I opened my Etsy shop, Nine Day Weekend, a few years ago. My initial focus was on custom illustrations of family photographs. Early projects were all laser cut into wood, as either hangable portraits or magnets. One thing led to another and soon my love of the outdoors inspired me to create illustrations of National Parks.
I know it sounds trite, but I woke up early one morning with the random idea that I could draw the Grand Canyon simply by splitting the words in half and spreading them to the far corners of the frame. As I lay in the dark brainstorming how I could rearrange the letters of my favorite parks into similar designs. I brought my sketchbook and laptop to bed and worked until well after noon, but I had laid the foundation for my new project.
I realized early on that I wanted all of the designs to share a uniform visual language, so it was important to keep the line weights equal, no matter how big or small the letters became. Then, I quickly shifted gears and the parks became the focus of my Etsy shop (conveniently, I had already named my shop Nine Day Weekend, after the length of vacation that you create by taking Monday through Friday off work – I think this name lines up well with my new celebration of America’s natural lands and the joys of visiting them).
Over the course of the following days and weeks (and months), I kept working on the remaining parks, trying to turn each name into a distinct feature of the landscape or wildlife of each park. I allowed myself to rotate, flip, stretch, chop, and generally manipulate each letter, but my one rule was that every letter needed to be recognizably present.
Some of the images came to me very easily (like Arches, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Redwood), and I think their simplicity helps to balance out the more complicated illustrations (like Gates of the Arctic, Guadalupe Mountains, and Petrified Forest), where the letters are truly jumbled and it’s more difficult to “read” the name of the park. It’s fun to present my work at craft fairs and watch customers hover at my table while they try to “solve” all of these puzzles.
I first sold these parks as individual laser cut coaster and magnets, so people could create their own combinations of parks to resemble their favorite adventures. But I always imagined the full roster being presented together, so when I finally finished the 59th park (it took over a week to rearrange Theodore Roosevelt into a representation of his North Dakota log cabin and a bison), I needed to find the right medium for the poster.
I had met some letterpress printers on the craft fair circuit, and it seemed like my crisp lines would be a good fit for letterpress. One of them was kind enough to point me to Ted Ollier, who advised me on how to translate my digital artwork into letterpress. He also recommended I contact Boxcar Press for the plate. Having many questions, I was very happy with the patience displayed by Boxcar as I was educated on the process of platemaking. Both times that I have ordered plates (I recently created a second edition that includes the 2 new entries to the National Park roster) I was in a self-imposed rush. Why does it seem like all art projects end at the last minute?
The quick turnaround by Boxcar allowed me to get my posters printed as soon as possible. And even when their quality control found errors on my end (like using RGB instead of CMYK), I was able to correct the problem immediately without delaying production. I’ll let Ted speak to the printing qualities of these photopolymer plates, but I certainly have no complaints. As a letterpress newbie, Boxcar has been a pleasure to work with.
In addition to the plate I ordered for my new 18″ x 24″ print of all 61 National Parks, I also created a smaller plate that features the 5 National Parks of Utah (with the designs themselves arranged into the shape of Utah).
I’m excited to see how outdoor enthusiasts respond to this print. These parks are all very well regarded and highly visited – I’ll actually be visiting them with my family later this month to coincide with National Park Week. I’m incredibly proud of these posters – I love running my fingers along the deboss and I love seeing all of my illustrations lined up in a perfect grid. I looked up the specific Pantone shades of green and brown used by the National Park Service, in order to get as close as possible to the real thing. My hope is that these prints inspire folks to visit, treasure, and protect these amazing lands.
So Dan found me when I was still in a now-defunct letterpress co-op. I ran the original posters on the SP-20 there, but for this run I needed to borrow the SP-20 at the letterpress at Harvard where I teach, the Bow & Arrow Press. I started Reflex Letterpress about this time last year to salvage something out of the demise of the co-op.
The smaller pieces I ran at Reflex on the Vandercook No 4. The presses were feeling good that day, there were no oddities in either run.
The smaller pieces I ran at Reflex on the Vandercook No 4. The presses were feeling good that day, there were no oddities in either run.
Want to snag a print of this beautiful poster? Shop here!
