Leaves crunching under your feet, the glittering twinkle of a first snowfall, and the yummy smell of homemade cooking lets us know winter is on its way, dear letterpress lovers! So to kick off the cozy holiday season, we’re spreading the joy with a free winter themed vector set! This set includes joyful winter wishes, a determined hockey player, a festive Thanksgiving tom, and a delicious cup of cocoa to warm up your letterpress designs! All are free for use and in both EPS and PDF format. Cheers!
We’ve all heard the old adage that you should never mix business with pleasure, but Jessica Peterson, founder of The Southern Letterpress & Paper Souvenir would delightfully debate that. She’s built a business creating fine quality letterpress posters, cards, and printed goodies from her unusually narrow studio and in just three years, she’s cultivated a rich print media history to match her passion. A former fellow Central New Yorker, she’s weaved her printing prowess through three different states, creating a body of print work that caters to the art of letterpress. Here, we got a chance to catch Jessica between runs and to find out why Art Night in Northpoint, Alabama is extraordinary.
SOUTHERN CHARM I run The Southern Letterpress in Northport, Alabama. It is the narrowest print shop in the country: 6 feet wide and a city block long. In it, there are 52 cases of type, a basic bookbindery, a photo polymer plate maker and a Vandercook SP-15 printing press. I’m a book artist and letterpress printer, originally from Rochester, New York. I’ve been making artists’ books and multiples since 1994, and letterpress printing since 2006. My collaborator Bridget Elmer and I are building The Southern Letterpress to provide letterpress artwork, products and printing to undeserved areas in the Southeast. I work in Northport, Alabama, and Bridget is setting up shop in St. Petersburg, Florida.
LETTERPRESS PASSION I took a weekend class at The Center for Book Arts in New York because I wanted to print a book with beautiful text. I had been making digitally printed artists’ books and multiples, but when I saw the level of craft involved in letterpress, and how great the type looked (especially compared to a digital print), I was hooked. I soon left my day job in commercial print production in New York City to move to Alabama where I studied letterpress as part of my MFA in Book Arts at the University of Alabama. Since then, letterpress printing has slowly dominated my life and has become the impetus for many major life decisions. Printing is what keeps me grounded, especially now that I own like 3000 pounds of letterpress stuff.
INKING UP IN THE HEART OF DIXIE My print shop in located in historic downtown Northport, Alabama. The space used to be an alley between buildings which someone put a roof over and made into a long, narrow building. Before I moved in, the space was used as an art gallery, a lunch counter and a newspaper office. I’m across the street from The City Cafe, which has one of the best meat and three lunches. The Southern is next to a locally owned and very well stocked hardware store, Anders. Kentuck, an amazing art museum, is one block away.
I am part of Northport’s monthly Art Night. I typeset a simple, one color, text-based broadside, and invite everyone in the community to come try out the Vandercook and print one copy for free. The idea is that if you visit the shop every Art Night, you slowly accumulate a portfolio of prints for free. I started the print shop in Columbus, Mississippi, one floor above a still-printing newspaper press. The name of The Southern came from the first newspaper printed in Columbus, in the 1850′s.
PRINTING MENTORS Glenn House Sr., Joan Lyons, Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Sarah Bryant, Jessica White, Bridget Elmer, Emily Tipps, Walter Hamady (Hamady is a mythical mentor, because I am mentored by looking at his work… I’ve never actually met him) and Steve Miller.
THE DAILY GRIND I like to collect narratives, and print them typographically. I can’t draw (even after years of art school) so I love letterpress because I can use printed words to create image. The narratives I collect range from a simple quote to a whole story. For example, I have a postcard that reads “short haul”. This is a phrase from Gordo, Alabama used to describe the process of moving a large and heavy object a short distance, as in “I’m going to short haul this Vandercook across the street right now.” I also collect longer narratives about a range of topics: race in the United States, hurricanes and forgotten places. I make these narratives into artists’ books. Cause and Effect, which I wrote, made the paper for, designed and printed, describes how I learned about my connection to the 1964 race riot in Rochester, New York while living in Alabama.
FULL TIME FUN I am a designer and printer. My goal is for my day job to be printing, both commercially and as an art practice.
Part of the challenge of working in an area without much letterpress or art is that you have to introduce your potential clients to the medium, and teach them about why they should want letterpress printing. I sell my artist’s books to special collections, and my prints in area stores. Right now, I’m working on a line of souvenir postcards for Columbus, Mississippi and Northport, Alabama, two places that have tourists, but no postcards. I teach book arts, graphic design and letterpress to make ends meet.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT I found my Vandercook SP-15 in 2009 in the basement of an old farmhouse in New Jersey, where it was sitting disassembled in about 10 different parts for the previous 20 years.
It was very dirty and rusty, and no one knew if it would even work. The only way to get it out of the basement was to lift each piece through a small 1 foot by 3 feet basement window. I had pieces shipped down to Gordo, Alabama where I was living. I spent a year and a half removing rust and cleaning the parts, and figuring out how to put the pieces back together. Through that process, I learned how Vandercooks work. I know my press very well.
SPREADING THE ART OF LETTERPRESS I am proudest of how I got my press and my work. I try to use my press and printing to serve my community in some way. The places where I live don’t have a great deal of access to art, graphic design, typography. Sometimes I miss living in a big liberal city like New York City, but I am proud of the work I do in Alabama and Mississippi to spread art and printing.
BOXCAR’S ROLE My Boxcar base! I like to print artists’ books on handmade paper, and photopolymer plates make that process feasible.
My last book, Ma’Cille’s Museum of Miscellanea, was 80 pages, and about 14,000 words. Without photopolymer plates to print the text with, I would still be typesetting today. Also, even though I’ve adopted the South, I will always have my upstate New York rust belt pride, and therefore I love supporting a company in Syracuse.
SHOP TIPS I think no matter what, you have to keep printing and keep finding things that you are interested in printing.
COMING SOON The Southern Letterpress will grow, and succeed. I am really excited. (I’m also excited about figuring out how to get around Alabama football merchandising licenses and copyright so that I can print a bunch of Crimson Tide items for the fall football session. Roll Tide!)
A huge rolling round of thanks out to Jessica of Paper Souvenir for letting us get a glimpse of her letterpress finesse!
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!
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!
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)