It’s hard to put into words how much our world has changed (both locally and globally) in just a short period of time. We struggle to keep up with daily reports and advisements. However, out of this comes sharing and goodness from those around us and our own printing community.
Here at Boxcar Press, we’d like to share with you a little bit of that goodness offered online (from a safe social distance in these times). It’s inspiring to know that there are good folks out there spreading some cheer!
If you’d like to shine the spotlight on someone, let us know! We’d love to hear from you!
Live Daily Readings of Children’s Books With Mary Bruno(of Bruno Press) via Instagram. Come share a good time from Minnesota with Mary every day starting at 12 Noon Central Time!
Wilderness of Social Distancing letterpress card from Waterknot Press (from Portland, Oregon).
Waterknot will be offering a buy 4 get one free special on their website — indefinitely. No code required. Just put 5 cards in your cart and you will only be charged for 4 of them. (via their IG account)
Free Downloadable Color Book PDF – cool creatures and fantastic beasts from Isaac Bidwell of Pickled Punks. Grab a set of crayons and have some fun from this fellow Syracuse-based artist!
(Fun fact: Isaac Bidwell is an artist that works in the same building as us — the Delavan Center in Syracuse, NY!).
Spring Ephemerals of New York State “Color Your Own Letterpress Print” from Lion Tail Press of Ithaca, New York.
Laurin Ramsey (via IG): “Hey friends! In these uncertain times, when so many of us are isolated indoors, it’s more important than ever to bring beauty and sunshine in however we can. Spring is coming, so I’ve created my first “color your own” letterpress print for us adults and kids, too! Printed on 100% cotton, acid-free paper, this takes beautifully to watercolors, colored pencils, markers, or whatever coloring tool strikes your fancy. Keep for yourself to brighten your home, or send to a loved one who could use some comfort.
Starting today, I’m also offering a 15% site-wide discount at liontailpress.com, when you enter code SHOPSMALL at checkout. This COVID discount also applies to LP e-gift cards AND custom design work going forward! Thank you so much for your continued love and support through this time, for reaching out to loved ones and neighbors, taking good care of yourselves, and taking all of it one day at a time. We’re in this together!”
Watch“Making Faces: Metal Type in the21st Century” for free via Vimeo. Grab a bowl of popcorn, your favorite snack & enjoy the beautifully documented film on making metal type by P22 Type Foundry and Rich Kegler (Rochester, New York).
Daily Art Challenge. Stretch those creative muscles daily with Raven’s Wish Gallery art challenge! Raven’s Wish (in Janesville, Wisconsin) posts daily on their Facebook the next thing to make, post, photograph, or do! There is sure to be a challenge theme that will rev your artistic juices.
Try A New Printing Technique (or Revisit a Favorite One!) Have fun pulling out some of your printing and printmaking books to brainstorm a new print project. Need ideas? The Printmaking Ideas Book by Frances Stanfield and Lucy McGeown is chock full of great projects!
Printing With Kitchen Items Can’t get to your press? Never fear – embrace your wooden or kitchen spoon to make a print! You’ll use the metal or wooden spoon as a baren to make fun, fantastic prints!
These suggestions are a drop in the bucket of all the ideas out there for creativity, entertainment, and boredom-fighting while you isolate and distance. Share yours with us! We’re curious to see what you’ve got going on!
We are thrilled to share with you photographs of a beautiful collaboration between the Washington Poetic Routes project and a small group of Washington-based artisanal printers. The project itself is a digital poetry-mapping program that explores Washington state’s bountiful geographical terrain and that of the human relationships within.
The enterprise has joined together Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts, countless wonderful poets across the state, and eight letterpress artists to create the beautiful letterpress broadsides. At Boxcar Press, we are privileged to showcase and highlight this magnum opus of creativity. Below are photos of the process, as well as few shots of the incredibly crafted pieces. Enjoy!
Claudia Castro Luna, the creator of the Washington Poetic Routes website and SVC’s Designer in Residence from 2018–2019, has this to say:
I think of the poems on this map as heartbeats. Red beats full of candor and intimacy the way only a poem can transmit. My hope is that when reading them one after the other the dots shape in the reader’s mind a new set of travel routes, a complement and an alternative to the to the road routes drawn in on the map. The green routes take us physically from Point A to Point B. Depending on how the reader clicks on them, the dots will create a new constellation of routes: emotional, spiritual routes that tap into memory, into history, into joy, into our desires and frustrations, into land, trees, fish and bird song.
