Letterpress City Tour: Colorado Springs

For this edition of our City Series, from the peaks and presses and the outdoors to the Olympians, Ladyfingers Letterpress owners celebrate their energetic community of Colorado Springs.  Arley-Rose and Morgan call The Springs home amidst the bluffs and beauty.  They give us some insight into reaching the summit both in the mountains, and in the artistic and progressive culture around them.  Come along as they share their favorite places to chill out, drink down, and read up.

COMING HOME We’ve officially been here since July of 2014, but my wife and co-Ladyfinger Morgan Calderini is from here, so she’s cumulatively been exposed to this Rocky Mountain air for longer than I have. In 2013, a wildfire demolished her family home while we were living in Rhode Island, so we moved our business – presses and all – out here a year later to be closer to her family as they rebuilt their lives.

(All photography courtesy of Ladyfingers Letterpress unless otherwise noted.)

Daily Life As proud parents of a pretty darn adorable year and a half year old, we see the daycare a lot! Because let’s be real, we both work and the kid isn’t gonna change his own diapers. Yet.

Now that you know that we’re parents to a tiny human, you probably won’t be surprised that we don’t get out much during the rest of the week. Aside from the basic staples – the grocery store, Fedex, the liquor store, you know, JUST THE ESSENTIALS – we try to squeeze in a hike on our time off. Luckily, natural beauty surrounds Colorado Springs, so a gorgeous and secluded nature hike is only like 5 minutes away.

Growing City for Sharing the Printing Love It’s a really easy place to live! I know that’s not really a letterpress-related answer, but as a general rule, being in a city where it’s easy to live and raise a family makes it easier to run a business, thus making us happier and more productive people overall.

It was not so easy – on the other hand – to find a studio at first. We found ourselves constantly competing with the Medical Marijuana (MMJ) industry to find affordable light industrial space. Who knew that stoners and letterpress printers had so much in common?

We finally found a studio that had a nice retail presence, so we opened up a little store in the front of our letterpress shop. People were able to come in to buy a card or a gift and see the presses at work in the background. Many people didn’t know what they were (a lot of people assumed they were just heavy props to make our space look cool or something?), but it also made people more curious about printmaking so we started to offer classes and workshops. Having a retail storefront has been a great way to share our passion for letterpress with the community and educate people about this craft we love so dearly.

Melding of Minds and Resources Being involved with our local community is a critical part of Ladyfingers Letterpress’ vision. We see the hustle and experimentation of our fellow artists as something we try to engage with and support as often as possible. From selling local artisans’ work in our store (and even collaborating with them on some new products) to inviting visiting artists to teach classes and workshops, we are always searching for ways that we can uplift the craft of the people working alongside us in as many ways as possible.

One collaboration sticks out in my mind and that is The Work Continues Project. After the 2016 election, Aaron Cohick, who runs The Press at Colorado College, set up some wood type on one of his presses with the words, “THE WORK CONTINUES. STAY…” Students who visited the press throughout the day took turns finishing the sentence and the result was a suite of six posters that read, “STAY KIND/TRUE/IN LOVE/FIERCE/WOKE/STRONG.”

A lot of people expressed interest in buying these posters, so we offered to handle the logistics of sending them out into the world by managing all the inventory and shipping, and tracking each sale so that 100% of the proceeds would benefit The ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, Inside/Out Youth Services in Colorado Springs, and the Black Educators Network in El Paso County, CO.

Pop Goes The Color Ladyfingers Letterpress prints exclusively from polymer plates, which allows us to print our hand-lettered weirdo illustrations in neon inks on thick, cotton paper. Morgan handles all the expert letterpress printing and I do all the illustrations, and together we have a style that is distinctly Ladyfingers.

Fav People & Mutual Love We love our paper rep, Julian from Spicers Paper! He not only helps us find the perfect paper, but he also occasionally brings us lunch and in return we shower him with our undying affection and invite him to our kid’s birthday parties.

We also love our foil stamping buddy, JS Letterpress. Charles is always in a good mood, but that could be because he probably just finished a session of aerial yoga which he is also super good at.

Victorian Homes And Small Town Feel We love the Old North End, but we’re biased because we live there.

(photography courtesy of oldnorthend.org)

Morgan grew up in the north part of town in Black Forest, but when we moved back here after the fire we knew we wanted to be downtown. The streets are lined by huge old trees, well-loved arts and crafts bungalows and Victorian-style homes. Our neighbors care about historic preservation and environmental conservation, and also throw a hell of a neighborhood-wide yard sale every June. Also it’s nice to be able to walk to work!

Rubbing Shoulders With a Cast of Thousands Colorado Springs has a reputation for having a high concentration of military personnel and Christian Evangelicals, which is not exactly the cross section that would scream “WELCOME QUEER ARTSY LETTERPRESS PRINTERS,” so I guess what I’m trying to say is it makes craigslist transactions really exciting.

(photography courtesy of Colorado Co-op)

What Colorado Springs doesn’t have a reputation for (yet) – and what we were most surprised to discover – is its incredible community of poets, writers, artists and community organizers. There are two colleges nearby (Colorado College and The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs) that nourish our community with events and culture and supply our workforce with their best and most innovative graduates.

In 2017, more millennials moved to Colorado Springs than any other city in the U.S., so we are seeing an influx of bright-eyed young-uns ready to work hard and live the dream. Well, some of them work hard. The rest just want to live the dream. Just kidding! Hi Millennials! We love you! Sorry, we’re not accepting any interns at this time! 🙂

You wanna know who else lives here? Olympians. Yes, you heard me. U.S. Olympians. Like, the real-deal gold and silver and bronze medal winners who you watch on TV every 4 years accomplishing super-human feats.

(photography courtesy of teamusa.org)

People don’t just jog here, they do push-up handstands while sprinting up a mountain. The Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center attracts athletes who are looking to train at high altitude, and a lot of them put down roots here and become part of the community. Then you get to know them and discover they are actually really insanely nice people, and you’re like sitting there feeling proud of yourself that you did 2 miles on the treadmill without stopping.

Chance Encounter Seals The Deal We actually moved here because of a random interaction in a locally-owned coffee shop. We had been considering moving to Denver and were driving around both cities to scope them out and to try to get a feel of what neighborhoods we’d like to live in. We stumbled into a coffee shop and the woman behind the counter gives Morgan a curious look and pegs her for a newcomer.  Morgan squints her eyes suspiciously, but is also simultaneously kind of impressed, so she replies that we’re considering moving to the neighborhood and we’re letterpress printers. The woman, who was one of the owners of the coffee shop and is now a close friend of ours, demands that we become part of her “30-Something Happy Hour, where we all get together on Friday evenings for dinner and are home and in sweatpants by 9pm.” So that’s how we decided where to live because of a barista who seduced our friendship with a sentence that included dinner plans and sweatpants.

(photography courtesy of Switchback Coffee Roasters.)

The coffee shop is now called Switchback Coffee Roasters, and although our happy hour pal is no longer there, we still love their coffee and egg sandwiches.

Not To Be Missed We love supporting our fellow downtown local businesses! From outdoor gear (Mountain Chalet) to kitchen supplies (Sparrow Hawk Cookware) to books (Hooked on Books) to toy stores (Poor Richard’s – which also sells books and makes pizza and has other rad stuff!) to just excellently tasteful apparel and jewelry (Colorado Co-Op) we are so fortunate to be surrounded by so many other rad and locally-owned small businesses!

(top photography courtesy of Hooked on Books; bottom photography courtesy of Colorado.com.)

