Our Letterpress Friend chat today is with Paul Moxon. He is synonymous with Vandercook presses. He is the resource behind the website vandercookpress.info, author of Vandercook Presses: Maintenance, History and Resources, and a printer of letterpress books and broadsides under his press name Fameorshame Press.
There is always much to learn from a conversation with Paul, who lives in Mobile, Alabama.
Boxcar Press: Why Vandercooks and proofing presses? What is the appeal and draw for you?
Paul: A forlorn SP15 in the corner of a printmaking studio was the first press to which I had access. The ratio of its footprint to the printing area was appealing. Experiment and production were satisfying and different than paste-up. In time, I found joy in teaching maintenance and making repairs. Sharing this knowledge with other printers has surprisingly become my life’s work.
Boxcar Press: Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career or business
Paul:Learning phototypesetting and paste-up as work-study in college.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that you admire or set you on a particular path?
Paul: There have been so many. During college, Jocelyn Dohm (founder of the Sherwood Press) always welcomed me at her charming little job shop and endured my novice enthusiasm. Librarians Jim Holly and Elspeth Pope introduced me to fine press books. At Alabama, Glenn House, then retired, piqued an interest in maintenance. Fritz Klinke let me explore the Vandercook archives. Ian Leonard Robertson (Slow Loris Press) and I shared similar work experiences. His old school presswork and design was crisp and effortless. Most of his equipment is now in my shop, and I feel his jovial presence every day.
Boxcar Press: If you weren’t a printer or in the printing industry, what else might have been your career path?
Paul : A machinist
Boxcar Press: That is not surprising. You have referred to yourself as an independent educator.
What would you tell a brand new letterpress printer today?
Paul: Visit many shops, libraries, and museums. Attend wayzgooses, talk with everyone. Print on every kind of press you can big and small. Print every kind of form; lead, wood, copper, magnesium, and polymer. Strive for best practice. Read everything, especially old technical manuals and catalogs. Don’t be discouraged by the high prices of presses. Save-up, be patient, you become discerning over time. or grumpy old naysayers. Mistakes will make you an expert.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use?
Paul: I’ve printed on other makes of proof presses, jobbers, tabletops, hand presses, and even a windmill. Each had something to teach me. (Someday I want to print on a Heidelberg cylinder and a Little Giant.) I love my Vandercook No. 4. It’s great for production and teaching maintenance. I’ve printed on, tuned up, or inspected thirty Vandercook models, including some rare ones—nearly a thousand in all. But there are still a few I haven’t worked with, such as the 30-26 four-color press. Hopefully, post-COVID.
Boxcar Press: You have mentioned that you are fascinated by the vintage equipment and tools. Tell us about one of the best or most used or most admired printing tools you can think of?
Paul: Hard to choose: my loupe, paper thickness measure, and Align-mate are essential. But I love the elk-bone folder/plate lifter I made at Penland twenty years ago when I met Jim Croft.
Boxcar Press: What is something people might not know about you that would surprise them?
Paul: I can’t type, just hunt-and-peck. But I can handset type like a motherfucker.
Boxcar Press: What is your printing superpower?
Paul: Being able to diagnose presswork and mechanical issues.
Boxcar Press: Anything you want to reveal about a current project you are working on – even a hint or clue?
Paul: Right now I’m into printing postcards. My last one is about the USPS and Trump enabler Louis DeJoy.
Boxcar Press: What is that one project that you are always going to get to but it just never seems to get done?
Paul: A book of three poems by a deceased, local author. I commissioned lino-cuts from Lauren Faulkenberry (Firebrand Press) a few years ago, but I fear that they may be drying out.
Boxcar Press: Last question – Do you listen to podcasts or music in your shop while you create?
Paul: Music is essential. Big Joanie, Dinner Party, the Hu, and Idles and are in heavy rotation. The rest of the time I’m streaming KEXP.
We are “pulling up a chair” with Don Black, a Northern neighbor from Scarborough, Ontario.
Don is winding down his business after 50 years and the dismay and sadness of that is still a jolt to our letterpress community.
A warehouse of heavy metal and wood is not an exaggeration describing Don’s business. He and his family, particularly his son, Craig, have helped and talked with thousands of printers and artisans over those decades. Sadly, Craig passed away last year and Don is eyeing a quieter life.
Boxcar Press: It’s a delight to hear your stories. Let me first say, thank you for your kindness to me and all the others who were at one time new to letterpress printing. It must be a screwy time right now with the business..
Don: We are super busy with the closing of our business. Our General Manager Albert Kwon is invaluable in this endeavour.
Boxcar Press: Let’s go back to the beginning. Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career?
Don: The defining moment that I knew I wanted to make Printing a career occurred when I went for a tour of the Globe & Mail (newspaper based in Toronto, Canada) with my uncle who worked there. When I saw all the equipment in the Composing Room I decided this was for me.
I started to work at the Globe & Mail before I was 17 doing all the delivery jobs etc. Then I served a 6 year apprenticeship as a Linotype Machinist.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that set you on a particular path?
Don: While working there was a machinist, Ed Hull, who helped me immensely by guiding me and tried to keep me on the right track. I think about him often and am super thankful for all he did to help me.
While working as an apprentice at the Globe & Mail, the Credit Union ran a contest for the best designed Printing job. This was open to seven Printer apprentices, but no mention about Machinist apprentices. I questioned them and received permission to submit an entry. Believe it or not, I won the prize of $25.00 I still tease my friend today, who was a printer’s apprentice, that a machinist apprentice beat a Printer apprentice at the Printer’s trade.
Boxcar Press: Where was the next stage in your career?
Don: I left the Globe & Mail in 1964 when the three Toronto newspapers went on strike. I started to do freelance service on letterpress equipment.
Then I received the Canadian dealership for Letterpress Equipment for Canada from Canadian Linotype Company. This was a big help as it opened doors coast to coast and helped me to meet many great people.
After I started my business in the 1980’s I became acquainted with an equipment dealer in Cleveland, Jack Boggs. He bought and sold all kinds of printing equipment. Over the next 30-40 years, we did a super amount of business. He liquidated printing shops that were closing or upgrading equipment. I purchased many truckloads of equipment from him. It was great as it gave me access to things I could not find in Canada. We still do business today and without a doubt, he is a big reason we have been successful.
In the early 1970s, something strange happened when the Globe & Mail decided to update a lot of equipment. I purchased most of the Composing Room which had some great equipment but also included were eleven machines which were now outdated. They had originally cost approximately $25,000.00 each, less than 10 years before. The value in scrap was less than $500.00. We made a large copy of the cheque and mounted it with the eleven nameplates from the machines. It has become quite a conversation piece that we still have at the office today.
Boxcar Press: What does the legacy of Don Black Linecasting mean to you as you slowly wind it down.
Don: I would say it’s the fact that we have been in business more than 50 years, conducted and did business with wonderful people all over the world and helped to keep Letterpress alive.
Boxcar Press: You handled so many of pieces of equipment, they can’t even be counted. Can you tell us about a press you remember fondly?
Don: We have a Baby Reliance Iron Press which we purchased from a customer in Winnipeg. It is a beautiful press and I could have sold it many times, but Craig, my son, always said don’t sell this press. Now that he is gone and we are closing down, I am going to let it go to a collector that had talked to Craig. I know Craig would be happy that it is going to someone who will treasure it.
Boxcar Press: Thank you Don for those great memories. We’ll talk more soon. Can you leave us with your favorite printing saying?
Don: Go with the Best! Go Intertype.
Time is ticking down on getting equipment from Don, give him a call or email to ask what he has and chances are, you’ll get a nice deal. www.donblack.ca
Monkton, Maryland is nestled between beautiful New England forests and is home to the cozy, barn-turned-printing paradise of Val Lucas of Bowerbox Press. Bright, cheery sunshine lights up the warm wood floors, large type drawers, and gleams on the family of lovingly cared-for printing presses. Val gives us a tour of where her printing projects spring to life and the charms of good, simple living.
