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.
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.
East Haven, Connecticut hugs the shoreline of Long Island Sound and is home to Lourdes Irizarry of Slackline Press. Lourdes’ self-proclaimed printing hideaway has cool tunes playing in the background, a loft nook above the main printing floor, and a treasure of letterpress tools collected over the years. Stepping back from her platen presses, Lourdes gives us a tour of where the printing magic happens, thanks in part to the support she has found in the New England letterpress community.
MINIMALIST PRINTSHOP Our shop is small so I like to keep it light and tidy. It has neutral, recessed lighting throughout and natural light from two windows and a sliding barn door that opens to the outside. The floor is a sturdy but affordable, wood textured linoleum over a leveled cement floor that I don’t have to worry about damaging. We built shelving from old wood we salvaged from the renovation, as well as a 7 ft. workbench with storage for large sheets of paper.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSION My favorite thing about our shop is a small crawl space in the rafters that was converted into a tiny loft for storage. I outfitted it with an old letterpress tray table I made. It’s a great space to hide with my laptop or sketchbook when I need quiet time to design. My prized possession is my first press – a Golding Jobber #6 named Brumhilda.
SHOP SIZE The entire space is approximately 300 sq ft.
CONNECTICUT SPLENDOR Our shop is a half of a detached garage that was drywalled and insulated to be functional throughout the seasons. It’s located behind our tiny cape on the Connecticut shoreline close to New Haven. It’s a short bike ride away from the town beach and town green where the library and farmer’s market is.
TYPE OF SHOP Our garage turned studio is in a residential neighborhood, on the border of a commercial part of town.
PRESS FAMILY I have 3 platen presses – a Golding Jobber #6 8×12, Golding Pearl #11 7×11 and a Sigwalt Nonpareil 6×9 tabletop press.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL It sounds silly, but I can’t live without my pocket ruler, to help center or square artwork while printing.
INK OF CHOICE I print with Van Son rubber-based inks. My favorite is rubine red. It never gets tacky, is easy to mix and looks lovely by itself.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE I find mineral spirits work best for me. Easy Street, which was recommended by someone at Boxcar, is a huge help when switching colors, cleaning up dark ink or if ink has been on the rollers for more than a few hours.
BASE SYSTEM I’ve had the Standard Boxcar Base for the 5 years I’ve been printing. I started with KF95 plates then switched to 94CHFB but I can’t decide if I like one more than the other.
OIL OF CHOICE I use 3-in-1 oil.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG just use old t-shirts that I collect from anyone getting rid of them!
PIED TYPE I don’t have a lot of metal type but what I do have came nicely sorted, so I don’t think I have any lying around.
KEEPING IT ORGANIZED Clean as you go! Everything in my studio has a home, and if I didn’t put things back in their place I either wouldn’t find them when I need them or I wouldn’t have enough space to work. I think my favorite organizational solution is plastic shoebox size bins to store printed cards. They’re stackable, easy to see what’s inside and keep dust out.
SHOP TIPS I feel like I will always be learning. I did notice very early on, how friendly and eager the letterpress community is to share advice. I think acquiring presses that needed some elbow grease and restoration helped to get to know the ins and outs of my presses. They all have their own unique quirks. It takes time and patience but I think it’s a really valuable way to learn.
West of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and northeast of Sacramento is the beautiful city of Lincoln, California. It’s home to the Creative Beasties Workshop and printing abode of Danny Rhoades. The garage-turned-printing haven features the thrum of a Heidelberg Windmill on which Danny creates his latest colorful creations. Danny throws open the doors to give us a tour of his studio.
EVERCHANGING WORKSPACE The workshop is in the tandem portion of our garage. I had a bunch of fluorescent tube lights installed to give better lighting. Other than that it’s pretty sparse. We tried to finish it with some texture and paint but we didn’t know what we were doing and made a mess. Then we decided just to leave it half done because we ran out of time and had to stop for equipment delivery.
THE HEART OF THE SHOP My favorite thing in the shop is my Heidelberg Windmill. It’s the heart of our workshop and is what makes all of our letterpress projects happen.
SIZE OF PRINT SHOP It’s right around 288 square feet. 14’8″ x 19’8″
CALIFORNIA NEIGHBORHOOD Our house backs up to a highway, so our backyard view is a 20 foot sound wall. We’re in a recently developed suburban family neighborhood.