My hope is that together, through our own poems of place we will have a new, different way of engaging with each other as citizens. Together we create a living map of what is like to live in this wonderful place we share called Washington State.
The portfolio includes a diverse representation of poems from across the state. I chose “The Rhody Garden” because not only is the rhododendron our state flower and I happen to have a whole forest of them in my backyard, but I loved the poet’s whimsical description of their bloom cycle.
This broadside was printed in 3 passes. The text and line art were printed in black with a Boxcar photopolymer plate. Then, I overprinted the black pass with a linocut, first in bright pink, then cutting away from the same linoleum block and printing it again in darker magenta—a very straightforward reduction cut!
Though I am usually so careful, somehow I managed to impale the palm of my hand with my carving tool while working on this. A quick trip to urgent care and some super glue fixed me right up, and now I have a scar to scare my students with.
This project involved teamwork at several levels. Arts agencies, our state’s poet laureate, Seattle’s fantastic School of Visual Concepts, and eight letterpress artists. I was one of them. And, oh—my wife and printing partner. She dove in as facilitator of the whole shebang (lots of emails, a little guidance). Everyone’s team spirit resulted in eight poetry broadsides, all collected into a stunning folio constructed by Windowpane Press.
My wife and I operate The North Press in Port Townsend, Washington. Poetry broadsides are about ninety percent of what we print. I selected Sandra Meade’s “Blackbird Sings at Night”; for its shape: tall and narrow—and because it’s a terrific Poem.
Our experience is that it’s best to start the design process with the body of the poem, to look at how it will occupy the page—what type, what size, what placement—and then the poem title and the author’s name, followed by subtitle, attributions, etc. I try to keep in mind that I’m working with someone else’s creative work, so there’s no messing with the poem’s alignment or indents. My job is to elevate the poem and not overshadow it with graphic whizbangs. That said, I’m comfortable with some sort of illustration secondary to the poem, and Ms. Meade gave me plenty to work with.
We teach a workshop called “Pixels to Print”. It’s about converting digital photographs to high-contrast art (what we used to call “camera ready”). The grass beneath the rural mailbox is an example of making a polymer plate from a continuous tone, full color photograph. With the right sequence of steps, many images—even blurry snapshots like the one we took on a road trip in South Dakota—can be converted to high-contrast and printed from polymer. For this composite illustration, I began with the grass. Then the mailbox. Then the cancellation and, finally, the bird. We had Pablo Neruda’s signature from a previous Project.
I ran black, gray, and red inks on the press. In that order. The red was the smallest plate I’ve ever printed, but there was no question that the blackbird’s wing would get its own impression. I love the poem’s reference to the mailman’s/blackbird’s “official shoulder patches”.
As I said, my broadside was only part of this project. Credit should go to Ellie Mathews for facilitating and to the other printers involved: Amy Redmond, Annabelle Larner, Heidi Hespelt, Chris Copley, Marie Kuch-Stanofsky, Jenny Wilkson, and Sukhie Patel. Midway through the process, we managed to gather for a critique session in which everyone shared their design considerations. Working in concert with these artists was both inspiring and humbling. I think I can speak for the group of us to say that we are grateful to Boxcar Press for sponsoring the project, and to Neenah Paper for contributing enough Neenah Cotton in Pearl White for the eight, 8×10 inch broadsides plus the cover sheet explaining the project. Teamwork!
I was honored to be part of the Washington Poetic Routes: Poems of Place project. I was immediately drawn to Luther Allen’s poem, dropping down the west side of the cascades. I love the way he transitions from the mountains of Steven’s Pass (about 80 miles east of Seattle) to the ocean, and how he depicts change in the environment. And he really captured the mossy green wetness of our area. Here’s the poem:
By Luther Allen, at Steven’s Pass this is it. the smell of green of damp rot, of slugs and ferns and staggering grand trees the smell of festering tidal flats the burst of orcas through a rain-matted sea. the smell of gulls and sea lions salmon and cedar longhouses of pulp mills and seattle traffic shrouded in mysterious islands and miles and miles and miles of raw ocean.
