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 email@example.com with the things that inspire you as well!
I was very excited when I first read AJ’s poem because it would allow me to mix my love of comic books and letterpress. I love that AJ wrote a poem about the Incredible Hulk that a lot of kids and adults alike could relate to. His mom translated it to Chamorro, the language of the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands. I felt honored that I was trusted with creating a print using not only AJ’s words, but also the traditional language of his family.
Hulk is a character who struggles with fear, pain, and anger but also can use strength to do a lot of good as a superhero. Since AJ’s words reference all of these darker feelings, I didn’t want to emphasize the negative with imagery. What was a way that I could compliment AJ’s words and bring a little bit of that lighthearted feeling to a character who is everything but? How about Legos? I had been looking for the right project to experiment with printing Legos, and this seemed like a perfect fit!
I looked at a lot of inspiration for how to render Hulk using pixel art, and decided to use this as an opportunity to reference something else from my childhood. I used character sprites from the Super Nintendo video game “The Incredible Hulk” (1994) as a reference. Eric Bailey and Anthony Rosbottom were the original artists that worked on this game, and there were so many possibilities for really dynamic poses to draw from for my inspiration. In Photoshop, I created a simplified rendering of one of the sprites using a grid that was 32 pixel wide. I usually try to minimize the amount of time I’m on the computer when I’m working in letterpress, but I ended up designing every aspect of this print in Photoshop and Illustrator.
My broadside had a total of six passes on press. I rebuilt the pixel art using 1×1 Lego pieces, and a base that I made with a piece of wood and two sheets of Lego Baseplate. For the first pass, I started with the brighter green. Once the first color was printed, I slowly removed all of the Lego pieces using an ink knife. I should have gotten a plastic putty knife or some other tool to help remove these pieces as the ink knife really easily slipped and scratched the Lego pieces.
Once all the Legos were removed, I set up the pixel art for the dark green layer. I continued this process for the remaining pixel art colors. As I printed, I used a pica pole to help square off any of the Lego pieces that started moving around a bit. As they moved, it created an interesting energy/vibration that I really love the look of; as long as it didn’t get too out of alignment that is! All of my additional type for the poem, colophon, and byline were printed as my last pass on press using a photopolymer plate.
I didn’t get a chance to talk with AJ about his poem, but I hope that he enjoyed how I chose to represent his words. It’s an honor to be a part of this year’s Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project, and it was such a fun project to work on. I can’t wait to print with Legos again!
I always feel honored to participate in the Children’s Hospital Broadside project. This is my fourth year and each time it is such a treat to work with the poems and illustrate something that will hopefully resonate with the poet.
The poet had drawn a little comic that he used as inspiration for the poem so it only seemed right to keep that idea with the 4 sections of the poem. Rather than have a grid layout that’s common of comics, it seemed more appropriate to have it a little more freeform. The 4 sections of the poem are separated and on the page in a somewhat ordered yet almost haphazard way. Because of this, I added a light grey swoosh in the background to help draw the eye through the lines in the correct order. The final print came out with 6 colors in 6 passes (I had originally planned for a 7th but decided to skip it in the end).
I used rather non-traditional plates for this project. I have a laser cutter at home and decided to make my plates with it. I used an acrylic sheet (a break from my normal wood) as acrylics tend to warp less. I engraved the design onto the surface and while providing a great surface for inking, printing the background offered a bit of a challenge. It was not quite low or shallow enough and transferred ink so it was a little messy.
I had to do quite a bit of sanding and scraping to keep everything clean. Despite the challenges of printing with my homemade plates, I was pleased with the outcome.
My poet this year was Chance Petrone, who wrote What I Do. I was instantly drawn to this poet simply because of his cool name.
My initial idea was to play with the image of a lightning bolt based on Chance’s imagery of his lightning quick speed but felt it was too obvious. It only spoke to one aspect of Chance that he conveys in this poem describing himself. Aside from running at lightning speed, Chance points out that he doesn’t always follow the recipe and that people are drawn to him. These two descriptions led me to the magnet image with the surrounding force field. I liked that the magnet conveyed how dynamic he is and also had a lightning bolt-like shape.
The background blue I had initially planned to pressure print. I don’t know why I say I’m going to pressure print every year, as if it is some easy-peasy technique, because I just can’t seem to make it work the way I want it! While in the 12th hour, after attempting several unsuccessful approaches to pressure printing, I put out a request to the other printers on the project for a spare large piece of linoleum. I received many responses which just shows how supportive this group of printers are. BUT, as I was in the 12th hour, I needed something asap and found a small piece of leftover Marmoleum flooring from our kitchen. I had one chance to make it work.
I transferred the magnet outline and hoped for the best. Carving away this fairly simple shape was a bit more difficult than expected. The abstract pattern of the Marmoleum is the same throughout the layers. Carving into the flooring material was easy enough but once you carve out a spot it doesn’t look any different than the un-carved part. This made it hard to read. The results were fine and similar to what I had hoped from pressure printing.
I didn’t want the angled ground shape to be solid because I thought it would look better textured next to the texture of the blue background. I created a subtle texture with cloth under the draw sheet.
After these first two layers, next came the magnet fill/force field and the text which all went smoothly.
One of the most evocative stanzas in Audrey’s poem describes her comforting visualization of driving home from the hospital—softly, gently, like clouds drifting away. I seized the image of clouds, and her color of freedom, “real and super shiny gold.”