Colorado Springs is also all about brewing! And it’s not just beer! There is a huge craft coffee scene here so don’t you dare get caught with a chain coffee cup in your hand.

(photography couresy of csindy.com.)

Dynamic Culture With High Peaks View Colorado Springs is FULLLLLL of attractions. They may not all be cultural (but in that category we give the Fine Arts Center a million thumbs up) but there are still a ton of amazing things to see and do around here. 

(photography courtesy of csfineartscenter.org.)

We even made a print to commemorate the sights!

(photography courtesy of we-know-colorado.com.)

Some highlights include: Pikes Peak (it’s America’s Mountain, y’all!), Seven Falls (which I recently learned is manmade, but whatever it’s still hella beautiful), Garden of the Gods (which fortunately for us has nothing to do with church), and the Olympic Training Center (go Team USA!).

(photography courtesy of gardenofgods.com.)

Location, Location, Location When we moved into our space nearly 2 years ago, our neighbors on one side were meth dealers who illegally lived in their unit (they sold t-shirts and bongs, obviously), and on the other side was a row of empty retail spaces that no one wanted because there was no foot traffic on our block.

Fast forward just a little bit and Ladyfingers signs a lease, nabs a grant from the Downtown Partnership to renovate not only our own facade but also all the retail spaces in our building (which are now occupied by rad and legitimate businesses), and now we get compliments all the time from customers about our “great location!”

I’m not saying we’re responsible for revitalizing our block, but we definitely got in at just the right time.

Fun + Downtime Spots Every special occasion/window of time that we don’t have anything planned we spend it at Sun/Water Spa.

(photography courtesy of city-data.com.)

They have these incredible cedar-walled mineral spas that have the most grandiose view of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountains. They also have yoga and wellness classes and offer massages and spa treatments if you’re fancy like that.

(photography courtesy of Atlas Obscura.)

If you’re in that part of town, you definitely should also stop by the Manitou Springs Penny Arcade. They have vintage games and attractions – some even still costing a penny or so – that still work and are in amazing condition. A great place to get some cotton candy and a corn dog and play some old-fashioned skeeball. It’s like the Jersey Shore without the Jersey. Or the shore.

Last Thing to Say  Come for the weed, stay for the bleed!  (Sorry, I can’t help but make bad printmaker jokes!)

Letterpress Studios in Central Colorado

Further Other Book Works – Colorado Springs, CO
JS Letterpress – Colorado Springs, CO
House Forteen – Denver, CO
Cedar Park Printing – Lakewood, CO
Genghis Kern – Denver, CO
Method & Madness – Arvada, CO
Smokeproof Press – Boulder, CO
SWEET letterpress – Boulder, CO

Other Must-See Stops

Manitou Springs Penny Arcade – Fall in love with vintage and old-fashioned arcade games. Give the flippers a whirl with the Arcade’s many pinball machines!
Nations Museum of World War II Aviation – A magnificent and tucked-away gem in Colorado Springs, the Museum features B-52 bombers to an amazing collection of aircraft memorabilia.
Cheyenne Mountain Bunker – The infamous bunker that housed NORAD (Northern American Aerospace Defense Command) in the late 1960s. While the bunker isn’t open to the public, you can drive by it while on the road on Route 115 off of I-25. Bonus fact: the bunker was used for exterior shots in the movies Independence Day, Stargate SG-1, and Wargames.
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo – A mountain-nestled zoo that stars a mountaineer sky ride and open-space enclosures/exhibits.
Glen Eyrie Castle – Built by Colorado Springs founder, General William Jackson Palmer, this gorgeous English Tudor style castle is a beauty in the mountains.
Western Museum of Mining and Industry – Take a trip back in time to explore 19th and early 20th-century pioneer and mining life in Colorado.
The Stanley Hotel – A 2-1/2 hour day-trip drive north from Colorado Springs, Estes Park, CO is home to the iconic exterior location for the hotel featured in suspense/horror classic The Shining.

We hope you enjoyed our latest installment of the letterpress city series guide! Interested in shining a spotlight on your hometown? Contact us today! And if you are planning a letterpress-centric trip, be sure to check out the super cool print trip map on Letterpress Commons to find a printer near you!

Colorful Prints With The Cranky Pressman

The printing life of Salem, Ohio’s very own Keith and Jamie Berger of the Cranky Pressman has catapulted since they first set-up shop more than three decades ago. From tight-registration and spot-on prints to changing into a decidedly full-on letterpress shop, the duo creates expertly crafted letterpress prints. We caught up between in runs with the brothers to talk shop, see how the printing world has changed, and keeping up the tradition of old-fashioned know-how.

ALL IN THE PRINTING FAMILY  KEITH BERGER It was the 70s and my father was a Graphic Artist and worked with printers. He told me, a lazy teenager without any interest in school, to “learn a trade” and printing seemed the answer. After a 2 year vocational school stint I was ready to go out and be a printer. I worked in the prepress departments, doing camera work, stripping and color separations. It was 1983 when I found a local small print shop where the owner was selling his business. I have had the shop ever since. Fighting the good fight.

 = Stacks and stacks of Cranky Bucks (the Cranky Pressman).(A fresh stack of letterpress Cranky Bucks notes. Don’t tell the cops!)

JAMIE BERGER: Cranky Pressman is a partnership between brothers, Keith and myself. The Cranky brand was launched in 2003 but the partners are good old boys who have been around much longer than their Victorian era mascot.

In 1983, Keith bought a printing business that had been around since 1938. The shop likely started as a letterpress printery, serving the local business community in Salem, Ohio, which was a thriving industrial town at that time.

Much of the equipment was very old when Keith first acquired the place, from the Chandler & Price platen press (retrofitted with an electric drive motor) to the various pieces of old bindery apparatus such as perforators, drills and cutters. Of course the old shop also had many antique line-cuts, wood and metal type, plus the 1,000s of bits and pieces of furniture and other standard letterpress printing supplies.

(Pica the cat: the mascot of Cranky Press near a beautiful specimen of vintage wood type)

I was living and working as a graphic designer and art director in New York City in the mid-1980s. At that time in my career, pretty much all of the work I was involved with was print-based. Most graphic design materials at that time were printed with offset lithography including slick 6-color presses. However, letterpress was often preferred for projects like corporate event invitations or when a classy personalized presentation was required.

Parse & Parcel letterpress printed business card shines brilliantly.(Business card for Parse & Parcel that includes foil stamping and letterpress printing on a custom duplexed stock, design by The Studio of Christine Wisnieski)

The 80s print shop did have small offset lithography presses which were the workhorses on day to day jobs. Beside invitation work though, letterpress at this time was mostly used for imprinting packaging and other pre-converted materials, die-cutting, scoring, numbering and foil-stamping.

We were always fascinated by the array of old machines, type and cuts around the place when I was in town visiting. Actually, they hand-set and printed my wedding invitation by letterpress in 1988.

Over the next decade or so, with the advent of the Macintosh and continued growth of lithography and eventually digital printing, the traditional craftsmanship of printing began to fade around the shop. In the early 2000s, Keith felt it was time to change and get back to craft-printing.

Red on yellow stock paper letterpress printed business card by the Cranky Pressman.(Close-up detail of a piece we did Carly Rounds at Design 360)

Cranky Pressman, an all-letterpress shop, was born in 2003 [and] now serves the graphic designers, ad agencies and other creative businesses throughout the country.

THERE AND BACK AGAIN, A PRINTSHOP’S TALE KEITH: The shop I mentioned [earlier] came with a C&P, a Miehle Vertical, lead type, lock-up table and a cream puff of a Heidelberg Windmill that the original owner hardly used and was unable to train me on. Me being the ever savvy businessman decided that offset printing was the way to go. So I traded in that cream puff of a windmill on a fancy single color offset.