TYPE OF SHOP I’d actually really like to open my shop up to community printers and let them use my equipment to allow budding printers get started. However, I don’t know how to make that happen yet since I’m worried about the legality of it and if it creates any liabilities or risk which I’m sure it does.
THE PRESSES We rely on our Heidelberg Windmill 10×15 press from the late 70s to print all out letterpress projects. We also have some digital printers, a hobby laser cutter, vinyl cutter, and a heat press.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL There’s so many things I rely on heavily, but if I had to pick one, I’d go with my oil can. It really makes maintenance a breeze.
FAVORITE INK Van Son Rubber base inks are what we use. Current favorite ink color is probably Orange. I used it in a split fountain test run along with Purple and it really took me by surprise how nice of a color it is.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE We took Boxcar’s advice and use California wash. It seems to do the best job overall. We’ve also use odorless mineral spirits from time to time along with a roller wash we got from a local distributor, but usually come back to California wash again due to its reliability.
PLATE AND BASE OF CHOICE We use a Boxcar Base system, of course, along with KF95 and KF152 plates depending on the job. We’ve been using this system since inception in 2014.
OIL OF CHOICE We use Mobile DTE Oil Heavy.
WHAT TYPE OF RAG DO YOU CLEAN UP WITH We use Scott shop towels and white cotton rags that we cut from t-shirts.
PIED TYPE No type, we do everything on photopolymer.
ORGANIZATION ADVICE I keep all my packing materials in a drawer pre-sorted by weight for easy setup. I do the same with pretty much all my materials, but that’s the best example.
PRINTING ADVICE Spend the time to line up your plates on the Base. If you’re careful, you can save a ton of time on press.
For those curious enough to venture into the beautiful and gentle rolling hills of the Scottish countryside, a thirty minute serene drive southwest from Edinburgh will find you in the company of friendly smiles, a easy-going pace of lifestyle, and the private farm workshop that is The Hunter Press. Lyndsey Hunter is the energetic entrepreneur manning the presses there and she let us in for a tour of her printing paradise — a true gem found in the heart of Scotland. She sat down with us between ink runs to talk shop, about her passions as a printer, and bringing more letterpress to the Scottish community.
THE LOCATION The print studio is located on an arable farm just 12 miles outside of Edinburgh. It’s a nice peaceful spot, not too far from the nearest town but quiet enough to feel as though we’re in the countryside. The print space is adjoined to my husband’s blacksmiths workshop so things can get a little noisy at times. We’re currently restoring a 300 year old property further north in Highland Perthshire which we plan to relocate to within the next year. The print studio will then be located in one of the adjoining cottages.
I like to have a central hub which I can access from every point within the studio. Ours is a large prep/finishing table which often doubles as a set up area, computer station and photography surface.
SHOP SIZE 500 square feet.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP It’s quiet on the farm, away from traffic and city hustle and bustle, which really fuels my creativity. Within the studio, my favourite thing would have to be the old type cabinets which are used to hold surplus paper stock and our cutting dies. The drawers have taken a bit of a beating over the years, but add so much warmth to the space.
FLOORING MATERIAL Sturdy painted concrete below the printing presses. We added some comfy hard wearing carpet across the rest of the space. The studio can get really cold so it’s nice to have a little bit of comfort during those cold months.
TYPE OF SHOP Commercial but closed to visitors.
THE PRESSES 3 Heidelberg Windmills 10×15, one of which has been converted for Foil Printing, 1 Harrild and Sons Proofing Press in need of full restoration, and we are hoping to replace one of the Windmills with a Korrex Berlin Proofing Press very soon.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL Not a tool exactly but I definitely couldn’t run things without my wood burner on those chillier days! I’m not too sure how I managed without it at the beginning now.
FAVORITE INK + COLOR Ink of choice would be VanSon Rubber Based Inks. I often use oil based for specials. Current favourite colour to mix would be mint green.
CLEAN-UP ROUTINE Clean up is my least favorite part of the day! Luckily the Windmills are fairly straightforward to clean. I use a water-miscible roller and blanket solution with cotton rags and blue roll.
OIL OF CHOICE Castrol Magna 150 Mineral Circulating Oil.
CLEAN UP RAG OF CHOICE Old tshirts and sheets donated from the family.