I always want to try new things when a project presents itself to me (sometimes frustrating myself for experimenting under a deadline!), so I thought of printing on wood because it felt right for the poem. I found a beautiful piece with whorls and knots, which looked both watery and woodsy.
For the background I mixed a mossy greenish color that had enough transparent in it to also feel layered like water. For the first pass on the wood I used a pressure print to create a mountain silhouette. This was a challenge, and took a lot of tests in order to not lose the whorls and details of the wood while pressure printing, so I ended double-inking each one.
The poem was hand-set set in the slab-serif, Stymie, which I felt befitted his words and I liked the way the type looked with the wood. I played with various layouts for the poem and was happy to stagger the title a bit, to reflect the dropping down words.
We delighted in the delicate linework in the field guide prints that came across our desks. Illustration artist Clara Cline & letterpress printer Colby Beck of Post Rider Press bring these gorgeous (and highly informative) American field guides to life via letterpress.
ILLUSTRATING FOR LETTERPRESS
CLARA CLINE: I’ve always loved nature, but when I first created the guide for my home state of Virginia I didn’t intend for it to become a series. The print seemed to resonate with folks and I started getting requests for more states, and as I did more I became absorbed in learning about each state’s local ecosystems. It wasn’t until I listened to a podcast about John Audubon’s quest to draw every bird in North America that I decided I wanted to commit to a larger project exploring native species and biogeography.
I’m a big proponent of tailoring your work to the production medium, but I feel like letterpress has influenced my illustration style even more than I expected. As I see the detail Colby’s capable of putting into each print, I find myself pushing more fine lines in my own work. I really value having a print partner who can provide feedback and guidance to ensure that what I deliver is going to translate the best way possible.
THE FINE DETAILS WHILE ON PRESS
COLBY BECK: My press is a 10×15 Chandler & Price made in 1952 and equipped with a variable speed motor. I named it Carl after it’s previous owner who printed commercially in Northern Virginia and even printed some work for the US government. Carl, the man, passed away and his press was left in the back of a friend’s machine repair shop. We dug it out and moved it down to Richmond, Virginia where I began Post Rider Press.
The Field Guide prints are 11×17 and since I run a 10 x 15 platen press, I have to print them in two sections. The illustrations get printed first because they take more finessing and then the type is printed second. When printing one design in two sections, the key is to keep the ink coverage as consistent as possible. You really have to keep a close eye on them to make sure the type is matching the illustrations so that it appears it was printed all at once.
It really depends on the amount we are printing but the print runs can take at least a full day in the studio. Due to their size, the Field Guides require a good amount of ink, which means stopping to re-ink between every 15-20 prints.
FAVORITE PART OF THE PROJECT
CLARA: That’s such a tough question! There’s so many different phases of this project that I appreciate in their own way. I do quite a bit of research to get a balanced group of species for each state, and it’s been really rewarding learning more about biogeography and our environmental balances.
That being said, as an illustrator it’s such a treat to see your work in letterpress. It’s wildly different going from a flat ink drawing to the richness of texture that letterpress allows, so every time a new guide arrives I feel like a kid at Christmas.
COLBY: I so admire Clara as an illustrator and to watch the detailed lines of her pen work come to life through letterpress printing is magical. I get so excited every time we print another state. It never gets old to watch the ridges of a shell or hair of an animal create a beautiful texture in the paper.
At Boxcar we enjoy the tales and trials shared by printers as they tackle a new project or skill. We feel like we are right along with them (cheering) as they figure out each step, particularly when we can be a small part of the process. And we love when someone sends us the final fruits of their labors. You are our heroes and we’d like to introduce to you one pressman who explored Book Printing. In his own words, meet Dale Raby.
A little bit about me – Ampersand Storybooks produces primarily small single-signature books, written by myself, though we may soon be branching out to begin printing stuff written by others. Our usual fare is serialized runs of just over a hundred impressions.
I have been writing for a few years now. My first novel, The Wives of Jacob, Book I, In the Beginning, was and is only available as an ebook. Now, while most of the customers at my day job were impressed that I had written even one book, let alone three, they were decidedly non-plussed when they found out that my books were only collections of pixels, not “real” books.
I investigated the possibility of getting my work printed into “real” books, but like most beginning writers, I lacked the capital.
Having had a brief introduction to letterpress printing some fifty-odd years ago, I did think about the possibility of a hand-operated tabletop platen press, if I could find one somewhere. I did a little checking and discovered that most presses suitable for this kind of project were also beyond my means.