When I was sketching the design for this broadside, I was on vacation in New Mexico. There, I saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of clouds from above. I admired the gradient in the sky, from a saturated blue to almost white. I decided to abstract my clouds into geometric forms and cut the printing plate from plywood on a laser cutter. I printed the sky on my Vandercook SP-15 with a split fountain of blue to opaque white, with the clouds knocked out, in the white of the paper. The gold ink in the title is made up of a two-part gold paste and varnish concoction that is the most “real and super shiny gold” I know how to print. I first printed the title in blue in order to give the gold ink something extra smooth to sit on so it would really sparkle.
All type was printed from photopolymer plates donated by Boxcar Press. I set everything at an angle, parallel with the clouds, and curved the left margin of the poem in a long graceful swoop to echo the shapes of the clouds and to give the broadside that “freedom feeling.”
This was my 2nd year as a printer for this project. Last year helped set my expectations for how quick the timeline moves and how to portion out my time. I had the best intentions for getting things done early, and ahead of time, but seeing my intended imagery through ended up taking a lot more time than I had hoped for. It was a relief to know what my absolute worst case timeline would be for finishing everything up. Thanks to Boxcar with the rush plates right on time!
Almost immediately after selecting the poem I was working with, I had an idea of how I wanted to accompany the poet’s words with imagery. He had listed many things that he was, and the last section of his poem he talks about going camping with his family. I thought back to the “Hidden Pictures” in Highlights magazine, where an illustration of a scene would have various items hidden within it. This seemed like a perfect fit, having a camping scene, and then including many of the other items in the poem.
I did my illustration in Procreate on iPad pro, which was a lot of back-and-forth… I couldn’t be entirely solid on the hidden pieces before drawing the scene. And I couldn’t draw the entire scene without figuring out how the hidden pieces would be woven in. This is definitely one of the things that ended up being a longer process than I had anticipated. I had such a vivid vision in mind of what this would eventually look like and it was harder to get that out onto screen and to paper.
When I finally got my linework of the illustration where I wanted it to be (as well as the text of the poem, of course!) and had hand-lettered the title, I worked on figuring out how to use color on the final print. I really wanted to use yellow, as that color was one of the things mentioned in the poem (and, “pee”). With the lush forest setting, I wanted green to have a presence as well. Still working in Procreate, I played with some fill layers, and settled on a light yellow and a light blue, that would (hopefully) layer to make a decent green. I exported my Procreate file to a PSD, and brought it to the desktop to do the nitty gritty of file prep and fine-tune some trapping, and get files plate-happy.
Fast-forward a couple of days, my plates arrived and my paper was on hand. I had reserved some (read: full day’s worth of) press time at SVC, cashing in a vacation day to do a weekday print marathon. I pawed through a swatch book to get a ballpark idea for ink mixing, but I’m always one more to shoot from the hip with my inks rather than precisely measure out proportions (it’s been working well for me!). Since I was planning for a lot of ink coverage and overlap, cobalt drier made its way into all three of my colors.
I got ready to print, paper counted out, press set up, my first plate stuck on to the base, and my creamy light blue ink on press. I thankfully didn’t need to do too much for makeready, and getting through my stack of 110 plus sheets went pretty quickly. Then, cleaning off the press and moving on to the light yellow I’d mixed that had a good deal of translucent white in it, aiming to get a nice green on the overlap of that with the blue areas. It worked, and the green that came out was actually better than I had been hoping for. My last run-through of the press was my key plate with all the linework and my darkest color.
The cobalt drier seemed to help, and when I went to trim my prints out a day or two later, they were plenty dry.
I wanted to create a broadside highlighting this poem, and enticing the viewer to keep looking, or to return later and find something new. I didn’t want to create something that was one-note, and could be digested in the first glance. I’m really pleased with how the broadside turned out. I believe I was able to breathe life into the words of a child, to share them, to memorialize the spirit that delighted in so many of the little things, and to celebrate that.
For our ninth year, we here at Boxcar Press have enjoyed the honor of supporting this year’s 2019 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project. It is helmed by Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick of the Writers in the Schools program (WITS) and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. This year’s creative young poets and printer/artists joined forces to build a magnificent collection of 20 broadsides in a limited run of 110 editions.
The works of arts are a collaboration of kindhearted printers bringing alive the thoughts of long-term patients from the Seattle Children’s Hospital. The result is nothing short of fun, colorful, whimsical, and inspiring. This first installment of a two-part blog highlights four printers who share their creative processes and showcase the magic of the children’s writing. Enjoy!
When we gathered at SVC to kick off this year’s series with the reading of the kid’s poems, I was convinced Gerald was a real llama. I wasn’t alone. After Ann Teplick (one of the lead poets for this project) finished reading Liam’s poem, she said she’d met Gerald. “He’s real?” another printer asked. “Oh no,” she replied. “He’s a stuffed toy, but he seems real.” Liam’s words had brought Gerald to life, a feeling that stuck with me through the creative process. We spent a lot of time together, me and Gerald. And he is quite a lovable little stinker.
His larger-than-life personality demanded the same dominating presence on the page. Picturing a simple illustration with a large color background, I set about figuring out how to turn the sketch into a reduction cut.
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I tested my sketches on a small 2×3 inch linoleum block and printed a run of 200 so that I could play with color & the reduction cut process. Remember how I said Gerald was a stinker? Yep. He bit me. Twice. (Some may say my carving tool slipped, but they weren’t there. Gerald knows what he did.)
These tests were really informative. I quickly learned how opaque white ink would look on the cream-colored paper: in short, not as I expected. To make Gerald appear “white” I found it best to shift from my original plan of printing his entire body in white, to only printing the suggestion of his curly locks. I also played with the background color, and how to best define Gerald’s outline. These “Gerald trading cards,” as I came to view them, were later sent out to members of the Amalgamated Printers Association in the monthly letterpress bundle.