FULL OF FUN, BAR(N)-NON
My shop is crammed full of everything you could ever need. I’m working in a small renovated barn; we redid the electric, insulated and put up drywall, and installed a plywood floor and a heating/AC system. There are some fun details from the original build, like vertical wood paneling and a funky distressed door leading upstairs, plus different sized windows. I’m planning to add track lights to complement the huge amounts of natural light during the day. It’s tight, but each press is accessible, even if sometimes it serves as a table surface.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP
It’s a cozy place to work. I feel surrounded and inspired by my tools and equipment. My restored presses are very special, and I have a lot of sentimental equipment that I’ve collected from friends and mentors, including a Golding Pearl that belonged to Mike Denker and a selection of wood type, metal type and ornaments, and paper from Roland Hoover.
320-ish square feet.
PRINTING IN THE OLD LINE STATE
The shop takes up the first floor of a small barn behind my house in Monkton (and was a major selling feature of the property.) Neighborhood features include the chicken coop, garden, and cornfields out the window.
TYPE OF SHOP ENJOYED
This is my personal shop, I do my own artistic production plus some custom printing and bookbinding for clients. Occasionally friends come by to print, but it’s mostly just me.
PRINTING PRESS FAMILY
I mostly work on a Vandercook Universal 1, but have a restored Chandler and Price Old Series, a United States platen, and an in-progress Colts Armory and Pearl, plus an assortment of smaller tabletop presses and a foil stamping press.
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The Vandercook, as I produce most of my print and book work on this press. It’s reliable and easy to set up, and allows me to print large pieces.
GETTING INKY + COLORFUL
I usually use Hanco litho inks, modified with plate oil or transparent base. There’s been a lot of teal blue on press lately.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
I’m lucky to be able to open my windows and doors for nice ventilation, and use an eco-friendly mineral spirits with the automatic wash-up on my Vandy.
I’ve been using a standard height Boxcar base since 2006 or so, on my first press (the big Colt’s Armory) and now use it on the Vandercook for custom work.
OIL OF CHOICE
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
Old t-shirts! A lot come from screenprinting friends so they have fun designs and tests.
Too much to admit to- but some of it will be re-cast into new type!
It’s so secret that even I don’t know what it is yet.
There’s no one way to do a particular project, and each person has their own method- you just need to figure out what works for you.
Michele Burgess of Brighton Press is a fine arts book artist, creative soundboard, and part-time university professor who loves to share printing with those around her. For three decades, Michele and her husband have been enjoying the fruits of their collaborative efforts one pulled print at a time.
AN ARTIST BY NATURE I am a visual artist obsessed with working in book form. My husband, Bill Kelly, founded our press in 1985 and it has morphed and grown before our eyes.
THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS I went to the Cranbrook Academy of Art for my MFA in the mid-’80s. There was a very funky letterpress there and small, crumbly piles of type. I enjoy the intentionality, the craft, the beauty of its collaboration with paper.
CREATIVE COLLECTIVE We are a small band of like-minded people using the studio as a creative laboratory. We create and publish collaborative artists’ books that braid the visions of both poets and visual artists. Everything is original and achieved by hand.
Bill Kelly, who founded the press, Nelle Martin, associate director/production designer/letterpress printer and I collaborate creatively with whoever the artist and poet might be. Most often, one of us is one or the other, or, in Bill’s case, both. We also often collaborate with papermakers such as those at Twinrocker, Cave paper, and the Morgan Conservatory to get a certain color or weight that we’re looking for.
Sonja Jones, in her 80’s and a previous librarian, has been a guardian angel and does our boxmaking. Kathi George, our crackerjack copy editor who makes sure we don’t have a plate made with a typo in it. Jenny Yoshida Park also works closely with us on typography and website and catalog design.
Recent poets include Bill Kelly, Chard deNiord, Bianca Stone, and Martha Serpas. Recent artists, besides myself and Bill include: Jinane Abbadi, Ian Tyson, Miya Hannan, Jenny Yoshida Park. A full list of artists and writers can be found on our website—34 years worth.
Sometimes we work with outside bookbinders Mark Tomlinson, Claudia Cohen, and Lisa Van Pelt, who have added creative ideas to the bindings. There’s a lot of back and forth regarding structure and content until it all melds together.
My favorite thing about it is that we never know what the final outcome will be until the B.A.T. (from the French phrase “bon a tirer” — good to pull. The subsequent prints should look like that one) is complete and that we can never remember whose idea certain things were. Synergy.
COAST-TO-COAST PRINTING We are bi-coastal now. We do most of the production in San Diego, which is getting a little less cool every year, and we do a lot of the creative work in Vermont in relative solitude. We also work in other artist’s studios sometimes or at the dinner tables of our writers.
PRINTING MENTORS Gerald Lange, Michael Bixler, Robin Price, Walter Hamady have been my letterpress mentors. William Blake, Sonja Delaunay, Ken Campbell, Anslem Kiefer, and Barbara Fahrner have been my book art mentors. The poets I work with inspire me. I get energy and fortitude from my collaborators at the press.
PART-TIME PRINTING, FULL-TIME FUN We decided years ago not to require the press to support us physically, so we teach at universities part-time.
THE ARTISTIC PROCESSES I start a book from a small kernel of inspiration which is always mysterious in its origin. Sometimes, the poet is my muse or his/her words. From there, I usually start working on visual images that expand on, rather than illustrate the text. The best scenario is when the poet and I are working together from a kernel and we’re spinning a web together.
PRINTING FEATS I’m proud of the meandering path we’ve taken, despite the hardships. With regards to a project: A Woman Hit by a Meteor. Our paper was MUCH too large for the press, so we folded it and through that limitation were able to imbue it with a sensibility of folded maps in ancient, celestial atlases.
PRESS HISTORY Vandercook 219, old style. I love the Vandercook, the sound, the weight, the intuitive simplicity of the machine.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has helped us realize some visual formats that we couldn’t have done with lead type. Also, we were able to create Arabic calligraphy, Chinese and Japanese text that we couldn’t have done otherwise. Boxcar has been super-efficient, patiently helpful, both with my classroom needs and for Brighton Press.
PRINTING TIPS: Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Slightly more punch, less ink.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT A book called WHERE AND HOW BLOOD WAS MADE with poet Chard deNiord. It will be my most complex book to date.
L’Imprimerie Bâtard is a Northeastern France-based letterpress printshop that enjoys working with handset type and learning as much as they can. Pauline and Gaëtan work and breathe letterpress in their printshop where they blend old-world craftsmanship with a daring for experimenting.
(A note for our readers: This article appears in both English and French for all lovers of letterpress to read! The French translation appears in italics. Huge round of applause out to Pauline and Gaëtan for the French translations!)
PRINTING IN FRANCE L’Imprimerie Bâtard -literally The Bastard Printer’s- is a new design and printing workshop in Nancy, France run by Pauline (24 yo) and Gaëtan (35 yo). We are hosted by a youth and cultural center called la MJC Lillebonne, which is super cool because it makes our everyday life at work very lively.
L’Imprimerie Bâtard -littéralement Bastard Printer’s- est un tout nouvel atelier de design et d’impression à Nancy en France géré par deux personnes : Pauline (24 ans) et Gaëtan (35 ans). Nous sommes hébergés dans une Maison de la Jeunesse et de la Culture, la MJC Lillebonne, un lieu super cool qui met plein de vie dans notre quotidien.
LETTERPRESS BEGINNINGS Pauline discovered letterpress during her fine arts studies, which she completed last year. Her school had a letterpress workshop led by a specialized teacher so she had the opportunity to learn the basics of the letterpress technique in different contexts such as personal editorial works or workshops that her teachers used to organize.
Gaëtan founded a nonprofit publishing house several years ago so he already knew a bit about graphic design and printing. He first practiced letterpress at his friends’ printshop. They had organized a week to produce a gazette combining text and illustration only printed by hand. They had invited other typographers so this first approach of letterpress revealed to be very enriching to him.
Pauline a découvert la typographie manuelle lors de ses études aux Beaux-Arts, qui se sont terminées l’année dernière. Dans son école, il y avait un atelier géré par un professeur spécialisé, elle a donc pu apprendre les bases de la technique dans différents contextes : des projets éditoriaux personnels ou encore des ateliers organisés par les professeurs.