One day I met a man who was a printer and happened to have an old Craftsmen Superior for sale. A price was named and the deal was done. Three weeks later we moved the press from his pickup truck to mine. Now, like most semi-discarded platen presses, it needed some work, but eventually I was able to start making impressions.
At first I used standard copy paper to print things like receipt templates. Then I went to a local office supply store and ordered a quantity of business cards with nothing printed on them. By the next week, I had some usable business cards, though they were not as flashy as “professional” cards.
I started to frequent Briar Press and Ladies of Letterpress among other locales on the web. I exchanged countless emails with the folks at Boxcar Press, picking the brains of many people there. I’m pretty sure that somebody there must’ve drawn the short straw there every time I got a response to an email! I discovered the magic of photopolymer plates and the Boxcar Base. I gradually acquired more movable type fonts, a couple of line gauges and assorted other items of printer’s paraphernalia. I took a rare day off from work and visited the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, which was a very educational trip. Eventually, the dining room became the print shop. I still had much to learn, but by gosh, I was a printer of sorts!
I thought that for my first “real” book project, I would do a single-signature book. The Sasquatch’s Dilemma has only seven pages. The first page is my title page and is not numbered. I decided right away that I wanted my books printed on some good stuff, not copy paper. I did some investigating, got a few swatch books and eventually discovered Flurry paper – a 100% cotton paper.
As Flurry was associated with Boxcar Press, who would be making my plates, I decided that this was a good choice. I did have some concerns at first. I was afraid that the text-weight paper would be too thin and the ink would bleed through it. My initial fears proved unfounded.
The pages are printed upon Flurry cotton text-weight paper and the book covers are made from Flurry 118# pre-scored blank cards. I use a three-hole pamphlet stitch with tails on the outside of the cover for binding. Each book comes in its own envelope, which was designed to fit the card that forms the cover. I plan to continue using the envelope as long as the book is thin enough to fit.
Did I mention I had a lot to learn? There was the question of format. I hit upon the idea of using a pre-scored greeting card as a book cover quite early on. The only thing then was to determine the optimal size. I gave myself headaches learning about paper grain and the proper use of a bone folder. I developed a jig for binding my books. The stitching jig did not look like much, but it worked. After much consideration I decided upon the Flurry 10.5” x 7.25” greeting card. The pages could be cut to 7” x 10” for a folded size of 5” x 7” out of the Flurry text-weight paper. This would give a nice cover overlap such as a hard-cover book might have.
I resurrected an old photo trimmer from my film photography days and learned to trim my pages a few at a time, keeping the scraps to be used eventually for business cards for myself and a couple of other local businesses. The text-weight paper is not really optimal for business cards, but it gets the job done.
Kim and Diane, known as “the Copy Editors” badgered me about various things that were decidedly outside the traditional purview of copy editors. Kim was relentless, and not above using a hammer to get things into my head, so I learned a few more things. I did mention I had a lot to learn, didn’t I? Under Kim’s tutelage, I became familiar with terms like “small caps”, “drop caps”, “orphans” & “widows”. At the time Kim was busy with college but continued to educate me. Kim has since graduated and now works in a print shop… which I think is pretty groovy!
I found many free type fonts out there on the web along with images for my cover image. As most of them were intended primarily for either HTML documents on the web or inkjet printers, not all of them were suitable. Naked Chicks didn’t make the cut as Diane hated it. Kim nixed Comic Sans as “The Devil’s Font”. Crimson Text (now Crimson Pro), Alice, Black Chancery and Typographer Woodcut were all incorporated into The Sasquatch’s Dilemma.
When it came time to order plates, Kim showed me some of her poetry. Shortly thereafter, Ocean Creature was hastily assembled into a second single-signature book manuscript. Both were submitted to Boxcar Press as PDF’s and converted into plates.
Upon receipt of my polymer plates, I started learning about how to correctly assemble the leaves into pages for my book. For those of you who have never assembled a book before, well, suffice to say that it is not quite like one of those books you might have made in first grade bound with an office stapler. I used the proofs provided to assemble a dummy book so I could be sure of printing my books correctly.