Our focus has been drawn lately to a Goudy typeface, re-invigorating studio visits, and being up-close with dinosaurs. We hope you delight in what has captured our attention in this installment of the Inquisitive Printers!
Recently I was running amok on a good search about typefaces. Naturally, Frederic Goudy had his share of references to explore. One, in particular, caught my eye because it was a video that was linking our Syracuse University here with Goudy. As Syracuse based printers, we have some hometown pride and to have a tie-in to this very prolific font designer was a neat surprise. Enjoy this video called Goudy & Syracuse: The Tale of A Typeface found.
Hello Print Friends! I would like to share with ya’ll my favorite aspect to my artistic practice. Do you have find yourself in your workspace not knowing what to do with your projects? You do? Okay. Great! I suggest you have a studio visit.
This has been extremely valuable to growing as an artist and developing my work since leaving my fine art studies back in 2016. Similarly, I like to receive feedback and miss having a community to work within now that I am done with school.
Have a friend stop by your space. Show them what you are currently working on. Share your artistic process with them. Invite them over while you are working on a print run—more hands make less work. Let your visitor ask questions and get to know what you do as a maker.
Don’t forget the SNACKS! I have some things to eat or drink and enjoy simply hanging out. For instance, I like to invite people over during lunchtime for a 45-minute visit and I also encourage my guest to hang out & draw with me. Sketching and sharing ideas is great!
Think about what you want to get out of a studio visit. Or alternatively, this doesn’t need to have an objective. See where the conversation leads. Discuss everything and nothing. This dialogue may influence your work in return.
Afterward, reflect on what was talked about. do you see your work with a new perspective? I typically feel energized after a studio visit. The feedback allows me to return to working on my projects with fresh ideas. I am delighted that I get to share what I love to do and really appreciate how receptive my visitors are to my work and creative space. I see this as vital to my artistic practice and will continue doing this. FOREVER. Hope you give it a whirl.
My dear friends, Shelby and Brian are looking through a box of my small drawings (July 2018).
Here is a great link that offers very honest and helpful suggestions about studio visits and making the most out of them!
Want to get up-close to dinosaur bones without leaving your computer chair? Photographer Christian Voigt does just that as he captured the delicate beauty of the London Natural History Museum’s dinosaur skeleton collection. Come take a look!
(photography credit: Christian Voigt and WIRED.com)
We hope you explore some of our links and perhaps learn a little bit more about what intrigues us here at Boxcar Press. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org the things that delight you also!
Witty, intelligent, and always having our back, mothers all over the world inspire us to do our best. We count down the top 15 of 2019 of the most gorgeous, sweet, and cool Mother’s Day letterpress gifts to show Mom (and Grandma!) who’s the best around. See a lovely must-have that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!
Chris Paul, of North Carolina-based Old North State Press, shares with us how an evening introductory printing class flourished into a love for printing machines and letterpress. From there, with the help of numerous, generous mentors and his wife/partner, Danielle, he has immersed himself happily in the craft. Read on to discover how Chris passes on the knowledge he’s learned with the letterpress community.
CRAFT AND TRADITION
At Old North State Press, we are dedicated to preserving the tradition and craft of fine letterpress printing. We started our journey with the acquisition of a simple cylinder press in 1998. The studio now boasts an impressive array of heavy, outdated machines and equally obsolete related equipment, all meticulously maintained and loved.
In addition to supporting custom client work where the unique characteristics of letterpress printing is desired, the press produces original designs for stationery, note cards, wedding invitations, birth announcements, broadsides, and other printed matter.
I am a classically-trained designer and typographer and completed my MFA in Design at Yale School of Art in 1995 where I was first introduced to traditional printing methods. I enjoy fretting over the details and coaxing beauty from these iron beasts. My wife and partner, Danielle, is a fearless editor and etiquette expert. She has a Masters in Communication. This background comes in quite handy with our clients and the work they bring us. Danielle has a keen eye for fine presswork and ensures every piece we produce measures up to our exacting standards.
