What is playing in your earbuds right now? What keeps you engaged and entertained while you work, walk the dog, or drive in the car?
If podcasts are “your thing”, we know there are over a half million active podcasts to keep you engaged and entertained and learning. Have you given printing-related podcasts a chance? This article is all about content that speaks to your love and interest in letterpress, book arts and printing. It isn’t complete because there are new channels all the time but here is the start of a fascinating ride down the letterpress road.
Podcasts offer an international perspective on every topic. They showcase artists and personalities worldwide. This list is no exception. You’ll meet some hosts that you’ll connect with and it will be like hanging out with friends. It is very likely some of the interviews are with people you have met.
Come check these out:
Apple Podcasts– These have great stories of printers, scholars, artists and craftspeople.
Spotifypodcasts– Search for these podcasts for letterpress individual stories. Letterpress is often a topic that is a focus of podcasts with a much broader focus. Here are some episodes that are letterpress specific –
IBOOKBINDING.com ( based out of the UK)- There is an international flair to this website where you can hear podcasts, live streams and interviews. Topics include bookbinding in Scotland, Mexico, Northeast Africa, Finland and Greece. There is interesting book binding discussion like Medieval book binding and a Bookfair in Holland
The live streams include unusual book shops all over the world, and slightly fun off the wall topics like Human Skin bindings. There are visits to Russia and Paris and Belgium. It’s also nice to have a breakdown of the broadcast by key moments with minute markers to lead you to specific topics discussed. If you like a little video streaming too, they have videos by Facebook and YouTube
Books in the Wild (a podcast with a fun name)- This podcast investigates the hidden stories behind books and printed matter. Instead of reviewing books solely on their written content, they try to offer varying perspectives on everything from conception to creation to reception. This is a podcast about book arts: letterpress printing, bookbinding, artists’ books, small press and independent publishing, and stories from book history.
Last Click: Bonus Videos – If you are streaming with a tablet or computer and want a little video – here are a few bonus videos. Lots of ways to gain new letterpress info, instruction, and entertainment in these videos. So get your taste with these few here.
Skillshare.com (There is a fee for these). Topics include Operation and Maintenance of Heidelberg Platen, Getting Started with Letterpress and Instruction on Designing for Letterpress with Adobe Creative Suite Products.
Let us know what jewels you have found in your podcasting by sharing!
When Michael first met Patricia, she saw his printing press and said, “I’ve always wanted to have a greeting card company.” That’s all it took. Three years later, the duo has over 200 card designs via Sweet Bippy Press; a 1,000-square-foot shop, and is having more fun than adults should be allowed to have.
As co-owners, Michael and Patricia love coming up with ideas for new cards. For the last 30 years, the pair has been honing their skills—Michael in national consumer advertising and Patricia in sales and customer success. It’s a perfect match (the title of one of their card designs, coincidentally). Michael sat down with us to talk shop, vintage guitars, and a beloved press called “Vanderhalen”.
INK IN THE BLOOD “In 2002, I went on a press check at Full Circle Press in Nevada City. The owner, Judith Berliner, convinced me to buy my first press, a Chandler and Price. From the time I pulled my first print, I was hooked. Over the next couple of years, Judith went on to train me on her Windmills. She’s truly an angel”, said Michael.
PRINTING PARADISE We have an industrial space in an amazing warehouse in Petaluma, California. It’s called Watershed, and it’s a wonderfully creative building filled with fine artists, photographers, and woodworkers. We feel lucky and blessed to be here. The shop has a pretty minimalist decor. We painted the back wall PMS 137 to give it some energy. We are right on the Petaluma River. You’ll likely spot some competitive rowers, along with the resident egrets and Great blue herons.
ALL IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Just down the block is an amazing artist, Marco Cochrane, who makes three-story-tall sculptures out of metal. We also face Petaluma River Park with a sculpture by Mark Di Suvero.
PRINTING MENTORS Judith Berliner of Full Circle Press. She’s taught me everything. Sometimes her methods are not “by the book,” but they often work better. We have fun trading printing tips.
THE CREATIVE SPIRIT “Beginning in 2023”, Michael says, “I’ve been printing full time and loving every minute of it. I approach design from my advertising experience. Then, I start with a pencil and paper (Blackwings are my weapon of choice). I find it helpful to get ideas from my brain to the page quickly. The winning sketch gets redrawn (often in Illustrator) and finally, good old polymer plates. I sometimes dream about having cabinets full of type, but I just don’t have the room.”
PRINTING FEATS I’m proud of our “Famous Guitar” series of greeting cards. Each features a different guitar from some of my favorite musicians. There’s Willie’s old Martin “Trigger,” George Harrison’s “Rocky” Stratocaster, and a bunch more. They are unique in that they are scored on the short side so that you can open them up and see the entire instrument. They also come with a custom Sweet Bippy pick.
