Looking for inspiration for that special printer in your life? Come check out our quick list of ten favorite gifts for this upcoming Valentine’s Day 2021—featuring fresh, hilarious, sweet, and extra special gifts for that certain someone.
Inspired by our Valentine’s list? Let us know in the comments below!
Our Letterpress Friend chat today is with Paul Moxon. He is synonymous with Vandercook presses. He is the resource behind the website vandercookpress.info, author of Vandercook Presses: Maintenance, History and Resources, and a printer of letterpress books and broadsides under his press name Fameorshame Press.
There is always much to learn from a conversation with Paul, who lives in Mobile, Alabama.
Boxcar Press: Why Vandercooks and proofing presses? What is the appeal and draw for you?
Paul: A forlorn SP15 in the corner of a printmaking studio was the first press to which I had access. The ratio of its footprint to the printing area was appealing. Experiment and production were satisfying and different than paste-up. In time, I found joy in teaching maintenance and making repairs. Sharing this knowledge with other printers has surprisingly become my life’s work.
Boxcar Press: Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career or business
Paul:Learning phototypesetting and paste-up as work-study in college.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that you admire or set you on a particular path?
Paul: There have been so many. During college, Jocelyn Dohm (founder of the Sherwood Press) always welcomed me at her charming little job shop and endured my novice enthusiasm. Librarians Jim Holly and Elspeth Pope introduced me to fine press books. At Alabama, Glenn House, then retired, piqued an interest in maintenance. Fritz Klinke let me explore the Vandercook archives. Ian Leonard Robertson (Slow Loris Press) and I shared similar work experiences. His old school presswork and design was crisp and effortless. Most of his equipment is now in my shop, and I feel his jovial presence every day.
Boxcar Press: If you weren’t a printer or in the printing industry, what else might have been your career path?
Paul : A machinist
Boxcar Press: That is not surprising. You have referred to yourself as an independent educator.
What would you tell a brand new letterpress printer today?
Paul: Visit many shops, libraries, and museums. Attend wayzgooses, talk with everyone. Print on every kind of press you can big and small. Print every kind of form; lead, wood, copper, magnesium, and polymer. Strive for best practice. Read everything, especially old technical manuals and catalogs. Don’t be discouraged by the high prices of presses. Save-up, be patient, you become discerning over time. or grumpy old naysayers. Mistakes will make you an expert.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use?
Paul: I’ve printed on other makes of proof presses, jobbers, tabletops, hand presses, and even a windmill. Each had something to teach me. (Someday I want to print on a Heidelberg cylinder and a Little Giant.) I love my Vandercook No. 4. It’s great for production and teaching maintenance. I’ve printed on, tuned up, or inspected thirty Vandercook models, including some rare ones—nearly a thousand in all. But there are still a few I haven’t worked with, such as the 30-26 four-color press. Hopefully, post-COVID.
Boxcar Press: You have mentioned that you are fascinated by the vintage equipment and tools. Tell us about one of the best or most used or most admired printing tools you can think of?
Paul: Hard to choose: my loupe, paper thickness measure, and Align-mate are essential. But I love the elk-bone folder/plate lifter I made at Penland twenty years ago when I met Jim Croft.
Boxcar Press: What is something people might not know about you that would surprise them?
Paul: I can’t type, just hunt-and-peck. But I can handset type like a motherfucker.
Boxcar Press: What is your printing superpower?
Paul: Being able to diagnose presswork and mechanical issues.
Boxcar Press: Anything you want to reveal about a current project you are working on – even a hint or clue?
Paul: Right now I’m into printing postcards. My last one is about the USPS and Trump enabler Louis DeJoy.
Boxcar Press: What is that one project that you are always going to get to but it just never seems to get done?
Paul: A book of three poems by a deceased, local author. I commissioned lino-cuts from Lauren Faulkenberry (Firebrand Press) a few years ago, but I fear that they may be drying out.