PIED TYPE A very small amount of odds which we picked up with the presses.
BOXCAR BASE + PLATE SYSTEM I always work with Polymer Plates KF95. I had a couple of aluminum bases made locally when I started printing in 2012, they’re still going strong.
WORKSPACE ORGANIZATION TIPS Keeping things clean, especially the ink station. I don’t like to leave the studio without carrying out a full ink clean up ready for the next day. I also like to file and label all polymer plates from past projects.
PRINTING TIPS I’m completely self taught so I feel as though I’ve ticked my way through every mistake in the book and I still feel like I learn something new every day. It’s been said before but ink application was a big lesson! I started out using way too much ink, which in turn led to me wasting a lot and also spending too much time adjusting the roller heights. It’s best to start with a minimal amount of ink and build up to the desired effect. It’s much easier to add to than to run out and have to remix an entire custom colour. And always mix slightly more than needed (custom colour) in case of reprint. Oh, and oil those machines regularly!
A huge round of thanks out to Lyndsey for this wonderful look inside The Hunter Press! Check out Lyndsey’s Pinterest page to see more of her work and inspiration!
Jason Dewinitz of Greenboathouse Press, is a fine press printer who hails from Western Canada. He is also an award winning book designer who has thrown open his studio doors to give us this friendly and laid back tour. His current studio isn’t on a waterway anymore, so for the interesting background story on the name, read more here.
THE LOCATION Greenboathouse Press is located in Vernon, British Columbia, a year round tourist destination in the lower southern region of BC. The workshop is attached to the house and is 20 by 24 feet (480 square feet), otherwise known as not big enough. While I certainly appreciate the community that a shared space offers, I prefer to work alone (or with an apprentice), so I cherish my private space.
EFFICIENTLY PRODUCED SHOP I was going to say my space is simply a glorified two-car garage, but “glorified” is a bit of an overstatement. The upside of a garage is, of course, the garage doors, but in my case it’s also helpful that both the electrical panel and furnace room are off the garage, as I needed to run a 220V line and running water to my Monotype Super Caster. The ground-level entry and concrete floor are also great, considering that the casting machine likes to spill molten metal all over the place. As for a floor plan, as can be seen in the photos, I’ve set up a number of workstations, for cutting paper, setting type, printing, casting, and working on machine bits & pieces. Although every square inch of space is taken up, it’s an efficient and reasonably comfortable area conducive to getting things done.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP I’m pretty fond of every single thing in the shop, likely due to the fact that only about 30% of my equipment is currently set up there. The bulk of my stuff is at the print shop I’ve set up for my students at Okanagan College, so what’s in my shop at home is the best of it. Aside from the machines and tools, likely the two features I appreciate the most are the long work bench at the back of the shop (for setting type) and the shelving unit behind the press, which holds all of the stuff one needs while printing (ink, reglets, leads/slugs, furniture, tools, etc.) at arm’s reach while printing.
PRESSES I work almost exclusively on a Vandercook 15-21, the adjustable bed of which is crucial in my shop given that I have quite a bit of European type that’s not .918”. At the college shop I also have an SP-25 Power and a giant 14.5” x 22” C&P. I’ve had a couple of SP-15s pass through as well, which I sold to get the SP-25, although I’m currently looking to sell the 25 in order to get my hands on a 219 or Uni III (I need another press with an adjustable bed, and the 25 is simply more than I need in terms of size).
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL Where to start…value, of course, being relative, I have a handful of tools that are worth a fair penny, and a few of those are also extremely valuable to me in terms of utility. At the top of the list would probably be my point-micrometer, which is one of only a handful in existence that measure in (North American) typographer’s points, with increments of 1/16th of a point. This is extremely handy for casting type, but also great for simply measuring type & spacing while setting & finalizing forms. Next to this would be a good alignment gauge and lining gauge, both used for casting. In terms of printing I’d have to say my favourite tool would be a pair of stamp-collecting tweezers that are ideal for pulling out sorts & spacing when correcting forms. And, by the way, I can’t seem to find these things anywhere, so if anyone has a source please let me know!
