New Orleans is the home of soulful jazz, the po’ boy sandwich, and a famous pirate or two. And sure, it is frequently steamy-hot, but that is the chosen locale of the letterpress print shop Small Fires Press. Husband and wife team Friedrich Kerksieck and Gabrielle Trimm took to New Orleans like true natives and have set off some major sparks in the growing letterpress community of The Big Easy. Step into their workspace and you may smell something unexpected blending with the usual print shop aromas…is that pie? To celebrate their one year anniversary of printing and bookbinding, Friedrich and Gabrielle gave us a peek inside their studio – take a look.
Bienvenue En Louisiane Our studio is in the front parlor of our New Orleans shotgun style home. The windows and natural light are a necessity and favorite feature. We have overhead lighting, but mostly use a 3-bulb floor lamp by the press and let the sun do the rest. We keep it simple to maximize space, but keep a California job case drawer on the wall to house little figurines and some framed art for inspiration. The red handles on the paper cutter and guillotine serve as ‘pops of color.’
Streetside Studio Our building is a pink double shotgun in the Saint Roch neighborhood in New Orleans. The studio is set up in the first room and we live in the other three rooms of the house. The studio is 14×13’.
Better Than Gumbo Our most valuable tool has gotta be our Vandercook #4, of course.
Dressing the Press We’ve been using a 13” X 19” standard Boxcar base I got when I purchased the press five years ago. I generally stick to the KF95 plate.
Fluorescent Favorites I bought a set of blue, magenta & yellow neons not too long ago. I don’t usually get much call for them in the job work I do for clients, but whenever I’m doing a creative project I usually go right to those cans.
Green For Clean I put a little bit of vegetable shortening to loosen the ink up & use some shop rags to wipe everything down with. Then I go over everything again with some simple green or mineral spirits depending on what color is going on the press next.
Loose Bits I don’t have any pied type any more – the small bit that was left got abandoned when we moved from Memphis last year, but I’ve still got a few drawers of type that need to get reorganized.
Less Is Better I’ve found that I work better with a little less tabletop space. I tend to fill up what ever is available and am bad about putting projects away unless I have to. In Memphis I had a folding table set up in the middle of the space to work off of and the top of my flat files collected odds and ends. Now I’ve ditched the table 95% of the time & just work off the flat file. Now there’s a lot less to knock over or walk around.
Studio Cats Working from home is convenient and comfortable. It’s nice to be able to do some slow cooking or pie baking in the kitchen while there’s ink on the press. We can trade off on household tasks and printing tasks when needed and everything is all in one place. Our two cats keep good company. Bip has a bed right at the end of the press & he sleeps there while I’m printing away.
Collaborate For Inspiration I think that the very best practice is to print every day. Nothing will keep you fresher. That, and always be curious – especially with visiting other presses and print spaces. I love that in New Orleans there are so many new and established printers. My favorite thing to do is to go print a project with someone else and see how they work – what they do for makeready & the rest of the process. Everyone does things a little differently and you can always pick up a good tip or two.
Our thanks to Gabrielle and Friedrich at Small Fires Press for the southern hospitality; continue to let the good times roll!