Boxcar Talk with Ladies of Letterpress

Ladies of Letterpress, an online community dedicated to women printers, began with just two women who strive to promote the art and craft of letterpress printing. Kseniya and Jessica have worked hard to build this fantastic online community where members discuss process, advice, and share resources. The Ladies are growing more and more each day and have recently awarded their first annual scholarship to one of their members to help develop printing skills and also attended the 2010 National Stationery Show in New York as a joint exhibit with some of the members.



How did Ladies of Letterpress start?
Kseniya: Jessica and I met a few years ago at an Oak Knoll Fest, which I was attending as a book fan, and where she was exhibiting with the University of Iowa. Her fabulous badges caught my eye, and they got us talking about starting a nation-wide organization of the same name (which started as a loose association at the University of Iowa). We found Ning, and went live with it in late 2008. Now we have almost 600 members, and big plans!

Jessica: Ditto what Kseniya said. We met in the fall of 2006 at the Oak Knoll Fest, a conference for book arts and fine press, where she told me about her ideas for creating this type of community. She already had a website ‘dedicated to the proposition that a woman’s place is in the printshop’, but wasn’t seeing any real results, while I had made those patches just for fun, without envisioning much more until we started talking. We decided on the spot that we should work together to form this community, and create a forum where women printers could come together, have discussions, share skills, and keep in touch. We live in different parts of the country, so we’ve kept in touch and made it happen all through emails and occasional phone calls.


How did each of you first get into letterpress?
Kseniya: I had a six-month-long internship at the printshop of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz, Germany after I graduated college; the internship was a part of a year-long fellowship. When I applied for the position, I really had no idea what they did there, and less of an idea about how they did it–I actually thought they made books! But I was quickly disabused of that notion when, on my first day, a retired type-compositor handed me a set of reglets and started teaching me all sorts of German letterpress vocabulary. I spent the next six months setting type from their fabulous, 1000-case collection, printing small jobs–once for a princess–and pursuing my own projects. It was absolutely wonderful; little did I know where it would lead!

Jessica: I remember seeing some letterpress printed posters and broadsides while I was an undergrad at East Carolina University, but at the time I was completely focused on sculpture, especially metal work and casting bronze and iron. It wasn’t until grad school, when a friend of mine showed me how to set type late one night, that I was hooked. By that point, my work had already shifted to printmaking and book art, and I think the tactile qualities of setting type and printing on a Vandercook brought the sculptor and printmaker sides of me together.


Besides Ladies of Letterpress, what else do you do?
Kseniya: I’m the owner of Thomas-Printers (new site coming soon!), a commercial letterpress shop in Carlisle, PA. We debuted a new wedding line, YonderYest, at this year’s Stationery Show.

Jessica: I have a print shop and bindery, Heroes & Criminals Press, where I make books and prints, and occasional commission work. I also teach printmaking and bookbinding workshops at Asheville BookWorks, and will be teaching papermaking and book art this fall at Warren Wilson College.


What was your very first press, and are you still using it?
Kseniya: My first press was a 12×18 C+P NS, and we still use it for big things (posters, broadsides, etc.), and die-cutting.

Jessica: Well, the secret-midnight-printing-session at school was on an SP15, which I continued to use while in school. I’ll always consider it my ‘first’. I just graduated last year, moved to Asheville, NC, and purchased a Kelsey 5×8 and a Showcard press. The Kelsey is my on-the-road press, the one that I take to differences places when I give demos. Most of my printing these days is done on the Showcard or on one of the Vandercooks at Asheville BookWorks, where I often volunteer and teach workshops.

Who or what inspires you the most?
Kseniya: I’m inspired by music, my home state of Utah, non-fiction in the New Yorker, and the wonderful work produced by the other Ladies of Letterpress! Also, of course, the desire to stay in business is very inspiring. In the same vein, I find the number of new people starting letterpress shops/studios completely inspiring. It means that people are still wanting to try the scariness of managing your own business, making things by hand–and it shows that the demand for letterpress-printing is still high.