FAVORITE INK & COLOR When I inherited my first press & etc. from Caryl Peters (of Frog Hollow Press in Victoria, BC) with whom I very informally apprenticed, she also passed along two partial cans of a black ink that has, in my experience, no equal. It was a formula developed by Stephen Heaver and produced by Hostmann-Steinberg. The stock is long gone, but even after 14 years in the can, the stuff prints like nothing else I’ve worked with: perfect viscosity, deep, rich but matte black, and holds up for hours on the rollers. My two cans are almost gone now, so I contacted Hostmann-Steinberg in Canada who pulled the formula up from their US division and they were kind enough to make a big tub of the stuff for me, but I have to say it’s just not the same. I’m pretty sure they scrimped and used synthetics, and the new formulation is far too thin and soft. I’ve found, though, that if I work some out on the glass and (gulp) leave it exposed for about 3 days, then skim off the top skin, it works pretty well. Wish that I could find a stash of the old stuff though!
CLEAN-UP ROUTINE I have a very simple wooden cradle that holds both my oscillating and rider roller carriage, as well as my two rubber rollers, and this makes clean-up pretty easy. I use California Wash, mixed 50/50 with water, and paper towels to get most of the ink off, and then do the final cleaning with straight Wash and clean rags. I’ve got clean-up down to about 15 minutes. I use a lot of heavyweight Bounty paper towels, and chopped up old cotton sheets for rags.
OIL OF CHOICE I use pretty much any non-detergent oil, I’m not fussy as I use very thin coats on the rails and just a few drops in the oil holes.
BOXCAR BASE + PLATE SYSTEM I use the standard Boxcar base with standard plates. As I’m not doing job work and thus don’t feel the need to pound deep into chipboard, this simple configuration has worked very well for me. My most challenging job with polymer thus far was the Feliciano book, which was an alphabet book with each letter having two fill plates and a stroke plate with VERY fine lines. The registration was near impossible, but the plates did their job and the results were darn solid (see images).
PIED TYPE It all goes in the casting machine. Last summer I melted down over 2,000 lbs of old type and cooked them into fresh ingots for the Super Caster. Now there’s a fun job.
ORGANIZATION ADVICE Mostly I just follow “A place for everything, and everything (usually) in its place…”
PRINTING TIPS Roller bearers. Sure, the Vandercook allows for careful height adjustment to the rollers, but that does nothing for maintaining inking with uneven or gapped lines of text. Bearers actually control the height of the rollers, and can be taped here and there to address the text arrangement. And, change your packing/tympan with every new form. And, keep your press clean. I’ve seen presses that look as though they haven’t been cleaned in decades, and the result is always crappy printing. And one last secret: keep the ink light on the press, just a kiss of contact between roller & type, and then double-ink every pass.
Many thanks to Jason for this look inside the Greenboathouse Press! Visit Jason’s Pinterest page to see more of his presswork.
Lafayette, Colorado is an award winning small city where Dogs & Stars letterpress shop calls home. This “Best Place for Young Families” and “Top Fifty Best Places to Live” community is an inspirational place for the edification and admiration of letterpress printing. Brian Wood of Dogs & Stars is banking on that to advance his craft in his new workshop. Getting into letterpress has evolved over a ten year period for this graphic designer. His early influence was old letterpress posters with inspiration drawn from wood type.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS My first press was a Showcard 8×12” sign press. I took over our second bedroom and started a very makeshift shop, continuously adding the needs of a print shop bit-by-bit, eventually resembling a studio of sorts. Once more equipment and type cabinets arrived it was time to take over the next logical area of our home – the garage.
The shop has undergone a recent renovation thanks to the generous Kickstarter community. Before the conversion it was just a basic garage with letterpress stuff in there. It now features reclaimed chicken feeder lights, recessed can lights, solar tubes and four windows for lighting. The garage door remains, so it can be opened up during the warmer months for both natural light and fresh air. A fellow printer once told me to paint the floor to help improve temperature control. So the floor is painted a nice blue-gray using epoxy paint, so it’s durable as well.
THE SIZE AND LOCATION Our house had a 2 car stand alone garage that I have converted into a fully functional 400 square foot letterpress shop. It’s in the back of the yard so it’s tucked away. We live in a historic area of town that is starting to see some really cool shops, breweries and restaurants opening. I’m about 2 blocks from a coffee shop that carries my greeting cards and also hosted a letterpress poster show of mine. The local arts community is very supportive in Old Town Lafayette. There’s an excellent brewery less than 5 blocks away as well. I’m in good company.