GETTING THE PRINTING BUG
Back in the early 90s, while in grad school, a few of us signed up for introductory printing classes, taught once a week on Thursday evenings, at the university printing facilities. The start of the digital era in design was in high gear and while many of us had been working in print for some time, our understanding of the tradition and craft of printing was limited. I had only seen pictures of metal type in books. Greer Allen, the former University Printer at Yale and one of the instructors, would regularly shake his head at how little we knew! He was, however, a truly patient and enthusiastic teacher.
In the class, Greer and a local book designer, Howard Gralla, taught us how to set type by hand and print our simple creations on a Vandercook proof press. I was hooked immediately. The exquisite mechanics. The rich history. The endless possibilities. I vowed then and there I would learn as much as I could about letterpress and, one day, find a press of my own.
I got a job doing design at IBM in 1995. In 1998, Danielle and I moved into our first house. It had a garage and thus, room for a press. We acquired our first press, a Vandercook No. 3, soon after moving in.
THE SHOP: A CREATIVE HAVEN
Because I work in software design, I tend to think of everything as versions. We’re currently on version 3.0 of our shop which we built in 2014 after moving to the Charlotte, NC area. Our shop is about 400 sq ft and houses all of our equipment. We still have the original Vandercook No. 3 but have since added two late model 10×15 Heidelbergs. The first Heidelberg was re-built from the ground up by Graeme Smith while he was with Whittenburg in TN. It is a beauty and our most prized piece of equipment. The second Heidelberg was acquired this past summer and is in need of a good cleaning and some serious TLC. Our intent is to dedicate this second machine to foil and die-cutting.
Because of my desire to learn everything I could about traditional letterpress, I also got into hot metal typecasting in the early 2000s. With the help of some amazing mentors, I was able to acquire an English and American Thompson Sorts Casters and a small library of matrices. I first learned to cast type under the thoughtful tutelage of Pat Taylor, former proprietor of Out of Sorts Type Foundry, and Rick Newell formerly of Heritage Printers in Charlotte. We also have many cases of metal and wood type, an antique John Jacques & Son paper cutter,and all the various accoutrements you’d expect in a working shop.
What we love most about our shop is having a dedicated, climate controlled space to design, make and learn. Letterpress has a deep heritage, and these machines teach us something new every time we use them.
NORTH CAROLINA COOL
Our shop is located on our property in an older, heavily wooded and secluded neighborhood south of Charlotte, NC surrounded by horse farms. We are 10 minutes from historic downtown Waxhaw and 30 minutes from Uptown Charlotte.
I am deeply indebted to many for the generosity of their time, patience and wisdom. I first learned to print from Howard Gralla and Greer Allen while a grad student at the Yale School of Art. Rick Newell helped me acquire my first press and type, and he taught me what it means to run a shop. Pat Taylor, Rich Hopkins, Mike Anderson, and Jim Walczak inspired me to give typecasting a go and encouraged me to keep at it.
Fritz Klinke of NA Graphics took me under his wing early on and instilled within me a love of the process, hot metal type, and the journey of “figuring it out.” Elias Roustom of EM Letterpress taught me more than a few tricks of the trade along the way and his work continues to inspire me. Further, where would any modern day letterpress printer be with a reliable rigger? Pete McFee has moved every press I’ve ever owned and introduced me to electricians and repair techs who know and appreciate these old machines. Priceless!
I’m also indebted to and inspired by the many designers, printers, and clients I’ve met along the way who have shared hints, tips and techniques and pushed me to learn and make.
Last but not least, sincere thanks to my partner, Danielle, who has taken this journey with me, providing support and encouragement at every step.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN
I am not yet a full-time printer, however, I spend as much time as I can in the shop and am fortunate to have clients who keep coming back and pushing me to learn new things. I suspect one day I’ll be doing more printing than not, but we’re still a few years off from that goal.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
By day, I work in technology, designing digital experiences and products. Thus, my design process for letterpress can seem to be a bit fragmented. Sometimes, an idea occurs to me and I have to get it out as quickly as possible. Other times, a fragment of an idea may sit in my head, stewing, for a few weeks/months before I act on it. Occasionally, I will start with a technique I want to learn…like die-cutting or foil stamping and create from there.
