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 boxcarpress.com! 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.
Thanks for the great post, Nic! Love you guys!
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Lovely to see the “fair sex” taking part in what is mostly a man’s hobby or work. I know of one young lady in Australia who has her own letterpress art printing press and we are in touch via email.
At the age of 87 years old I have the pleasure of passing on some of my letterpress experience, which totals some 60 years as a jobbing printer in my spare time, as a wonderful paying hobby which gives me so many memories to think about as I look through my print copy book which
I produced for customers to look through before placing an order, if they needed a
sample to see what my Adana 8-5 printing press could do. I do wish you all the very best, and hope you will all carry the message that letterpress is best, to as many people as you can.
Best Wishes to you all,
from Len Coomber, a member of the British Printing Society, and a fellow printing friend.