THE PRESSES The work horse is a Golding Jobber No. 7 (10×15). I also have 3 sign presses: A Showcard, Nolan and Fremont. And a Golding Pearl that needs parts.
NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN THE SPACE It’s a one-printer show right now. It’s open by appointment only at this point due to location. But I’m happy to host anybody who wants to see what I have going on.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP My prized possession would have to be a toss up between my Golding Jobber No. 7 and the cabinets we had installed. They are impressive and have created an organized workspace for me. The Stik Wood reclaimed wood we installed on one wall is warm and inviting and everyone who visits loves it.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL I really value my quoin key. Without it, I would not be able to print on my platen press. My base and plate are the 6 x 9 boxcar base and the Jet 94FL plates.
PIED TYPE I do have some pied type floating around my shop, but I let it lay.
FAVORITE INK I use Van Son rubber based inks. My current favorite color is Warm Red. It always seems to cooperate, looks great on the press and prints well.
CLEAN-UP ROUTINE Boy, do I hate cleaning up. I use kerosene with Scott shop towels to clean up the majority of my mess. I use a paint scraper to get up ink on the ink disk and mixing stones.
ORGANIZATION ADVICE I do a good solid clean up after each project so things don’t get too hectic going forward.
PRINTING ADVICE Know your presses and what the limits are. Knowing what you can and can’t do on your specific press from the beginning can be helpful carving out your niche in the letterpress world.
Brian’s work at Dogs & Stars Press will continue to be type-driven and he laments that he was a few decades late on being a lino-type operator instead. Thanks for the insight and look into your creative new workspace.
Timothy Fay of Route 3 Press prints in the heart of the Midwest. He left for a brief time to pursue an education in Montana, but he is firmly settled back in the Hawkeye State, sheltered on his centuries old Iowan family farm. He’s passionate about printing and sharing it with others. We welcomed the chance to “visit” his creative space.
(photography courtesy of Linzee McCray)
THE PRESSES: I have a Challenge proof press, a 10 X 15 Old Style Chandler and Price platen, a V-45 Miehle Vertical and a 21 X 28 Miller 2-color flatbed. I also use a photopolymer plate maker and a Model 8 linotype.
SIZE OF PRINT SHOP: 24 feet wide by 36 feet – 864 square feet.
THE LOCATION: My shop is attached to the back of the house I built on our family farm in 1984 — it’s been in our family 150 years now, since the Civil War. My town of Anamosa lies 45 miles west from the Mississippi River. The shop, like the house, is half underground, which makes it easier to heat. I enjoy the improved lighting and ventilation here, as opposed to the old store building I formerly inhabited.
My attached house features a cathedral ceiling, and the floor is made of local limestone. Much native and local oak is incorporated into the design. I like living where I work; commutes are for somebody else.
TYPE OF SHOP: I am a commercial shop, and I print some job and book work in addition to my annual Wapsipinicon Almanac. This annual publication is a 160-page collection of essays, fiction, reviews and various tidbits focusing on Iowa. The 2015 Almanac is the 21st issue.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP: It’s nice to work in a space I designed and built. I have a nice sound system in place, and since I’m the boss — no Muzak here…. I’ve been collecting letterpress odds and ends since the 1970’s, so I have a few fun items tucked away here.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL: I would say probably the big Miller. It’s a very rare press (the only other operating one in America of which I’m aware is at Arion Press).
FAVORITE INK: For most of my work, I use INX black super dense with no drier.
CLEAN-UP ROUTINE: I use gasoline for type and plates and press wash for rollers.
PROJECT WORKFLOW I set slugs on the linotype. My polymer plates are mounted on either blank linotype slugs or custom bases I had a local machinist make for me. I used to use magnesium plates mounted on wood. Those were expensive and took up too much space. Then I went to metal backed polymer mounted on homemade magnetic bases. Now I use plastic backed polymer and would never go back to metal. I try to avoid having any pied type around. Lino slugs are re-melted into new bigs.
OIL OF CHOICE: For lubrication, I use Thirty weight non-detergent or heavier oil for certain spots on the C & P. I like cotton rags.
ORGANIZATION ADVICE: I try to organize and “straighten up” before beginning each day. I harbor a good deal of big equipment in a relatively small area, so I need to keep on top of clutter.