When it came time to print, I had to learn how to properly set up and ink the press. Proper inking and roller clearance was fairly important when printing those Typographer Woodcut drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. Too much ink and the fine spiderweb inside the box of the letter would block up. Too little and it would not look right either. The paper seemed very forgiving of my errors in printing the pages.
Printing the cover introduced me to another difficulty. The cover image for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma is not a half-tone. All printed areas are solid ink. Large areas of solid ink are difficult to print in letterpress. I found that I had to add more ink to the disc after about every third impression. Pressure had to be high. There was no finesse involved here; I just piled on packing until I was almost afraid of breaking my press.
Flurry took the ink well, despite the heavy pressure I was using. I did experiment with wetting the paper and then printing, but while it worked, it did not work well enough to justify the extra headaches.
I chose the soft white paper hue for both the cover and the pages for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma. This is a sort of “off white” or cream-colored hue. They do supply a very nicely done swatch book for those who want one.
I used silver ink to print the title and my name on the cover over the top of the black sasquatch image. Now I found that the Flurry paper did take a nice “bite” from the polymer text and the silver ink showed up well enough to read, though it was really more gray than silver. I had wanted to print the sasquatch’s eyes in red ink, but with my relative inexperience, I reasoned that registration would be somewhat of a nightmare, so I just left them white.
Public response to The Sasquatch’s Dilemma has mostly been positive, and at $7.99 each, I have sold enough copies to just about break even. One positive comment I got was in response to the “tactile” nature of the cover, which is primarily the “bite” from the title and my name as well as the wood type ampersand I am using as a trademark on the rear cover.
Kim’s book, Ocean Creature, was, in many ways, very different from The Sasquatch’s Dilemma. The cover was formed from a sandy beach image printed with gold ink. The effect was very delicate and the image itself quite understated. I used the soft white card for the cover of Ocean Creature as for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma, but printed the pages on bright white text paper.
As I printed Ocean Creature in a second run, I had learned quite a bit about setting up the press and keeping my grubby paws off the work. Ocean Creature exhibits much better pressmanship, in my opinion.
Some details about paper and ink in printing these two projects: Flurry paper handled it well by taking the ink without bleeding through. It cuts and folds and there were no issues with piercing the holes and binding it with thread. The 80 lb text-weight paper is opaque enough to handle printing on both sides. I use oil-based ink in my printing as rubber based ink frightens me just a little bit. Kinda like polymer plates did when I first learned about them.
Now, there are many printers who have printed a book or two. There are many writers who have had their books printed. Many people have designed books, set type for them, made up cover art and internal illustrations, selected the ink, selected the paper, cut the paper, bound each book, pulled the operating lever of a platen press to print each page of the book, marketed the book, and sold copies of the book. I am proud enough to say I have joined the ranks of those who have written their own book and went through all the processes listed above to eventually take the money and sell their own book to the actual person who will read it.
My book may not be a literary masterpiece. It isn’t especially well executed and you will find smudges and more typos than I would care to admit. I did it all myself though, and I take a certain amount of pride in that. All in all, this was an interesting journey and as I have another dozen or so manuscripts in various stages of completion, the journey is not yet finished.
Monkton, Maryland is nestled between beautiful New England forests and is home to the cozy, barn-turned-printing paradise of Val Lucas of Bowerbox Press. Bright, cheery sunshine lights up the warm wood floors, large type drawers, and gleams on the family of lovingly cared-for printing presses. Val gives us a tour of where her printing projects spring to life and the charms of good, simple living.
FULL OF FUN, BAR(N)-NON
My shop is crammed full of everything you could ever need. I’m working in a small renovated barn; we redid the electric, insulated and put up drywall, and installed a plywood floor and a heating/AC system. There are some fun details from the original build, like vertical wood paneling and a funky distressed door leading upstairs, plus different sized windows. I’m planning to add track lights to complement the huge amounts of natural light during the day. It’s tight, but each press is accessible, even if sometimes it serves as a table surface.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP
It’s a cozy place to work. I feel surrounded and inspired by my tools and equipment. My restored presses are very special, and I have a lot of sentimental equipment that I’ve collected from friends and mentors, including a Golding Pearl that belonged to Mike Denker and a selection of wood type, metal type and ornaments, and paper from Roland Hoover.
320-ish square feet.
PRINTING IN THE OLD LINE STATE
The shop takes up the first floor of a small barn behind my house in Monkton (and was a major selling feature of the property.) Neighborhood features include the chicken coop, garden, and cornfields out the window.