While I end up sketching quite a bit in the late process, my early iterations are almost always via writing. My sketchbooks have more words than drawings. I have an old t-shirt from Emigre with the slogan “Design Is A Good Idea” and this embodies how I approach what I do. Once I think I have something, I’ll sketch around the idea and poke at it multiple times before attempting to start something digitally.
There is so much great work out there, you never have to go too far for inspiration…old and new.
I’ve been a member of the American Typecasting Fellowship for over 15 years and am a graduate of Monotype University, both run by the amazing Rich Hopkins. Our shop was one of 15 that Rich choose to feature in the book, The Private Typecasters, hand-printed and bound by Henry Morris at Bird & Bull Press. We’re also featured in the book, Vandercook 100.
Most of all, we are proud of our ability to continue to learn, make beautiful things and share what we know with others.
Our first press was Vandercook No. 3 Proof Press, acquired from the Charlotte Composition Company with help from friend and mentor, Rick Newell. I won’t tell you how little I paid for it, but I will say they almost paid me to haul it away. I love that press because it is so simple.
One of our first real print jobs on the Vandy was the birth announcement for our son, Aidan. We did the same when Erin came along in 2003. In 2017, we printed Aidan’s high school graduation announcement on our Heidelberg.
Boxcar has been an inspiration from the beginning: I distinctly remember my first encounter with Boxcar and how elated I felt that someone was actually running a successful business doing letterpress! I then invested in the Boxcar Base and haven’t looked back. I use Boxcar Bases on each press I own and Boxcar processes all my photopolymer plates.
What I love most about Boxcar are two things: One, Harold Kyle and the team have continued to innovate from the very beginning…helping to modernize letterpress and make it relevant for today. The Boxcar Base and Swing-Away Lay Gauge are two prime examples. Second, the team at Boxcar shares everything they know and have helped me be a better printer. I’ve not found anyone more dedicated to the current community of designers and printers.
Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? If you’re just starting out with a press like a Heidelberg, focus first on mastering the paper feed. There are so many nuances to feeding and once you master it, your life with be less frustrating and your printing faster and more satisfying.
An old technique I found out about recently, the Flying Dutchman, can help you get tighter registration on a Heidelberg by taming paper bounce:
Read everything you can get your hands on about technique and setup and don’t be afraid to fail. Successfully printing on these old machines can be challenging. The most important piece is to keep at it. It takes time and experience to encounter the various challenges that will present themselves. When they do, step back and think. Frustration, failure and disappointment are how we learn.
I founded the Facebook Letterpress Group in 2007, and we are currently 4500+ members strong. Included in the group are both active and many retired printers with great experience and know-how. I turn to the group regularly when I encounter something I haven’t yet figured out. The team at Boxcar, the Letterpress Commons, and Briar Press sites are also a tremendous resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep asking until you understand.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
This might actually be the year we get more of our custom stationery line up and running. This is a goal we’ve had for some time…but…life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans! Now that our children are older, we have more time to dedicate to our various printing projects.
We also held our first letterpress workshop recently, partnering with the Charlotte Chapter of AIGA. It was a big success so we expect to do more of the same and help spread the love for letterpress and type in the Charlotte region.
I have always enjoyed the CBS Sunday Morning program as it has introduced me to many fascinating creative people and stories over the years. On the March 10th broadcast, they focused on fine press books from the printing to the binding. It is always exciting to see a letterpress print shop on network news. Enjoy the segment if you haven’t already viewed it.
Whew! BOY HOWDY! Anyone in need of a podcast recommendation? Yes!? OKAY. Let me tell you about my favorite podcast OLOGIES, hosted by Alie Ward. This show is all about asking smart people dumb questions.
Alie sits down with a specialist in a different field of study in every episode. For example: Entomology (Insects), Selenology (the Moon), and Tuethology (Squids!!!). This podcast series does not disappoint. You will be giddy with excitement to learn all there is to know about each episode’s topic and an added bonus: delightful side notes of fact checking or defining fancy scientific words. Also worth mentioning, if you listen to the very end of each episode Alie will share a secret with the listeners.