Gaëtan, lui, a fondé une maison d’édition associative il y a plusieurs années, il avait donc déjà été au contact de l’univers du graphisme et de l’impression. Il a pratiqué la typographie pour la première fois dans l’imprimerie d’amis à lui. Ils avaient organisé une semaine pour créer une gazette mélant texte et illustration complètement imprimée à la main. Ils avaient invité d’autres typographes, cette première approche a donc été très riche en découvertes et en apprentissages.
THE PRINTSHOP One of our favorite things about our workshop is also one of the things we hate the most: it is very small. When people visit us, we like to tell them that we have the smallest printing atelier in the world. On the one hand, it makes the atmosphere warm and cozy. The office part, with its old desk and granny carpet, definitely makes us feel at home. On the other hand, a so small working place requires loads of tricks to optimize the storage of our tools and equipment.
Une des choses que nous préférons à propos de notre imprimerie est également une des choses que nous détestons le plus : elle est très petite. Quand nous faisons des visites, nous nous amusons à dire que c’est la plus petite imprimerie du monde. D’un côté, ça donne une ambiance chaleureuse, cosy. On s’y sent à la maison, surtout dans la partie bureau où il y a une vieille table et un vieux tapis. D’un autre côté, une si petite surface de travail nous oblige à redoubler d’inventivité pour optimiser le rangement de notre matériel.
HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOOD Absolutely. The cultural center accommodating us is based in an old private hotel built during the Renaissance, so the place is very picturesque. Another cool thing about this center is that it is so huge that it has many different arts and crafts workshops, such as engraving, bookbinding, drawing, silkscreen printing, pottery, sculpture.
We are surrounded by many interesting practices and crafts. Also, the whole neighborhood is the oldest part of the city and certainly one of its most beautiful areas. It covers many wonderful Renaissance landmarks, like a Gothic church, a ducal palace turned into a museum and ancient city gates.
Tout à fait. La MJC qui nous loge est basée dans un ancien hôtel particulier construit à la Renaissance, le bâtiment est donc très pittoresque. Ce qui est aussi génial dans le fait d’être hébergés dans une MJC aussi grande, c’est la quantité et la diversité des ateliers d’artisanat qui y sont proposés : gravure, reliure, dessin, sérigraphie, poterie, sculpture… Nous sommes entourés de pratiques et de savoirs tous plus intéressants les uns que les autres. Au delà du bâtiment en lui-même, le quartier entier est une des plus anciennes parties de la ville et sans doute une des plus belles. Il comprend de nombreux monuments datant de la Renaissance, comme une église gothique, un palais ducal transformé en musée, ainsi que les anciennes portes de la ville.
PRINTING MENTORS Our inspirations are diverse and come from different movements: absurdism and Oulipo (a French movement about constrained writing) for the writing of the texts, and some graphic designers who played with letterpress such as Robert Massin and Jan Tschichold for the design part of our work. We wouldn’t say that we have specific “mentors” but we had the opportunity to meet some old printers and typographers who learned letterpress as a craft and they gave us some advice. We also usually save good printing ideas we find on the internet, mostly on Instagram, and try to reuse them in our work.
Nos inspirations sont variées et nous viennent de différents mouvements: l’absurde et l’Oulipo (un mouvement français d’écriture sous contrainte) en ce qui concerne l’écriture des textes, et plusieurs graphistes ayant joué avec la typographie comme Robert Massin et Jan Tschichold pour la partie création de notre travail. Nous ne pourrions pas nommer de réels “mentors” mais notre travail se base à la fois sur les bonnes idées que nous trouvons sur internet, notamment sur Instagram, et sur les précieux conseils des quelques imprimeurs typographes dont c’est le métier que nous avons eu la chance de rencontrer.
FULL TIME FUN Yes, we do [full time] ! It’s been 6 months since our atelier was set up. At the beginning, we wanted to do it as a pass-time in our garden shed, but when we had the opportunity to buy our press and our first cases, it became obvious for us that we would make it our new job.
Oui ! Ça fait 6 mois que notre atelier est installé. Au début, nous voulions faire de la typographie un passe-temps et occuper l’atelier au fond de notre jardin, mais quand nous avons eu l’occasion d’acheter notre presse et nos premières casses, ça nous est paru évident que nous en ferions notre nouveau métier.
DESIGNING A CUSTOM PIECE. The first step of our design process is the phase of creation, which includes the writing of the texts and the making of the illustrations (we mainly use linocut). Then, we compose the texts we wrote, testing different types: metal types for the body of the text and wood types for the titles. We’ll try (as much as possible) to avoid using plates and linotype to keep our work the more handmade. After choosing the most coherent characters in relation to the project, we print the texts and illustrations on transparent plastic paper on our proof press so that we can modulate the elements and decide on the final layout. We got this trick from our friend Guillaume Guilpart, who is a typographer at a workshop called Paris Print Club. We also take advantage of this step to do an orthotypographic correction of the texts. We make the color and paper choices and finally we can print on our bigger press.
La première étape de notre processus de design est la phase de création, c’est-à-dire l’écriture des textes et la réalisation des illustrations (nous utilisons avant tout la gravure sur lino). Ensuite, nous composons les textes en testant plusieurs typographies : les caractères plomb pour le labeur (autrement dit le corps de texte) et des caractères en bois pour les titres. Nous essayerons au maximum de nous passer de clichés et de linotypie afin de conserver l’idée d’artisanat. Après avoir choisi les typographies les plus cohérentes avec le projet, nous imprimons les textes et les illustrations sur du papier rhodoïd sur notre presse à épreuve afin de pouvoir agencer les éléments entre eux et décider de la mise en page finale. Cette astuce nous a été donnée par Guillaume Guilpart, un ami typographe à l’atelier Paris Print Club. Nous profitons également de cette étape pour faire la correction orthotypographique des textes. Nous faisons un choix de couleurs et de papier et nous pouvons finalement imprimer sur notre plus grosse presse.
PRINTING FEATS Above all, we are proud of our atelier. Just one year ago, we had no idea that it would be so thriving and fulfilling today, that we would have so many tools and materials to work with. It has been a lot of work and we’re still motivated to make this place more enjoyable and more practical. We also consider all the knowledge we got these past months just by practicing our passion and by meeting people with whom we share that passion as a big accomplishment. We can almost say that we are self-made typographers and that definitely rocks.
Moreover, this past year, we had the time to work on two big creations that we would like to point out. First, we designed a numerical font using the software Glyphs (and the precious help of a type designer friend) and we made a wood type of it using a laser printer. We called it “la typo bâtard” (“the bastard font”) in reference to our printer’s name. The second work we’d like to talk about is a poster we did for “la Fête de l’Estampe” (the National Print Day). It is composed by two prints of wood planks, a long text in two columns above these prints, which is the page of the dictionary that contains the word bâtard (bastard), and an extract of this page as a title covering a bit of the text and printed with wood types.
Nous sommes avant tout fièr·e·s de notre atelier. Il y a tout juste un an, on ne s’imaginait pas que tout s’y passerait aussi bien aujourd’hui, qu’on aurait autant d’outils, de matériel de travail et d’opportunités. Ça a été beaucoup de boulot mais nous sommes toujours aussi motivés à rendre cet endroit le plus agréable et le plus pratique possible. Nous considérons également comme un accomplissement tout le savoir que nous avons acquis ces derniers mois simplement en cultivant notre passion et en rencontrant des personnes avec qui partager cette passion. Nous pouvons presque dire que nous sommes des self-made typographes et c’est trop cool.
En plus de ça, cette année, nous avons passé beaucoup de temps sur deux créations en particulier dont nous aimerions parler. D’abord, nous avons dessiné une police de caractères numérique sur le logiciel Glyphs (et grâce à la précieuse aide d’un ami dessinateur de caractères) et nous en avons fait une série de caractères en bois avec une graveuse laser. Nous l’avons appelée « la typo bâtard » en référence au nom de notre imprimerie. Le second travail dont nous aimerions vous parler est une affiche que nous avons réalisée pour la Fête de l’Estampe. Elle est composée de deux empreintes de morceaux de bois, d’un long texte en deux colonnes sur ces empreintes, qui reprend la page du dictionnaire qui contient le mot « bâtard », et un extrait de cette page comme titre, qui couvre une partie du labeur et imprimé avec des caractères bois.