Boxcar Press: Last question – Do you listen to podcasts or music in your shop while you create?
Paul: Music is essential. Big Joanie, Dinner Party, the Hu, and Idles and are in heavy rotation. The rest of the time I’m streaming KEXP.
We are “pulling up a chair” with Don Black, a Northern neighbor from Scarborough, Ontario.
Don is winding down his business after 50 years and the dismay and sadness of that is still a jolt to our letterpress community.
A warehouse of heavy metal and wood is not an exaggeration describing Don’s business. He and his family, particularly his son, Craig, have helped and talked with thousands of printers and artisans over those decades. Sadly, Craig passed away last year and Don is eyeing a quieter life.
Boxcar Press: It’s a delight to hear your stories. Let me first say, thank you for your kindness to me and all the others who were at one time new to letterpress printing. It must be a screwy time right now with the business..
Don: We are super busy with the closing of our business. Our General Manager Albert Kwon is invaluable in this endeavour.
Boxcar Press: Let’s go back to the beginning. Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career?
Don: The defining moment that I knew I wanted to make Printing a career occurred when I went for a tour of the Globe & Mail (newspaper based in Toronto, Canada) with my uncle who worked there. When I saw all the equipment in the Composing Room I decided this was for me.
I started to work at the Globe & Mail before I was 17 doing all the delivery jobs etc. Then I served a 6 year apprenticeship as a Linotype Machinist.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that set you on a particular path?
Don: While working there was a machinist, Ed Hull, who helped me immensely by guiding me and tried to keep me on the right track. I think about him often and am super thankful for all he did to help me.
While working as an apprentice at the Globe & Mail, the Credit Union ran a contest for the best designed Printing job. This was open to seven Printer apprentices, but no mention about Machinist apprentices. I questioned them and received permission to submit an entry. Believe it or not, I won the prize of $25.00 I still tease my friend today, who was a printer’s apprentice, that a machinist apprentice beat a Printer apprentice at the Printer’s trade.
Boxcar Press: Where was the next stage in your career?
Don: I left the Globe & Mail in 1964 when the three Toronto newspapers went on strike. I started to do freelance service on letterpress equipment.
Then I received the Canadian dealership for Letterpress Equipment for Canada from Canadian Linotype Company. This was a big help as it opened doors coast to coast and helped me to meet many great people.
After I started my business in the 1980’s I became acquainted with an equipment dealer in Cleveland, Jack Boggs. He bought and sold all kinds of printing equipment. Over the next 30-40 years, we did a super amount of business. He liquidated printing shops that were closing or upgrading equipment. I purchased many truckloads of equipment from him. It was great as it gave me access to things I could not find in Canada. We still do business today and without a doubt, he is a big reason we have been successful.
In the early 1970s, something strange happened when the Globe & Mail decided to update a lot of equipment. I purchased most of the Composing Room which had some great equipment but also included were eleven machines which were now outdated. They had originally cost approximately $25,000.00 each, less than 10 years before. The value in scrap was less than $500.00. We made a large copy of the cheque and mounted it with the eleven nameplates from the machines. It has become quite a conversation piece that we still have at the office today.
Boxcar Press: What does the legacy of Don Black Linecasting mean to you as you slowly wind it down.
Don: I would say it’s the fact that we have been in business more than 50 years, conducted and did business with wonderful people all over the world and helped to keep Letterpress alive.
Boxcar Press: You handled so many of pieces of equipment, they can’t even be counted. Can you tell us about a press you remember fondly?
Don: We have a Baby Reliance Iron Press which we purchased from a customer in Winnipeg. It is a beautiful press and I could have sold it many times, but Craig, my son, always said don’t sell this press. Now that he is gone and we are closing down, I am going to let it go to a collector that had talked to Craig. I know Craig would be happy that it is going to someone who will treasure it.
Boxcar Press: Thank you Don for those great memories. We’ll talk more soon. Can you leave us with your favorite printing saying?
