Our Letterpress Friend chat today is with Paul Moxon. He is synonymous with Vandercook presses. He is the resource behind the website vandercookpress.info, author of Vandercook Presses: Maintenance, History and Resources, and a printer of letterpress books and broadsides under his press name Fameorshame Press.
There is always much to learn from a conversation with Paul, who lives in Mobile, Alabama.
Boxcar Press: Why Vandercooks and proofing presses? What is the appeal and draw for you?
Paul: A forlorn SP15 in the corner of a printmaking studio was the first press to which I had access. The ratio of its footprint to the printing area was appealing. Experiment and production were satisfying and different than paste-up. In time, I found joy in teaching maintenance and making repairs. Sharing this knowledge with other printers has surprisingly become my life’s work.
Boxcar Press: Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career or business
Paul:Learning phototypesetting and paste-up as work-study in college.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that you admire or set you on a particular path?
Paul: There have been so many. During college, Jocelyn Dohm (founder of the Sherwood Press) always welcomed me at her charming little job shop and endured my novice enthusiasm. Librarians Jim Holly and Elspeth Pope introduced me to fine press books. At Alabama, Glenn House, then retired, piqued an interest in maintenance. Fritz Klinke let me explore the Vandercook archives. Ian Leonard Robertson (Slow Loris Press) and I shared similar work experiences. His old school presswork and design was crisp and effortless. Most of his equipment is now in my shop, and I feel his jovial presence every day.
Boxcar Press: If you weren’t a printer or in the printing industry, what else might have been your career path?
Paul : A machinist
Boxcar Press: That is not surprising. You have referred to yourself as an independent educator.
What would you tell a brand new letterpress printer today?
Paul: Visit many shops, libraries, and museums. Attend wayzgooses, talk with everyone. Print on every kind of press you can big and small. Print every kind of form; lead, wood, copper, magnesium, and polymer. Strive for best practice. Read everything, especially old technical manuals and catalogs. Don’t be discouraged by the high prices of presses. Save-up, be patient, you become discerning over time. or grumpy old naysayers. Mistakes will make you an expert.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use?
Paul: I’ve printed on other makes of proof presses, jobbers, tabletops, hand presses, and even a windmill. Each had something to teach me. (Someday I want to print on a Heidelberg cylinder and a Little Giant.) I love my Vandercook No. 4. It’s great for production and teaching maintenance. I’ve printed on, tuned up, or inspected thirty Vandercook models, including some rare ones—nearly a thousand in all. But there are still a few I haven’t worked with, such as the 30-26 four-color press. Hopefully, post-COVID.
Boxcar Press: You have mentioned that you are fascinated by the vintage equipment and tools. Tell us about one of the best or most used or most admired printing tools you can think of?
Paul: Hard to choose: my loupe, paper thickness measure, and Align-mate are essential. But I love the elk-bone folder/plate lifter I made at Penland twenty years ago when I met Jim Croft.
Boxcar Press: What is something people might not know about you that would surprise them?
Paul: I can’t type, just hunt-and-peck. But I can handset type like a motherfucker.
Boxcar Press: What is your printing superpower?
Paul: Being able to diagnose presswork and mechanical issues.
Boxcar Press: Anything you want to reveal about a current project you are working on – even a hint or clue?
Paul: Right now I’m into printing postcards. My last one is about the USPS and Trump enabler Louis DeJoy.
Boxcar Press: What is that one project that you are always going to get to but it just never seems to get done?
Paul: A book of three poems by a deceased, local author. I commissioned lino-cuts from Lauren Faulkenberry (Firebrand Press) a few years ago, but I fear that they may be drying out.
Boxcar Press: Last question – Do you listen to podcasts or music in your shop while you create?
Paul: Music is essential. Big Joanie, Dinner Party, the Hu, and Idles and are in heavy rotation. The rest of the time I’m streaming KEXP.
We are “pulling up a chair” with Don Black, a Northern neighbor from Scarborough, Ontario.
Don is winding down his business after 50 years and the dismay and sadness of that is still a jolt to our letterpress community.
A warehouse of heavy metal and wood is not an exaggeration describing Don’s business. He and his family, particularly his son, Craig, have helped and talked with thousands of printers and artisans over those decades. Sadly, Craig passed away last year and Don is eyeing a quieter life.
Boxcar Press: It’s a delight to hear your stories. Let me first say, thank you for your kindness to me and all the others who were at one time new to letterpress printing. It must be a screwy time right now with the business..