I like to create full size mock-ups to nail down the details before getting on press. The design of the broadside didn’t change much from these 2×3″ tests to the final 9×12 image; just a little rotation of the angle at which Gerald would be peeking out of the corner, in order to make room for the type.
The first pass through the press was Gerald’s curls and face. To prep my platen press (a 13×19 motorized Colt’s Armory), I let it run with opaque white ink for about 20 minutes to draw out any trace remains of other ink hiding in the rollers. I cleaned it with Putz Pomade and roller wash, and inked it up again with opaque white and began printing. The effect was subtle, but enough to make the non-printed parts of the page appear “whiter” than they actually were.
Carving the second part of the reduction cut was easy, even if Gerald wasn’t thrilled to receive the haircut. Removing his curls was deliciously satisfying.
I decided — with the help of an informal Instagram poll comparing my test prints — to set Gerald on a blue background, rather than a green one. At one point it was going to be a split fountain of the 2, but that was just a symptom of indecision.
Passes 2 (blue) and 3 (gray) of the reduction cut aren’t well-documented, but I did snag a photo of my alignment tests on make-ready from previous year broadsides. In these 4 prints you can see evidence of Home Life(2017), Self-Portrait Poem (2016), How to Fix a Laptop (2015), and Favorite Things (2013).
The fourth and final pass through the press was the metal type, printed in the same gray as Gerald’s eyes, nose, mouth, and outline. The title was set in Boul Mich, a typeface designed by Chicago’s Ozwald Cooper in the spirit of the trendy Broadway typeface of the 1920s. The body and colophon are set in Spartan, my house sans-serif face.
Working with Liam’s poem was a treat, and things that are important to Liam are clear in his description of his beloved confidante: strength, tenderness, and a co-conspirator willing to weather the highs and lows of life. May we all be so lucky to have someone like Gerald, stinky as he may be, by our side.
Every year as I contemplate and work on this project, it has tremendous importance to me. Yet, I never feel like I do enough. Some artists meet their poets or the poet’s family if the poet had passed. I have never done that. I don’t know if my heart can handle it. I have done 5 or 6 of these. I have cried each time. Even the funny poems hit me and not for any specific reason, although I experience so many feelings. It’s simply just how human the poems are.
You get this unique, precious look into another person’s life—and sometimes death. It’s a rare thing, especially in this era of phony social media where our curated personalities pretend to connect with others. I really wish I had taken more photos, particularly of process photos of my last print but I did have some fun with this one. I used Boxcar plates for all of my printing.
I had played with clean lines and texture. I ended up printing everything clean and then carved away parts of the plates. I used sandpaper and wood cut knives to distress the plates and then I overprinted again. I also wiped away a little ink on each pass. I wanted there to be some “grit” below the surface.
The poem is clean and neat. It’s really tight but there is some real agony beneath it. Happiness, too… but I wanted to lean into the darkness without doing something traditionally dark. As always, I feel very lucky to be part of this project and to exercise my skills.
My poem was an excerpt of a longer poem, written by Isaac Gardner, age 24. I was lucky and got to meet him a few weeks before I started the project. He was incredibly open and excited about seeing his poem in print.
Isaac’s poem was very powerful, and the excerpt I had was in reference to darkness and light, and how he had a star in his pocket that grew brightly as he called upon it for help in the darkness.
I was immediately drawn to the star, and to creating a dark, stormy background with a path of light cutting through. I’m interested in textures and colors as opposed to using literal images, but did use a star as a sort of centerpiece. Boxcar made the poem excerpt in polymer, and the rest of the broadside was done by hand.
I began by making a linoleum cut of a star and printing it as my first pass. Next I created a collagraph–I mounted bookboard and painted it with acrylic medium with brush strokes for texture. This was my second pass.
For the third pass, I wanted to make a dark area to surround the star, and so hand-cut linoleum sheets mounted to a piece of shelving, and printed this background in a dark bluish color over the textured collagraph. I had to make sure the blue was transparent enough to show the texture while still being dark and moody. It was tricky!
Finally, I printed the polymer plate with the excerpt of the poem in a dark reddish color to contrast with the blue.
I was happy with the overall result! And was thrilled to meet Isaac and participate in this meaningful project. Thank you Boxcar!
In the spring of 2019, myself and a lucky group of other letterpress printers gather to be part of the Children’s Hospital Broadside Project. This was the ninth year of the project. We listen as the poems are read and choose (and sometimes negotiate) which poem we will print.
Sierra and Ann are able to share a little bit about each poet and I learned that my young one, Finnley Foster, was already an accomplished rider and had her own horse named Norman. Because she was so young, I wanted to keep the colors of the broadside gay and colorful, suggesting a carousel. And yet, I wanted to keep the horses lifelike because she described them so specifically and because she really knew what horses look like.
I enlisted the help of one of the other printers, Laura Walczak, because she is more savvy than I am with cleaning up images on a computer to get them ready for reproduction and because she has a laser cutter. I found several copyright free images on-line which I thought suited the lines that Finnley had written. Laura was able to work on the images and create the wooden laser cuts in a matter of hours.
I worked out and mixed all the colors in advance to create a harmonious palette for the run of seven colors. I did many mock-ups of hand cuts shapes of the horses before settling on the positions for each one. I printed the text on my Vandercook SP-15 but I printed each of the horses on my 1926 10 x 15 Chandler & Price. The horses required quite a bit of ink to get full coverage on each image and I was able to achieve this more easily on the C&P although it did require some careful paper handling as the sheet was over-sized relative to the press.