Meanwhile I was numbering, perforating and die cutting on the hand feed and Miehle. Eventually, I started doing stuff like napkins and book covers which were fun but made no money. The offset seemed to be going the same way. Sales were becoming tough-going and everything was changing to digital. This is when we, Jamie and myself, saw that letterpress as the way to go. To make a way too long story short, eventually we converted to all-letterpress and I sold that offset and brought back in a another Windmill exactly like the one I had sold years earlier!

JAMIE: Other than the wedding invitation mentioned above, my involvement with letterpress was mostly as an observer and occasional print buyer until I moved back to Ohio in 2012. I mainly look after the creative and marketing for Cranky Pressman. This has meant spending a lot of time studying and learning about the craft, more as a journalist than a hands-on printer.

Vandercooks and type cabinents make for good printing buddies at the Cranky Pressman.

However, when you spend so much time around printers, working closely on projects as a designer and/or art director, you get the urge to have a go and making some prints yourself.

Since relocating and working out of the letterpress shop, I’ve begun to dabble in some small hand-set pieces, mainly for Cranky Pressman promotions. This inspired me to begin working in print doing personal printmaking, including hand-setting, linocuts and woodcutting.

OPULENCE IN OHIO KEITH: Our small business was located downtown in the depressed small town of Salem, Ohio, on the second floor in a back alley. What could go wrong with that! But the invention of the internet helped save the day. Then again being that savvy visionary businessman, I figured that 10,000s of lbs of equipment should probably not be located on the second floor of a 125 year old building. Luckily there was a freight elevator, so we packed up the old print shop that was in the same place since the 50’s and moved it a block and a half away. Moving a letterpress shop is a story in itself. Fortunately, I have blocked the experience from my memory so that I can begin to function fairly normal again.

BBQ letterpress invitation by the Cranky Pressman.(Letterpress printed and die-cut gift card holder for Lucille’s BBQ)

JAMIE: After being at the same location since the 1950s (the first owner started the shop at another location in the 30s), the shop was recently moved two blocks down the road but in the same small town of Salem, Ohio.

The former location was on the 2nd floor of a 19th Century industrial building that was being converted to shopping and dining businesses. This was the ideal time to move the letterpress shop into a more appropriate ground floor workshop space.

Salem, is a historical old town in northeast Ohio, exactly halfway between Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, PA. There are still some factories in town but many of the old industrial buildings are empty. The town came upon some bad times, with factories and businesses closing, starting in the 1970s through the end of the last century. The closest bigger town in Youngstown, which suffered the same sort of economic downturn as Salem, but on a larger scale. The surrounding areas are mostly farmland.

Being more of an outsider myself (my family moved to this area from nearby Akron when I moved away to college) I can honestly say, the local folks are a hearty bunch. They can sometimes come across a little gruff (they’ve been through a lot after all) but there are many who never left and never intend to.

I am happy to report that over the past 10 years or so, it seems as though the little town is breathing new life. There are new shops, bars and restaurants around. The local high school stadium was recently renovated and other civic improvements are underway. Strong local historic and preservation groups are key to a lot of these good things happening around town. The Historical Society itself also went through a fairly recent expansion and the displays there are very well done and interesting. It nicely showcases the town’s rise, fall and rising again.

The space we recently moved from had some good old-world charm, with wooden floors and a rickety freight elevator. Our new workshop is much better organized, brighter and built for letterpress production on one side, and letterpress creative printmaking on the other side. We don’t yet have the place fully decorated or broken-in but everyone is happier working in the new space.

GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD EATS My favorite two local places to go out are among the oldest and most, shall I say, down to earth.

For eating (and drinking) you can’t beat the honest food and atmosphere at Mike’s Penn Bar and Grille. For pure drinking, soaking up local color and pool playing, I like Fernangeles. They don’t have a website and their Facebook page is only half-built, but is was the 1st or 2nd licensed bar in Ohio. The wooden walls in the bar area have paintings from the 19th Century that were done by travelers in exchange for room and board. Please note, you will likely get a good sampling of a variety of local yokels if you visit, so don’t wear your best clothes.

Keith Berger of the Cranky Pressman inspects his Heidelberg Windmill.(A shot of the printmaking-studio-side of the shop. You will see Jason in the shot again. He is such a ham!)

PRINTING MENTORS KEITH:  Early on I used a hot type setter that had Intertype and Ludlow typesetting machines. Bob Lesh is his name and he loved the trade of hot typesetting and we would discuss the history, and more interestingly, the system of a letterpress shop. We both believed that the usefulness of hot typesetting and letterpress would always have its place. Easier said than done, especially for the hot type, I am trying to save his vast collection and keep it viable for future generations.

JAMIE:  Current Favorites: Dafi Kuhne, Church of Type, Brad Vetter, Starshaped Press
Been Around: Hatch Showprint, Lynd Ward, Albrecht Durer, Guadalupe Posada

DESIGNER + PRINTER  KEITH: Mainly a printer but designer’s were originally printers so both I guess.

JAMIE: I studied and began my career as a graphic designer. I then spent most of my career working as an advertising art director. I am now (re)learning to be a graphic designer and printmaker at a ripe old age.

FULL-TIME SHOP FUN JAMIE: Yes, the shop is a full-service commercial letterpress shop.

PRINTING FEATS KEITH: Staying in the printing business for 30 + years. Although it has never been pretty it has always been interesting.

JAMIE: I had two prints (1 linocut and 1 woodcut) accepted in this past year’s Regional Artists juried show at The Butler Institute of American Art. So I guess I am beginning to learn how to print a bit.

PRESS HISTORY  KEITH: It was not a letterpress, but an AB Dick duplicator that I ran in my living room!

JAMIE: Never owned a press myself but enjoy using others!

Inside the studio at the Cranky Pressman.( Jason Vaughn (our head pressman) discusses printing specifications with Keith (at left).)

BOXCAR’S ROLE  JAMIE: The Boxcar Press website and blog has been an inspiration and valuable resource for letterpress information over the years.

SHOP (AND LIFE) TIPS  KEITH: Listen to your elders. They may have a different perspective but you can always modernize their advice.

JAMIE: I am still learning so you may not want any of my tricks if I had any!

WHAT’S COMING NEXT KEITH: To save the hot type and letterpress system and to “learn a trade.”

JAMIE: We will be continuing to set up, organize and decorate the shop. We hope to have more events such as workshops and visiting artists working in the space. We also are working on some new bindery and printing offerings to be announced.

A double round of applause & thanks out to Keith and Jamie of the Cranky Pressman for letting us take a sneak peak at their wonderful printing realm!

Gift Certificate – One Size Fits All 

Not sure how to delight your favorite letterpress printer?  Indecisive about rubber base or oil base as their preferred ink?  We have the stuff for the letterpress obsessed. Treat your friend or family printer to a Boxcar Press gift certificate.  It can be used for custom platemaking services or for supply items.

Boxcar Press gift certificates are great for every letterpress printer on your holiday list!

It’s as simple as calling or emailing and asking to be connected to the Boxcar Press team for a gift certificate.  We’ll set up an account in your recipient’s name with the dollar amount you provide.  We can email you a gift certificate to print out for the favored person.

Boxcar Press can accept credit card payment or invoice you for a PayPal transaction, whichever is the most convenient for you.

Take heart too if you need a few last minute gift ideas – visit our letterpress swag for a Boxcar t-shirt or apron for your Vandy lover or windmill enthusiast.  We have your back for a letterpress gift.