PRINTING ADVICE: I would stress the importance (especially when running automatic presses) of regulating humidity levels. I don’t have air conditioning, but I constantly run humidifiers in winter and dehumidifiers in summer.
One of the best types of letterpress print shops is cozy (but mighty!) — one where you can kick up some beautiful prints, sway to some good tunes, and enjoy a good scone or cookie (or two) from the local bakery just a stone’s throw away. If this sounds like a printing haven to you, Nane Press (rhymes with rain) in Red Hook, Brooklyn is a must-see. Jennie Putvin will be be slinging ink with a cheery smile on her face when you walk in to her printing abode (just be sure to say hi to Bradley the shopcat while you’re there). MEET THE PRESSES I have two presses: a Vandercook Universal I (her name is Phyllis) and a C&P Oldstyle 10×15 (his name is Bill). I love them both and feel so lucky to have met them.
SIZE OF PRESS SHOP A small but mighty 300 square feet!
THE LOCATION My studio is an old church in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Red Hook is a great neighborhood full of artists and makers right by the water, a little off the beaten path. On long workdays (and, let’s be honest, shorter ones too) I always make my way over to the local bakery, Baked. They have a breakfast cookie that is to die for. The pier with amazing views of the city is also a 5-minute walk away. In a city full of tiny spaces, being in a church with 3 stories of open air in the middle is amazing. I sublet from an artist who makes robots and kinetic sculptures, so there is always something interesting happening in the space!
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP I have my own space, which is great. And I have a full cabinet of adjustable furniture, which I hear is a rarity. I love the idea of a little perfect set of tools making its way through time, finding its way to my printshop.
I’m constantly rolling through Pandora playlists. Usually I listen to mellow folksy music, but the hiphop makes its way out after 9pm. I also have some large prints hanging up and some gorgeous antique schoolhouse lights I installed myself. We also have an ornery shopcat named Bradley.
NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN SPACE I’m the only printer in the space, and my rooms are private. But there’s a full metal shop on site, which comes in quite handy when you need any kind of a tool for a press repair!
I CAN’T WORK WITHOUT My Schaedler rule. I’m obsessed with making sure things are straight, and I’m totally lost without it.
THINK PINK INK I use Van Son Rubber based inks. I was completely obsessed with neon pink 806 for awhile, but I think I’m currently in between favorite colors. I guess you could say I’m playing the field!
KEEPING IT CLEAN I use mainly Crisco, and then Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits to finish. Not having an HVAC system, I looked at a lot of different options when I got my first press, looking for the lowest amounts of VOCs in my cleanup as possible. My system works great, and I haven’t really noticed any wear or pitting on the rollers.
DRESSING THE PRESS I have a Boxcar 9×12 base for the Vandercook. I used to use the 94FL plates, which I loved. I’ve just switched to the KF95 and those work great, too. I’ve just got the C&P up and running, so I have to do some experimenting with my current base, because I want whatever system I have going forward to be able to work with both presses.
OIL OF CHOICE I have a bottle of 3-in-1 that works great.
WHAT TYPE OF RAG DO YOU CLEAN UP YOUR PRESSESWITH I’m all about the roll of reused cotton rags from the painting department at Home Depot. They’re amazing — no lint and heavy duty.
FLOORING MATERIAL When Paul Moxon came by a couple years ago, I think he commented that I had the most uneven floor he’d ever seen. Because the floor has been recovered in the past to preserve and replace the original wood, the floor in my rooms is made of about 3 different materials. This is going to sound totally shady (it’s not though, I swear), but there’s actually a raised spot that gives right in the footpath in front of the Vandercook, so I don’t even need a floor pad.
FLOOR PLAN TIPS In such a small space, I’ve just got everything lining the walls as much as possible. I need every square inch to move around in! But having your ink right next to the press is essential.
PIED TYPE I purchased my first press with a type cabinet and galleys. There’s so much set type in the galleys that I have not even TOUCHED. It’s a project that I keep saying I’ll get to one day…
KEEPING IT ORGANIZED Let everything get into complete disarray until I can’t find anything and I start knocking things over, and then do a major overhaul cleanup. I’m joking (but only a little bit)! I don’t keep parent sheets of paper on hand since I don’t have a guillotine, so I really have to keep my paper and envelope stock organized and separate, otherwise the overrun from jobs builds up and there’s towering stacks of paper everywhere.