PRESS HISTORY Our first press is a big red flatbed cylinder press, a Korrex press manufactured by Simmel in 1969. This specific model is called “Berlin”. But we mostly call it by its pet name: Simone.
Notre toute première presse est une grosse presse rouge à cylindre, une Korrex fabriquée par Simmel en 1969. Ce modèle s’appelle « Berlin ». Mais nous l’appelons principalement par son petit surnom : Simone.
BOXCAR’S ROLE We’re grateful to Boxcar Press for their interest in our little printing house. We were glad to see that the passion for letterpress could cross the borders between different countries. It was a pleasure to read their blog and discover so many other printers and their techniques. They provide a really extensive and necessary work of investigation about letterpress. As far as we’re concerned, their questions enabled us to look back at the past year and to realize what we have achieved until now. So we can thank them for the dissemination of this article about us and for letting us translate it to share it with our French community.
Nous sommes reconnaissant pour l’intérêt qu’a porté Boxcar Press à notre petite imprimerie. Nous étions enchanté·e·s de voir que la passion pour l’impression typographique pouvait traverser les frontières. Ça a été un plaisir pour nous de lire leur blog et de découvrir autant d’autres imprimeurs ainsi que leurs techniques. Ils proposent un travail d’investigation du monde de la typographie vraiment complet et nécessaire. En ce qui nous concerne, nous avons pu, en répondant à leurs questions, faire le bilan de notre année passée et nous rendre compte que tout ce que nous avions accompli jusqu’à maintenant. Nous pouvons donc les remercier pour la diffusion de cet article et pour nous avoir permis de le traduire afin de le partager avec notre communauté en France.
PRINTING TIPS The most important advice that we could give is to try things. Letterpress is an open door to a world of creation with a lot of variables: characters, colors, shapes, layouts. They are some fundamental rules to respect such as the type height, but once you’re sure about these basics, you’re completely able to explore, imagine, make, invent new things. That was the case when we had the idea to print pallet planks to draw the shape of columns in the background of our poster… After all, why not?
Le conseil le plus important que nous pourrions donner est d’essayer des choses. La typographie est une porte ouverte à un monde de création avec des tas de variables : les caractères, les couleurs, les formes, les mises en page… Il y a certaines règles fondamentales à respecter, comme la hauteur typo, mais une fois les bases intégrées, on peut complètement se permettre d’explorer, d’imaginer, de fabriquer et d’inventer de nouvelles choses. Ça a été notre cas quand nous avons eu l’idée d’imprimer des planches de palettes pour dessiner la forme de colonnes en arrière plan de notre affiche. Après tout, pourquoi pas ?
WHAT’S COMING NEXT Our main plan for the upcoming year is to open our atelier to people and to give letterpress lessons. Starting from January 2020, we’ll give a three-hour lesson twice a week. In addition to that, we’ll try to organize workshops over one or several days in our atelier, sometimes soliciting the other arts and crafts workshops of our big house in order to provide an overview of the process for making a real printed object by hand. We would also like to offer classes outside our workshop, in other cultural or specialized structures such as schools, with our little proof press and some previously selected characters. We are absolutely willing to share our know-how, especially from the perspective of doing popular education.
Notre principal projet pour l’année qui arrive est d’ouvrir notre atelier aux gens et de donner des cours de typographie. À partir de janvier 2020, nous donnerons des cours de trois heures deux fois par semaine. En plus de ça, nous essayerons d’organiser des ateliers sur un ou plusieurs jours dans notre imprimerie, parfois en sollicitant les autres ateliers d’artisanat de notre grande maison afin de donner un aperçu du processus de fabrication d’un vrai objet imprimé à la main. Nous aimerions aussi proposer des ateliers en dehors de notre imprimerie, dans d’autres structures culturelles ou spécialisées comme des écoles, avec notre petite presse à épreuve et quelques caractères préalablement sélectionnés. Nous sommes complètement partant·e·s pour partager notre savoir-faire, notamment dans une optique d’éducation populaire.
Debra Barclay of Ancora Press is a well-travelled printer who was inspired by the work of William Blake. She creates in her garage-turned-printshop and shares with us her lifelong printing mentors / friends she’s made along her print journey (as well as a favorite printing moment involving a Girl Scout Troop and a Vandercook).
WASHINGTON STATE PRINTER
My name is Debra Barclay, and I am a letterpress printer in Woodinville, WA. I live in Woodinville with my husband, 7-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son, 6-month-old Labradoodle, and two pretty lucky black cats, Uno and Tres. I’m a New Jersey transplant by way of Brooklyn, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Oregon. My favorite color at the moment is PMS 310 (light teal).
THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS
For my undergraduate degree, I attended Providence College in Rhode Island. My degree is in English Lit/Creative Writing and Printmaking. My senior year, I took a course on Romantic Literature and fell deeply in love with William Blake’s work. William Blake was a poet and printmaker who developed techniques to bring his poetry into a more visual realm. He combined text and image in a way that I had never seen up to that point. His poetry became visual as much as text-based, and he made it so the poem’s meaning was directly enhanced by the calligraphic lettering, colors he chose, and the overall design. In this way, he elevated the printing of information into a visual experience rather than just a transfer of data. At that point, I knew that I had to integrate my two passions: creative writing and printmaking.
After I graduated, I started looking into bookmaking classes. I found a school that had a very small but well equipped Book Arts Program. This was when I found the Oregon College of Art and Craft. I immediately enrolled in a few classes, packed my bags, and moved to Portland.
I really didn’t know what I was getting into, as far as letterpress printing goes. But there I was, learning to handset type and run a Vandercook under the tutelage of two women. Kathy Kuehn is a master printer at Pace Editions in NYC and Caryl Herfort, a letterpress printer from Texas who was there as the Artist in Residence. Many may know of Caryl from Roto Press (Rest in Peace, Caryl). Both of these women inspired me to experiment and play with the medium.
A CREATIVE ADVENTURE
As I continued to set the type for a short story I had written, my mind exploded. It was so crazy to be able to touch thoughts and ideas – letterforms as material objects with a history and life of their own just struck me on a very philosophical level. I then locked up my form in the school’s Vandercook Universal, and ended up a bit deflated. This was off course from my Blake path, as Blake didn’t use handset type in his work, possibly for this reason. Yes, typesetting is intimate, but once it gets on press and you print it with great craftsmanship, it does not show any of the depth or meaning that it had taken on when I handled it.
It was much more sterile and generic than I had envisioned my piece to be, given how emotionally and physically closer I had become to the words. This created some friction between me, the machine, and process. I moved my printing over to a hand rolled proof press, where I was determined to get the “hand of the maker” involved. Then, I hand-inked each pull, and ran the pages through one by one, skewing the registration so they would all be unique.
I actually still have a scar from this very first print run I did, as my thumb got caught in the cogs of the press as I was enthusiastically running pages through. The end result was a very artistic interpretation of letterpress! I created an art installation with the small edition of books I made with this experiment. I filled three walls of a gallery with the pages, and set up three of the spiral bound books on pedestals where viewers could flip-through the pages. The only requirement was that they wear white gloves, as is common practice when looking through fine press books.
However, the white gloves I provided were covered in black printers’ ink. So, the viewer/reader added and changed the book as they engaged with it – a visual representation of how we all change and alter language as we use it. It becomes a relationship where both parties – the ideas/text/ poetry and the reader/viewer – are changed through the interaction. We are all changed in sometimes undetectable ways by every interaction we have.
I then began to approach letterpress a bit differently, and started to think more about how words are laid out on the page, how the colors might interact with one another either through size, proximity, or overprint. I also started to notice the beautiful impression that letterpress machinery gives to the paper, making the text both a visual AND tactile experience for the viewer/reader.