PRESS HISTORY Our first press was a 1905 Chandler & Price platen press.
In addition to the C&P, we own three Heidelberg Windmills, two for ink printing and one—named “Metallica”—which is dedicated to foiling and die-cutting. Our latest purchase is a Vandercook No. 4, which we call “Vanderhalen”, says Michael.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Michael recalls, “When I started out, I didn’t have much of a printing network, and I was craving information. Boxcar’s site is chock full of great tips and information. I was an early adopter of Flurry paper—I think you offered it as a Kickstarter at the beginning. I love that paper. And the Swing Away Lay Gauge is amazing. All three Windmills have one. (Currently, one of them is hiding in the dark cavity below, but I will rescue it one of these days.)”
PRINTING TIPS 90% of printing issues are ink-related, so start light and add slowly!
WHAT’S COMING NEXT We keep adding to our Northern California collection of cards, and this year we plan to expand to SoCal and perhaps other states.
I’ve had a fifty-year obsession with QSL cards. And a newfound interest in letterpress. This is the tale of how they cross paths.
Dad had a cigar box full of these nifty “ham radio postcards” (aka QSL cards) from when he first got his license in the 1930’s back in Nova Scotia. Amateur radio operators, or “hams,” send QSL’s to one another to commemorate a contact they’ve made over the air.
Going after distant signals has always fascinated me. As a kid in 1960s Prescott, Ontario, I’d love to tune the TV dial, seeking out stations that were only there on certain days. Why did that happen?
As a young teen, I got bitten by the shortwave listening bug, especially after learning that shortwave broadcast stations sent their own QSL cards! Back in the 70’s, the Cold War was in full swing and the international broadcasters both East and West loved to hear from their listeners.
Shortwave broadcast stations (you’ve heard of the Voice of America, the BBC World Service, Radio Moscow, etc.) made for an effective way to hear varying points of view. They also were a wonderful source of exotic targets for a teen to go after. I wrote to every single station that I could hear and requested their QSL card. I would send them a reception report, telling them exactly when I heard them, on what frequency, and what was heard in their programming.
Many—even most—of these powerful international broadcasters have since left the air. Amateur radio is a little different from shortwave broadcasting. While both types of radio are found on shortwave, ham operators are not broadcast stations trying to reach a wide audience. Rather, they are individuals contacting other individuals.
In 1980, I got my Canadian amateur radio license and drew-up my very own QSL card. It featured one of my boyhood hang-outs, the lighthouse just two miles down the St. Lawrence River. (Look up the Battle of the Windmill near Prescott, Ontario if you like history.) I had the cards printed at a local print shop in Brockville.
Well, my love of shortwave listening and ham radio eventually turned into a 27-year career in radio broadcasting. At one point, that included six wonderful years as an international broadcaster at my favorite shortwave station, the “Voice of the Andes-HCJB,” in Quito, Ecuador. In fact, my wife, Lisa, and I were hosts of a program especially targeted towards shortwave hobbyists. We started raising our family in that beautiful Andean capital. Back in Ontario, Dad and Mom tuned in and listened to us each week, along with listeners around the globe.
Our family returned home in the mid 90’s and I continued broadcasting from Syracuse, NY. Eventually, I left radio to get into elementary teaching and audiobook narration. The teaching never got beyond subbing, while the narrating is something I still do on occasion. Two years ago, a steady position as a platemaker at Boxcar opened up. Letterpress was a different world to me—life on Jupiter might have been more familiar—but they were willing to teach and steady work was very attractive!
At Boxcar, Cathy Smith encourages all of us to use our department’s Vandercook Universal 1 for projects of our own. It’s an excellent way to learn and appreciate the printing side of letterpress. I’d done a few of these projects. However, I could never draw and ideas relating to visual artwork didn’t come easily to this audio-entrenched mind.
In the fall of 2022, I found myself re-bitten by the ham radio bug. However, if I wanted to receive QSL cards, I’d have to send QSL cards. By this time, though, I had an idea for a QSL, thanks to the hundreds of wedding invitation plates I had made over the past year. A map! I loved maps!
First, I sketched out a map of the roads around the hamlet of Navarino, our New York home since 1999. Next, I asked my daughter, Rachel (who also works at Boxcar) if she’d be willing to make some of her cute drawings for me for the map. Rachel was only too happy to give it a go and I was delighted with what she came up with.
At Boxcar, Rebecca put Rachel’s drawings onto my map and formatted the finished work for the negative. A second negative was made with the technical information on the QSL’s backside. I used a KF95 plate to make the first run of AB2FN QSL’s on green paper stock.