PRINTING TIPS Push everything a little too far before you pull it back. That goes for inking, impression, and design. I look back on old jobs and on a lot of them there’s always a little nitpicky thing I would have done differently. But I think that’s part of the process of growing as a craftswoman. It’s important to challenge yourself. Sometimes that extra hour (or two, or three!) you spend on makeready makes all the difference in the world.
If you are looking for a printer to work elbow to elbow with and soak up some letterpress magic, consider John Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Press in New Orleans. John works solo in his shop down in the Deep South, but he recently opened his doors for us to see his creative and functional printing workspace.
COMING BACK TO THE BEGINNING. Let me introduce myself by saying that I feel like I occupy a place in the ever changing print scene. When I was in Junior High School I took Print Shop. I was drawn to printing even earlier after seeing my older sister’s art class lino cuts. This was the 1960’s and the last of letterpress was still hanging on in the commercial print world. In Jr. High they still started us on letterpress, even though the advanced students were doing offset lithography. By the time I got to trade school it was all offset as was my career in commercial printing, until the digital takeover. By the late ’80’s jobs were getting harder to find and I never really liked offset printing anyhow. I’d always done little lino cuts and special letterpress jobs on equipment that I scrounged from old letterpress shops and could fit in the garage. So I turned to letterpress printing as a full time job as the ‘90s began. All this to say that I saw commercial letterpress die and be re-born as high craft. I never went to art school and my orientation is towards production. Still I treasure the artistic side of the trade and find myself right at home in this revived letterpress world.
PRINTING CHIC DECOR By far my favorite thing in my workspace is my old cherry wood handled copper riveted ink knife that I’ve had for 30 years. My space has two big windows that let in natural light. I also have an overhead fluorescent fixture and use these with a combination of clip lamps and floor lamps. I think of my shop as a working shop, and decoration is definitely an afterthought. I have prints and posters from friends and colleagues on the walls but that’s about it. Equipment and workspaces line the walls, and I have an island in the middle, that includes the proof press, pilot press and galley.
MEET THE FAMILY I have five presses – a C & P Craftsman, an original Heidelberg 10″ x 15″ (Windmill), a C & P Pilot 8″ x 10″, a Printasign Duplicator Model 40 Sign Press (that I use as a proof press) and a Kelsey 3 x 5″ (that I use to bring to shows for demonstrations).
HEAVY METAL HOME I rent space in a one story cinderblock building, on Saint Bernard Ave, in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, between the Treme and Saint Roch neighborhoods. My space is a 18′ x 25′ rectangle, and the rest of the building is occupied by the owner (Red Metal) who is a blacksmith artist.
DRESSING THE PRESS My most valuable tool is my C and P Craftsman 12″ x 18″ press. I have two Boxcar bases, one thats 7.5″ x 4.5″ and one thats 12″ x 9″. I use a jet 94 FL plate and I’ve been using this set up for about 8 years now.
GOLD IS THE NEW BLACK I use regular commercial offset inks (Zip Set). I mix custom colors using the Pantone system. My current favorite color is an improvised mix of dense black and 875 gold. This makes a super dense, warm and delicious black.
PROTECTING THE EQUIPMENT For clean-up, I scrape as much ink off the disk as I can, then run the press with a little kerosene to loosen things up. I do my major cleanup with kerosene and then finish the rollers with a roller wash (Varn V-120). I don’t like to use mineral spirits because it’s too strong. Kerosene leaves an oily residue that doesn’t seem to hurt ink colors and helps protect metal in this humid climate.
A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS TYPE I have no pied type! Over the years I’ve rescued a lot of type – much of it is now stored in gallery trays, but I keep it all sorted. Pied type is an offense!
SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR ME In terms of organization, the main problem I have is that I’m a solo operator and I fly by the seat of my pants. Every active job has a file folder in a rack on the wall, so I don’t lose track of things, but that’s about as far it goes for organization.
PROPERLY ATTIRED When I come into the shop, the very first thing I do is put on my apron. It’s like being in costume – I know I’m here to work.
YOU HEARD IT FROM ME “Be attentive to ink roller height” is the best advise I have – getting the ink to contact the form just right is the key to good letterpress printing. I’d been printing for years before I really understood that.
Huge round of thanks to John for letting us take a tour of his wonderful shop!