Boxcar Talk With Nina Interlandi Bell

Like Nina Interlandi Bell from Tweedle Press, deep dish pizza got its start in the Windy City of Chicago, where people know their dough. Like an artisanal slice, her printings are filled to the brim with flavorful creativity. Whether you get the tried & true cheese style, a smorgasbord of meat toppings home-run, or the more well-honed and inspired artichoke and basil, Nina’s letterpress work and these pizza pies never fail to delight.

Read on to find out more on the commanding and captivating Nina Bell.


THE NATURAL PRINTER I’m a a graphic and web designer, letterpress printer, paper maker, and lover of nature and local/organic food, with a dash of rock and roll. Also, I want to be a cowboy.

FOR THE LOVE OF LETTERPRESS When my husband (iHub, also know around the shop and our house as “Minister of the Office Of Fun”) and I got married 5 years ago, I helped to design and assemble our invitations. I had them letterpress printed by a local printer, and knew when I saw them that I wanted to learn how to do it. I took several series of classes at Columbia in Chicago where I learned to work with cylinder presses, type, and plates, and also helped out up at the Platen Press Museum in Zion where Paul Aken taught me my platen press chops. I wouldn’t necessarily claim one particular moment of insight when I realized I wanted this to be my full time job, but everything just sort of coalesced: my lifelong love of paper and desire to own a card shop, all my years of experience with graphic design, my (apparently) genetic desire to be a business owner, and the fact that I love to get dirty and tinker with dangerous equipment.

PRINTING LEGACIES I knew when I saw the miniature empire that Jen from Starshaped Press had built that it would be possible for me to do what I envisioned. I wanted the flexibility of creating my own schedule, the satisfaction of having people choose to spend their hard earned money on beautiful things that I design and print for them, plus the ability to take time off for kids when I need to (which will be March, 2012!). Paul Aken too, of course, without whom I would never have acquired any of my equipment and who I credit with helping me move closer to accepting imperfection. Still working on that.

THE DESIGNER & THE PRINTER I do everything! My career experience has been 11 years of graphic and web design, and I’ve been printing for the last 4 years. However, I didn’t actually go to school for any of this – my music degree was supposed to help me be a recording engineer for when my band got famous, but that didn’t work out so well. Luckily I have always been a designer at heart, and creating show posters and websites for my band ended up giving me the experience I needed to land real design jobs. It all looks very intentional in retrospect.

THE DAILY GRIND Usually I end up procrastinating on big design jobs because getting over that initial hurdle of inspiration is so intimidating. Once I’m up against a deadline and have assured myself that there are no other “important” internet tasks for me to complete, I usually end up staring at the blank screen for a while. Once something gets me into the zone – it could be an image, a piece of text, or a color combination – then there’s no stopping me. Coveted episodes of TV on the DVR be damned! I can remain glued to my computer, despite iHub’s desperate attempts to force me to “relax”, for a very long time indeed.

FULL TIME PRINTER BY DAY, CREATIVE CHAMP BY NIGHT Just about. I still do a bit of freelance design work here and there that is unrelated to Tweedle Press, but most of my time is spent working at the shop. It has been a slow transition from my full time design job to what I’m doing now, but I’m very lucky that the owner at my previous company let me step down my days there gradually as Tweedle Press got busier. I’m still only making about half as much as I was when working full time at my previous design job, but I’m lucky iHub is so darn supportive and the business is growing every year.

CHI-TOWN CREATIVE  When I decided to buy Edward and Frank, I knew that I could no longer continue printing in the small, dusty corner of the warehouse where I’d been scoring free space for 3 years. I spent several months looking for the perfect shop – one with enough space for production and client meetings, and that also had a cute “storefront” presence on street level. I happened by a “For Rent” sign just half a mile from where I live in Rogers Park, which is the far north end of the city of Chicago. The price was right, the space was right (about 500 square feet), and there is cute terra cotta stonework on the facade of the vintage building. I spent a lot of time looking for the right “rust” color to paint the walls, so I’m pretty happy with that. I’m REALLY quite partial to these custom shelves I had built for me by a local woodworker, using reclaimed wood and cast iron piping. I’d say I’m trying to have it look, to a degree, vintage like the equipment that I have but also involving a lot of natural wood elements. My dream is to someday have my shop in a barn.  My 3 presses are Edward, Leonard, and Isabel.

PRINTING PLEASURES  I’m quite proud of orchestrating the move of all my equipment into my shop. SO intense. Both Edward (Vandercook Universal III) and Frank (antique Challenge Paper Cutter) had to be moved out of the basement of a giant mansion built into the side of a hill outside Chicago. I had to coordinate working with the daughter of the man who owned the presses (who had been an astrophysicist for NASA, and had an observatory on the top of his house), the print movers, the window company for removing and replacing glass on both ends, and my building management company. Some skirmishes erupted, a few things got broken, lots of scheduling conflicts arose, and the whole ordeal lasted a few months. But I prevailed.

BOXCAR’S ROLE The convenience and reliability of the platemaking has been awesome! I’ve also really enjoyed the series of videos teaching little parts of the printing process – the bit about taping a plate to your paper and running it through the press to adhere to the base is brilliant! Definitely one of my top “aha!” moments of the year.

PRESS HISTORY I bought my 8 x 12 motorized C&P (Leonard) and my C&P Pilot (Isabel) at the same time, both from Paul Aken. Luckily moving those wasn’t nearly as dramatic as getting everything into my shop this year, and the two of them served faithfully for the first 3 years of my business. At the moment they are both “resting,” as Big Ed has taken over most of the print work. However, I have plans to use Leonard for die cutting and Isabel for printing classes at the shop.

SHOP TIPS The main thing I’ve found so far is that if you spend a lot of time developing a truly excellent product, then eventually people will want to buy it. It doesn’t matter how much advertising you pay for or how many SEO tricks you’ve got if your product is mediocre and you aren’t passionate about what you do. It also takes a lot of patience, and not everyone can afford to hang on for as long as it really takes for a business to become profitable. You should assume going into it that it will take a lot longer than you anticipate.

WHAT’S NEXT Well, the aforementioned birth of our first child is coming up quickly, so I’m trying to squeeze in as much design and print work as possible before that happens and I take off a couple of months for maternity leave. I’m in the process of training a new employee, though, whom I hope will be able to handle most of the quote requests and small print jobs by the time I’m out. I plan to participate in some wedding shows as well as speak at some events about sustainability. Also, on a slightly unrelated note, I plan to learn some cattle driving with my horse outside Chicago. Yes!!

Thanks Nina for showing us your creative edge and hard work! Check out more of Nina’s letterpress eye candy at Tweedle Press!

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