A LETTERPRESS CONNECTION
Through this experience, I reconciled and truly fell in love with the exacting nature of letterpress machinery. It was through these experiments that I concluded that when I create, I am collaborating WITH the machine. With this finely engineered letterpress machinery, the ability to disseminate information in a way that allows for the content to be given the entire spotlight would now be possible. We are true partners. With that, my deep connection with letterpress continued to grow and develop into where it is today. I utilize the impeccable precision of the machinery to allow me to elevate letterforms, words, ideas, and everyday life moments into experiences with tactile beauty and time-tested craftsmanship.
HOME GROWN PRINTING
Ancora Letterpress is a custom letterpress print shop located about fifteen miles Northeast of downtown Seattle. We do custom designs working directly with clients as well as printing for graphic designers and other print shops who come to us with a pre-existing design of their own.
My shop feels like home. Mostly because it’s attached to it – in my garage! I have two 10×15 Heidelberg Windmills and an 8×12 Chandler and Price. I also have a photopolymer platemaker and a small guillotine paper cutter. My favorite thing about my shop is that I get to create there! Truly, it’s a dream come true. I also really like the commute.
Woodinville is a tourist destination, as we have over 100 tasting rooms, wineries, distilleries, and breweries within a stone’s throw from my shop. This can be dangerous, but it’s really quite convenient mostly. Chateau St Michelle is probably the largest winery in the area. They have concerts on the lawn in the summers and beautiful grounds to walk around and picnic on. In the summer, we can hear the music from our backyard, which is usually a good thing. We also have a really cool theatre production company in town called Teatro Zinzanni, which recently moved to Woodinville from Lower Queen Anne in Seattle. From their website: “Teatro ZinZanni…is a three-hour whirlwind of international cirque, comedy, and cabaret artists…”
I really love living here because it’s quiet and we have lots of space. Our house is nestled into trees at the end of a cul-de-sac, yet we are incredibly close to the city. Woodinville is described as “subrural” as it is somewhere between suburban and farmland. One of our neighbors has a horse grazing in her front lawn pretty regularly, and the one across from her has over a dozen chickens on his property. We have a growing Arts community thanks to the Woodinville Arts Alliance in town.
Oh gosh! This is a hard question! So many people have helped me get to where I am today. Esther Smith and Dikko Faust of Purgatory Pie Press were my first inspirations, as they were my first apprenticeship out of school. Dikko’s skills as a printer always inspire me, and Esther’s vision and ability to draw inspiration in the everyday is joyous.
My former boss Scott Hill of Workhorse Press is a great mentor as I continue to build my business. He’s readily available to help me with any questions I have about presses, printing, or the business side of things. I’ll be forever grateful to him for taking me on as an employee and teaching me so much about the production side of letterpress. Scott is a printer by trade, with a very keen eye for how to bring a design to life on paper.
Jami Heinricher of Sherwood Press is my most recent mentor and inspiration. She taught me how to run a Heidelberg platen, and for that I am forever grateful. She helped me troubleshoot one of my presses’ weird quirky problems, and even helped me back out my stuck Windmill, after my press pulled 6 sheets of 236# Flurry Cotton paper! I admire her business model, and her tips and tricks have saved me hours of time. My friend George Feakes of Impressive Inkreations has been an incredible mentor, giving me both sage printing and business advice, insights on efficiency, and an amazing amount of support.
All of my local letterpress trade guys are all absolutely my savior. After running letterpress for 40 years a piece, they collectively know everything, and there’s nothing they can’t make run correctly with just a little bit of tape and 18 point card stock. They’re also really down to earth and easy to talk to, and I love hanging out with them.
My husband, while not a printer, has been an amazing source of inspiration and strength. He single handedly moved my C&P and first Windmill up from Portland and got them situated on the garage floor. He also gave up a large portion of his workspace to allow me to have my studio. We are now looking into building him a lovely shed in the backyard for his woodworking tools for when I get a few more pieces of equipment this coming year.
GROWING THE DREAM
My business works out to be part time at the moment. I bought some equipment in early 2018, and spent about 6 months getting myself up to speed on the equipment and its particular quirks and what-have-you. Technically I’ve only been available to the public for about 7 months. I do plan to continue to solicit work and build relationships with designers, as well as develop a personal line of designs that I can offer to clients. Full time is my goal. I want to generate enough consistent job and print work so that I can take on an employee. There’s only one thing better than being a letterpress printer, and that’s sharing the workload!
THE CREATIVE FLOW
My process always begins by sitting down with the client and getting to know them a bit. I love getting to talk to people about their vision and translating that into a printed piece. I spend a fair amount of time gathering as much information as possible from the client. If it’s a wedding invitation, for example, I ask the bride to describe the ceremony and the type of event they’re going for. Is it modern, traditional, minimal, outdoor, etc? This narrows things down a bit. I get their wedding colors and match them to a PMS color that we all agree on pretty early on. I show them samples of my previous design work and see if anything stands out to them, either by way of technique (blind emboss, overprinting, etc) or if the tone of anything resonates with them.
At that point, I will begin a preliminary design. I find that this is really when the fun begins. It’s important to have a jumping off point, even if the design itself isn’t the final vision. It’s much easier for people to point out what they don’t like and for me to come up with alternatives to that, rather than envisioning something out of thin air. This has really worked well for me so far. I really enjoy the collaborative process during this stage of design.
I was the Arts Director of the Virginia Center for the Book from 2001-2003. While I was there, I helped run workshops and host events that built community involvement in the letterpress shop. I also created panel talks and art installations for Charlottesville’s annual Festival of the Book, which is a week-long event covering all aspects of books, from publishing, illustrating, designing, and reading. I also taught a class in the Art Department at the University of Virginia.
What I loved most about my time there was introducing the history and craft of letterpress to so many people in a variety of settings. One of my favorite moments was teaching an outreach program for a local Girl Scouts troop. I had the girls (who were all about 7 years old) run a pass through the Vandercook Universal. While I was in another room showing a group how to fold and slit the paper into a book, a girl came running out of the print shop in tears. Her mom asked her what was wrong, and she said through her sobs, “My print is over-inked!”
The very first presses I owned are my current ones – a 10×15 Heidelberg Windmill and an 8×12 Chandler and Price treadle that’s been converted with a motor. It’s funny that my first presses are both platens, since I learned to print on Cylinders. By the time I was ready to buy and had the space to have presses, Vandercooks were way out of my price range. Before this, I had always managed to access community print shops or presses belonging to friends.
Boxcar has helped me in so many ways! Mainly, making resources readily available has been key. It’s a one-stop-shopping kind of place. They have given me the luxury of going slowly in building up my knowledge by offering a place to get it all done, and with such ease! The Boxcar Base has made life so much easier.
Before the Base, I was using magnesium plates. I found them to be much softer and more unpredictable, requiring more make ready due to being mounted to wood (not consistently flat on the bottom, and easily prone to warping). Being able to have predictable quality in my tools has allowed me to focus on perfecting my skills as a craftsman. The ability to buy paper, envelopes, order plates, and pick up a random thing I might need here or there (can of ink, roller gauge) has been fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about the Boxcar Press website flow. It is extremely user friendly, is quick and easy to navigate, and borders on foolproof!
I also love the How-To tutorials, which have increased my knowledge of my presses. Also, I cannot say enough great things about the staff. I have had random moments of panic where I’d forgotten to upload a small file for platemaking, only to call out an S.O.S. to Rebecca Miller, who swiftly and promptly put out the fire and saved the day! Working with Boxcar Press is like having a staff of knowledgeable and kind pre-press geniuses just an email away!
Get the crop marks! This is something I don’t always do myself, and pretty much every time a two or three color cropless job goes to press, I spend twice as much time trying to get position. Even with one color jobs, I like crop marks once it gets to bindery. They seem like a luxury, but really they save you a bunch of time. And time is money, as well as a whole lotta frustration!
Spend the money! I’ve been there…I have tried to get away with a short cut, or making do without a particular tool or gadget (the Swing Away Lay Gauge comes to mind here). In the end, I end up spending way too much time having to figure out a “cheap” way to do something. Again, I’ve spent money, and potentially compromise the quality of the end result of the printed piece.