By the spring of 2023, I had sent all of these QSL’s to other hams and needed a new batch. This time, I wanted to try two colors on a lighter-color stock. Cathy had some 80 lb weight ivory stock with a felt surface. I went with an earthy brown and hunter green for the rural theme. We made a few small changes to the artwork (that’s Rebecca’s portrait of my head floating over the house). This batch went quickly and, with Cathy’s help, I found some more of the same paper on clearance and made a second run. This time, I used a KF95 plate for most of the card, but a KF152 for the”AB2FN” to give my call letters more of an impression. Our Universal 1 has an adjustable bed.
By August, it was time for yet a new supply. As southern Onondaga County is known for its apple orchards, I thought that an apple-themed border would work well. Rebecca brought this together and we went with red.
In the year since I began making QSL’s, I’ve sent out about 150 cards to hams in over 100 countries, including Australia, Andorra, Thailand, China, Scotland and Oman. While many hams use computer programs and printers to fill these out today, I really enjoy doing it by hand. It’s the feel of the pen contacting the paper, each time trying to improve my penmanship. For much the same tactile reason, I enjoy using an old-fashioned Morse code key to make most of my contacts, although I’ll use the microphone if there’s an exotic station I really want to contact.
And, to be honest, as a broadcaster at heart, I do like the feel of using my voice. A surprise was discovering that QSL cards and letterpress are a link shared by a number of hams! Ham radio and letterpress—especially the printing stage—have a similarity in that both arts require plenty of fussiness and fine-tuning. Besides a bond with past traditions, there is also the bond between an operator and his or her equipment, and the care in repairing and maintaining what is often older technology. Here’s a link to another blog by a fellow ham operator, QSL collector and letterpress printer. He designs his cards to match the early style used in the 1920’s and 30’s.
Not long ago, I was corresponding with a fellow whose ham-related small business dried up, partially on account of many hams today preferring “electronic QSL’s” over paper. The “QSL” is a jpeg sent over the internet.
As we lamented the loss of the old ways, I mentioned that I was so “old school” that I made my own paper QSLs on a letterpress. “OMG!” He replied, and then went on to tell me how his father had a printing business and taught him to handset type at age five. He eventually used his dad’s 10 X 15 C&P and a 9X12 Little Giant for his own at-home letterpress business, which included QSL’s!
Making my own QSL cards has given me a much deeper appreciation for the talented and dedicated artists at every stage in every department at Boxcar.
For this edition of our City Series, from the tides & (wooden) type to the colorful scenes of beaches and Everglades, the Extra Virgin Press owner shares his multicultural community of Miami, Florida. The people and the history continually inspire Tom Virgin in his printing as he works to grow letterpress and the Book Arts, particularly with kids. He was gracious to give the inside scoop on favorite creative places and eclectic hang-outs in the city that brings the heat.
HOME SWEET HOME This is kind of a tricky question. I spent my first two childhoods (decades) in the suburbs of Detroit. After two years in college, I dropped out, traveled the West with friends, and rejoined my family when they moved to South Florida. I lived in Boca Raton, Florida for the next two childhoods, eventually earning a BFA in Printmaking and a Florida teaching certificate, one or two classes at a time. I also worked as a gardener in the family business.
(All photography courtesy of Tom Virgin unless otherwise notated.)
In 1992 I moved to Miami, on the heels of Hurricane Andrew, to begin an MFA in Printmaking at the University of Miami. Remarkably, I found a tiny apartment in Coconut Grove. It turns out that finding a place to live in a disaster area is easier than I thought. I have lived in Coconut Grove ever since, moving to West Grove for the last ten years.
NEVER THE SAME DAY TWICE Miami is like going around the world on any given day. Almost thirty years of teaching in Title I Public Schools introduced me to the children of all the cultures that make up our city. They were generous to this gringo who grew up in the Midwest. I wake up each day in West Coconut Grove, the original historic Bahamian settlement that became the Black Grove. Think peacocks, huge Banyan and Tropical Almond trees, and a short walk to Biscayne Bay. My pre-WW2 apartment is around the corner and down the street from the Coconut Grove Playhouse, built in the 1920’s. This part of the Grove has many humble and historic Shotgun homes and is one of the oldest parts of the city.
Most days I drive twenty minutes north on I-95 through Downtown to Little Haiti. This was one of the original bedroom communities of the city. Much of the population is made up of Haitian immigrants. I am four blocks west of Little Haiti Cultural Center, Sweat Records, Laundromat Art Space and Carl Juste’s IPC Art Space. The City of Miami named a street after Carl’s parents, who were remarkable community builders and early immigrants to Miami from Haiti.