(photo courtesy of allieward.com)
I listen to this show while printing. Yyou can tell when I am listening to this podcast as I am laughing out loud and smiling. OLOGIES is a delight and I hope you give it a listen…then proceed to tell all your friends about the wondrous information you just learned about Entomophagy Anthropology (eating bugs), Mixology (cocktails), or Somnology (sleep). Enjoy!
Everyday there are more than 12,000+ planes travelling around the world at any given time. Want to see just how populated the skies are? Check out this nifty website, flightrader24.com, that shows in real-time who could be flying above you!
Always on the move, letterpress printer Chris Fritton just might be coming to a town near you. Chris has visited over 160 letterpress print shops in North America, where he is known as “The Itinerant Printer.” As a guest printer, he enjoys making one of a kind prints, cards and posters with his hosts, with the added bonus of the letterpress camaraderie. The Buffalo, NY, native shares with us his creative origins and printing on the go.
A PRINTER’S JOURNEY
I’m the former Studio Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center in Buffalo, NY, and for the past four years I’ve been doing The Itinerant Printer project. I travel around the US & Canada visiting different letterpress shops, and the only thing that I bring with me on the road is paper & ink. I use what those shops have in their collections (wood type, metal type, border, ornament, photopolymer plates, etc.) to create unique prints.
I got into letterpress printing as a writer and a book artist. I started out by making my own cut & paste zines during my teens, and then poetry chapbooks. I learned how to screen print early on, but that never really felt like the perfect medium for me.
When I found letterpress, everything clicked. There was something so compelling about actually building the language — setting every letter in every word and stanza by hand. It was so visceral and fundamental. I was lucky enough to print at a place in Buffalo run by one of my mentors, Hal Leader: Paradise Press. It was a tiny space right in the middle of a modern print shop, and it held all of his type and presses, as well of those of his mentor, a Roycroft master printer named Emil Sahlin. I worked at Paradise Press until Richard Kegler had the idea to start the Western New York Book Arts Center. Then I got in on the ground floor of that project.
PRINTING IN NEW YORK & ON THE ROAD
WNYBAC was my baby, and that’s where I printed for six years. We had an incredible collection that we used to create gig posters, event posters, broadsides, cards, etc. I knew where every single thing was in that shop, from the tiniest ornaments to the missing sorts that were in standing formes.
My favorite thing about it was the energy. We were always experimenting, always trying something new, always using alternative materials and processes. It was an incubator, really, and a springboard for what I would do in the future.
Now, everyone’s shop is my shop, at least for a day. With The Itinerant Printer project, I’m often only in a location for 24-48 hours. I have to familiarize myself with the shop, its contents, and try to create something interesting. Often, I have no idea what I’ll find; I don’t even know what kind of presses they’ll have. It’s a never-ending challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
BEAUTIFUL BUFFALO, NEW YORK
All of Buffalo is a cool landmark. It’s a city rife with amazing architecture, copious greenspace, and a revitalized waterfront. The city is steeped in history, and its blue-collar legacy is evident everywhere you turn.
I miss it when I’m away, but so many of the shops that I visit have fantastic surroundings as well, from Menagerie Press in Terlingua, TX, among the Chisos Mountains to the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, WA, with a view of the Space Needle. It’s impossible to choose a favorite.
Although I look to the past for ideas sometimes, I tend to appreciate the work of my contemporaries just as much, if not more. I really like the work of modern letterpress printers who are combining analog & digital technologies to get intriguing results. Right now, off the top of my head, James Tucker of the Aesthetic Union, Brad Vetter, Dafi Kühne, Kathryn Hunter of Blackbird Letterpress, Lindsay Schmittle of Gingerly Press, and The Print Project in the UK are churning out astonishing work that looks like nothing else. It’s their openness — their willingness to embrace something that may or may not work, as well as their desire to make something that doesn’t look like traditional letterpress that makes their work so arresting.
FULL TIME FUN
The Itinerant Printer project is a full-time job for me, much like a traveling band. I often take a break during the summer, however, and when I’m home in Buffalo, I run commercial vessels on Lake Erie as a “day job.” It’s a nice break from printing and traveling, and often I find that I feel recharged when I return to letterpress.