Gift certificates will be emailed within one business day.  Contact us for expedited orders.  Perfect for last minute holiday gifts!

The Cutting Edge of Printing With Publicide

From luxury letterpress printing to honing their newest & hottest bespoke design trend, Publicide Printing breaks barriers and redefines artisan printing with fleet-footed service. The New York City-based print shop celebrates 11 wonderful years of printing excellence (and counting!), while sharing with us what’s in store for them next–from taking fresh inspiration from the bustling city around them to honoring the addictive craft that is letterpress printing and beyond.

Publicide prints letterpress, digital and beautiful business cards.

IN THE HEART OF THE BIG APPLE Publicide Printing is located in the Historical Times Square District–rife with the filth & fury New York should still be known for. At our NYC Print Shop we find the clamor of trucks, buses, freaks, geeks, tourists, and morning-shift strippers to be suitably inspiring matches to the clamor of our Heidelberg Presses and Kluge Machines. To the clamor’s credit, the racket brings a paradoxical equal/opposite effect to the print jobs rolling through our sleepless workshop. There’s nothing like broken-glass glitter, flashing signs, and non-stop commotion to provide a super-neat registration. We can fathom few other explanations for the continued presence of Holographic Foil Stamping in our personal and Commercial Printing.

Publicide prints letterpress, digital and beautiful business cards.

THE PRINTING DRIVE We attribute much of our success to situational circumstances. When we set up shop 11 years ago, we kept our techniques traditional, providing letterpress services to a totalitarian degree. Devoted to pushing the letterpress “bite,” we’d like to think we became the go-to printer for deep impression, dimensional prints. Naturally, we credit the influence of our original Hudson Square locale–the mid-century’s center of book printing & publishing–for giving us the proper juju to succeed. Speaking of books, we first began branching beyond our love for Letterpress Business Cards & Stationery as requests for unique, custom Lookbooks made their way through the door. Lookbooks & Hanging Tags have become a shop specialty as of late, prompting us to include High Quality Digital commercial printing to our cabal of custom services.

EXPONENTIAL GROWTH As the fashion world kept calling, we found our lease terminated: a gift that took us to our current post in midtown Manhattan, while honing our expertise in Corporate Stationery Printing, Brochure Printing, Spot UV Gloss & high-shine Glossy Lamination Services, Asset Management, Real Estate Printing, Emboss & Deboss, and–as the nearby ghosts of Studio 54 would have it–unlimited Event Printing.

Publicide prints deep impression letterpress business cards.

LOOKING TO THE HORIZON The future is truly unknowable. Come 2049, we know we will still be at it, no matter what form the printing arts take. We go to sleep hoping for the following: (1) the advent of 3D-printed Pantone Color & Color-Matching; (2) to find the majesty of Foil Stamping integrated into respectable Letterpress Studies; last but not least, (3) a global craving for gigantic solid color by way of oversized, overprinted Offset Floods, with boundless room to create melting duo-tones and tri-tones.

Publicide prints deep impression letterpress business cards.

An immensely huge round of thanks to Publicide for letting us have a sneak peek into their fantastic and inspiring printing world!

Letterpress Printing Journeys: Amy Redmond of Amada Press

A mindful approach to letterpress (and life) is the buzz behind Amy Redmond of Amada Press. When we last caught up with Amy, she had a ball visiting & touring the Boxcar Press press floor. Now, the Seattle-based printer, visual artist, and instructor for Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts is blending a sense of creative well-being into her craft while nurturing a closely-knit community of printers. Between collaborating on her next project, keeping the fire lit under her fingertips, and happily giving back to the community with her involvement with the SVC Childrens Broadsides project year-after-year, Amy lives up to her press’ Spanish name origins: beloved.

RENAISSANCE WOMAN + PRINTER I’m a self-employed visual designer and artist, and teach beginning and advanced letterpress classes at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts. In my private studio, Amada Press, I work with metal and wood type, fabricating stories inspired by my collection of old ad cuts and
half-tones, and adding linocuts when inspired. In recent years, I’ve been incorporating collographs and pressure printing into my work. I primarily print on a Colt’s Armory 13×19 platen press, but also work on a Vandercook 4.

This is the form for the keepsake from my first studio tour under the name Amada Press. All photos courtesy of Amy Redmond unless otherwise indicated.

My Colt’s Armory Press has a long history of fine press book work for me to live up to; years before Stern & Faye acquired it, our friend Clifford Burke used it to produce his book “Printing Poetry.” 

View of the Amada Press studio from behind the Vandercook 4, which also came from Stern & Faye Printers.

THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS My first job out of college was as a book designer, and it turned into a quest to learn more about the finer points of typography. I was also feeling the loss of not working with my hands — computer design time had been balanced by working with tangible materials while earning my BFA. Although gainfully employed in the creative field, I was effectively starving myself creatively.

That changed when a friend saw a listing for a weekend workshop with Seattle artist Bonnie Thompson Norman (Windowpane Press), and I thought letterpress would be the perfect remedy for me. It was, and still is. Halfway through the first day, I was hooked on setting type by hand, so much that Bonnie had to politely kick me out of her studio so that she could go have dinner — promising that the type would still be waiting for me in the morning.

These accordion books were the first letterpress project I ever typeset and printed, in collaboration with 3 other students. Bonnie runs an admirably tight ship: we wrote, printed, and bound these in just 2 days! 

Six months later, in October of 1998, I met Chris Stern and Jules Faye (Stern & Faye, Printers) at a Seattle Literary event called Northwest Bookfest, and fell in love with their work. The following week I drove up to their Print Farm in Sedro-Woolley, Washington to share my portfolio. The interview turned into dinner, and soon after I began apprenticing one day a week in their shop, doing whatever was needed in exchange for learning. A few years later, I put all of my things in storage, moved into a small corner of the upstairs bindery in the print barn, and worked in exchange for rent.

This was Stern & Faye Printer’s “print barn” in Sedro-Woolley, WA. The concord grapes would hang heavy on the barn, and it was impossible to resist snacking off the vine every time you entered the shop. 

Here I am mixing ink at Stern & Faye Printers, sometime around 2002. This may have been taken during the 6 months I was living at the print farm. Credit: Jules Faye

The 180-mile round-trip drive up to the Skagit Valley each week was well worth it. It’s hard to believe it’s been 19 years since then; it was such a pivotal moment for me. It not only instilled a sense of creative well-being and fine craftsmanship, it also introduced me to an amazing community of artists, designers, and printers that have become dear friends.

Pictured left to right: Rebecca Gilbert, Jules Faye, Brian Bagdonas, Amy Redmond. Rebecca & Brian, of Stumptown Printers & C.C. Stern Type Foundry, recently visited me and Jules Faye at her home in the Skagit Valley. Getting together with them is always a fabulous family reunion, and never without homemade pie. Credit: Stumptown Printers

NORTH SEATTLE’S BEST KEPT SECRET My private studio, Amada Press, is just steps from my back door in a quiet neighborhood in north Seattle. I describe it as a garage with a detached house — because that’s exactly how I went about looking for space: the studio came first. When Jules Faye approached me in 2008 about becoming the next steward of Stern & Faye’s Colt’s Armory 13×19 Press, I knew it was time to get serious about buying a place. I’d been in Seattle long enough to know that I couldn’t own a press that big and be at the whim of a landlord. The stars happened to align at the right time with both work and the burst of Seattle’s real estate market, making it all possible.

Inking up the Colt’s Armory Press. Cleaning up the press, and all 8 of its rollers, takes me about 30 minutes. 