Throughout all the press runs, each broadside had a slipsheet laid between them so the ink would not offset from the front to the back of the next. Even so, I laid all the broadsides out on my work table to dry for several days before the final trimming.
At the completion of the project, we gather to read the broadsides to one another and talk about the process of working on them. Then we wrap up a complete set of the broadsides in a portfolio along with ten copies of the poet’s own piece which are later presented to the young poet and/or their family. Because of Finnley’s enthusiastic interest in horses, I gave them all of the laser cuts in case she would like to play with them.
It is both moving and inspiring to be part of this project for nine years. I am grateful I am invited to be even a small part of the young poet’s journey as they are so sweetly encouraged to write by Sierra and Ann. The generous support of businesses like Boxcar Press, Ecological Fibers, Neenah Paper, Puget Bindery and Evolution Press working with all involved makes this possible.
Michele Burgess of Brighton Press is a fine arts book artist, creative soundboard, and part-time university professor who loves to share printing with those around her. For three decades, Michele and her husband have been enjoying the fruits of their collaborative efforts one pulled print at a time.
AN ARTIST BY NATURE I am a visual artist obsessed with working in book form. My husband, Bill Kelly, founded our press in 1985 and it has morphed and grown before our eyes.
THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS I went to the Cranbrook Academy of Art for my MFA in the mid-’80s. There was a very funky letterpress there and small, crumbly piles of type. I enjoy the intentionality, the craft, the beauty of its collaboration with paper.
CREATIVE COLLECTIVE We are a small band of like-minded people using the studio as a creative laboratory. We create and publish collaborative artists’ books that braid the visions of both poets and visual artists. Everything is original and achieved by hand.
Bill Kelly, who founded the press, Nelle Martin, associate director/production designer/letterpress printer and I collaborate creatively with whoever the artist and poet might be. Most often, one of us is one or the other, or, in Bill’s case, both. We also often collaborate with papermakers such as those at Twinrocker, Cave paper, and the Morgan Conservatory to get a certain color or weight that we’re looking for.
Sonja Jones, in her 80’s and a previous librarian, has been a guardian angel and does our boxmaking. Kathi George, our crackerjack copy editor who makes sure we don’t have a plate made with a typo in it. Jenny Yoshida Park also works closely with us on typography and website and catalog design.
Recent poets include Bill Kelly, Chard deNiord, Bianca Stone, and Martha Serpas. Recent artists, besides myself and Bill include: Jinane Abbadi, Ian Tyson, Miya Hannan, Jenny Yoshida Park. A full list of artists and writers can be found on our website—34 years worth.
Sometimes we work with outside bookbinders Mark Tomlinson, Claudia Cohen, and Lisa Van Pelt, who have added creative ideas to the bindings. There’s a lot of back and forth regarding structure and content until it all melds together.
My favorite thing about it is that we never know what the final outcome will be until the B.A.T. (from the French phrase “bon a tirer” — good to pull. The subsequent prints should look like that one) is complete and that we can never remember whose idea certain things were. Synergy.
COAST-TO-COAST PRINTING We are bi-coastal now. We do most of the production in San Diego, which is getting a little less cool every year, and we do a lot of the creative work in Vermont in relative solitude. We also work in other artist’s studios sometimes or at the dinner tables of our writers.
PRINTING MENTORS Gerald Lange, Michael Bixler, Robin Price, Walter Hamady have been my letterpress mentors. William Blake, Sonja Delaunay, Ken Campbell, Anslem Kiefer, and Barbara Fahrner have been my book art mentors. The poets I work with inspire me. I get energy and fortitude from my collaborators at the press.
PART-TIME PRINTING, FULL-TIME FUN We decided years ago not to require the press to support us physically, so we teach at universities part-time.
THE ARTISTIC PROCESSES I start a book from a small kernel of inspiration which is always mysterious in its origin. Sometimes, the poet is my muse or his/her words. From there, I usually start working on visual images that expand on, rather than illustrate the text. The best scenario is when the poet and I are working together from a kernel and we’re spinning a web together.
PRINTING FEATS I’m proud of the meandering path we’ve taken, despite the hardships. With regards to a project: A Woman Hit by a Meteor. Our paper was MUCH too large for the press, so we folded it and through that limitation were able to imbue it with a sensibility of folded maps in ancient, celestial atlases.
PRESS HISTORY Vandercook 219, old style. I love the Vandercook, the sound, the weight, the intuitive simplicity of the machine.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has helped us realize some visual formats that we couldn’t have done with lead type. Also, we were able to create Arabic calligraphy, Chinese and Japanese text that we couldn’t have done otherwise. Boxcar has been super-efficient, patiently helpful, both with my classroom needs and for Brighton Press.
PRINTING TIPS: Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Slightly more punch, less ink.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT A book called WHERE AND HOW BLOOD WAS MADE with poet Chard deNiord. It will be my most complex book to date.
L’Imprimerie Bâtard is a Northeastern France-based letterpress printshop that enjoys working with handset type and learning as much as they can. Pauline and Gaëtan work and breathe letterpress in their printshop where they blend old-world craftsmanship with a daring for experimenting.
(A note for our readers: This article appears in both English and French for all lovers of letterpress to read! The French translation appears in italics. Huge round of applause out to Pauline and Gaëtan for the French translations!)