THE CREATIVE FLOW
When I’m on the road, because I’m going in blind, I have to design on the fly. Because I’m normally using movable type, I design primarily on the press bed (if it’s a proofing press), and have to make decisions about color & form very quickly. The experience has made me very decisive, but also accepting of failure, because when you’re working that fast, it doesn’t always work out the way you thought it would.
To date, I’ve visited over 160 letterpress print shops in 45 states and 4 provinces. I’ve covered over 60,000 miles and made close to 25,000 prints on the road. That feels pretty noteworthy to me. To culminate the whole adventure, I recently finished a 320-page coffee table book comprising 1,500 photos and 130,000 words that tells the story of all the people, places, and prints along the way. The book is a monster and it had to match the scale of the project.
Here’s a fun fact: I’ve never owned a press. I have a great collection of wood type and sundries, but no presses. At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to get one either, as long as I’m on the road.
Boxcar was elemental when we were doing jobbing or custom work at the Western New York Book Arts Center. It was the fastest, easiest, most reliable way to get the results we needed. When I’m on the road, Boxcar is the first name that comes up in every shop for photopolymer platemaking. It’s amazing to see how far its influence stretches, to every corner of the US & Canada.
Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Baby wipes with a little bit of baby oil for cleaning your hands. It acts as a solvent for most inks and keeps you from running to the bathroom every thirty seconds to wash up. Other than that, employ as many techniques as you can to get the results you want: pressure printing, laser cutting, 3D printing, woodcut, linocut, photopolymer — don’t restrict yourself.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
In 2019, I’ll round out The Itinerant Printer book tour. After that, I’m considering taking the project global in 2020 — The Itinerant Printer, around the world. I can’t wait to see what printers in other countries are doing, as well as spend time learning about them, about their presses, about their cultures. Logistically, it will be a lot different than the North American tour, but I know it’s possible, so keep your eyes peeled for a launch date!
Crafted with care, hypnotically delicate, and dizzyingly detailed are what instantly come to mind when viewing Ali Norman’s body of printed work. A traditional printmaker by nature, Ali enjoys expressing her vivid concepts through silkscreen, etchings, and now letterpress. The Florida-based printer shares with us the joys of learning new techniques, infusing nature motifs into her work, and pushing the limits of her art.
ALL AROUND LOVE FOR PRINTING
I’m a printmaker with a huge passion for etching, but I also love to dabble in other processes (such as letterpress!). I first learned about it from the amazing Eileen Wallace during my MFA. She helped spark my interest and encouraged me to push the limits of my polymer ideas. Learning from her was an incredible privilege!
HOME IS WHERE THE PRESS IS
Currently, I have access to etching presses at home and at work (the University of Tampa), but no real letterpress access. I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with Sarah and Phil Holt, who have the cutest little letterpress shop at home!
They were very kind to let me use their beautiful orange Vandercook to print my most recent polymer creation. I’m hoping to work with them more in the new year! You can check out Sarah’s letterpress work on instagram at @monpetitpaperco.
I am really inspired by and thankful for the amazing printmaking community that has popped up on Instagram. I have “met” so many amazing artists and learned some cool techniques just from the internet. On a more personal note, I pay close attention to my dreams and am strongly attracted to old engravings, magical texts, and tattoo linework.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN
I am not currently printing full time. Having just finished my MFA in the spring of 2018, I’ve been teaching part time at the University of Tampa. This gives me a good amount of free time to work on making and selling art on the side! So far I am finding it to be a really healthy and rewarding balance. Although I grew up here [in Florida], I haven’t been back for quite a while! I’m still currently exploring the area.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I absolutely LOVE designing for photopolymer!! I’ve found that drawing the key layer first on tracing paper allows me to then flip-flop my ideas, scan them, and easily draw color layers. I’ve tried working more digitally, but always go back to the tracing paper!
ALL IN THE DETAILS
Works take me anywhere from a week to two months to complete before printing, but I’m always working on a few things at once. I try to keep it slow and steady, drawing at least a little every day until I am satisfied. I also often work back in to images, so that can end up dragging things out… as goes printmaking!