TYPE OF SHOP ENJOYED
This is my personal shop, I do my own artistic production plus some custom printing and bookbinding for clients. Occasionally friends come by to print, but it’s mostly just me.
PRINTING PRESS FAMILY
I mostly work on a Vandercook Universal 1, but have a restored Chandler and Price Old Series, a United States platen, and an in-progress Colts Armory and Pearl, plus an assortment of smaller tabletop presses and a foil stamping press.
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The Vandercook, as I produce most of my print and book work on this press. It’s reliable and easy to set up, and allows me to print large pieces.
GETTING INKY + COLORFUL
I usually use Hanco litho inks, modified with plate oil or transparent base. There’s been a lot of teal blue on press lately.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
I’m lucky to be able to open my windows and doors for nice ventilation, and use an eco-friendly mineral spirits with the automatic wash-up on my Vandy.
I’ve been using a standard height Boxcar base since 2006 or so, on my first press (the big Colt’s Armory) and now use it on the Vandercook for custom work.
OIL OF CHOICE
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
Old t-shirts! A lot come from screenprinting friends so they have fun designs and tests.
Too much to admit to- but some of it will be re-cast into new type!
It’s so secret that even I don’t know what it is yet.
There’s no one way to do a particular project, and each person has their own method- you just need to figure out what works for you.
We’re still very much the same questioning, searching, and inquisitive bunch of folks and this month’s installment is a good testament to this. We enjoy the wonderful, creative, and just plain cool things that catch our eye day in and day out. In this latest installment that made us oooh and ahhhh, we bring you a cool kickstarter giving new life to an Okuma litho proof press, a hue-tastic interactive color exhibit, beautiful traditional bookbinding and much more!
Lithosphere: The Story of Big Dreams and A Big Press
Shelley Thornstensen of the Printmakers Open Forum has successfully completed a kickstarter that involves moving & setting up a big, beautiful Okuma flatbed lithography offset proof press. Thornstensen envisions a new life for large scale equipment for her print shop in Oxford, Pennsylvania. This press, 13.5 feet long and over 10,000 pounds is a versatile piece of equipment that will print woodblocks, litho plates, or litho stones. She has unique techniques to use on this press and looks forward to sharing this knowledge with other printmakers (please check out her summer print camp!).
In completing her financing campaign to move and perform maintenance on the press, she has found a wonderful amount of support and a lot of encouragement from the printmaking, as well as an online community. Thornstensen returns the favor with many rewards for participating in the fundraiser. These include stickers, totes, fine arts prints, and t-shirts with a bear design designed by Andrew Mullaly (fun fact: Okuma means “bear” in Japanese!).
Check out her social media page ( Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler ) to see the latest developments on this cool project and see the new press for yourself. Leave her a comment just to say “hey” and to remind her how awesome she is!
Grab your Pantone swatch book, camera, and sense of playful wonder for The Color Factory exhibit in the SoHo area in NYC!
The enchanting all-ages interactive exhibit features brilliantly colored rooms to dazzle the senses — from a light blue ball pit room, a history & origin of colors room (so cool!), custom-colored macarons in their gift shop, and more.
Originally based & started in 2017 in San Francisco, the exhibit’s popularity soon blossomed into the NYC and a Houston installment exhibit. Currently, the pop-up experience exhibit is going from now until April 2020.
A tree root system that is 385 million years old was discovered in the Catskills region in the fossil soils near Cairo, New York (about a 3-hour-ish car drive from us here at Boxcar Press). The findings show potential forests and flora evolved during the Devonian age (the age of fish as well as early forms of sharks, spiders, and insects).
For reference, the Tyrannosaurus rex was living between 68-66 million years ago. Woah!
I enjoy all videos that show letterpress printing, printmaking and book arts. This one appeals to me because it’s serene and zen-like. It is pleasing to the eye with the colorful paper and the tools and watching her work. Her voice and hands just soothe. I hope it pleases you.
A new year and a fresh new decade signals one thing: a new wave of brilliant letterpress! We polled our printers here at Boxcar Press to give us their quick, top printing tips to help jumpstart 2020. Perhaps a few of these nuggets of wisdom will make their way into your next printing adventure!
Want to share your top tip? Let us know in the comments section below!