In the same neighborhood two blocks away is what used to be the Cuban Embassy pre-Castro. My shop is in a building (that used to be a grocery store) with Emerson Dorsch Gallery and Exile Books. Across the street is a lovely cafe named Sur. The family that runs it comes from Buenos Aires… Pastries, empanadas, sandwiches and family love daily. Did I mention the Mango Mint Lemonade? On either side of me are Panther Coffee and Clives Cafe, from Brazil and Jamaica respectively. Family is key around here. In the local Haitian grocery, you can buy Haitian peanut butter that includes scotch bonnet peppers as an ingredient. It was an epiphany for me.
BEAUTIFUL BEGINNINGS Since there are only two letterpress shops (that I know of) in Miami, and no strictly letterpress programs in any of the colleges or universities here, we can only work to raise more printers. Both Extra Virgin Press and my neighbors, IS Projects/Nocturnal Press, teach these lost skills in Miami .
My love of letterpress came from the many communities that have established printing and book arts cultures. I was in artists residencies each summer between school years for almost twenty years. NYC, San Francisco, the Twin Cities, Portland, and also a few National Parks.
We are printing and making a difference.
BOOK & PRINT CONNECTIONS A few months ago, Tropic Bound Book Fair debuted in Miami’s posh Design District. We are hoping that it will run in years opposite Codex as a biennial event. This fine press event brought many of my friends and teachers from around the US, to my neighborhood. The Fair organizers even brought a group to my little shop for a tour. Tropic Bound’s catalog for the show is coming out soon with all the participants. Hopefully, Boxcar Press will be here in February 2025. The event was supported by a Knight Foundation grant and organized by Ingrid Schindall of IS Projects, Cristina Favretto Director of the University of Miami Special Collections Library, and arts professional Sarah Michelle Rupert.
The O, Miami Poetry Festival has been bringing poetry to virtually everyone in Miami for over a decade. I have always worked to funnel some of that exquisite magic into my classrooms. Now that I am out of the classroom, they have welcomed me to their programs as an artist who works for kids. The most rewarding job I have ever taken on is making letterpress illustrations from one-word prompts, using wood type to “draw,” to accompany elementary school students’ poetry on postcards, mailed to the entire zip code of the elementary school that was home to the student poets.
This year we are planning to teach book arts to kids, to contain that poetry, and to disperse it into Miami. The poem on the roof of a parking lot submitted by artist/ designer Randy Burman is in the flight path of the Miami International Airport. It is memorable. Check out this video because, yes, a kid wrote that.
ONLY IN DADE (COUNTY) Miami has everything, everywhere, all the time, all at once…Always! However, there is not enough letterpress, yet. We are doing our best to make that Miami look. The whole world lives in this one city. For references go to @onlyindade. You will be shocked, delighted, and amazed. You may never drive in Miami again (hahaha).
ARTISTIC COMMUNITY SHOUT OUTS Miami is just beginning to develop a books arts/ letterpress community. Paper from Announcement Converters and French Paper has lifted my practice. Shell Lumber in the Grove has the best art supplies that a printer could ask for.
HISTORY MEETS PRESENT After 1513, when Florida was “discovered,” the native Tequesta Indians of the Calusa Nation carried on much as they did for thousands of years, according to recent discoveries by the mouth of the Miami River. Roughly three hundred years later Key Biscayne and Florida became a US territory. The Key Biscayne Lighthouse was built in 1825.
The causeway from the mainland to Key Biscayne was finished in 1947. When my friends from other places come to visit, I always take them to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park to see what Old Florida really looked like. The State Park faces the ocean on the East, Stiltsville to the South, and Coconut Grove on the West.
The ocean is full of life, Stiltsville is a historic part of another National Park- homes on stilts in the Bay that used to sell liquor during prohibition and allowed gambling, and Coconut Grove on the bay is for the rich, historically or otherwise.
EAT, DRINK, BE MERRY I would be remiss if I did not mention Harry’s in Coconut Grove. Harry was my student. His dad, of Michael’s Genuine fame, has several excellent restaurants in the city. I am now putting Harry through college one pizza at a time.
Garcia’s Seafood on the Miami River just west of Downtown is a family restaurant with excellent views of a working river, Miami’s culture, and the sounds of a city 24/7.
IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD Books and Books has been a cultural icon and gathering place for almost forty years. Mitchell Kaplan‘s regularly scheduled readings by locals and international authors plus the outdoor patio restaurant with a banned books mural keeps me coming back. Poets are a printer’s best friends.
Everything in Miami is a cultural attraction. However, on the last Friday of every month, Miami’s Critical Mass Bike Ride often travels through several of the less affluent neighborhoods. The cheering kids, smells of food cooking, variety of musical joy, and direct exposure to our varied population give me hope that we can all unite over shared changes in this city that include everyone.