Close-up of the badge on my Colt’s Armory Press. 

In spite of being large enough for 3 cars, my shop has never had one in it — the previous owners were also artists, and built it as their painting studio. It has flat, alley access with high overhead clearance for big trucks, smooth cement floors and plenty of outlets. What really charmed me was its wood stove — that’s exactly how we heated the Print Barn at Stern & Faye. I took all of those things, along with the apple tree (Stern & Faye also had a tiny orchard), as signs that this was the right place for me. The press was the first thing that got moved onto the property — it took another week for me to move my personal things into the house. So you can see where my priorities lay.

My shop’s sunny location makes it the perfect spot to grow tomatoes. A little bit of Seattle history lives in this photo: those red bleacher chairs are from the Kingdome, saved before it was blown up to make way for a new stadium. 

What truly makes my shop special is what’s inside of it — it has all come from local printer pals, many of whom have since passed. Most of it, like my presses and type, is from Stern & Faye and Byron Scott — but I also have a cabinet and slant top from Jim Rimmer (Pie Tree Press), and a handful of choice cuts from Maura Shapely (Day Moon Press). It’s all very beloved to me… which is how I came to choose “Amada” as my press name, the Spanish word for beloved. It also happens to be the meaning of my first name.

Upper lefthand photo: Everything in my studio is up on 4×4’s so that it can be easily moved with a pallet jack.  |  Upper righthand photo: Thanks to the careful curation of past printers, I have many lovely typefaces — but Spartan (ATF’s version of Futura) claims most of the space in this row of cabinets. |  Lower righthand photo: These are my two main work surfaces: the cabinet in the foreground is a staging ground for my notes, and the larger work table in the background holds my stone.  |  Lower lefthand photo:  This photos is the view when you walk into my studio — the cabinet on the far right is the very first one I got (complete with the obligatory case of Copperplate).

PRINTING MENTORS AND INSPIRATION Chris Stern & Jules Faye will always be my number one mentors; even though Chris passed away in 2006 and the context of my work with Jules has evolved, I consider my apprenticeship to be lifelong. They have given me so much of their time and talent, and never restrained their passion for print & typography. When the two of them collaborated on personal projects, the final print was always a tapestry of fantastic stories and captivating imagery. Their print, “The Typographic Horse,” exemplifies the “love at first sight” effect their work had on me.

Shortly after Chris Stern passed away, I wrote an article about the passionate process of artwork for the Society of Typographic Aficionados . You can view more work by Chris Stern & Jules Faye on SternAndFaye.com. 

I also find inspiration from my ever-growing network of printer pals and students — they all keep a fire lit under my fingertips, and Instagram has played a big role these past few years with feeding me a steady drip of amazing work. Those who really stand out are the ones with determination and a clear vision in their work as a whole; I really admire that — it’s not something I come by easily.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I’m drawn to the graphic design work that took place between the 1910’s and the 1950’s. As a design student I didn’t understand how the work I admired by Fortunato Depero, Piet Zwart, El Lissitzky, H.N. Werkman, and Jan Tschichold was produced — becoming a letterpress printer who works with handset type brought a whole new appreciation to it. It’s like I found a missing piece to the puzzle that is myself.

DESIGNER + PRINTER I fall into the designer/printer category; they are very intricately related and it can be hard to tear one apart from the other. Design is what led me to letterpress, but letterpress is what reinforces my attention to detail and ability to think about how a design will be produced — whether it’s a website or a printed piece. When you’re printing your own work, you’re the one that pays the price when you design something that’s hard to pull off. And so you learn how to plan.

I find the mindful approach that letterpress requires to be blissfully consuming; it’s a nice contrarian lifestyle to the on-demand parts of life. As I browse my collection of metal type and ornaments, I slow down, I notice, I contemplate, I dream, and I plan. I form connections with things I’ve seen or heard. Stories materialize as excerpts from imagined conversations.

This text, from my print “Scavenger,” was taken from a scrap of paper I’ve been carrying around in a sketchbook since 2006. 

The computer has no place here — pencils, scissors, Xacto blades, and glues sticks are crucial to my work’s development; the tangible trace of my hand is evident yet invisible. Ideas become sketches, ink is drawn, mock-ups take shape. Text is set, one letter at a time. Images may be old ad cuts, or created with collographs, pressure printing, or carved linoleum.

A snapshot of the design process for the broadside for “The Thirst of Things” by poet Alberto Ríos, for Copper Canyon Press. See the finished print here. 

Precision on press requires planning, but with my art I allow room for migration once ink hits paper: colors may shift, misfeeds inspire new compositions. The process of acting/reacting is cathartic; committing an idea to paper simultaneously invites resolution to old problems and invites opportunity for new ones.

In the dead of winter this mindfulness is emphasized even more: my shop is heated primarily by a wood stove, and I can’t just start printing without some planning. The night before, I bring the inks and photopolymer base into the house to warm up; I check to make sure an air quality burn ban hasn’t been triggered by a stretch of cold, windless days; I prep a pot of homemade soup for lunch. On press day I get up early and get the studio’s wood stove started so that it can pick up the electric heater’s slack, and simmer the soup on the wood stove next to my coffee. Once I get going, I hate having to stop to make lunch… and it makes for the most delicious-smelling print shop.

PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN There are days when I think I could be a printer full time, but I don’t think I really want that — it’s having variety in my work that keeps me sane. I currently set up my work week so that I work Monday–Thursday for my design clients (web & print), and spend Fridays in my studio. Anyway you slice it I’m just a one-woman shop, so there’s a lot of pressure to stay profitable and still be able to invest in my retirement.

If I could spend my days playing on press, making art without a care for income, then yes I’d do it in a heartbeat. But if I have to take on a job printing what someone else has designed, then no — I’d rather that time be spent doing digital design, so that my print studio remains a stress-free place to be creative. There’s enough separation between how I think about the two different types of work that they fuel, rather than drain, my energy for them.

PRINTING FEATS I consider it a great honor to have been teaching letterpress at the School of Visual Concepts for the past 14 years, and to play a part in building our program. I was cautious when Jenny Wilkson first invited me, as my mentors Chris Stern & Jules Faye were also teaching there — and who was I, with just a few years at the press under my belt, to be teaching? Upon hearing my concerns, Chris and Jules invited me to assist in their class — and gave me their encouragement to accept Jenny’s offer. This wasn’t an issue of confidence; it was about respect for all the years Chris and Jules had spent in front of presses.

top photo: We have a well-appointed shop at the School of Visual Concepts, and our volunteer Teaching Assistants do their part (and then some) to making sure it remains a gem. Credit: Radford Creative. |  bottom photo: Elizabeth Mullaly (right) is one of my current Teaching Assistants. The way she quietly jumps right in when she sees something or someone that needs attention is a work ethic I admire. Credit: Sukhie Patel.

PRESS HISTORY I was about to say it was a Pilot Tabletop Press — but truly, it was a toy press given to me in elementary school, the Fisher Price Arts & Craft “Printer’s Kit”. I’m really hoping it’s still stashed in my parent’s basement, as I’d love to get it back and play around with it.

But as far as “real” presses go, the Pilot really was my first. In June of 1999, I went to Bellingham, WA with Chris Stern & Jules Faye to visit their friend Rob. We were talking about printing and I was admiring his 7×9 Pilot Press sitting in the corner on its original stand. After a while Chris turned and said, “Well Amy, you can have it if you can pick it up.” I laughed and then saw Rob nod his head — Chris was actually serious, and Jules confirmed it. Together we moved it out that day.