Jessica: I’m completely obsessed with books, especially book illustrations. Some of my favorites now are the same favorites from when I was a kid: E.H. Shepard, Edward Gory, Max Ernst (especially his collage stories), and Kate Greenaway. As you can tell, I’m a little stuck in the past, but I also love contemporary comics and graphic novels, and some of my favorites right now are Anders Nilsen, Chris Ware, and Marjane Satrapi.

What’s your favorite thing about working with Boxcar Press?
Kseniya: The people who work there! The fabulous pics on! Also, the Boxcar Base, without which I might not be here today.

Jessica: A few years ago, I saved up for a 13 x 19 Boxcar Base and still use it regularly. It felt like such a splurge at the time, but now I can’t imagine getting anything done without it.


What was the experience like for you at the National Stationery Show?
Kseniya: It was unspeakably great. The best part was meeting all the wonderful people we did, including the other Ladies in the booth. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better experience, or for better people to work with. This isn’t to say that the planning, purchasing, organizing, arranging, etc., weren’t stressful and a lot of work, but I think it was worth it. We’ll be back next year!

Do you have any suggestions for people hoping to exhibit next year or how to promote their new product lines?
Kseniya: Having only exhibited once, I don’t have much advice, except to start early! Start the fall of the previous year–earlier than you think you should. The last few weeks will be consumed with all the details, so it’s good to have as much squared away as soon as possible.

What are you looking forward to?
Kseniya: I’m looking forward to what the future holds for Ladies of Letterpress (it’s going to be great!), and next year’s NSS, seeing all our old friends again, and making new ones!

Jessica: I hope I can make it to this year’s Pyramid Atlantic Book Arts Fair, The Book (R)evolution. I’m also excited about some special events for Ladies of Letterpress that are now in the works!

Anyone is welcome to join Ladies of Letterpress, even the guys. Membership is free.

A Note from Bow & Arrow Press

Here at Boxcar Press, we love hearing from the printers who use our bases and plates. Recently, Zachary of Bow & Arrow Press at Harvard University was kind enough to leave us this nice bit of feedback we couldn’t resist sharing.
“You’re the best. No, really. The best. We love you as much as we happen to love our Vandercook No.4, and that’s something we recently invested 60 hours taking apart and cleaning up, so it’s evident we love that machine quite a bit.

This year, you’ve been an integral part of our fundraising efforts (we’re a non-profit). We’ve printed a number of limited edition broadsides, books and the occasional wedding invitation for our university community using your plates and your base. They’ve in part helped us raise more than $12,000 this year for a letterpress that gets $500 a year in university support.

That fundraising has let us hold letterpress crash courses and intermediate classes and even a for-credit printmaking and bookmaking seminar, a first for us. This year alone we’ve had some 200 people learn letterpress. It’s also going to let us buy a new Vandercook–the one we’re eying right now is a 219 (powered). Two years ago, we had type in 1-lb coffee cans and no two leads were the same length. We had accumulation, not organization. Talking with Boxcar and getting to know you through your website have given us a model for what a printshop can be. Keep doing what you do, and keep up the fun attitudes and terrific customer service. You guys really are the best.”


Bow & Arrow Press has fundraised enough to bring in an SP20 (as Zachary likes to say, “to give our No.4 some company”), a 23″ Challenge paper cutter, flat files for proper storage, and 10 very full cases of new type from Michael Bixler, in their studio. Such passion to keep letterpress alive makes us jump for joy – this is what the heart and spirit of Boxcar Press is all about for us! It’s exciting to see all the work Bow & Arrow Press has put into keeping their studio alive, especially since they are so dependent upon student interest. We’re happy to have played our little part in helping them keep the dream alive. Spreading the love of letterpress and helping to preserve it for future generations just makes what we do all the more special.

