. When applying an unfamiliar ink to your press, use a small amount and work your way up to color. That is much easier than having to wipe ink off and possibly put lintballs from a rag on the ink drum or disc. If you do have way too much ink on, it’s less trouble to simply wash up and start over. There is never an end to learning more press tricks!
Wandering the displays at the Printers Fair at the recent 2012 Ladies of Letterpress Conference reminded me of a nifty pocket book written a few years ago filled with one liners about productively living our lives. This great instructional guide gave little gems of wisdom and witty truisms such as “be courteous to everyone” or “remember people’s names”. All good, sound advice.
Lo and behold, I started to notice a few good suggestions and observations at the printers Fair that we can probably all smile over, agree with or be improved by. So here in a nutshell are interesting life reminders for all of us from our fellow letterpress printers, in beautiful form.
(photo credit: above – Margot Ecke – Smokey Road Press)