Don: We are super busy with the closing of our business. Our General Manager Albert Kwon is invaluable in this endeavour.
Boxcar Press: Let’s go back to the beginning. Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career?
Don: The defining moment that I knew I wanted to make Printing a career occurred when I went for a tour of the Globe & Mail (newspaper based in Toronto, Canada) with my uncle who worked there. When I saw all the equipment in the Composing Room I decided this was for me.
I started to work at the Globe & Mail before I was 17 doing all the delivery jobs etc. Then I served a 6 year apprenticeship as a Linotype Machinist.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that set you on a particular path?
Don: While working there was a machinist, Ed Hull, who helped me immensely by guiding me and tried to keep me on the right track. I think about him often and am super thankful for all he did to help me.
While working as an apprentice at the Globe & Mail, the Credit Union ran a contest for the best designed Printing job. This was open to seven Printer apprentices, but no mention about Machinist apprentices. I questioned them and received permission to submit an entry. Believe it or not, I won the prize of $25.00 I still tease my friend today, who was a printer’s apprentice, that a machinist apprentice beat a Printer apprentice at the Printer’s trade.
Boxcar Press: Where was the next stage in your career?
Don: I left the Globe & Mail in 1964 when the three Toronto newspapers went on strike. I started to do freelance service on letterpress equipment.
Then I received the Canadian dealership for Letterpress Equipment for Canada from Canadian Linotype Company. This was a big help as it opened doors coast to coast and helped me to meet many great people.
After I started my business in the 1980’s I became acquainted with an equipment dealer in Cleveland, Jack Boggs. He bought and sold all kinds of printing equipment. Over the next 30-40 years, we did a super amount of business. He liquidated printing shops that were closing or upgrading equipment. I purchased many truckloads of equipment from him. It was great as it gave me access to things I could not find in Canada. We still do business today and without a doubt, he is a big reason we have been successful.
In the early 1970s, something strange happened when the Globe & Mail decided to update a lot of equipment. I purchased most of the Composing Room which had some great equipment but also included were eleven machines which were now outdated. They had originally cost approximately $25,000.00 each, less than 10 years before. The value in scrap was less than $500.00. We made a large copy of the cheque and mounted it with the eleven nameplates from the machines. It has become quite a conversation piece that we still have at the office today.
Boxcar Press: What does the legacy of Don Black Linecasting mean to you as you slowly wind it down.
Don: I would say it’s the fact that we have been in business more than 50 years, conducted and did business with wonderful people all over the world and helped to keep Letterpress alive.
Boxcar Press: You handled so many of pieces of equipment, they can’t even be counted. Can you tell us about a press you remember fondly?
Don: We have a Baby Reliance Iron Press which we purchased from a customer in Winnipeg. It is a beautiful press and I could have sold it many times, but Craig, my son, always said don’t sell this press. Now that he is gone and we are closing down, I am going to let it go to a collector that had talked to Craig. I know Craig would be happy that it is going to someone who will treasure it.
Boxcar Press: Thank you Don for those great memories. We’ll talk more soon. Can you leave us with your favorite printing saying?
Don: Go with the Best! Go Intertype.
Time is ticking down on getting equipment from Don, give him a call or email to ask what he has and chances are, you’ll get a nice deal. www.donblack.ca
Welcome to Coffee with a Letterpress Friend. We are “sitting down” with many varied friends every few weeks for a cozy, relaxing chat. Certainly, we will ask questions about printing-related topics but things could go off in unexpected directions. This week during Letterpress Week, we’ll gather with a few folks, so go grab your beverage of choice and let’s start.
Today’s friend is Jim Moran of Hamilton Wood Type (HWT) in Two Rivers Wisconsin. Many of us are envious of his job at the Museum surrounded by the history and all those wood type specimens.
Boxcar Press: Hi Jim, Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career?
Jim: I was 10 years old and goofing around in my grandfather’s print shop. I had seen both he and my Dad setting type, so I had an idea how it worked. I opened a drawer of 18pt. Cheltenham and tried to spell my name. Where the hell was the letter J? I checked other drawers until I found one marked in pencil to designate their place. Once I set my name, I put it on a little Challenge proof press and inked it up. The black ink was always ready for proofing with a brayer hung on the end. The paper had an enamel finish for clarity. I inked up and pulled a proof! There was my name, magically! That’s all it took.
Boxcar Press: We can relate to that feeling. Is there a similar moment for your involvement with HWT?