My first studio was efficiently tucked into a tiny breakfast nook in a shared house. We didn’t use the dishwasher, so it became my ink table— I kept ink and tools on its racks. 

Chris and Jules then helped me put together a cabinet of type from their collection, and Scotty (Byron Scott, their adopted grandfather and avid letterpress collector) contributed some things as well. I still have that cabinet today; on the back, scrawled in chalk, it says “Scotty,” and I love that. Also in that cabinet is a 50-pound case of figures from various typefaces, all displayed face-up. It had been sitting in a stack of cases in the print barn & I remembering cooing over it with Chris when he said, “Yeah it’s purdy, but ya don’t ever wanna buy a case of junk like that.” He then turned to me with a sly grin. “Ya want it?”

I lovingly refer to this 50-pound case of figures as one my apprenticeship “hazing” moments. 

I had the Pilot for 2 years, and when I moved into the bindery loft of Stern & Faye’s Print Barn, they convinced me that it was time to move on to a bigger press. To this day, the Pilot still lives in Seattle with John Marshall, former owner of Seattle’s Open Books Poetry Shop in Seattle. It’s nice to know it’s still in our Pacific Northwest literary letterpress family.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has been making my photopolymer plates since — I think — 2003 or 2004. At that time there weren’t many options, and most required faxing in a proof of the artwork — which was a royal pain. But Boxcar spoke my design language and accepted PDF proofs (revolutionary!) and that was the hook that got me in the door.

But the real reason I keep coming back is the people — everyone is so helpful and accountable to doing good work, and I appreciate the time spent helping me troubleshoot. As an instructor I know I can direct my students to Boxcar and that they’ll be well-taken care of. And as a participant in SVC’s Poetry Broadside project with Seattle Children’s Hospital and Seattle Arts & Lectures, I know that the project would not be financially possible without plate donations from Boxcar and paper donations from Neenah. On behalf of the printers at the School of Visual Concepts, thank you!

PRINTING TIPS Roller bearers are my best friends — I never lock up a form in a chase without them. Also, always use protection: slipsheet your prints. These two simple things can prevent so many problems.

Wide, type-high rule placed on the inside edges of the chase act as roller bearers, preventing ink slur as the rollers roll on/off the form. 

Document your work. David Black, another letterpress instructor at SVC, once advised starting a shop log to keep track of press maintenance. I do, and it has become so much more than just a record of press oiling. I document ideas, typeface choices, and archive my mockups. These logs are valuable resources that I refer to often.

I currently have 4 studio logs, and added a fifth just for the projects I do for APA (Amalgamated Printers Association), of which I’m a member. 

And finally, when it comes to buying equipment, be patient. The right press, the right type, it will come along. Talk to people, get to know them… there’s an underground current of dedicated printers that offer a far more rewarding experience than a whirlwind bidding session on Ebay will, and you’ll meet people genuinely interested in your success if you take the time to invest in your local community.

WHAT’S NEXT I’m finally — finally!— going to set up an online store for Amada Press. I’ve been in several group and solo shows over the years, but the positive response my work received in the 2017 “Pressing On” Exhibition at Hatch Show Print really highlighted the importance of investing time into making my work more accessible.

I also have several ideas on my perpetual project list in different stages of production, including two book concepts and a long-form broadside. The more I cross off, the more room I have for new ideas. My work is fueled by motion.

The red and blue flags in my studio logs mark ideas that have not yet been printed. I’m happy to say it’s a never-ending list. 

Immensely huge round of applause & thanks out to Amy for the gorgeous peek into the printing realm of Amada Press. Keep up the beautiful work and we look forward to seeing more of your printing adventures unfold. Find her on Instagram too (@AmadaPress)!

Fresh Impressions: Ladies of Letterpress 2017

The Ladies of Letterpress annual conference never fails to deliver an amazing week of printing, creating, and inky, hands-on, up to your elbows fun.  Add to that two letterpress movies, and the time in St. Louis, Missouri was pretty much letterpress supreme delight. 

Cathy Smith I often find it hard to describe to other printers what the conference experience is like and to give it justice.  You are in a bubble for five days where conversations center around printing and antique presses and it’s never boring. The energy is great and I usually end up saying, “you have to go there next year”.

This year’s conference was in Saint Louis and was a collaboration with StL Print Week which is offered through Firecracker Press and Central Print.  St. Louis itself has a lot going on in terms of attractions, housing renovations, and pockets of strong community sustainability projects.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Our activities centered around Firecracker Press and Central Print which share a wonderful joint storefront space.  The neighborhood has little “pocket parks” on many of the blocks, and is on the cusp of bursting into a vital place to live and work.  That just added to the appeal of our conference headquarters.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

It was easy to get excited about our printing space because of the many vintage presses, the aisles of type cabinets, the retro and bohemian décor, and so much natural light.  With the help of Peter Fraterdeus, I gained a larger appreciation for wood type as we learned to look at the letters as art forms of negative and positive spaces,  I tried my hand at linoleum block carving taught by Rachel Kroh and have a new passion for this.  I love the endless possibilities of photopolymer plates; however, it was freeing to work with other tools to create printed projects.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

What I really love is meeting fellow printers as we talk about all things letterpress.  I revel in the information sharing and passion of panel discussions, and can highly recommend Pressing On: the Letterpress Film.  

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

If you have an opportunity to see it, do so, and then watch it again.  This year, I was joined by three of our printers from Boxcar Press, plus owner Harold Kyle, and it was great to share with them the experience and value of a Ladies of Letterpress conference.

Samantha Peck Samantha is one of our windmill printers here at Boxcar Press and she agreed that being able to attend the event this year was an unforgettable time.

The opportunity to learn letterpress printing from the most advanced printers in the industry left me with a wealth of new knowledge, tips, and tricks to incorporate into my daily printing at Boxcar. Thanks to the great workshops offered, I now own my very first press that I built from household materials!

I also was able to use a variety of different presses and type to create unique prints that I turned into the covers of my handmade journals. I even got to try out linoleum block carving.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Through hands on learning and expert printers’ shared stories and advice, I gained some absolutely invaluable experience and memories. It was very rewarding to see so many inspired and creative printers all in one place carrying on the art of letterpress printing together.

Madeline Bartley Another one of our windmill printers recalls that her best moment from Ladies of Letterpress was during her workshop, Advanced Windmill with Graham Judd.

During a demo we became curious about the condition of the windmill’s impression lever. Why doesn’t the lever release back to its usual position? The red ball lever didn’t move back far enough. The lead to Graham and I pulling out old die cut scraps from the base. Together we pulled out two waste baskets of oily paper detritus. 40 years worth!  It was like an archeological dig into letterpress history.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

This Boxcar Lady had a wonderful time attending the conference and is looking forward to more in the future!

Leanna Barlow My experience at Ladies of Letterpress/ Print Week was absolutely amazing.  Spending time in another city surrounded by people who love the same thing you do is surreal. I have only worked at Boxcar press for about 2 years. At Boxcar we don’t set type, so this was my first time seeing such a vast collection of type! And actually getting to use it. Firecracker Press has such a great space and the staff was so talented and passionate about printing. I think what I took away from the experience overall was the willingness to teach and be taught, particularly by some who have been printing substantially longer than me. It was nice to see that there was no “generation gap,” as they call it. The older generation of printers was genuinely excited to be with the new and up-and-coming printers like myself. For me, making my own press out of everyday supplies, along with the advanced windmill class, has helped me develop as a working printer and an artist.

A huge shout-out to all the amazing participants at the Ladies of Letterpress conference this year! Have a fun story or cool thing you learned at this year’s meet-up? Let us know in the comments below!