EVOLVING CITYSCAPE There is rampant gentrification in Miami, especially in Little Haiti and West Coconut Grove. This threatens the places that I love the most, and many of the people, especially teachers. I have made three books and several prints since 2005 that reference these ongoing changes.
One of the newcomers to our staff is Rachel. A cheery team-member who cuts our Flurry paper and ships our supply orders, she loves to send snail mail. Since she has joined us, she has her eye on letterpress cards that bring a laugh, Rachel shares with us her round-up of humor-filled prints to make anyone’s day. Let us know which one is tickling your funny bone in the comments below!
Bright pops of color, clean designs, and a hearty dose of whimsical humor can be seen in the letterpress works of Ryan Tempro (and team!) at M.C. Pressure. The Florida-based printer sat down with us to talk shop about Kelsey tabletop beginnings and expanding out with new presses & custom-printed works in tow. Read on to hear about the satisfying pride that goes into seeing the printed pieces being transformed into one-of-kind crafted pieces.
PRINTING IN THE SUNSHINE STATE M.C. Pressure is a print shop in St. Augustine, Florida specializing in letterpress, foil stamping, die-cutting and embossing. I started the company in 2014 after printing a couple years at a small stationery shop while I was in college. We have a lot of capabilities for a small shop. It’s been exciting to see the clients we’ve been able to work with and the creative things they come up with! We also design and create our own line of products that range from greeting cards to coasters to notepads and more.
INK IN THE BLOOD I first learned about letterpress and what it was while going through the graphic design department at Flagler College, here in St. Augustine, Florida. I was able to get a job at a local stationery shop operating their 8×12 Chandler and Price. I fell in love with the tactility of letterpress and being able to create something with my hands and away from the computer.
After I graduated from college I spent a summer in New York for an internship with an artist and was exposed to a lot of different print and production methods. When I returned I started a job at a screen printing shop that had an old Kluge for die-cutting decals. My boss saw my interest in the machine and introduced me to a friend of his who was an old timer in town who ran letterpresses for years.
He had a few small tabletop Kelsey presses that needed some work, but had all the parts! I bought them and cleaned them up and started a little shop on the side when I had time and clients. Over the next few years, I grew from a little tabletop press to several larger presses and a full time shop for myself and a couple of employees!
PRINTSHOP PARADISE Our shop is a modest 1300-ish sq/ft warehouse. We have a 30″ Challenge Paper cutter, an Orbital 8 Poly Plate Maker, 2 Heidelberg Windmills 10×15, 1 Heidelberg GTP 13×18, and 1 Heidelberg KSBA Cylinder Press. I love the capabilities we can accomplish with these machines. They are incredible workhorses. Some days they can be very temperamental, but overall they are wonderful and I’m very fortunate to have the machines I do. My favorite is probably the KSBA, it’s such an accurate press in all aspects of register and inking. I’d be lying to say as a printer that I didn’t love to print large, and that press allows us to really work on a larger format.
Our shop is located in St. Augustine, Florida which is the nation’s oldest city. It’s also a pretty small area so the community as a whole has been very accepting and welcoming of us and our small business. St. Augustine has a lot of rich history and a lot of great local makers and restaurants… a lot of which we’ve become friends with over the years. It’s truly a great community to be in support of and help others follow their passions.
CHILL NEIGHBORHOOD We have a city guide online for sale with a lot of our favorite places. The downtown area is where a lot of people visit when they come into town, though it’s also filled with the most touristy things in town. We are off of the West King Neighborhood and we love it! I’d say if you’re in town check out the Blue Hen Cafe for breakfast or SunDay. Dos and The Kookaburra for coffee. Juniper Market for a snack. Really there are so many great spots in town!
PRINTING MENTORS The print community as a whole has been very helpful. I’d say our biggest contacts are Dan over at Clove St. Press. He is probably one of the best I’ve seen, and I have to include Matt at Matte Gold in Australia. They also have GTP Foil Windmills and were a huge help in learning more about that machine specifically. I always love seeing the content and machines running from Studio on Fire and their capabilities are truly incredible. We have a shoutout to Letterpress Mechanic and Chris at FI Letterpress as well for troubleshooting. Really, there are folks all over we keep in touch with and love to see work from.
FULL TIME FUN I started M.C. Pressure in 2014 and worked on it part-time until the beginning of 2017 when I went full-time with it! I can say that I honestly love my job and love what I do.
THE CREATIVE ENERGIES I went to school for graphic design so some things are still designed by me. At the moment though most of my time is spent on press and business admin tasks. We have an employee, Lauren, who focuses the most on graphics for us. She graduated from Flagler College as well. We use a lot of digital processes in the work-flow. We use the Apple iPad and Pencil for a lot of the illustration work and typically finish up type in the computer through the Adobe suite.