PRINTING IN FRANCE L’Imprimerie Bâtard -literally The Bastard Printer’s- is a new design and printing workshop in Nancy, France run by Pauline (24 yo) and Gaëtan (35 yo). We are hosted by a youth and cultural center called la MJC Lillebonne, which is super cool because it makes our everyday life at work very lively.
L’Imprimerie Bâtard -littéralement Bastard Printer’s- est un tout nouvel atelier de design et d’impression à Nancy en France géré par deux personnes : Pauline (24 ans) et Gaëtan (35 ans). Nous sommes hébergés dans une Maison de la Jeunesse et de la Culture, la MJC Lillebonne, un lieu super cool qui met plein de vie dans notre quotidien.
LETTERPRESS BEGINNINGS Pauline discovered letterpress during her fine arts studies, which she completed last year. Her school had a letterpress workshop led by a specialized teacher so she had the opportunity to learn the basics of the letterpress technique in different contexts such as personal editorial works or workshops that her teachers used to organize.
Gaëtan founded a nonprofit publishing house several years ago so he already knew a bit about graphic design and printing. He first practiced letterpress at his friends’ printshop. They had organized a week to produce a gazette combining text and illustration only printed by hand. They had invited other typographers so this first approach of letterpress revealed to be very enriching to him.
Pauline a découvert la typographie manuelle lors de ses études aux Beaux-Arts, qui se sont terminées l’année dernière. Dans son école, il y avait un atelier géré par un professeur spécialisé, elle a donc pu apprendre les bases de la technique dans différents contextes : des projets éditoriaux personnels ou encore des ateliers organisés par les professeurs.
Gaëtan, lui, a fondé une maison d’édition associative il y a plusieurs années, il avait donc déjà été au contact de l’univers du graphisme et de l’impression. Il a pratiqué la typographie pour la première fois dans l’imprimerie d’amis à lui. Ils avaient organisé une semaine pour créer une gazette mélant texte et illustration complètement imprimée à la main. Ils avaient invité d’autres typographes, cette première approche a donc été très riche en découvertes et en apprentissages.
THE PRINTSHOP One of our favorite things about our workshop is also one of the things we hate the most: it is very small. When people visit us, we like to tell them that we have the smallest printing atelier in the world. On the one hand, it makes the atmosphere warm and cozy. The office part, with its old desk and granny carpet, definitely makes us feel at home. On the other hand, a so small working place requires loads of tricks to optimize the storage of our tools and equipment.
Une des choses que nous préférons à propos de notre imprimerie est également une des choses que nous détestons le plus : elle est très petite. Quand nous faisons des visites, nous nous amusons à dire que c’est la plus petite imprimerie du monde. D’un côté, ça donne une ambiance chaleureuse, cosy. On s’y sent à la maison, surtout dans la partie bureau où il y a une vieille table et un vieux tapis. D’un autre côté, une si petite surface de travail nous oblige à redoubler d’inventivité pour optimiser le rangement de notre matériel.
HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOOD Absolutely. The cultural center accommodating us is based in an old private hotel built during the Renaissance, so the place is very picturesque. Another cool thing about this center is that it is so huge that it has many different arts and crafts workshops, such as engraving, bookbinding, drawing, silkscreen printing, pottery, sculpture.
We are surrounded by many interesting practices and crafts. Also, the whole neighborhood is the oldest part of the city and certainly one of its most beautiful areas. It covers many wonderful Renaissance landmarks, like a Gothic church, a ducal palace turned into a museum and ancient city gates.
Tout à fait. La MJC qui nous loge est basée dans un ancien hôtel particulier construit à la Renaissance, le bâtiment est donc très pittoresque. Ce qui est aussi génial dans le fait d’être hébergés dans une MJC aussi grande, c’est la quantité et la diversité des ateliers d’artisanat qui y sont proposés : gravure, reliure, dessin, sérigraphie, poterie, sculpture… Nous sommes entourés de pratiques et de savoirs tous plus intéressants les uns que les autres. Au delà du bâtiment en lui-même, le quartier entier est une des plus anciennes parties de la ville et sans doute une des plus belles. Il comprend de nombreux monuments datant de la Renaissance, comme une église gothique, un palais ducal transformé en musée, ainsi que les anciennes portes de la ville.
PRINTING MENTORS Our inspirations are diverse and come from different movements: absurdism and Oulipo (a French movement about constrained writing) for the writing of the texts, and some graphic designers who played with letterpress such as Robert Massin and Jan Tschichold for the design part of our work. We wouldn’t say that we have specific “mentors” but we had the opportunity to meet some old printers and typographers who learned letterpress as a craft and they gave us some advice. We also usually save good printing ideas we find on the internet, mostly on Instagram, and try to reuse them in our work.
Nos inspirations sont variées et nous viennent de différents mouvements: l’absurde et l’Oulipo (un mouvement français d’écriture sous contrainte) en ce qui concerne l’écriture des textes, et plusieurs graphistes ayant joué avec la typographie comme Robert Massin et Jan Tschichold pour la partie création de notre travail. Nous ne pourrions pas nommer de réels “mentors” mais notre travail se base à la fois sur les bonnes idées que nous trouvons sur internet, notamment sur Instagram, et sur les précieux conseils des quelques imprimeurs typographes dont c’est le métier que nous avons eu la chance de rencontrer.
FULL TIME FUN Yes, we do [full time] ! It’s been 6 months since our atelier was set up. At the beginning, we wanted to do it as a pass-time in our garden shed, but when we had the opportunity to buy our press and our first cases, it became obvious for us that we would make it our new job.