School Art Budgets Get a Boost from Boxcar Press’ Annual Paper Giveaway for Teachers.

Pulaski Academy Art Department teacher Stacey Walton reached out with photos and praise for our Boxcar Press paper giveaway for art teachers.  “If not for your generosity my budget would not allow for my students to have so many more opportunities and variation in art supplies as they do now,” writes Stacey.

The Pulaski, New York art instructor is referring to our annual giveaway of printing papers and more to art teachers at local schools.  Boxcar Press gathers a wide variety of items no longer needed for printing projects and it’s not just limited to papers.  It varies from year to year but can include papers of all types, patterns, and sizes, envelopes, surplus cards, packaging, transparencies and colored foils.

2017 OctoberTeacher Giveaway

Stacey included photos of just a few examples of how creative her classroom students were.  Some of the paper is perfect for oil pastel and acrylic painting. They use the patterned papers in their art journals a lot. They also use them for after school craft projects, including Fall signs, wreaths, and ornaments (by curling the paper and putting it inside glass ornaments – they come out beautifully!)  The solid colored papers (especially black) are great for mounting backs.  

2017 OctoberTeacher Giveaway

Some of the items offered are not papers or materials but plastic boxes formerly used for card sets and the cards themselves.  The students use the boxes of plastic covers as palettes for painting, printmaking, etc.  They are perfect because students can close them up and save them from day to day rather than washing the paint off every class.  Stacey writes, “This is a huge saver on paint for us, and super convenient for the students as they do not have to re-mix colors from class to class.”

2017 OctoberTeacher Giveaway -art journals

2017 OctoberTeacher Giveaway - art

“I have had students paint little boxes to use as stands for ceramics and sculptures for displays.  We used the foil rolls we got last year as decorations for our school dances. I also use the “Thank You” cards any time an organization or business donates something to our program.  Our secretaries use the Thank You cards as well (I found a set with our school colors, so they were perfect).  We even give them to students who need thank you’s to send out when they get things like awards and scholarships.”

Thank you Stacey for the feedback and artwork.  We enjoy providing what we can to enrich school art programs and are astounded by the creativity and breadth of how the supplies are used. We encourage other art teachers to let us know in photos and words how you have used our give-away items.

This year’s annual paper giveaway for teachers is Wednesday, October 25th, 2017 from 2:30-4:30 PM and questions can be directed to Boxcar Press at 315-473-0930.

2017 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides: Part 1

For its seventh year running, Boxcar Press has the immense pleasure of supporting the magical outcome created by this year’s 2017 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project. Guided by Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick of the Writers in the Schools program (WITS) and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, an inspiring group of young poets and artist/printers collaborated together to produce 21 broadsides in a limited run of 110 broadsides. WITS worked with big-hearted printers as well as long term patients at the Seattle Children’s Hospital in this exceptional opportunity for fun, creativity, and stirring works of art. This first installment of a two part blog showcases four printers who share their creative printing process and capture the wonder of the children’s writing.Boxcar Press donated photopolymer plates for the 2017 Seattle Children's Hospital Letterpress Broadsides, a project by WITS + the School of Visual Concepts.

Sarah Kulfan I was very excited to print Merrick’s poem for this year’s Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project. As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, his colorful descriptions of the natural world resonated with me and provided a rich trove of inspiring imagery that would pair well with his words. I printed a total of 6 passes on a Universal I, combining a linoleum block, metal type, and a Boxcar plate.

Sarah-Kulfan-letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.  Multicolor letterpress printing from Sarah Kulfan.

This was my fifth year printing for this lovely project which brings together so many talented and generous folk. I was immediately drawn to Merrick’s poem. His words remind me of all the many blessings that nature provides, discoveries that I have found in my own wanderings outside. I haven’t met Merrick yet, but I hope to get a chance so that we can compare our adventures in nature.

Sarah-Kulfan-letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

This year, I wanted to try my hand at a reduction cut that would combine split fountain layers. Using high-drama imagery of a hurricane worked really well for this process as it provided a big-sky, full frame backdrop. The poem speaks to the cycles of nature and the process of destruction and darkness followed by light and new life. The gradients capture the weather transition from light to dark and the reduction cut allowed me to build up the dark layers of the passing storm clouds. There were four total passes on the reduction cut and these included two split fountains. I printed a fifth layer of metal type for the poem. The final pass was the colophon text, printed from a Boxcar photopolymer plate, which saved a lot of time hand setting and proofing tiny type.

Chris Copley Each year, I find myself wanting to push my artistic envelope in the Children’s Hospital Poetry Broadside Project — exploring a technique or concept while still making a piece of art that might appeal to people who know nothing of me or the poet or the project. I also try to reflect the feeling or personality of my poet.

Chris Copley letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

Nandi, my poet this year, was not quite 5 when she wrote her piece about a huge stuffed animal that fell on her while she was in her hospital bed. The poem features strong emotions, and moves from upset and angry (at the big bunny) to loving and heartfelt (toward her mom). I tried to bring that out in the frame around the poem.

Chris Copley letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides. Chris Copley letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

I also embedded folk-art-style drawings of animals and a few “easter eggs” in the frame, just for fun. I drew the original art on black paper, then cut it out with an Xacto knife. I scanned the cut-paper art and ordered a polymer plate from Boxcar; this was my third (and fourth) pass. The first two passes involved the technique I wanted to explore — perpendicular split fountain printing. I printed a red-to-mustard-yellow pass (the color blocks behind the text blocks), and then turned the paper 90 degrees to print a blue-to-olive-green pass (the highlight colors in the frame).

Unfortunately, in trimming the paper to permit it to fit on the press, I unthinkingly cut off my gripper edge. So when I went to print the polymer frame, I couldn’t. I quickly went through a list or three or four options for solving my disaster, and decided the least bad solution was to cut the polymer plate in half. The problem was compounded when printing the second half of the plate, when my favorite press inexplicably fish-tailed my paper a different direction on every pass, making close registration virtually impossible. I cried almost the entire run, convinced the broadside was ruined. But I finished the project, hand-setting the poem and colophon in Bodoni and printing it without a hiccup. And it didn’t look too bad, in the final analysis. Five passes through the press.

I never met Nandi, but I met her mom, Adele. Nandi was camping with Dad the week we met. We chatted for nearly an hour about Nandi’s poems and how her health crisis brought out Nandi’s strong spirit. I saw the connection between Adele and Nandi, and saw photos of the little girl and the big bunny. I wanted to bring out in my design Nandi’s playful, vibrant personality, and her love for her mother.

I used two other techniques: hand-set metal type; and pressure printing. I wanted soft edges to the color blocks behind the stanzas of Nandi’s poem, so I used the back side of a Boxcar Press base (with the swirly pattern of the grinder as a design element) and a paper pressure “plate.” I did the same thing with the color highlights in the frame. I like the contrast between the crisp polymer printing and the softer pressure-printed colors. And I like the way the metal type echoes the sharp edges of the polymer plate. This is another of those projects that turns out better than expected, with different parts contributing to a unified whole.

Heidi Hespelt As always, it was a privilege to illustrate one of these wonderful poems by these talented children. My poet was Nick Gerdin, age 9 and he wrote 2 poems, titled Orange and Red. His plan is to continue the series by writing poems about other colors of the rainbow. I love the word pictures that Nick painted. He is obviously an insightful guy.

Heidi Hespelt letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

I used several different methods to bring my illustration to life.  The titles, Red and Orange, are done in large antique wood type, the rest of the type is polymer from Boxcar Press (thanks, Boxcar, for your support!), and I carved the tiger, the cheetah on lino blocks using photographs as inspiration.