We usually think up a funny idea and work on visualizing it. Or we have an image we want to create and work to create a use for it. Sometimes we get feedback from customers on looking for a type of product or more of a certain type of thing and can work to make them. For example, more birthday cards, or something to say I like you, but maybe don’t love you quite yet.
PRINTING FEATS Hmm, I’m always really proud of the packaging projects we work on here. Seeing the printed pieces being cut down and transformed into a three-dimensional object is always so satisfying. Most recently we printed a pretty complex and accurate carton for Hellcats USA for their Devilish Scent. A black outer sleeve with matte red foil and a red tonal letterpress printed on red for the inner carton. It had a cutout that needed to line-up perfectly with the print inside, and assemble to be snug enough to hold itself together. Clark Orr worked on the dieline and he truly nailed it with this project!
PRESS HISTORY Our very first press was a 5×8 Kelsey Table Top. It was a great start, but thank goodness we don’t have to work on such a manual press anymore!
BOXCAR’S ROLE In the early days of us starting out, we used Boxcar Press for all things! We got a set of inks, letterpress base, printing plates, and would use their resources to help figure out how to use the machines we acquired over the years. Though we don’t use Boxcar Press much these days, they were a huge help in getting us started on projects and understanding the things we use.
LETTERPRESS TIPS It isn’t always possible, but I almost always print with crop marks. I know it makes for a larger plate and paper size AND requires trimming. However, It really saves so much time, I think, on press to be able to utilize the grid on the Boxcar Base. It also allows for what I think is easier spotting if things start to bounce or get out of register.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT Over the last couple of years we’ve acquired various pieces of machines. This year we hope to not do that as much and really focus on the things we have to be as streamlined and efficient as possible! We don’t have a dedicated retail space, but we are working on some ideas to change that and hopefully get things out there more in our community!
A double round of applause & thanks out to Ryan Tempro at M.C. Pressure for letting us take a sneak peek at his wonderful plus fun printing realm!
Nancy Hill of Hazel & Violet Letterpress, is a fine press printer who calls Phoenix, Arizona home. The colorful and inviting letterpress studio (which matches Nancy’s personality to a T) is also a teaching facility and commercial print shop with roots in the community. She was kind enough to give us a shop tour of her printing paradise.
AROUND THE SHOP Lighting…[we have] a bunch of LED flood high up on a 20′ wooden ceiling. The overall lighting is good, however, specific lighting (like to take photos) sucks. The floor plan changes annually but I think we have it right now. Production presses (Windmill, C&P) are in the back and the proof presses are in the front… type is everywhere. Decorating style: posters and prints on every square inch of wall space in no particular order. Floors are concrete.
PRIZED PRINTING POSSESSIONS Oh hell, I love it all. I love all my presses and most of my type… I also dearly love my big-ass working table… where I can spread out projects, work in progress, and new ideas.
SHOP SIZE The whole space is about 1500 sq. feet, but I sublet about 600 of it to an art collective for their gallery.
AROUND THE NEIGHBORHOOD The building is everything! It used to be Braggs Pie Factory (yes, they made pie exactly where we now print). It now houses a coffee shop, restaurant, beauty salon, head shop, art studio, a puppet shop…. and ME. Our neighborhood (downtown Phoenix-adjacent) is called Historic Grand Avenue…just an incredible neighborhood. The owner of my building is an artist and has completely decorated everything in front of the building and the entire street is amazing.
TYPE OF SHOP We are an open-to-the-public retail space, workshop space, and printing studio. We are open almost every day. We also have events on First and Third Friday nights for an art walk. We have a poster set up on one or two of the proof presses and anyone can come and print a free poster. The last First Friday we had a bit more than 200 people.
Repress #1 Proof Press
Potter #2 proof Press
Long-master Showcard Press
MOST VALUABLE TOOL Probably the Windmill. We do wedding invites on this one. But the C&P is what we print all of our cards, stationery, and coasters on.
FAVORITE INK I use a variety of inks. If I need a specific PMS color I sometimes go with Southern Inks (good guys). But these days, my pressman mixes ink colors – which certainly saves money. My stay-open black ink (forms black )that I use ALL THE TIME I get locally at Quality Inks.
CLEANING SOLVENT OF CHOICE Speedy Wash from Kelly Paper. To clean up I use white random rags by the pound from Ace Hardware.
BASE SYSTEM & PLATE OF CHOICE Boxcar. Boxcar. Boxcar. Love you…Never use anyone else. I do occasionally use Owosso when the client wants a cut. I also went to an Industrial supply house to get an 11×17 tool plate aluminum base. (sorry)
BEST CLEAN-UP RAGS Rags by the pound from Ace Hardware. Best deal.
PIED TYPE? Nope. I have a few old tied-up forms that people have given me over the years. Weird stuff from the 40s and 50s. Eventually, I’ll dump them in the hell box (can) and run them upstate to Sky for credit on some new type.