Boxcar Talk with Sycamore Street Press

Sycamore Street Press, a husband and wife duo from Heber City, UT, began printing on a Vandercook #3 in their dining room in 2007. Quirky sketches lead to a stationery line, limited edition prints, and collaborations with numerous fine artists. Today, with a more spacious set up, they have been featured on design*sponge and Good Morning America as well as a variety of creative blogs and magazines. They will also be featured in the highly anticipated book, Impressive: Printmaking, Letterpress, & Graphic Design, due to be released in the states in a matter of weeks! Kirk and Eva found time to partake in our cool new blog feature, Boxcar Talk.


What made you want to become an artist?
Drawing was my favorite part of kindergarten, and tole painting with my mom is a favorite early childhood memory. I don’t remember ever not wanting to be an artist.

How did you first get into letterpress?
I studied fine art printmaking during my undergrad years, and really wanted to learn letterpress at that point. Unfortunately it was only available to the graphic design majors. So, when I went to grad school at the University of Utah, learning letterpress was on the top of my list. Marnie Powers-Torrey and the rest of the staff at the Book Arts program were great teachers and mentors. I taught Kirk how to print, and he also took a course through the University of Utah to fill in any gaps I may have missed.

What was your very first press?
A Vandercook #3. I got it in September of 2007 and it’s still the only press that Kirk and I print on. It’s completely hand operated. There isn’t even motorized inking. One of these days, we’ll get a windmill, but this press has really treated us well.


{Image at far right by Zuzanna Audette.}

What medium do you usually print (lead/wood type, photopolymer, lino, etc.)?
Photopolymer plates from Boxcar. I’ve printed with lead and wooden type before, as well as lino cuts and mag cuts, but photopolymer is what we use for our line of paper goods. We love the versatility of it.

What’s your process from sketch to press?
Well, I can’t speak for the other SSP designers (there are 3 other regular contributing designers), but this is my process: I usually have an idea in my head of what I’d like the image to look like. I do a few rough sketches, and then proceed to do a detailed drawing in pencil, which I then go over with pen and ink. I scan the drawing into Photoshop, bump up the contrast, and turn it into a bitmap. I upload my file to Boxcar’s site, and within a week, I receive a photopolymer plate with my drawing on it in the mail. We slap that onto our Boxcar base, get it all positioned, and start to print.


What other print shops do you admire?
I am constantly amazed by the technical prowess of Studio on Fire. Their blog is full of useful tips and information about printing.

Dee & Lala and Dutch Door Press are both smaller operations with two full time partners who design and print their own line of stationery (kind of like us!). We see both companies pretty often at craft shows, and they always have beautiful work.

Mandate Press is another Utah-based studio who does great work…I guess I’ll stop there, but I could go on and on. There are so many wonderful letterpress studios out there!


Who or what inspires you the most?
I wrote a really in depth post on this a couple of months ago as part of SFGirlByBay’s Blog it Forward project. Here’s the shortened version: the creative people in my family, the traditional Maori art of Ta Moko, folk art from all over, contemporary artists (such as Kiki Smith, Jockum Nordstrom, and Margaret Kilgallen), the letterpress process and its limitations, my good friend’s dogs, and my time spent studying and living in France and Belgium.

What are your favorite things/items from Boxcar Press?
Definitely the plates and the base.


Any cool printing tricks you can share?
If the piece of paper I’m printing on is too small to reach the gauge on the feed board, I cut up an old plastic credit card, membership card, etc… and tape a strip of it onto the cylinder packing to act as a guide instead. This comes in handy for smaller size envelopes as well.

What are you looking forward to?
Kirk and I are currently in New York. We’re here for an entire month, selling our goods at the National Stationery Show, the Brooklyn Flea, and the Renegade Craft Fair. We are so excited for the shows – we love meeting our customers face to face. We are also looking forward to taking some time to explore different neighborhoods, museums, shops, etc…around the city. On a more personal note, Kirk and I are having our first baby in November! We are over the moon about this and can’t wait to meet the little one!


Thanks Kirk and Eva! Congratulations on the little one on the way – we can’t wait to see the baby announcements!

{Photos by Sycamore Street Press unless otherwise noted.}