Oui ! Ça fait 6 mois que notre atelier est installé. Au début, nous voulions faire de la typographie un passe-temps et occuper l’atelier au fond de notre jardin, mais quand nous avons eu l’occasion d’acheter notre presse et nos premières casses, ça nous est paru évident que nous en ferions notre nouveau métier.
DESIGNING A CUSTOM PIECE. The first step of our design process is the phase of creation, which includes the writing of the texts and the making of the illustrations (we mainly use linocut). Then, we compose the texts we wrote, testing different types: metal types for the body of the text and wood types for the titles. We’ll try (as much as possible) to avoid using plates and linotype to keep our work the more handmade. After choosing the most coherent characters in relation to the project, we print the texts and illustrations on transparent plastic paper on our proof press so that we can modulate the elements and decide on the final layout. We got this trick from our friend Guillaume Guilpart, who is a typographer at a workshop called Paris Print Club. We also take advantage of this step to do an orthotypographic correction of the texts. We make the color and paper choices and finally we can print on our bigger press.
La première étape de notre processus de design est la phase de création, c’est-à-dire l’écriture des textes et la réalisation des illustrations (nous utilisons avant tout la gravure sur lino). Ensuite, nous composons les textes en testant plusieurs typographies : les caractères plomb pour le labeur (autrement dit le corps de texte) et des caractères en bois pour les titres. Nous essayerons au maximum de nous passer de clichés et de linotypie afin de conserver l’idée d’artisanat. Après avoir choisi les typographies les plus cohérentes avec le projet, nous imprimons les textes et les illustrations sur du papier rhodoïd sur notre presse à épreuve afin de pouvoir agencer les éléments entre eux et décider de la mise en page finale. Cette astuce nous a été donnée par Guillaume Guilpart, un ami typographe à l’atelier Paris Print Club. Nous profitons également de cette étape pour faire la correction orthotypographique des textes. Nous faisons un choix de couleurs et de papier et nous pouvons finalement imprimer sur notre plus grosse presse.
PRINTING FEATS Above all, we are proud of our atelier. Just one year ago, we had no idea that it would be so thriving and fulfilling today, that we would have so many tools and materials to work with. It has been a lot of work and we’re still motivated to make this place more enjoyable and more practical. We also consider all the knowledge we got these past months just by practicing our passion and by meeting people with whom we share that passion as a big accomplishment. We can almost say that we are self-made typographers and that definitely rocks.
Moreover, this past year, we had the time to work on two big creations that we would like to point out. First, we designed a numerical font using the software Glyphs (and the precious help of a type designer friend) and we made a wood type of it using a laser printer. We called it “la typo bâtard” (“the bastard font”) in reference to our printer’s name. The second work we’d like to talk about is a poster we did for “la Fête de l’Estampe” (the National Print Day). It is composed by two prints of wood planks, a long text in two columns above these prints, which is the page of the dictionary that contains the word bâtard (bastard), and an extract of this page as a title covering a bit of the text and printed with wood types.
Nous sommes avant tout fièr·e·s de notre atelier. Il y a tout juste un an, on ne s’imaginait pas que tout s’y passerait aussi bien aujourd’hui, qu’on aurait autant d’outils, de matériel de travail et d’opportunités. Ça a été beaucoup de boulot mais nous sommes toujours aussi motivés à rendre cet endroit le plus agréable et le plus pratique possible. Nous considérons également comme un accomplissement tout le savoir que nous avons acquis ces derniers mois simplement en cultivant notre passion et en rencontrant des personnes avec qui partager cette passion. Nous pouvons presque dire que nous sommes des self-made typographes et c’est trop cool.
En plus de ça, cette année, nous avons passé beaucoup de temps sur deux créations en particulier dont nous aimerions parler. D’abord, nous avons dessiné une police de caractères numérique sur le logiciel Glyphs (et grâce à la précieuse aide d’un ami dessinateur de caractères) et nous en avons fait une série de caractères en bois avec une graveuse laser. Nous l’avons appelée « la typo bâtard » en référence au nom de notre imprimerie. Le second travail dont nous aimerions vous parler est une affiche que nous avons réalisée pour la Fête de l’Estampe. Elle est composée de deux empreintes de morceaux de bois, d’un long texte en deux colonnes sur ces empreintes, qui reprend la page du dictionnaire qui contient le mot « bâtard », et un extrait de cette page comme titre, qui couvre une partie du labeur et imprimé avec des caractères bois.
PRESS HISTORY Our first press is a big red flatbed cylinder press, a Korrex press manufactured by Simmel in 1969. This specific model is called “Berlin”. But we mostly call it by its pet name: Simone.
Notre toute première presse est une grosse presse rouge à cylindre, une Korrex fabriquée par Simmel en 1969. Ce modèle s’appelle « Berlin ». Mais nous l’appelons principalement par son petit surnom : Simone.
BOXCAR’S ROLE We’re grateful to Boxcar Press for their interest in our little printing house. We were glad to see that the passion for letterpress could cross the borders between different countries. It was a pleasure to read their blog and discover so many other printers and their techniques. They provide a really extensive and necessary work of investigation about letterpress. As far as we’re concerned, their questions enabled us to look back at the past year and to realize what we have achieved until now. So we can thank them for the dissemination of this article about us and for letting us translate it to share it with our French community.
Nous sommes reconnaissant pour l’intérêt qu’a porté Boxcar Press à notre petite imprimerie. Nous étions enchanté·e·s de voir que la passion pour l’impression typographique pouvait traverser les frontières. Ça a été un plaisir pour nous de lire leur blog et de découvrir autant d’autres imprimeurs ainsi que leurs techniques. Ils proposent un travail d’investigation du monde de la typographie vraiment complet et nécessaire. En ce qui nous concerne, nous avons pu, en répondant à leurs questions, faire le bilan de notre année passée et nous rendre compte que tout ce que nous avions accompli jusqu’à maintenant. Nous pouvons donc les remercier pour la diffusion de cet article et pour nous avoir permis de le traduire afin de le partager avec notre communauté en France.
