Is there anything Elizabeth Rittmeyer and Kelsie Zimmerman can’t do? The energetic Elizabeth finally sat down with us to spill the details on just how ambrosial letterpress life at Sugarcube Press can be.
SUGAR, SPICE & EVERYTHING PRECISE I’m a 95%-self-taught letterpress printer, been doing it for 16 years. I’m a Portland, Maine transplant to SoCal via Seattle (I gloat profusely about living in the coolest places). The entire family is back in Maine so my husband and daughter go for 2 months and I get one before the printshop needs me back. I’m over 21, vegetarian 19 years, have a rational and hyper-creative husband who independently designs bags and i-gear for other companies like NAU and Apolis and he does production in Vietnam 4 months of the year (thus I become uber-super-mom). Our 11 year-old daughter is also so creative that she gets up at 6:30 a.m. to write stories before school. I love squirrels, pre-1900 books, tiny cut glass s&p shakers, ‘50’s odds-n-ends for my 1951 house with round livingroom, thrift stores and side-of-the-road finds, my proudest being a fire-orange Danish chair with swooped teak arms.
INK IN THE BLOOD In 1995 I moved from Portland, Maine with my husband to a little rural island off of Seattle; he got a sweet job in K2 Snowboards. Well, after one trip on the ferry (after I missed the first two), through Seattle traffic, I decided there was just no way I could commute to Microsoft every day. What’s a girl to do on a wooded island with one blinking red light? Be the coffee-girl at a café. Lucky for me Jennifer and Ron Rich of Oblation remembered me from a book fair and asked if I wanted to be their paper-maker, which I did until I learned to print (enough) to be their printer for 2 years. With their success they left for Stumptown and I stayed on my island and did online weddings only. Looks like I was hooked.
CALIFORNIA DREAMING We recently moved to a new space in our sweet little Ojai downtown, a 6-minute walk from my house. We have 800 square feet with softly glowing buttercream walls, two all-windowed garage doors facing directly East with view of the mountains and with the doors fully-open we’re virtually “outside”.
Kelsie has a design-center, we have a processing + shipping area, and a near-half is the print shop. I am the second owner of my 1956 8×10 C&P named Dwight (she’s a girl), and 10X15 Heidelberg named The Butterfly that was bought from Frank Boross of Toxic Coyote Press (he had her for 25 years). Jack, my leggy Chihuahua mutt pound-dog, guards it all.
PRINTING LEGACIES I love Bonnie Thompson Norman of The Windowpane Press in Seattle. Her books are letterpress and lino-cuts; I adore Madeleine Zygarewicz of Panorama Press, she’s a doll; and I get really happy looking at 9SpotMonk, I gravitate to overlays and splash. Though I am amazed at people who achieve tight-registration and I totally bow to them, I prefer “movement” with overlays and juxtapositions that create new colors.
DAILY GRIND “Design” happens every day; it’s inspiration and whimsy from a thrift-store goody or a conversation with a pal. My humor tends towards sarcasm and irony, so our cards are pretty funny. I like the one-offs and tongue-in-cheek play with words we English grads live for. These days I do quick pencil sketches and collaborate with my partner and designer-guru extraordinaire Kelsie Zimmerman; she uses our sketches and ideas and gets them plate-makin’ ready to send to Boxcar.
DESIGNED FOR PRINT I’ve always been a “designer” in the sense I draw, collage, carve, arrange and conceive. Up until I met Kelsie in 2007, I was the solo-business owner and designer. Our collaboration allows me to concentrate on Sugarcube’s printing; I print every single thing that comes out of the shop to supply over 400 stores.
FULL TIME FUN I work full-time for Sugarcube Press and thankfully, finally, for no one else! Every-other year I’d panic and go get a desk job. But this past year was sweet to permanently be at my cast-iron “desk” all day; now I stand at the C&P for a solid 5 hours before it gets too tiring, then it’s off to other necessities: packaging, shipping, calling on invoices, and brainstorming.
PRINTER’S PARADISE In general, being a printer of good caliber; I print every single card and ephemera from Sugarcube Press on the C&P. Sugarcube has grown exponentially thanks to my go-getter-never-say-I-can’t partner, Kelsie. She rocks! We are both really proud of our growth over the years.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Our first NSS in 2008 found us paying thousands of dollars for wood-mounted metal that due to a changed formula (later discovered) was crumbling away as I printed. I was freaking out! We met with Boxcar at that show and decided to make the change to polymer plates: lightness in shipping, less cost in ganging–up images, less hazardous waste in it’s making, and polymer doesn’t smash (whoops) like magnesium.
PRESS HISTORY I found my first press, named Big ol’ Pearl, a 10×15 1890’s C&P, in the Printer’s newspaper, in 1997-ish, in PDX. Drove down from the island in a huge Ford truck and extra-long Uhaul. Really spendy ferry ticket. My driver, backing it up in a rain-sodden field, became mired in the mud 500 feet from my studio door. One guy suggested we dump the press in the muck and drag it! The other guy (hello, Einstein) pointed out the press, being in a trailer, was already on wheels, we just needed a come-along, and a few hours of cranking got her inside with nary a drop of rain on her.
SHOP TIPS If you want to grow, get a partner! Kelsie and I both do different jobs and our expertise is necessary for our success. She designs and does all of the layout and haggling to get our catalogs done, online pop-up sales, keeps reps happy and trade shows looking sweet. I’ve mostly got the printing and stock under control; ya gotta make it to sell it!
WHAT’S NEXT Making more of everything and tripling growth.