Printer and designer Ivan Gulkov first molded his passion for print in the colder climates of Siberia, Russia before turning out clean, modern collections at Pillowface Press that pay homage to the printing roots in the sunny state of California. Now, Gulkov balances the cool with the fun, with a nod to the old while creating the new. And he does it in spades.
Read on to get the full scoop.
SMOTHERED IN INK My name is Ivan Gulkov. I hail originally from the frozen wastes of Siberia, though currently reside in sunny California. PILLOWFACE PRESS is a small printmaking studio I set up to experiment with handset typography and photopolymer. Until recently, ours was one of the most traditional and conservative trades. For five hundred years, the tools and techniques of assembling type have not changed. Fonts were discreet, tangible things, you experienced on a physical level. In every letter, every space and ruler, there was a trace of the creators hand. Computers changed everything.
Typesetting became easy and responsive, type choices became infinite, and the layout possibilities became limitless, bound only by the imagination of a designer. But some people still cling to the old ways. They long for the harmony of a line justified by hand, and the slight bite that the metal blocks leave on the paper. They rejoice in the tiny variations between prints, and the smell of fresh ink. I’ve gotten into design because I fell in love with computers. I’ve gotten into letterpress because I fell in love with design.
INK IN THE BLOOD I stumbled onto Letterpress back in college when I was studying communication design. We visited a few studios, and I fell in love with the process, the long history, and ultimately the look that traditional printing techniques can achieve.
Having no formal training, I read voraciously anything I could get my hands on, from Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises to Adventures of a Tramp Printer, until was comfortable enough for my first humble tabletop.
THE GOLDEN STATE The “print shop” is in the process of moving from a living room to a more dignified and fitting location. Currently, it includes a small 5×8 Kelsey, and even smaller, Sigwalt Chicago #9, a type cabinet (doubling as a counter and imposing table), a few more loose cases, a trusty boxcar base, book sewing station and a deckle for paper-making. A guillotine paper-cutter serves as a rather dubious decoration, accenting the racks of ink tubes that line the bottom of cluttered book shelves.
PRINTING LEGACIES Aside from books, I would name the fine folks on the LETPRESS mailing list, and Briar Press discussion group. They are an incredibly helpful and generous bunch.
DAILY GRIND It starts with a concept, germinates for some time, springing a few rough sketches, matures and solidifies on a solid typographic skeleton, receives a final cosmetic trim, and marches on to meet the unsuspecting world.
PRINTER’S PARADISE I am primarily a designer, working full time in the field. Printing is largely a hobby. I do not foresee myself getting into printing as a full-time occupation. It provides a nice alternative, and a spot of respite from the routine. I can not imagine running a successful jobbing shop in the 21st century.
PRINTING FEATS Helping to inspire and excite a number of people to launch a letterpress revival in Russia and Ukraine.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Aside from a quick and excellent service, Boxcar serves as a constant destination for old printer’s manuals. And the apron sure looks rather spiffy.
PRESS HISTORY A rather mundane story, my first press was listed on e-bay. This was before the general tabletop craze so prices were rather mild. I was just finishing up my internship, and saved up enough for a 5×8 Kelsey, a bucket of type, some furniture, spacers (intermixed with rat droppings) and a pair of heartily chewed up rollers. The press arrived in a plastic tub, packed and secured with pillows, but luckily intact and quite operational. After a week of cleaning, adjustment and sorting thought the pi, my first printshop was assembled and ready for the first job.
SHOP TIPS Do not attempt a print job with a client standing behind your back.
WHAT’S NEXT I am planning to print and bind a series of miniature books, build a working replica of a common press, and complete a run of custom designed tarot cards.
Many thanks to Ivan for giving us the sneak peek into his shop! Check out Ivan’s latest work at Pillowface Press!
Ivan, I am an old “Real Printer/Letter Press Operator. I congragulate you. You have mastered what once had been a very good trade. I apprenticed on a Chandler & Price Platen Press but ran many others, up to a Meile 00 Cylinder Magazine Press. I have also read several Books about Siberia. You have all of my respect. I will purchase something from you later. I know where there are some “very old Letter Press Instruction Books. I think I could barrow a few for you. John T. Wagner, Pickerington, Ohio wagner email@example.com.
Pickerington is close to Columbus, Ohio. South East of I-270 & I-70 East.
I’v been looknig for some ways to get in touch with you.
I think it’s old work / design you did which really caught my eye & love. I was hoping to get in touch with you to see if you cuold help me out with the VYAZ script you did.
If you can reply I would really appreciate it and tell you the whole store. I’m willing to pay for your time.