ORGANIZATION TIPS No secret…constant vigilance for stuff not in the right place. Also, I am the queen of spreadsheets… so, there is always a plan.
Nothing makes us more proud and excited when we learn about young printers and poets in the schools getting a chance to put their hand to a press. The sixth grade students of Mount Desert Elementary School (Mount Desert Island, Maine) experienced the joys and challenges while printing their own poetry this past year. The project was led by writing teachers Ms. Mariah Baker and Ms. Maria Simpson combined with artists/printers Nikki Moser and Katherine Emery. Read on to hear all about the group’s instruction in hand-set type, printing with photopolymer plates, bookbinding, and the fun that went into the Call of the Robin letterpress printed book project.
KATHERINE EMERY: I had met my daughter’s writing teacher, and she told me about a month-long poetry project the 6th graders were working on, and how it had transformed their attention and energy. It was a positive place to put their worries about the world. She was trying to do something special for them as an end-of-the-year project.
On impulse, I offered to help them print their poems. I got Nikki to agree to use her press and then persuaded the teachers to agree to bring the class for printing. I volunteered to help layout the poems for photopolymer plates, and then helped the students sew the books together.What a day when the kids walked to Nikki Moser’s artist studio and pulled prints on a tabletop press. After the students bound their final books, they signed their poems in the editions.
Teacher MS. MARIA SIMPSON: After the “Call of the Robin” poetry book was completed, we read the poems to the 2nd graders and it was so moving – each kid read their poem with feeling and passed a printed book hand to hand.
Then the kids gave the second graders advice about writing their own poems. One student, Kohl, had this advice,“Sometimes, when I got stuck, I would take a little walk. Then I would come back and write from my heart.”
It was an inspiring project that the students and I will remember for a long time. I look forward to doing it again!
STUDENTS’ REACTIONS AND REFLECTIONS
PIERCE HOLLEY:This experience was super fun and I loved that we got to be writing and doing art at the same time! It was really cool to be doing the printing instead of just using our computer like we always do. This would be an amazing activity for others.
LANAIA McDANIELS:I really enjoyed the printing project. It was super fun to do, and I got to learn new and interesting things. The best part about it was learning how to use the printingpress. It was fun to see and use it because I never knew about a printing press and the history behind it.
Kemy: I got to learn from Nikki and Katherine the basic skills behind printing and making my own book. It was very fun and I got to be with my friends trying new things.
HELAYNA SAVAGE:I loved writing poetry with Ms. Baker and Ms. Simpson. We did a lot of different types of poetry and close to the end we went to a place where we used a printing press. Best thanks to Katherine Emery and her work partner.
CORINNA JOHNSTON: I learned how printing is made and I really liked getting to print my own poem.
PHOENIX SWEET: With Katherine and Nikki, I had fun learning to bind a book, I also enjoyed putting ink on, learning to use, and printing my poem on the printing press.
We’re proud to share their story and hear how printing enriched these students and inspired fellow printers to reach out to their community. Huge round of applause out to Katherine, Nikki, and both teachers for getting their students invigorated about being on press and creating a lasting project. As Katherine beautifully stated about the project: “the 6th graders [were] over the moon to be out in the sunshine, celebrating words, and using beautiful old machinery to honor their inner voices.”
Next up in our Letterpress Friend chat series is AJ Masthay. We are bowled over by the mesmerizing details in his concert poster series and his bright + bold color combinations. AJ is a Connecticut-based printer who always makes us wonder “What is he up to this time?!” We sat down for a quick minute to see what’s on his Vandercook (and beyond!) via Masthay Studios.
Boxcar Press: So good to catch up with you! We’ve all got the printing bug and we’re just curious about when you got “bitten”!
AJ: That happened back in my sophomore year of art school when I was first introduced to old-school stone lithography. Literally drawing on pieces of limestone, using leather rollers and gum arabic to reproduce beautiful full tonal drawings. It felt like the world of magic and alchemy to me, I was hooked.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use.
AJ: That’s my first Vandercook Universal I for sure. I found it through the help of one of my college professors, Jim Lee, a few years after I graduated. I was hoping to get an etching press as I figured that was the most versatile. Jim mentioned he knew of a Vandercook in a guy’s garage he was looking to sell. The only problem was it was completely disassembled and in pieces.
$500 later…. it was mine and I spent the next couple of months studying the presses at my former art school to figure out how to reassemble the Uni I in my basement. That’s the press that started my entire art career but I wound up trading it for my current “go to” press which is a Universal III. The hand cranking on thousands of print passes became a bit much. The larger format and motorized aspect of the Uni III just made it way more realistic for my shop. I’m also in the process of possibly adding a large Vandercook 32-28 to my shop which is very, very exciting.