If you’re running a blind deboss on a stock that isn’t 100% cotton, or super plush, you can achieve a similar effect by adding a small amount of color that matches the paper stock with a ton of transparent white. Or, if you’re running a bright white sheet, opaque white right out of the can will do the trick.
I’ve also added a touch of yellow to gold ink in order to give it the punch it needs to stand out on an absorbent stock.
Letterpress is a lot of troubleshooting and problem-solving. Isolate problems, ask for help from fellow printers that you know, or reach out online. One of the things I love about letterpress is how knowledgeable and helpful the community of printers is. Also, a motto I like – Stay modest, do good work, enjoy life outside the shop.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
For the upcoming year, I will continue to grow my clientele. I also plan to add equipment so that I can add foil and emboss to my skill set. Currently, I am creating a design line, more of my own greeting cards, and some stock offerings that can be semi customized, like monogrammed note card sets and Holiday cards. I also hope to learn to paddle board!
Chris Paul, of North Carolina-based Old North State Press, shares with us how an evening introductory printing class flourished into a love for printing machines and letterpress. From there, with the help of numerous, generous mentors and his wife/partner, Danielle, he has immersed himself happily in the craft. Read on to discover how Chris passes on the knowledge he’s learned with the letterpress community.
CRAFT AND TRADITION
At Old North State Press, we are dedicated to preserving the tradition and craft of fine letterpress printing. We started our journey with the acquisition of a simple cylinder press in 1998. The studio now boasts an impressive array of heavy, outdated machines and equally obsolete related equipment, all meticulously maintained and loved.
In addition to supporting custom client work where the unique characteristics of letterpress printing is desired, the press produces original designs for stationery, note cards, wedding invitations, birth announcements, broadsides, and other printed matter.
I am a classically-trained designer and typographer and completed my MFA in Design at Yale School of Art in 1995 where I was first introduced to traditional printing methods. I enjoy fretting over the details and coaxing beauty from these iron beasts. My wife and partner, Danielle, is a fearless editor and etiquette expert. She has a Masters in Communication. This background comes in quite handy with our clients and the work they bring us. Danielle has a keen eye for fine presswork and ensures every piece we produce measures up to our exacting standards.
GETTING THE PRINTING BUG
Back in the early 90s, while in grad school, a few of us signed up for introductory printing classes, taught once a week on Thursday evenings, at the university printing facilities. The start of the digital era in design was in high gear and while many of us had been working in print for some time, our understanding of the tradition and craft of printing was limited. I had only seen pictures of metal type in books. Greer Allen, the former University Printer at Yale and one of the instructors, would regularly shake his head at how little we knew! He was, however, a truly patient and enthusiastic teacher.
In the class, Greer and a local book designer, Howard Gralla, taught us how to set type by hand and print our simple creations on a Vandercook proof press. I was hooked immediately. The exquisite mechanics. The rich history. The endless possibilities. I vowed then and there I would learn as much as I could about letterpress and, one day, find a press of my own.
I got a job doing design at IBM in 1995. In 1998, Danielle and I moved into our first house. It had a garage and thus, room for a press. We acquired our first press, a Vandercook No. 3, soon after moving in.
THE SHOP: A CREATIVE HAVEN
Because I work in software design, I tend to think of everything as versions. We’re currently on version 3.0 of our shop which we built in 2014 after moving to the Charlotte, NC area. Our shop is about 400 sq ft and houses all of our equipment. We still have the original Vandercook No. 3 but have since added two late model 10×15 Heidelbergs. The first Heidelberg was re-built from the ground up by Graeme Smith while he was with Whittenburg in TN. It is a beauty and our most prized piece of equipment. The second Heidelberg was acquired this past summer and is in need of a good cleaning and some serious TLC. Our intent is to dedicate this second machine to foil and die-cutting.
Because of my desire to learn everything I could about traditional letterpress, I also got into hot metal typecasting in the early 2000s. With the help of some amazing mentors, I was able to acquire an English and American Thompson Sorts Casters and a small library of matrices. I first learned to cast type under the thoughtful tutelage of Pat Taylor, former proprietor of Out of Sorts Type Foundry, and Rick Newell formerly of Heritage Printers in Charlotte. We also have many cases of metal and wood type, an antique John Jacques & Son paper cutter,and all the various accoutrements you’d expect in a working shop.
What we love most about our shop is having a dedicated, climate controlled space to design, make and learn. Letterpress has a deep heritage, and these machines teach us something new every time we use them.
NORTH CAROLINA COOL
Our shop is located on our property in an older, heavily wooded and secluded neighborhood south of Charlotte, NC surrounded by horse farms. We are 10 minutes from historic downtown Waxhaw and 30 minutes from Uptown Charlotte.
I am deeply indebted to many for the generosity of their time, patience and wisdom. I first learned to print from Howard Gralla and Greer Allen while a grad student at the Yale School of Art. Rick Newell helped me acquire my first press and type, and he taught me what it means to run a shop. Pat Taylor, Rich Hopkins, Mike Anderson, and Jim Walczak inspired me to give typecasting a go and encouraged me to keep at it.
Fritz Klinke of NA Graphics took me under his wing early on and instilled within me a love of the process, hot metal type, and the journey of “figuring it out.” Elias Roustom of EM Letterpress taught me more than a few tricks of the trade along the way and his work continues to inspire me. Further, where would any modern day letterpress printer be with a reliable rigger? Pete McFee has moved every press I’ve ever owned and introduced me to electricians and repair techs who know and appreciate these old machines. Priceless!
I’m also indebted to and inspired by the many designers, printers, and clients I’ve met along the way who have shared hints, tips and techniques and pushed me to learn and make.
Last but not least, sincere thanks to my partner, Danielle, who has taken this journey with me, providing support and encouragement at every step.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN
I am not yet a full-time printer, however, I spend as much time as I can in the shop and am fortunate to have clients who keep coming back and pushing me to learn new things. I suspect one day I’ll be doing more printing than not, but we’re still a few years off from that goal.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
By day, I work in technology, designing digital experiences and products. Thus, my design process for letterpress can seem to be a bit fragmented. Sometimes, an idea occurs to me and I have to get it out as quickly as possible. Other times, a fragment of an idea may sit in my head, stewing, for a few weeks/months before I act on it. Occasionally, I will start with a technique I want to learn…like die-cutting or foil stamping and create from there.
While I end up sketching quite a bit in the late process, my early iterations are almost always via writing. My sketchbooks have more words than drawings. I have an old t-shirt from Emigre with the slogan “Design Is A Good Idea” and this embodies how I approach what I do. Once I think I have something, I’ll sketch around the idea and poke at it multiple times before attempting to start something digitally.
There is so much great work out there, you never have to go too far for inspiration…old and new.
I’ve been a member of the American Typecasting Fellowship for over 15 years and am a graduate of Monotype University, both run by the amazing Rich Hopkins. Our shop was one of 15 that Rich choose to feature in the book, The Private Typecasters, hand-printed and bound by Henry Morris at Bird & Bull Press. We’re also featured in the book, Vandercook 100.
Most of all, we are proud of our ability to continue to learn, make beautiful things and share what we know with others.
Our first press was Vandercook No. 3 Proof Press, acquired from the Charlotte Composition Company with help from friend and mentor, Rick Newell. I won’t tell you how little I paid for it, but I will say they almost paid me to haul it away. I love that press because it is so simple.
One of our first real print jobs on the Vandy was the birth announcement for our son, Aidan. We did the same when Erin came along in 2003. In 2017, we printed Aidan’s high school graduation announcement on our Heidelberg.
Boxcar has been an inspiration from the beginning: I distinctly remember my first encounter with Boxcar and how elated I felt that someone was actually running a successful business doing letterpress! I then invested in the Boxcar Base and haven’t looked back. I use Boxcar Bases on each press I own and Boxcar processes all my photopolymer plates.
What I love most about Boxcar are two things: One, Harold Kyle and the team have continued to innovate from the very beginning…helping to modernize letterpress and make it relevant for today. The Boxcar Base and Swing-Away Lay Gauge are two prime examples. Second, the team at Boxcar shares everything they know and have helped me be a better printer. I’ve not found anyone more dedicated to the current community of designers and printers.
Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? If you’re just starting out with a press like a Heidelberg, focus first on mastering the paper feed. There are so many nuances to feeding and once you master it, your life with be less frustrating and your printing faster and more satisfying.
An old technique I found out about recently, the Flying Dutchman, can help you get tighter registration on a Heidelberg by taming paper bounce:
Read everything you can get your hands on about technique and setup and don’t be afraid to fail. Successfully printing on these old machines can be challenging. The most important piece is to keep at it. It takes time and experience to encounter the various challenges that will present themselves. When they do, step back and think. Frustration, failure and disappointment are how we learn.
I founded the Facebook Letterpress Group in 2007, and we are currently 4500+ members strong. Included in the group are both active and many retired printers with great experience and know-how. I turn to the group regularly when I encounter something I haven’t yet figured out. The team at Boxcar, the Letterpress Commons, and Briar Press sites are also a tremendous resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep asking until you understand.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
This might actually be the year we get more of our custom stationery line up and running. This is a goal we’ve had for some time…but…life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans! Now that our children are older, we have more time to dedicate to our various printing projects.
We also held our first letterpress workshop recently, partnering with the Charlotte Chapter of AIGA. It was a big success so we expect to do more of the same and help spread the love for letterpress and type in the Charlotte region.
Always on the move, letterpress printer Chris Fritton just might be coming to a town near you. Chris has visited over 160 letterpress print shops in North America, where he is known as “The Itinerant Printer.” As a guest printer, he enjoys making one of a kind prints, cards and posters with his hosts, with the added bonus of the letterpress camaraderie. The Buffalo, NY, native shares with us his creative origins and printing on the go.
A PRINTER’S JOURNEY
I’m the former Studio Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center in Buffalo, NY, and for the past four years I’ve been doing The Itinerant Printer project. I travel around the US & Canada visiting different letterpress shops, and the only thing that I bring with me on the road is paper & ink. I use what those shops have in their collections (wood type, metal type, border, ornament, photopolymer plates, etc.) to create unique prints.
I got into letterpress printing as a writer and a book artist. I started out by making my own cut & paste zines during my teens, and then poetry chapbooks. I learned how to screen print early on, but that never really felt like the perfect medium for me.
When I found letterpress, everything clicked. There was something so compelling about actually building the language — setting every letter in every word and stanza by hand. It was so visceral and fundamental. I was lucky enough to print at a place in Buffalo run by one of my mentors, Hal Leader: Paradise Press. It was a tiny space right in the middle of a modern print shop, and it held all of his type and presses, as well of those of his mentor, a Roycroft master printer named Emil Sahlin. I worked at Paradise Press until Richard Kegler had the idea to start the Western New York Book Arts Center. Then I got in on the ground floor of that project.
PRINTING IN NEW YORK & ON THE ROAD
WNYBAC was my baby, and that’s where I printed for six years. We had an incredible collection that we used to create gig posters, event posters, broadsides, cards, etc. I knew where every single thing was in that shop, from the tiniest ornaments to the missing sorts that were in standing formes.
My favorite thing about it was the energy. We were always experimenting, always trying something new, always using alternative materials and processes. It was an incubator, really, and a springboard for what I would do in the future.
Now, everyone’s shop is my shop, at least for a day. With The Itinerant Printer project, I’m often only in a location for 24-48 hours. I have to familiarize myself with the shop, its contents, and try to create something interesting. Often, I have no idea what I’ll find; I don’t even know what kind of presses they’ll have. It’s a never-ending challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
BEAUTIFUL BUFFALO, NEW YORK
All of Buffalo is a cool landmark. It’s a city rife with amazing architecture, copious greenspace, and a revitalized waterfront. The city is steeped in history, and its blue-collar legacy is evident everywhere you turn.
I miss it when I’m away, but so many of the shops that I visit have fantastic surroundings as well, from Menagerie Press in Terlingua, TX, among the Chisos Mountains to the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, WA, with a view of the Space Needle. It’s impossible to choose a favorite.
Although I look to the past for ideas sometimes, I tend to appreciate the work of my contemporaries just as much, if not more. I really like the work of modern letterpress printers who are combining analog & digital technologies to get intriguing results. Right now, off the top of my head, James Tucker of the Aesthetic Union, Brad Vetter, Dafi Kühne, Kathryn Hunter of Blackbird Letterpress, Lindsay Schmittle of Gingerly Press, and The Print Project in the UK are churning out astonishing work that looks like nothing else. It’s their openness — their willingness to embrace something that may or may not work, as well as their desire to make something that doesn’t look like traditional letterpress that makes their work so arresting.
FULL TIME FUN
The Itinerant Printer project is a full-time job for me, much like a traveling band. I often take a break during the summer, however, and when I’m home in Buffalo, I run commercial vessels on Lake Erie as a “day job.” It’s a nice break from printing and traveling, and often I find that I feel recharged when I return to letterpress.
THE CREATIVE FLOW
When I’m on the road, because I’m going in blind, I have to design on the fly. Because I’m normally using movable type, I design primarily on the press bed (if it’s a proofing press), and have to make decisions about color & form very quickly. The experience has made me very decisive, but also accepting of failure, because when you’re working that fast, it doesn’t always work out the way you thought it would.
To date, I’ve visited over 160 letterpress print shops in 45 states and 4 provinces. I’ve covered over 60,000 miles and made close to 25,000 prints on the road. That feels pretty noteworthy to me. To culminate the whole adventure, I recently finished a 320-page coffee table book comprising 1,500 photos and 130,000 words that tells the story of all the people, places, and prints along the way. The book is a monster and it had to match the scale of the project.
Here’s a fun fact: I’ve never owned a press. I have a great collection of wood type and sundries, but no presses. At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to get one either, as long as I’m on the road.
Boxcar was elemental when we were doing jobbing or custom work at the Western New York Book Arts Center. It was the fastest, easiest, most reliable way to get the results we needed. When I’m on the road, Boxcar is the first name that comes up in every shop for photopolymer platemaking. It’s amazing to see how far its influence stretches, to every corner of the US & Canada.
Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Baby wipes with a little bit of baby oil for cleaning your hands. It acts as a solvent for most inks and keeps you from running to the bathroom every thirty seconds to wash up. Other than that, employ as many techniques as you can to get the results you want: pressure printing, laser cutting, 3D printing, woodcut, linocut, photopolymer — don’t restrict yourself.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
In 2019, I’ll round out The Itinerant Printer book tour. After that, I’m considering taking the project global in 2020 — The Itinerant Printer, around the world. I can’t wait to see what printers in other countries are doing, as well as spend time learning about them, about their presses, about their cultures. Logistically, it will be a lot different than the North American tour, but I know it’s possible, so keep your eyes peeled for a launch date!
Crafted with care, hypnotically delicate, and dizzyingly detailed are what instantly come to mind when viewing Ali Norman’s body of printed work. A traditional printmaker by nature, Ali enjoys expressing her vivid concepts through silkscreen, etchings, and now letterpress. The Florida-based printer shares with us the joys of learning new techniques, infusing nature motifs into her work, and pushing the limits of her art.
ALL AROUND LOVE FOR PRINTING
I’m a printmaker with a huge passion for etching, but I also love to dabble in other processes (such as letterpress!). I first learned about it from the amazing Eileen Wallace during my MFA. She helped spark my interest and encouraged me to push the limits of my polymer ideas. Learning from her was an incredible privilege!
HOME IS WHERE THE PRESS IS
Currently, I have access to etching presses at home and at work (the University of Tampa), but no real letterpress access. I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with Sarah and Phil Holt, who have the cutest little letterpress shop at home!
They were very kind to let me use their beautiful orange Vandercook to print my most recent polymer creation. I’m hoping to work with them more in the new year! You can check out Sarah’s letterpress work on instagram at @monpetitpaperco.