FAVORITE PRINTING TECHNIQUE
Intaglio will always be my go-to process, but it’s not always very practical! I like to change things up, especially with quicker processes like letterpress or lithography. It is so satisfying to see a trapped layer lock perfectly in to place each time, and to feel like one with a machine. I also really enjoy how the design process for each technique is so different – it keeps me on my toes!
At this point in my career, I am just very proud and grateful to have made it this far! I’ve been working hard to make my passions a reality and am really seeing that come back to me lately.
I currently have a little tabletop Conrad E12 etching press that was found by a friend of mine at a thrift store! After some heavy cleaning, I now use it almost constantly. I’m hoping to also have a letterpress to call my own some day. Floridian printers – hook me up please!
BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE
I had my polymer plates for my most recent print made by Boxcar Press! I was a little nervous about someone else making my matrices, and they turned out perfectly. I’m really grateful for this service.
I’m still quite the beginner at letterpress, but I manage to learn something new every time I print. I even managed to smash my fingers in the Vandercook once (oops!).
We’re smitten with printin’ and know that you (and that special someone) are too! Peruse our list of the top 14 favorite gifts for this upcoming Valentine’s Day 2019—from heartwarming (and hilarious!) cards to letterpress goodies that are sure to bring a smile from ear-to-ear for that certain someone.
Let us know what you are getting your printing paramour this year in the comments below!
11. Bigger is better and especially in Valentine’s cards (from Benchpressed). | 12. Treat your printer to a 10x or 15x Loupe (from Badger Graphics) for their shop, you can never have too many. Or google “vintage loupe” to score one with personality and history. | 13. One Fine Specimen card from Type High Letterpress. | 14. A Catch All Tray from The Art of Manliness: A tray for printers with the philosophy many try and do to aspire to in their print shops.
Right down the highway from Syracuse, New York, is Rochester’s very own Type High Letterpress. At the helm of this cozy, treasure-packed print shop is Tony Zanni. From wood & metal type goodies to presses that shine, Tony gives us a tour of this hidden gem tucked away in upstate New York.
PRESSES AND WOODCUTS AND TYPE, OH MY!
Our shop is located on the second floor of an old candy factory in downtown Rochester, NY called the Hungerford Building. It houses around 40 other artisans of varying crafts. We occupy a 1,200 sq. ft. space that is long and narrow.
At the front of the shop is a small retail area. The rest of the shop is packed to the gills with over 700 cases of wood and metal type, and over 150 galleys of dingbats and cuts. At the back we have our 4 large presses: a Damon & Peets 8×12, Heidelberg Windmill (with factory foil stamping attachment), a Vandercook No. 3 Proof press and a giant Wesel Iron Handpress. We also have a fun collection of small table top presses hiding around the shop as well.
The space in and of itself isn’t really interesting, however, what it’s filled with captures imaginations and inspires creativity. There are all sorts of letterpress goodies to look at. We have originals of Adobe’s Wood Type Ornaments typeface, old wood cuts from various shops around the western NY area, slug cutters, miterers… The Hell Bucket. There’s a lot of stuff to look at if you ever visit.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS
This is going to sound funny but my favorite thing about the shop is that it’s heat included. Our original location was a bit better but boy was it cold in the Upstate winters. The new space… Toasty!
As for fun things / prized possessions, there’s a couple. First would have to be my Vandercook, Izzy. Yeah, I named her Isabelle or Izzy for short. I found her thanks to Shelly at French Press. I asked Shelly to visit this estate sale (because I couldn’t attend) and had her look for Vandy’s. She called and said there was a Vandy in the garage, mostly complete. I said great, put me on the phone with the seller, offered $500 sight unseen. They said yes and I picked it up two days later. I honestly think this was the last $500 Vandercook to be had and this was back in 2009.
This past summer I acquired another nifty item: a Lufkin 6 ft. tape measure with inches and Pica rules on it. Maybe not super practical, but pretty cool.
One more super cool thing I have is an original plate of the very first Photographic image printed in a magazine. It is “A Scene in Shantytown, New York” that appeared in the March 4, 1880 issue of New York Daily Graphic – the first halftone photograph ever printed by a newspaper. Yes, we have a pretty cool collection.