Heidi Hespelt prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

The setting suns and the bottom border are also carved from lino blocks. All of the printing was done on a Vandercook press at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle.

Heidi Hespelt prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.Heidi Hespelt letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

Much of the joy of participating in the Children’s Hospital Broadside project each year (this is my fourth year!) is the camaraderie between the printers and the creative way each printer (artist) interprets the poem that they are given. I like to think that our efforts will live long lives on the walls and in the portfolios of the poets and their families, and that our artistic visions will add a dimension to the poems that brings out a deeper meaning.

Sukhie Patel I love carving linoleum and engraving wood, so I knew I wanted to draw and then hand-carve the poem’s illustrations. Carving is, for me, a form of meditation, and it was a beautiful way to contemplate this young poet’s life and honor her through that process. It was hard to narrow down what to illustrate, as the poem had so many vibrant images to choose from. I wanted the broadside to capture as much of the visual levity and sweetness of the poem as possible, so I chose to carve this metallic gold ice cream cone of whimsical pastel cotton-candy-esque clouds, with Mount Rainier popping out amidst them. It ended up being 6 separate blocks, and including text, 8 passes.

Sukhie Patel letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

I found out two days after receiving the poem that the lovely young poet, London Marshall, had passed away at age 9. My approach thus shifted from designing a broadside to delight a 9-year-old audience, to designing a commemorative broadside for her family. I wanted to create something the family would want to return to at different stages in their grieving, that did not preclude a path of healing, and could bring them a smile. I hoped the illustrations would capture the levity of being nine years old, the vivacity of being a young girl, the earnestness of feeling in love with the world around her. It was an honor to print London’s poem, and spend time with her words.

Sukhie Patel letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

My print consisted of 6 hand carved linoleum blocks and two photopolymer plates. I don’t know how I would have pulled this off without the help of Boxcar. I had never printed with photopolymer before, but with the structure of this poem (each line began with “I am”), I didn’t have any cases of metal type with enough capital I’s! Incorporating photopolymer also allowed me to select a more contemporary and youthful typeface. It was such a pleasure working with Boxcar on this project, and (despite being a sucker for handset type) I can’t wait to incorporate photopolymer in more of my designs. It really did open up my eyes to a whole new set of techniques and approaches.

Stay tuned & read on about this amazing Broadside project in the upcoming Part 2. The ever-inspiring work of both poets and printers and the brilliant results are why Boxcar has a big soft spot for such an amazing tradition year after year.

The Art of Printing: Prose, Song, and Poetry to Entertain Those in the Trade

Who doesn’t love a rousing, good ditty, or a clever, snappy poem with a wicked twist of words?  And what better than an ode about your favorite topic – printing – written by and for printers?

We recently found a digital copy of a poetry book about printing from 1833.  Turning the pages makes you feel like you are at a comfortable British pub house a couple of hundred years ago, raising a glass with inky nails, saying, “Have ye heard this one?”

The title of the book is Songs of the Press and Other Poems Relative to the Art of Printing, gathered by T. Kirk, Printer of Nottingham, 1833.  It is available for download at www.openlibrary.org.

One of the gems we found included a curse or censure by a printer who called down mayhem on his colleague.

Printing Prose Song and Poetry: Vintage pressman illustration(illustration courtesy of Briarpress.org)

The Poet’s Anathema by R.S. Coffin

On a printer who had displeased him.
May all your columns fall in pie,
Each chase be gnawed by rust;
Weak, weak as water be your lye,
Your cases filled with dust.
May all your sticks untrue be made,
Your frames too high or low;
No page upon the stone be laid
Where it should rightly go.

Printing Prose Song and Poetry: Book an Job Printers Illustration(illustration courtesy of Briarpress.org)

How about a song on the Origin of Printing by Dodd, in particular, one that praises good printing and the demise of hand-copying.

Aided by thee, the printed page
Conveys instruction to each age;
When in one hour more sheets appear,

Than Scribes could copy in a year.

An anonymous poet captured that moment when a printer gets what he is looking for…

Printing Prose Song and Poetry: Printer's Kiss poem

Print on my lip another kiss.
The picture of thy glowing passion;
Nay, this won’t do— nor this — nor this —
But now — Ay, that’s a proof impression!

One more thought to give some perspective on what it meant when you held a book in the 1800’s and the nice thought that countless of our fellow fine press printers still handle many of these tasks themselves.

The following twenty-two occupations are engaged to produce a single book (circa 1873):-The author, the designer, the rag merchant, the paper maker, the stationer, the type founder, the press maker, the ink maker, the roller maker, the chase maker, the reader, the compositor, the press­man, the gatherer, the folder, the stitcher, the leather seller, the binder, the coppersmith, the engraver, the copper-plate printer, and the bookseller.

Are you inspired to pen your own sonnet or lyric to printing?  Send us your verse in the comments section below!

In search of the perfect printing ink – why not do it yourself?

Letterpress printers have many tools at their disposal, such as presswash, line gauges and quoins. Not the least of these is their favored printing ink. Broach this subject with a group of printers in person or an online forum and most can hotly debate the one they can’t live without.

(photograph courtesy of coloranthistory.org. Those interested in purchasing a 13″x19″ archival poster print can reach out to Andy here. )

Yes, we are going to step into that debate and ask specifically which black printing ink do you hold in high esteem but before we do that, we want to entertain you with an article from a book that gives the recipe for making your own.  Looks pretty simple to us but you decide.

The sage instructions of experience come from this book found on openlibrary.org

Six Hundred Receipts, Worth Their Weight in Gold by John Marquardt of Lebanon, PA.

Turn to page 75 – Receipt No. 138  How to make Black Printer’s Ink.

“Printers’ ink is a real black paint, composed of lampblack and linseed-oil, which has undergone a degree of heat superior to that of common drying oils. The manner of preparing it is extremely simple. Boil the linseed-oil in a large iron pot for 8 hours, adding to it bits of toasted bread the purpose of absorbing the water contained in the oil; let it rest till the following morning, and then expose it to the same degree of heat for 8 hours more, or till it has acquired the consistence required; then add lamp-black worked up with a mixture of oil of turpentine and turpentine.

The consistence depends on the degree of heat given to the oil, and the quantity of lampblack mixed up with it; and this consistence is regulated by the strength of the paper for which the ink is intended.

The preparations of printers’ ink should take place in the open air, to prevent the bad effects arising from the vapor of the burnt oil, and, in particular, to guard against accident by fire.”

If one receipt isn’t enough, another is available on page 264 , No. 597  An Excellent Printing-Ink.

Balsam of copaiva, (or Canada balsam,) 9 ounces; lampblack, 3 ounces; indigo and Prussian blue, each 5 drachms; Indian red, 3/4 ounce; yellow soap, (dry,) 3 ounce. Grind it to an impalpable smoothness. Mix with old linseed oil. “

In case you are wondering – the drachms is a unit of weight formerly used by apothecaries, equivalent to 60 grains or one eighth of an ounce.

Letterpress printers, as a group, seem to be interested in trying new things for their art, so we hope that these two recipes might get a try-out or two from someone.  However, it is also fun to note that within the 598 other receipts in this book, you can also find a recipe for peppermint cordial, a cure for the bite of a mad dog, and treatment for scabby heads on children and toothaches.  

Back to our original question, we truly are interested in hearing about your favorite black printing ink, either ones you have used in the past and can’t find anymore or one you use everyday.

Tell us in the comments below!