I am really inspired by and thankful for the amazing printmaking community that has popped up on Instagram. I have “met” so many amazing artists and learned some cool techniques just from the internet. On a more personal note, I pay close attention to my dreams and am strongly attracted to old engravings, magical texts, and tattoo linework.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN
I am not currently printing full time. Having just finished my MFA in the spring of 2018, I’ve been teaching part time at the University of Tampa. This gives me a good amount of free time to work on making and selling art on the side! So far I am finding it to be a really healthy and rewarding balance. Although I grew up here [in Florida], I haven’t been back for quite a while! I’m still currently exploring the area.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I absolutely LOVE designing for photopolymer!! I’ve found that drawing the key layer first on tracing paper allows me to then flip-flop my ideas, scan them, and easily draw color layers. I’ve tried working more digitally, but always go back to the tracing paper!
ALL IN THE DETAILS
Works take me anywhere from a week to two months to complete before printing, but I’m always working on a few things at once. I try to keep it slow and steady, drawing at least a little every day until I am satisfied. I also often work back in to images, so that can end up dragging things out… as goes printmaking!
FAVORITE PRINTING TECHNIQUE
Intaglio will always be my go-to process, but it’s not always very practical! I like to change things up, especially with quicker processes like letterpress or lithography. It is so satisfying to see a trapped layer lock perfectly in to place each time, and to feel like one with a machine. I also really enjoy how the design process for each technique is so different – it keeps me on my toes!
At this point in my career, I am just very proud and grateful to have made it this far! I’ve been working hard to make my passions a reality and am really seeing that come back to me lately.
I currently have a little tabletop Conrad E12 etching press that was found by a friend of mine at a thrift store! After some heavy cleaning, I now use it almost constantly. I’m hoping to also have a letterpress to call my own some day. Floridian printers – hook me up please!
BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE
I had my polymer plates for my most recent print made by Boxcar Press! I was a little nervous about someone else making my matrices, and they turned out perfectly. I’m really grateful for this service.
I’m still quite the beginner at letterpress, but I manage to learn something new every time I print. I even managed to smash my fingers in the Vandercook once (oops!).
Right down the highway from Syracuse, New York, is Rochester’s very own Type High Letterpress. At the helm of this cozy, treasure-packed print shop is Tony Zanni. From wood & metal type goodies to presses that shine, Tony gives us a tour of this hidden gem tucked away in upstate New York.
PRESSES AND WOODCUTS AND TYPE, OH MY!
Our shop is located on the second floor of an old candy factory in downtown Rochester, NY called the Hungerford Building. It houses around 40 other artisans of varying crafts. We occupy a 1,200 sq. ft. space that is long and narrow.
At the front of the shop is a small retail area. The rest of the shop is packed to the gills with over 700 cases of wood and metal type, and over 150 galleys of dingbats and cuts. At the back we have our 4 large presses: a Damon & Peets 8×12, Heidelberg Windmill (with factory foil stamping attachment), a Vandercook No. 3 Proof press and a giant Wesel Iron Handpress. We also have a fun collection of small table top presses hiding around the shop as well.
The space in and of itself isn’t really interesting, however, what it’s filled with captures imaginations and inspires creativity. There are all sorts of letterpress goodies to look at. We have originals of Adobe’s Wood Type Ornaments typeface, old wood cuts from various shops around the western NY area, slug cutters, miterers… The Hell Bucket. There’s a lot of stuff to look at if you ever visit.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS
This is going to sound funny but my favorite thing about the shop is that it’s heat included. Our original location was a bit better but boy was it cold in the Upstate winters. The new space… Toasty!
As for fun things / prized possessions, there’s a couple. First would have to be my Vandercook, Izzy. Yeah, I named her Isabelle or Izzy for short. I found her thanks to Shelly at French Press. I asked Shelly to visit this estate sale (because I couldn’t attend) and had her look for Vandy’s. She called and said there was a Vandy in the garage, mostly complete. I said great, put me on the phone with the seller, offered $500 sight unseen. They said yes and I picked it up two days later. I honestly think this was the last $500 Vandercook to be had and this was back in 2009.
This past summer I acquired another nifty item: a Lufkin 6 ft. tape measure with inches and Pica rules on it. Maybe not super practical, but pretty cool.
One more super cool thing I have is an original plate of the very first Photographic image printed in a magazine. It is “A Scene in Shantytown, New York” that appeared in the March 4, 1880 issue of New York Daily Graphic – the first halftone photograph ever printed by a newspaper. Yes, we have a pretty cool collection.
I jokingly refer to my shop as the “train car”. It’s about 15′ wide by 65′ long and has 3 windows in the back and a double door up front. With any luck we’ll be moving down the hall later this year a space that is 1500 square feet. I’m not looking forward to moving all this again.
PRINTING IN THE EMPIRE STATE
We are in the Hungerford Building. surrounded by many other creative artists. On the first Friday and second Saturday of every month we host events. We are the northern border of an area called the Neighborhood of the Arts. About 3 blocks away are the Memorial Art Gallery, Anderson Alley Arts building, plus a host of other galleries & public art pieces.
TYPE OF SHOP
Type High is a commercial letterpress print shop specializing in hand set typography and design for letterpress printing. Obviously, I use Boxcar Press for our plates when the need arises. We teach letterpress workshops in our space, how to set type properly and print an edition. In addition, I also teach a semester long letterpress design class for the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The long list of things currently in the shop from largest to smallest…
Wesel Iron Handpress
Sheet 18×24 printable 16×22
Vandercook No. 3 Proof press
Sheet 14×20 Printable 13.5ish x 18.5ish
Heidelberg Windmill 10 x 13 with Foil
Damon & Peets 8 x12
Nolan Proof press 12 x 18 galley proof press
Showcard Press 14 x 20ish
Old style Pilot Press 7 x10
Sigwalt 2×3 toy press
Challenge 26.5″ cutter
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The most valuable tool in my shop is my line gauge, Pica Stick, ruler… whatever you want to call it. My favorite one is a Gaebel 612H-12 with inches, Picas, Points and millimeters. Not only is it great for measuring and drawing straight lines, but it’s also great for opening ink cans, cutting open packages, getting things out from under the press. Not to mention, slicing pizza, and cutting cookie cake on those special occasions.
My favorite inks are from the old cans we pull out of shops that we buy out. The older the ink, the better the coverage. Plus it’s usually free and we’re saving it from going to the landfill. When we have to buy new stuff, it’s usually Van Son due to ease of ordering with our local supplier.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
Don’t tell anyone, I order California Type Wash. It’s an older solvent, that’s probably not as good for the environment as some of the newer stuff but it’s by far the best i’ve ever used. It cleans quick, dries fast, and will take 100 years of ink off in only a few wipes. I like to challenge myself when cleaning up the Vandercook to do it only using one or 2 rags at the most.
For most jobs I need plates for, I use the Boxcar Base and polymer plates. My base is beat up, but it still does the trick. To be honest, I hate printing with polymer plates. It’s been my experience that the ink does not carry well, and they can be finicky at times with the amount of ink on the roller and the roller height. Since we go in between hand-set type and plates, it is challenging at times for make-ready.
OIL OF CHOICE
You’re supposed to oil these things? Honestly, I just use the same oil I use for my race car. If it’s good enough to run at 6000 RPM for an hour in a race car it’s good enough for a press.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
I’m cheap… I use Scotts Rags in a box… but only the ones from small mom and pops hardware stores, because they are different from the ones at Home Depot.
I just recycled a 91 lb. bucket of pied worn out old metal type. However, there’s still standing forms from shops we cleaned out years ago. Some of the type from those shops may have been sold or dumped at this point but the standing forms are still in our galley storage. There are also 5 drawers of miscellaneous wood type hiding in the shop. I need a few more hours in the day to handle pied type.
I guess the only secret I have is a Sharpie. I have a pretty photographic memory for where my type is, what it is, and to where that random Cap L needs to go. When I take something out to use, I write in Sharpie the cabinet and drawer number on the back of it. Other than that, as long as I put it away I know right where it is. When I don’t, well let’s just say I swear a lot until I find it.
Things I wish I knew from day one: How to price my work for lines of type setting, vs pricing a computer-aided design. And pricing for press time vs make-ready time vs finishing time. That probably needs to evolve for each person. As a one man shop, it’s tough to figure all that out. If anyone has a magic button for that, let me know.