If you have a thin rule line or the end of a line of type that is getting too blobby, try using an “end cap” of a scrap photopolymer plate (like a small rectangle of it) and put it beyond the trim area. This is so that the rollers use it like an inking roller bearer strip. It helps keep the pressure off that one trouble spot.
When beginning a job, do a dry paper test run. There shouldn’t be any impression or ink. This run is so you can adjust the tilt sucker bar to where you want it, make sure it isn’t double-feeding, adjust the tempo of the paper pick-up and more. Getting this out of the way is one less thing you don’t have to fuss with while in the middle of a job.
For foil on a Kluge, make sure you are using the correct suckers and are maintaining them. Metal suckers work for text weight and envelope liners. Rubber suckers are good for text weight, coaster stock, thinner leather, or textiles. To keep them in shape, I’ll use a bent paper clip or something small to clean out any fibers or lint that may get up there.
Printing envelopes on the Windmill with a lay pin is a bit labor-intensive but it can work. You’ll need to cut out a shape in the tympan where the lay pin will “nestle” into. This is so that the pin has a place to rest into and not mark the envelope when the press closes. Or alternatively, use our Boxcar Press swing away lay gauge so you don’t have to worry about marks.
When working to print lighter pastel ink colors on the Heidelberg Windmill try the following:
First, use an aggressive cleaner (Putz Pomade comes to mind) to help clean out any remaining ink from a previous run.
Make sure the ink is mixed up correctly and proportionately. Having a ready-to-go pre-mixed stock of ink is very handy (like Cool Grey 1 or other ink colors that contain a lot of Transparent White).
Use a very small bit of ink (small dabs or dots) and slowly add it to the roller. This first ink test run will mostly be checking consistency and to see if there is any ink leftover from a previous run. Run make-ready scrap through the press to see where you stand.
If you are running large solids for foil on a Kluge and are only getting the center to print, adjust the base itself using the screws. Most of the time, the base isn’t hitting flush and making these adjustments will help. Use glass board with soft packing on top. Try using a glue stick to glue the soft packing together as well. The compressed paper and glue makes for an even surface.
When doing foil on the Windmill, getting the right temperature for release can be tricky. Start by keeping good notes at regular intervals on foil release temperatures & times to keep things organized. A journal, jotter, or dedicated scrap of paper will do. When on the press for a job, regularly write down the temperatures so you can go back to it if you need to re-run the job. This helps a lot.
Wear comfortable shoes and don’t be distracted by smartphones as you’ll need to be listening to the sounds your press is making. For example, there is a subtle difference in the whooshing sound when the suckers are picking up the paper correctly…. and when it’s not.
If you are printing black letterpress on a Heidelberg and want a richer, deeper coverage, try a double-hit of the black ink runs (two regular ink run passes — one on top of the other). This helps reduce over-inking. Take care that you are in perfect registration.
Need holiday gift ideas for the letterpress lover in your life? We’ve put together a list of our top 19 holiday gift ideas for the 2019 season — we found some handy supplies, books, and printing swag that any printer would love to receive. Let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comments section below!
Like most letterpress-loving people, we are drawn to the fascinating and the intriguing. This newest installment of the Inquisitive Printers focuses our attentions on cool history of playing cards (and Nintendo!) plus a portable printing museum, a Miami-based high school teacher and printer, and much more. Enjoy!
Nintendo’s release of the latest Pokemon video game is not where I thought I’d find my printerly inquisition focused this month, admittedly; bear with me and I’ll lay out why it’s tickling my fancy so.
Pokemon began as a GameBoy title, but at the turn of the millennium it reached an outstanding level of cultural clout in its incarnation as a strategy and trading card game. Many of my generation heeded that none-too-subtle imperative “gotta catch ‘em all” filled school recesses and study hall periods with sharp-eyed trades and tournament play.
While it was never quite my scene, I did admire the quality finishing that went into the cards, with the full-color printing and foil embellishment on the various rare specimens. A much greater fascination to me is the fact that the entire Nintendo games empire had its beginning as a manufacturer of playing cards all the way back to 1889!
This culture-defining behemoth of our video game era plugs directly backward into the larger and wilder story of playing cards, which themselves are deliciously wrapped up in the origins of the printing arts themselves.