Boxcar Press: What is something people might not know about you?
AJ: People that follow me might know this already but I have a deep fascination with bones and osteology and have been collecting skulls since I was a little kid. I now have a pretty extensive collection at the studio with well over 200 skulls of various species.
Boxcar Press: What is your printing superpower? Every printer has one….
AJ: This one is easy, my printing superpower is my coworker Kait Lennon (@longlegslennon on IG) who handles almost all of the printing in my shop these days. There is no way I could crank out the amount of work I do for clients without having someone else working the press and there’s no one I trust more with my work than Kait.
Boxcar Press: Anything you want to give us a sneak peak about or a current project you have in the works? Maybe one project that you are always going to get to but it just never seems to get done? (We all have one!)
AJ: I’m currently working on a series of new art prints that I’m calling my “Pet Projects” that I plan on releasing at my November 12th open studio event. Summers tend to be very very busy for us with client work (summer tours, festivals, etc.) Once we got through all that this year I thought it would be nice to take some time to work on a few pieces that I’ve been meaning to do but always seem to get pushed off.
LOL […] I have many many projects that seem to just never get done. Hopefully, I can check a few off with this upcoming show though.
Boxcar Press: Last quick question & just for fun(!) – Do you like to listen to podcasts or music in your shop while you create?
AJ: Both really, depends on my mood and what’s going on that day. I find music, usually very loud music, helps me get in the creative zone when coming up with overall concepts or working out compositions/layout. Podcasts seem better when I’m diving into detail work and fleshing out/completing drawings. Neither is written in stone though.
That was a delightful time, AJ. We’re grateful for the friendly chat! Visit his website link to delve more into the hue-filled world of masthaystudios.com.
I think we can all agree letterpress fits the dictionary definition of niche (a specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service), but when we gather as a community as we love to do, we feel dynamic, vibrant, and that we are at the peak of the printing heap.
To start, our presses are beautiful and have stood the test of time, our printing papers are luxurious and rainbow gorgeous, and our type options number in the thousands. We can carve a lino block or make a polymer plate or handset some letters and in relatively little time, make a beautiful print or a thought-provoking broadside. Is it any wonder we feel a little heady when we can print?
Now, put one or more of us together in the same place and we can get giddy. Boxcar Press was a vendor at the Lancaster .918 Club Printer’s Fair in Lancaster, Pennsylvania this past weekend. We brought our wares to showcase and sell, however, we really love the conversations, the demonstrations, and finding a tool and printed piece we need in our own collection. We joke as we leave that we may be going home with more than we brought. And we are happy about it.
This is the way of “our kind” at our Conferences, our Wayzgoose’s, print demonstrations and field trips. I personally enjoy the people interactions and hearing their stories. Just a sampling form this weekend:
The Amish printer who works for a group that prints Russian books that go to the Ukraine. There are 11 million ethnic Russians who live in the Ukraine. His group is still shipping books despite the war and, as you can imagine, those books are moving about the country as the people are moving around.
A long time customer from North Carolina, Brian closed his shop and moved up to Philly in 2019. Cue the pandemic and he laid low. Now he is helping a community print shop with letterpress and press instruction.
Some beginner printers looking for the supplies for their new love of letterpress. They pick up a few items and tips and leave us with their enthusiasm. Always get revved up for the new printers.
Putting a face to customers who were names and voices for over a decade. It is so good to really meet them and connect.
Visiting with other vendors with their new wares and new projects – yes, we will buy that calendar and that print and those cards, thank you very much.
Marveling over the long rows of printing presses like soldiers and the type drawers and impressive equipment at the Ken Kulakowsky Center for Letterpress and Book Arts. And talking with Ken himself.
Being pleasantly surprised by visitors who aren’t printers and may have a vague connection to print (publishing, marketing, artists) but thought this Fair sounded intriguing. We hope we passed on some of our passion and introduced them to a new artisan craft. Thanks for letting us talk on and on.
Welcoming fellow Boxcar employees who drove the 8 hour round trip to surprise and support us and get their own firsthand taste of the letterpress printing fair experience. What a blast!
Chatting with everyone’s favorite supplier, John Barrett of Letterpress Things . What an impressive array of table top presses. If you are looking, check with John.
We can’t encourage you enough to attend a printers fair or a Letterpress Conference (shout out to the Ladies of Letterpress this week for their conference). There is so much to catch your eye and to marvel over if your heart is in letterpress printing. Look for a chapter of the American Printing History Association near you and join and go to their events. Visit the various printing museums around the country and the world or a Book Arts Center. Take or teach a workshop so the teaching and learning go on. And thanks for bringing Boxcar Press along on your letterpress journey.