PRINTING TIPS The most important advice that we could give is to try things. Letterpress is an open door to a world of creation with a lot of variables: characters, colors, shapes, layouts. They are some fundamental rules to respect such as the type height, but once you’re sure about these basics, you’re completely able to explore, imagine, make, invent new things. That was the case when we had the idea to print pallet planks to draw the shape of columns in the background of our poster… After all, why not?
Le conseil le plus important que nous pourrions donner est d’essayer des choses. La typographie est une porte ouverte à un monde de création avec des tas de variables : les caractères, les couleurs, les formes, les mises en page… Il y a certaines règles fondamentales à respecter, comme la hauteur typo, mais une fois les bases intégrées, on peut complètement se permettre d’explorer, d’imaginer, de fabriquer et d’inventer de nouvelles choses. Ça a été notre cas quand nous avons eu l’idée d’imprimer des planches de palettes pour dessiner la forme de colonnes en arrière plan de notre affiche. Après tout, pourquoi pas ?
WHAT’S COMING NEXT Our main plan for the upcoming year is to open our atelier to people and to give letterpress lessons. Starting from January 2020, we’ll give a three-hour lesson twice a week. In addition to that, we’ll try to organize workshops over one or several days in our atelier, sometimes soliciting the other arts and crafts workshops of our big house in order to provide an overview of the process for making a real printed object by hand. We would also like to offer classes outside our workshop, in other cultural or specialized structures such as schools, with our little proof press and some previously selected characters. We are absolutely willing to share our know-how, especially from the perspective of doing popular education.
Notre principal projet pour l’année qui arrive est d’ouvrir notre atelier aux gens et de donner des cours de typographie. À partir de janvier 2020, nous donnerons des cours de trois heures deux fois par semaine. En plus de ça, nous essayerons d’organiser des ateliers sur un ou plusieurs jours dans notre imprimerie, parfois en sollicitant les autres ateliers d’artisanat de notre grande maison afin de donner un aperçu du processus de fabrication d’un vrai objet imprimé à la main. Nous aimerions aussi proposer des ateliers en dehors de notre imprimerie, dans d’autres structures culturelles ou spécialisées comme des écoles, avec notre petite presse à épreuve et quelques caractères préalablement sélectionnés. Nous sommes complètement partant·e·s pour partager notre savoir-faire, notamment dans une optique d’éducation populaire.
Mark Barbour of the International Printing Museum highlights unique printing presses, fun printing trivia, and fantastic finds in the Carson, California museum. Come take a look!
The International Printing Museum in Carson, California, just south of downtown Los Angeles, is home to one of the largest collections of working antique printing presses in the part of this world that enjoys a type height of .918! Besides an extensive collection of metal and wood type, somewhere around 5,000 fonts, the Printing Museum is also home to some very unusual and rare printing presses.
Of particular interest, while we focus this week on letterpress and type high, are the platen presses in the museum’s collections, presses that became the workhorse and the staple of every printing shop in America during the 19th and 20th centuries. Today’s book artists and letterpress enthusiasts are well familiar with the C & P Press, well described as the Ford 150 of printing presses. But have you heard of Gordon and his dream with Ben Franklin that birthed the modern platen press? Have your fingers ever been close to Gordon’s early press known as an Alligator (for good reason!)? What about Ruggles and his Jobber that made it to the California goldfields, and has a story to tell about Alcatraz and the Civil War? Or maybe the press that took you to the stars in 1875, known as the Asteroid?
In celebration of Type High Day and letterpress everywhere, this is an invitation to explore the stories of these very unique and rare platen presses of the 19th century with Curator Mark Barbour of the International Printing Museum… just click on the link to his video blog (his apologies for the quality and the sound…not enough makeready on the morning of .918!)
Jim Moran of Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum recounts a day in his life at this stunning printing museum. Housing aisles upon aisles of history, craftsmanship, and deep printing roots, the Museum is a testament to the old (and new) ways printing remains such a treasured part of our culture.
I always get to the museum first thing in the morning. Maybe I need to slowly gather my thoughts but there’s something else.
Turning on the lights, I take a long walk in this place. I’m trying to see everything and what needs to be done. The sander for half-rounds has a coil of wires that I’ve never liked and ought to be cut off. There is a display of patterns that seem to have been cut a hundred years ago and they seem more like sketches in wood. The pencil marks are precise as an architect’s. And why cedar? What an awful wood to cut cross-grain. Who did them? Could it have been a William Page employee that Hamilton brought here?
Among the type displays, I pause in front of Arabesque. The smoky strokes seem sixty-ish and I think of Janis Joplin posters. The row of platen presses are out of order. They should be chronological. Some need rollers, the treadle on the Challenge should be reconnected, there’s no tympan paper on a few and what could I lock up in their chases to explain the process better.
In the “Central Room”, I dislike the name itself for being non-descript. I want to cover the walls behind the linotypes with newspaper pages from back in the day. Nearby, a Miehle is too gummed up with ink and grease and a Heidelberg serves mostly as a source to rob parts from. When will I get the ruling machine running again?