Don: Go with the Best! Go Intertype.
Time is ticking down on getting equipment from Don, give him a call or email to ask what he has and chances are, you’ll get a nice deal. www.donblack.ca
Fellow letterpress lovers – please enjoy these images at your next Zoom meeting . Download the file and upload to your ZOOM settings in your account. [Hint: Right-click on a photo and save the file to your local desktop.]
We’ll be revealing one each day so come back + check in often!
Need help applying these cool ZOOM backgrounds to your next meeting?Easy-to-follow instructions are at this link. The artwork is intentionally flipped. This will show right-reading text when you are using your camera in your ZOOM meeting.
This will be perfect at these upcoming events: -Ladies of Letterpress Virtual Conference – September 25-27, 2020 -Awayzgoose at Hamilton Wood Type – November 5-8, 2020
Monday, September 14th, 2020 Free Download: Heidelberg Windmill
Tuesday, September 15th, 2020Free Download: Manicules
Wednesday, September 16th, 2020 Free Download:Vandercook
Thursday, September 17th, 2020 Free Download:Wooden Ornaments
Friday, September 18th, 2020 Free Download:Vandercook Bed Height Gauge
Welcome to Coffee with a Letterpress Friend. We are “sitting down” with many varied friends every few weeks for a cozy, relaxing chat. Certainly, we will ask questions about printing-related topics but things could go off in unexpected directions. This week during Letterpress Week, we’ll gather with a few folks, so go grab your beverage of choice and let’s start.
Today’s friend is Jim Moran of Hamilton Wood Type (HWT) in Two Rivers Wisconsin. Many of us are envious of his job at the Museum surrounded by the history and all those wood type specimens.
Boxcar Press: Hi Jim, Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career?
Jim: I was 10 years old and goofing around in my grandfather’s print shop. I had seen both he and my Dad setting type, so I had an idea how it worked. I opened a drawer of 18pt. Cheltenham and tried to spell my name. Where the hell was the letter J? I checked other drawers until I found one marked in pencil to designate their place. Once I set my name, I put it on a little Challenge proof press and inked it up. The black ink was always ready for proofing with a brayer hung on the end. The paper had an enamel finish for clarity. I inked up and pulled a proof! There was my name, magically! That’s all it took.
Boxcar Press: We can relate to that feeling. Is there a similar moment for your involvement with HWT?
Jim: I was working for a Green Bay printer 12 years ago and not liking it much. Sales in NOT rewarding, in my mind. I had been volunteering at Hamilton with my brother Bill, often thinking about how much I enjoyed working with type. I met a woman who was dating my cousin and we were talking about doing the things you really want to, in a general way. She said, “I think you have to ask yourself what you want and how much of your time you actually spend working toward doing those things.” She was not speaking to me specifically but I decided right then, that I would work toward getting a job at the museum. I applied for the job 6 weeks later.
Boxcar Press: Your Aha! moment. You are well suited to HWT. Tell us about mentors or printers that you admire or set you on a particular path?
Jim: I owe so much to my Dad. He was a VERY good printer and an even better artist. He worked me pretty hard, in that he expected my best and was extremely thorough in his approach to what I learned. That meant printing, repairing, composing, estimating, managing, laughing, reading and studying. Always learning. I worked with him for the better part of 29 years. My Mom’s lessons were much more subtle: patience, kindness, reading and keeping a sense of humor.
Boxcar Press: The people who guide us are always significant. So can be the equipment. Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use?
Jim: I have an 8 x 12 Chandler and Price that I was taught to run in 1969. I use it whenever I can.
Boxcar Press: What is that one project that you are always going to get to, that you really want to do but it just never seems to get done?
Jim: Printing a four-color billboard.
Thanks, Jim for the little chat. We appreciate this time of getting to know you and will have plenty more questions to ask at future times when the coffee is perked and we can sit again.
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.