Jim: I was working for a Green Bay printer 12 years ago and not liking it much. Sales in NOT rewarding, in my mind. I had been volunteering at Hamilton with my brother Bill, often thinking about how much I enjoyed working with type. I met a woman who was dating my cousin and we were talking about doing the things you really want to, in a general way. She said, “I think you have to ask yourself what you want and how much of your time you actually spend working toward doing those things.” She was not speaking to me specifically but I decided right then, that I would work toward getting a job at the museum. I applied for the job 6 weeks later.
Boxcar Press: Your Aha! moment. You are well suited to HWT. Tell us about mentors or printers that you admire or set you on a particular path?
Jim: I owe so much to my Dad. He was a VERY good printer and an even better artist. He worked me pretty hard, in that he expected my best and was extremely thorough in his approach to what I learned. That meant printing, repairing, composing, estimating, managing, laughing, reading and studying. Always learning. I worked with him for the better part of 29 years. My Mom’s lessons were much more subtle: patience, kindness, reading and keeping a sense of humor.
Boxcar Press: The people who guide us are always significant. So can be the equipment. Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use?
Jim: I have an 8 x 12 Chandler and Price that I was taught to run in 1969. I use it whenever I can.
Boxcar Press: What is that one project that you are always going to get to, that you really want to do but it just never seems to get done?
Jim: Printing a four-color billboard.
Thanks, Jim for the little chat. We appreciate this time of getting to know you and will have plenty more questions to ask at future times when the coffee is perked and we can sit again.
At Boxcar we enjoy the tales and trials shared by printers as they tackle a new project or skill. We feel like we are right along with them (cheering) as they figure out each step, particularly when we can be a small part of the process. And we love when someone sends us the final fruits of their labors. You are our heroes and we’d like to introduce to you one pressman who explored Book Printing. In his own words, meet Dale Raby.
A little bit about me – Ampersand Storybooks produces primarily small single-signature books, written by myself, though we may soon be branching out to begin printing stuff written by others. Our usual fare is serialized runs of just over a hundred impressions.
I have been writing for a few years now. My first novel, The Wives of Jacob, Book I, In the Beginning, was and is only available as an ebook. Now, while most of the customers at my day job were impressed that I had written even one book, let alone three, they were decidedly non-plussed when they found out that my books were only collections of pixels, not “real” books.
I investigated the possibility of getting my work printed into “real” books, but like most beginning writers, I lacked the capital.
Having had a brief introduction to letterpress printing some fifty-odd years ago, I did think about the possibility of a hand-operated tabletop platen press, if I could find one somewhere. I did a little checking and discovered that most presses suitable for this kind of project were also beyond my means.
One day I met a man who was a printer and happened to have an old Craftsmen Superior for sale. A price was named and the deal was done. Three weeks later we moved the press from his pickup truck to mine. Now, like most semi-discarded platen presses, it needed some work, but eventually I was able to start making impressions.
At first I used standard copy paper to print things like receipt templates. Then I went to a local office supply store and ordered a quantity of business cards with nothing printed on them. By the next week, I had some usable business cards, though they were not as flashy as “professional” cards.
I started to frequent Briar Press and Ladies of Letterpress among other locales on the web. I exchanged countless emails with the folks at Boxcar Press, picking the brains of many people there. I’m pretty sure that somebody there must’ve drawn the short straw there every time I got a response to an email! I discovered the magic of photopolymer plates and the Boxcar Base. I gradually acquired more movable type fonts, a couple of line gauges and assorted other items of printer’s paraphernalia. I took a rare day off from work and visited the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, which was a very educational trip. Eventually, the dining room became the print shop. I still had much to learn, but by gosh, I was a printer of sorts!
I thought that for my first “real” book project, I would do a single-signature book. The Sasquatch’s Dilemma has only seven pages. The first page is my title page and is not numbered. I decided right away that I wanted my books printed on some good stuff, not copy paper. I did some investigating, got a few swatch books and eventually discovered Flurry paper – a 100% cotton paper.
As Flurry was associated with Boxcar Press, who would be making my plates, I decided that this was a good choice. I did have some concerns at first. I was afraid that the text-weight paper would be too thin and the ink would bleed through it. My initial fears proved unfounded.
The pages are printed upon Flurry cotton text-weight paper and the book covers are made from Flurry 118# pre-scored blank cards. I use a three-hole pamphlet stitch with tails on the outside of the cover for binding. Each book comes in its own envelope, which was designed to fit the card that forms the cover. I plan to continue using the envelope as long as the book is thin enough to fit.