Squint at them and you can see how dice, dominoes, and chess games are the simpler, sturdier parents of playing cards. For there to be cards, there has to be paper and printing, and so, of course, the first playing cards emerge in China. Unfortunately, since paper is so fragile and cards are objects much-handled, the earliest examples don’t survive into history. An early reference to their existence comes in 1294 A.D., documenting the arrest of two gamblers and the confiscation of both their game cards and the woodblocks that printed them. These cards weren’t merely for making wagers with, but themselves actually served as tokens exchangeable for money or drinks at the tavern: valuable collectible items, indeed!
Papermaking, printing, and playing cards traveled as a pack from China to Samarkand (Uzbekistan), then on to Baghdad to spread across the Mediterranean through the Muslim caliphates and the remnants of the Byzantine empire. Taking shape in Egypt and exported quickly across trade routes into Moorish Spain, the Arabic “mamluk” card game had already assumed a form familiar to the modern playing deck: 52 cards, arranged in four suits, ordered by ranks culminating in royal court figures. “Mamluk” means “property”, referring to a class of enslaved mercenary soldiers within the prevailing caste system. Puts one in mind of the more disturbing aspects of the Pokemon life cycle, with trainers “catching ‘em all” then making them fight each other for the trainers’ glory. (Just sayin’.)
By the 14th century, these playing cards were spread across Europe and quickly became nativized. Mamluks easily translated into the aristocratic ranks of Europe’s feudal system, and those original four suits — polo sticks, swords, cups, and coins — mutated based on local culture. Spanish, German, Swiss, and Italian styled suits survive into the 20th century right alongside the French style we in the Anglo-American world are most familiar with: clubs, spades, hearts, and diamonds. (Tarot enthusiasts will note that those original mamluk suits are exactly those that became our beloved and much-mystified oracle deck, but that also-very-printerly story needs another time for telling.)
As the printers of Marseilles, Nürnburg, and Venice stamped out the cards in varying grades of quality, so too did the traders vend these printed goods to the world. Portuguese traders arrived in Japan in 1543, carrying Iberian playing cards in their holds. The Portuguese word “carta” became the Japanese “karuta”, and caught on well among the wealthy samurai. The isolationist Tokugawa shogunate soon banned them as a foreign influence, however, and so playing cards in Japan took on their own particular evolution, as printers and gamers worked around the restrictions.
Variant decks multiplied, fusing older indigenous Japanese gaming traditions and innovating new ones. Some of those older traditions involved matching paintings on shells, or poems on squares of wood, and translated easily to paper cards. These poetry cards and other literary variants became popular educational tools for children.
The card ban wasn’t formally lifted until late in the Meiji period, when Japan was “westernizing”. Clandestine cardplayer Fusajiro Yamauchi founded Nintendo in 1889 and began manufacturing the popular Hanafuda (“Flower Game”) deck, which has 12 suits of 4 cards each.
I imagine that Nintendo, innovative from the start, was among those early 20th century card manufacturers to produce “obake karuta”, card decks depicting mythological monsters (“obake”) and their names and attributes. Sound familiar?
After the Second World War, Nintendo also began making western-style playing cards and began to branch out into toys and other goods. The first mega-hit toy product was, uncannily enough, an extending arm based on the pantograph — another printing-related hit in the story. From there, toy-making brought the company into electronics in the early 1970s, and from there, card pips turn to pixels and then once again we come to Pokemon.
So from East, to West, to East again, and then to global cultural dominance, the humble playing card moves, shakes, and shapes the world. Are we ultimately so sure it’s us playing them, I wonder, or is our game perhaps also playingus?
Based in Miami, Florida, printer/teacher Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press appears on the Art & Company podcast. He talks about introducing the tangible craft of printing to students in the classroom and about the future of printing at large. Come take a listen!
Next up is the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule project. This nifty concept is a printing (and history) lover’s dream. It is a small, portable collection that celebrates type & printing.
The Museum contains unique printing artifacts & resources spanning decades. The fit-on-your-bookshelf Museum features cast pieces of hot-metal, wood, and metal foundry type, scale-model replica of a California Job case and many more items to discover.
The project is helmed by Seattle, Washington-based Glenn Fleishman and in collaboration with many artists, printers, museums, and foundries.
We hope you explore some of our links and perhaps share in our enjoyment about what intrigues us here at Boxcar Press. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the things that inspire you as well!