After dipping her toes into the world of letterpress at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, all it took was a few choice experiences to get Laura Bentley of Pinwheel Press hooked on printing—a Vandercook here, a jaunt with typesetting there, plus one unforgettable brush with Gordon Franklin press that made her passion a full-frontal phenomenon. But as Boxcar Press sat down to discover, Laura is more than the sum of her letterpress loving parts.
UP CLOSE WITH LAURA BENTLEY When I was young I enjoyed doing artsy things, but in college I went a different direction and got a Computer Science and Accounting degree. By day I’m a computer consultant mostly for a dance studio that teaches social dance—ballroom, salsa, and swing. I run their website, set up their sales system, and do their bookkeeping. So, I’m a hobby letterpress printer, and try to squeeze in time to print when I can. I also volunteer as a teaching assistant for the letterpress classes at SVC (School of Visual Concepts) in Seattle.
INK IN THE BLOOD I first took a class at SVC in Seattle. I was hooked right away. Exploring the school shop felt like a treasure hunt. With my first printing projects I tried to include as wide a variety of type and ornaments as possible, and enjoyed the challenge of typesetting them in crazy but-still-safe-to-print ways. I love typesetting and using the vintage equipment. I was thrilled to find an art form where I could use my attention to detail and logistics to produce results.
EXCEPTIONAL IN THE EVERGREEN STATE My print shop is in the basement of my house. The walls are unfinished, but colorful with printed work. I have an 1863 Gordon platen press, a tabletop No. 0 Vandercook proofing press, and a very cute sign press that I use for proofing type. I have two cabinets of type, and I’m always trying to be creative with how to fit in more. I also have a 16” Challenge paper cutter that I fixed up real pretty. My favorite thing about it is the old vintage equipment— I like to think about all the work they printed over their lifetimes.
PRINTING LEGACIES I feel blessed to be part of a printing community that is filled with talented printers who are very generous with their knowledge and time. Two of my favorite mentors are Jenny Wilkson and David Black. Jenny is the manager of the SVC shop and has a talent for developing students to do their best work no matter what style of printing—dainty and detailed invitations to raw and chunky posters with wood type. She always has suggestions for projects that take them to the next level.
David Black is a fellow teaching assistant and a print artist. I personally consider him a mechanical genius as he can fix almost anything, and has a real gift for explaining how things work. But what inspires me most is that he makes time to print most every day. He once printed a little card that had a tiny ornament of a car and the text said “Tiny car”; only black ink on white paper. It was a great reminder to me that you don’t always have to be printing big extravagant projects, but can print quick fun things, and you’ll learn something with each new thing you print.
PRINTER’S PARADISE I design what I print. But that’s probably expected for a hobby printer; I don’t do job work.
PRINTING FEATS Our printing community just finished up a project where we partnered with a non-profit group of writers that works with patients in Children’s Hospital to help them write poetry. Sixteen printers each printed a broadside of a poem, to create an edition of poems that are bound in a portfolio.
It’s always a challenge to design something to catch the spirit of someone else’s words and imagery. Also the edition size was 100, which with five print passes was a huge printing project for me. I had never printed an edition of that size before.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has helped me with the above broadside project, and others, by producing quality photopolymer plates. I love handset type for hobby work, but for more flexibility and efficiency, it’s hard to beat photopolymer.
PRESS HISTORY A gentleman named Carl Montford, the self-nicknamed “press matchmaker,” matched me up with an 1863 Gordon Franklin press. It was in the basement of a local artist that wasn’t using it anymore. It’s a great match for me, because it’s a smaller platen press (chase about 7 x 11) and we needed to get it down into my basement. The press would be a little wonky for production work, but it suits a hobby printer like me just fine.
SHOP TIPS Listen to your press. Listen to it when it’s printing well—learn the pattern of sounds it makes. Then someday when it makes a noise that’s new and unfamiliar you’ll notice it and be able to tend to it before things go awry.
WHAT’S NEXT Need to fix some inking issues with my platen press, and print more!
Big thanks out to Laura for letting us take a look at the wonderful whirl at Pinwheel Press!