Did I mention I had a lot to learn? There was the question of format. I hit upon the idea of using a pre-scored greeting card as a book cover quite early on. The only thing then was to determine the optimal size. I gave myself headaches learning about paper grain and the proper use of a bone folder. I developed a jig for binding my books. The stitching jig did not look like much, but it worked. After much consideration I decided upon the Flurry 10.5” x 7.25” greeting card. The pages could be cut to 7” x 10” for a folded size of 5” x 7” out of the Flurry text-weight paper. This would give a nice cover overlap such as a hard-cover book might have.
I resurrected an old photo trimmer from my film photography days and learned to trim my pages a few at a time, keeping the scraps to be used eventually for business cards for myself and a couple of other local businesses. The text-weight paper is not really optimal for business cards, but it gets the job done.
Kim and Diane, known as “the Copy Editors” badgered me about various things that were decidedly outside the traditional purview of copy editors. Kim was relentless, and not above using a hammer to get things into my head, so I learned a few more things. I did mention I had a lot to learn, didn’t I? Under Kim’s tutelage, I became familiar with terms like “small caps”, “drop caps”, “orphans” & “widows”. At the time Kim was busy with college but continued to educate me. Kim has since graduated and now works in a print shop… which I think is pretty groovy!
I found many free type fonts out there on the web along with images for my cover image. As most of them were intended primarily for either HTML documents on the web or inkjet printers, not all of them were suitable. Naked Chicks didn’t make the cut as Diane hated it. Kim nixed Comic Sans as “The Devil’s Font”. Crimson Text (now Crimson Pro), Alice, Black Chancery and Typographer Woodcut were all incorporated into The Sasquatch’s Dilemma.
When it came time to order plates, Kim showed me some of her poetry. Shortly thereafter, Ocean Creature was hastily assembled into a second single-signature book manuscript. Both were submitted to Boxcar Press as PDF’s and converted into plates.
Upon receipt of my polymer plates, I started learning about how to correctly assemble the leaves into pages for my book. For those of you who have never assembled a book before, well, suffice to say that it is not quite like one of those books you might have made in first grade bound with an office stapler. I used the proofs provided to assemble a dummy book so I could be sure of printing my books correctly.
When it came time to print, I had to learn how to properly set up and ink the press. Proper inking and roller clearance was fairly important when printing those Typographer Woodcut drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. Too much ink and the fine spiderweb inside the box of the letter would block up. Too little and it would not look right either. The paper seemed very forgiving of my errors in printing the pages.
Printing the cover introduced me to another difficulty. The cover image for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma is not a half-tone. All printed areas are solid ink. Large areas of solid ink are difficult to print in letterpress. I found that I had to add more ink to the disc after about every third impression. Pressure had to be high. There was no finesse involved here; I just piled on packing until I was almost afraid of breaking my press.
Flurry took the ink well, despite the heavy pressure I was using. I did experiment with wetting the paper and then printing, but while it worked, it did not work well enough to justify the extra headaches.
I chose the soft white paper hue for both the cover and the pages for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma. This is a sort of “off white” or cream-colored hue. They do supply a very nicely done swatch book for those who want one.
I used silver ink to print the title and my name on the cover over the top of the black sasquatch image. Now I found that the Flurry paper did take a nice “bite” from the polymer text and the silver ink showed up well enough to read, though it was really more gray than silver. I had wanted to print the sasquatch’s eyes in red ink, but with my relative inexperience, I reasoned that registration would be somewhat of a nightmare, so I just left them white.
Public response to The Sasquatch’s Dilemma has mostly been positive, and at $7.99 each, I have sold enough copies to just about break even. One positive comment I got was in response to the “tactile” nature of the cover, which is primarily the “bite” from the title and my name as well as the wood type ampersand I am using as a trademark on the rear cover.
Kim’s book, Ocean Creature, was, in many ways, very different from The Sasquatch’s Dilemma. The cover was formed from a sandy beach image printed with gold ink. The effect was very delicate and the image itself quite understated. I used the soft white card for the cover of Ocean Creature as for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma, but printed the pages on bright white text paper.
As I printed Ocean Creature in a second run, I had learned quite a bit about setting up the press and keeping my grubby paws off the work. Ocean Creature exhibits much better pressmanship, in my opinion.
Some details about paper and ink in printing these two projects: Flurry paper handled it well by taking the ink without bleeding through. It cuts and folds and there were no issues with piercing the holes and binding it with thread. The 80 lb text-weight paper is opaque enough to handle printing on both sides. I use oil-based ink in my printing as rubber based ink frightens me just a little bit. Kinda like polymer plates did when I first learned about them.