I jokingly refer to my shop as the “train car”. It’s about 15′ wide by 65′ long and has 3 windows in the back and a double door up front. With any luck we’ll be moving down the hall later this year a space that is 1500 square feet. I’m not looking forward to moving all this again.
PRINTING IN THE EMPIRE STATE
We are in the Hungerford Building. surrounded by many other creative artists. On the first Friday and second Saturday of every month we host events. We are the northern border of an area called the Neighborhood of the Arts. About 3 blocks away are the Memorial Art Gallery, Anderson Alley Arts building, plus a host of other galleries & public art pieces.
TYPE OF SHOP
Type High is a commercial letterpress print shop specializing in hand set typography and design for letterpress printing. Obviously, I use Boxcar Press for our plates when the need arises. We teach letterpress workshops in our space, how to set type properly and print an edition. In addition, I also teach a semester long letterpress design class for the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The long list of things currently in the shop from largest to smallest…
Wesel Iron Handpress
Sheet 18×24 printable 16×22
Vandercook No. 3 Proof press
Sheet 14×20 Printable 13.5ish x 18.5ish
Heidelberg Windmill 10 x 13 with Foil
Damon & Peets 8 x12
Nolan Proof press 12 x 18 galley proof press
Showcard Press 14 x 20ish
Old style Pilot Press 7 x10
Sigwalt 2×3 toy press
Challenge 26.5″ cutter
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The most valuable tool in my shop is my line gauge, Pica Stick, ruler… whatever you want to call it. My favorite one is a Gaebel 612H-12 with inches, Picas, Points and millimeters. Not only is it great for measuring and drawing straight lines, but it’s also great for opening ink cans, cutting open packages, getting things out from under the press. Not to mention, slicing pizza, and cutting cookie cake on those special occasions.
My favorite inks are from the old cans we pull out of shops that we buy out. The older the ink, the better the coverage. Plus it’s usually free and we’re saving it from going to the landfill. When we have to buy new stuff, it’s usually Van Son due to ease of ordering with our local supplier.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
Don’t tell anyone, I order California Type Wash. It’s an older solvent, that’s probably not as good for the environment as some of the newer stuff but it’s by far the best i’ve ever used. It cleans quick, dries fast, and will take 100 years of ink off in only a few wipes. I like to challenge myself when cleaning up the Vandercook to do it only using one or 2 rags at the most.
For most jobs I need plates for, I use the Boxcar Base and polymer plates. My base is beat up, but it still does the trick. To be honest, I hate printing with polymer plates. It’s been my experience that the ink does not carry well, and they can be finicky at times with the amount of ink on the roller and the roller height. Since we go in between hand-set type and plates, it is challenging at times for make-ready.
OIL OF CHOICE
You’re supposed to oil these things? Honestly, I just use the same oil I use for my race car. If it’s good enough to run at 6000 RPM for an hour in a race car it’s good enough for a press.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
I’m cheap… I use Scotts Rags in a box… but only the ones from small mom and pops hardware stores, because they are different from the ones at Home Depot.
I just recycled a 91 lb. bucket of pied worn out old metal type. However, there’s still standing forms from shops we cleaned out years ago. Some of the type from those shops may have been sold or dumped at this point but the standing forms are still in our galley storage. There are also 5 drawers of miscellaneous wood type hiding in the shop. I need a few more hours in the day to handle pied type.
I guess the only secret I have is a Sharpie. I have a pretty photographic memory for where my type is, what it is, and to where that random Cap L needs to go. When I take something out to use, I write in Sharpie the cabinet and drawer number on the back of it. Other than that, as long as I put it away I know right where it is. When I don’t, well let’s just say I swear a lot until I find it.
Things I wish I knew from day one: How to price my work for lines of type setting, vs pricing a computer-aided design. And pricing for press time vs make-ready time vs finishing time. That probably needs to evolve for each person. As a one man shop, it’s tough to figure all that out. If anyone has a magic button for that, let me know.
We count down the top 18 gift ideas in our 2018 Holiday Letterpress Gift Guide for that special printer on your list. Featuring calendars, prints, and type-themed goodies that are sure to please! Let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comments section below!