Now in the staff pressroom, I’m tempted to put on an apron and run posters of horse races all day long. Maybe all week. The blocks are frozen in action of galloping hooves that will only come to life in printing. They may not have seen ink since the 50s. I wonder about registering their colors and the thrill of the first print that’s never left me since age 10 when I first set and printed my own name. Magic! Random type cases lean in small spaces, hoping to be filled again with Caslon or Engraver’s Text. I think there’s a cabinet in the back they’ll fit into but I resist the urge to check.
The classroom lights snap on and I read each switches name; House left, House center, House right. The names mean nothing until Wayzgoose, which reminds me I need to create a backdrop for the presenter’s stand. Before I can do that there are boxes of blocks, mostly musician based, that have to be archived but not today. Better to prep for a workshop this weekend and replace those lights in the corner of the room.
Finally, in the gallery, everything is lit and I look over the exhibit again. It’s a good show that I’m lucky to consider for many days. I should look at new emails. Staff will arrive soon and there’s bound to be something I ought to be doing. Maybe printing horses.
For more information and fun about the wonderful Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum please visit their Facebook and Instagram pages!
Louise Rowe of the Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum in Queenston, Canada, shares how the Museum stands as a pillar of the printing community. Benefiting from a printing revival in the area, the Museum blends modern techniques with letterpress’ rich history.
I found letterpress in a very roundabout way. I have a vague fine art background; this precedes my twelve-year career in customer service and events. So the only printing I ever did focused on traditional etching techniques. When I was gifted a proofing press by my boyfriend, I quite literally had no clue what it was, let alone how to set it up and use it. However, it was, and is to this day, the best gift I have ever received.
For starters, nobody has ever given me anything that romantic. Secondly, it was the motivation I needed to start my own business – Out of Sorts Studio. Finally, my Potter Proof Press is how we ended up becoming members of the Mackenzie Printery. I reached out to them in the hopes that they might be able to shed some light on the one-tonne-beast, which suddenly occupied a space in our basement.
The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum is a charity founded in 1993 and to this day is run completely by volunteers. They own a vast collection of printing equipment spanning 500 years of history. The collection is housed in the restored home of William Lyon Mackenzie, which is owned by the Niagara Parks Commission and during the summer they open the heritage site to the public as a working museum.
Whilst continuing to maintain a very impressive collection of printing equipment, the charity is now moving forward in efforts to preserve more than the just the physical pieces.
For the most part our members are older and have struggled with finding people in younger generations who are remotely interested in hearing about their experiences, let alone finding ones who actually wish to learn any of the processes. That’s not to say these people don’t exist, just that they are hard to find in our neck of the woods.
In recent years, under the Chairmanship of Ron Schroder, the group has been focused on the organization of the entire collection; ensuring it is managed and preserved to the highest museum standards. With such a large collection, that includes a vast selection of type, it has been a long process. With this now well under way the group can turn some of its attention to the presses themselves. It isn’t just about keeping them all shiny and dust-free, we want to make sure that we always have someone who knows how to operate them.
Vice Chairman, Art Ellis, along with our Collections Executive, John Hunt, have been in charge of all things related to the restoration and working order of our printing presses for the majority of the last three decades. As new members, we found it a heartbreaking prospect that their knowledge could just be lost should they no longer be able to participate.
Obviously the charity gaining me as a member is great because I’m awesome. However, in reality, Carl (my boyfriend) has proven to be a far more useful asset. He is a mechanic by trade, with a deep appreciation for antiques and a desire to know how things work. His passion for cars is deeply rooted in hot rods and this love took us to the Syracuse Nationals in July, which also provided us with the perfect opportunity to take a tour around Boxcar Press: a place dreams are made of!
Honestly, I don’t think we could have a better first candidate for learning how to set up, maintain and repair the printing presses.
He started small, bringing home a rather rusty slug cutter, a mini paper cutter that didn’t cut and a brayer with broken handles. After some research, he took apart each item, carefully cleaned every piece, repaired what he could and fashioned new parts where necessary. Parts were then painted and reassembled, leaving us with three pieces that could either be added into the museum’s collection or sold.
The next logical step was for him to start learning the basics of some of the larger pieces of equipment. John began by showing him how to run our Heidelberg Windmill and has since moved on to showing Carl what he has to do to keep this press in good working order.
The printery also has in its collection an 1894 Whitlock press. This press, weighing in around eight tonnes, is too large for Mackenzie House and is instead a permanent feature at the Marshville Heritage site in Wainfleet, Ontario. Every year, this press is used at The Marshville Heritage Festival to print a festival calendar and until this year, Art has been searching for someone to teach how to run it. Buoyed by Carl’s natural aptitude, Art taught Carl everything he needed to know about running and maintaining the Whitlock; she’s got a few quirks, which is understandable given she’s 125 years old.
At the same event, after it stopped delivering us our slugs, Carl received a crash course from John on the insides of a Ludlow Type Caster and together they formulated a plan to repair it, which Carl then executed.
While the experts tinker with the big stuff, it falls on the rest of our core work group to continue with sorting through the storage bunker and the many, many, many cabinets of type. Members Marvyn, Dennis, Francis and Tim have the most patience I have ever seen and make type sorting look easy.
With letterpress now considered more of an art or craft, rather than a pillar of society, it is fascinating to see all the modern-day interpretations of an industrial process so rooted in history. As Executive Secretary for the group, I am now looking to the future and how we can continue to sustain our organisation. With much of our surplus stock now sold, it is time to get creative and I couldn’t be more excited to see what we can collectively do.
If you would like more information on the museum, any of the aforementioned members, and how to join or support The Mackenzie Printery and Newspaper Museum, please take a look at our website: https://mackenzieprintery.org/