Now, there are many printers who have printed a book or two. There are many writers who have had their books printed. Many people have designed books, set type for them, made up cover art and internal illustrations, selected the ink, selected the paper, cut the paper, bound each book, pulled the operating lever of a platen press to print each page of the book, marketed the book, and sold copies of the book. I am proud enough to say I have joined the ranks of those who have written their own book and went through all the processes listed above to eventually take the money and sell their own book to the actual person who will read it.
My book may not be a literary masterpiece. It isn’t especially well executed and you will find smudges and more typos than I would care to admit. I did it all myself though, and I take a certain amount of pride in that. All in all, this was an interesting journey and as I have another dozen or so manuscripts in various stages of completion, the journey is not yet finished.
Monkton, Maryland is nestled between beautiful New England forests and is home to the cozy, barn-turned-printing paradise of Val Lucas of Bowerbox Press. Bright, cheery sunshine lights up the warm wood floors, large type drawers, and gleams on the family of lovingly cared-for printing presses. Val gives us a tour of where her printing projects spring to life and the charms of good, simple living.
FULL OF FUN, BAR(N)-NON
My shop is crammed full of everything you could ever need. I’m working in a small renovated barn; we redid the electric, insulated and put up drywall, and installed a plywood floor and a heating/AC system. There are some fun details from the original build, like vertical wood paneling and a funky distressed door leading upstairs, plus different sized windows. I’m planning to add track lights to complement the huge amounts of natural light during the day. It’s tight, but each press is accessible, even if sometimes it serves as a table surface.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP
It’s a cozy place to work. I feel surrounded and inspired by my tools and equipment. My restored presses are very special, and I have a lot of sentimental equipment that I’ve collected from friends and mentors, including a Golding Pearl that belonged to Mike Denker and a selection of wood type, metal type and ornaments, and paper from Roland Hoover.
320-ish square feet.
PRINTING IN THE OLD LINE STATE
The shop takes up the first floor of a small barn behind my house in Monkton (and was a major selling feature of the property.) Neighborhood features include the chicken coop, garden, and cornfields out the window.
TYPE OF SHOP ENJOYED
This is my personal shop, I do my own artistic production plus some custom printing and bookbinding for clients. Occasionally friends come by to print, but it’s mostly just me.
PRINTING PRESS FAMILY
I mostly work on a Vandercook Universal 1, but have a restored Chandler and Price Old Series, a United States platen, and an in-progress Colts Armory and Pearl, plus an assortment of smaller tabletop presses and a foil stamping press.
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The Vandercook, as I produce most of my print and book work on this press. It’s reliable and easy to set up, and allows me to print large pieces.
GETTING INKY + COLORFUL
I usually use Hanco litho inks, modified with plate oil or transparent base. There’s been a lot of teal blue on press lately.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
I’m lucky to be able to open my windows and doors for nice ventilation, and use an eco-friendly mineral spirits with the automatic wash-up on my Vandy.
I’ve been using a standard height Boxcar base since 2006 or so, on my first press (the big Colt’s Armory) and now use it on the Vandercook for custom work.
OIL OF CHOICE
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
Old t-shirts! A lot come from screenprinting friends so they have fun designs and tests.
Too much to admit to- but some of it will be re-cast into new type!
It’s so secret that even I don’t know what it is yet.
There’s no one way to do a particular project, and each person has their own method- you just need to figure out what works for you.
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!
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.
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!
Paul Moxon shares with us why he loves letterpress from all aspects as a printer: the fascination, the community spirit & camaraderie, and the beauty that letterpress brings into his life.
Letterpress printing specifically, and the book arts in general, are the nexus of my interest in language, literature, biography, history, and mechanics. After thirty years in graphic arts, my enthusiasm for letterpress remains. As a designer, the physical labor of printing can clarify the message, inform my digital work, and lift my spirits. As a publisher, controlling the means of production is a point of pride.
I am fascinated by the vintage equipment, tools, and accouterments made with precision and inherent beauty. And it thrills me whenever I can purchase materials made today with the same diligent care. Eventually, I became an instructor and mechanic to help sustain this vibrant community paying it forward for all those who helped me along the way.
Most people know that Paul also developed and continues to moderate the Vandercook Press web page. It’s the first place to visit for significant info, photos and answers to questions on Vandercook presses and similar brands of flatbed cylinder proof presses. He has added greatly to our appreciation and preservation of these presses.