There is something that pulls you in when chatting with Laura Wentzel of Bears Eat Berries — it could be the nonstop letterpress itch that started with a printing whim, the minimalistic cool look of her printed pieces, or her zealous determination for ink distribution. We talked with Laura in her studio about the many brilliant moments that define her love of all that is letterpress.
COLORFUL PRINTING VIEW I’m Laura, owner of Bears Eat Berries, a design + letterpress studio in the heart of the southwest in Arizona. When I’m not designing or printing, I prefer to be outdoors in the mountains or sitting by my backyard fireplace in the evenings. I kiss my dog’s head about 50 times a day, I’m crazy about textiles, and I love reading modern Chinese history as well as mountaineering stories.
THE LETTERPRESS ITCH I’m a graphic designer who, a few years ago, was itching to work with my hands a bit more than stare at computers all day. My sister wanted letterpress printed wedding invitations at the time and, though I only abstractly knew the concept of letterpress printing, I just told her, “I’ll do it!.” At that point, I had never touched a press before.
I highly recommend taking a class on printing because I did it the hard way and taught myself. It took countless hours, tears, sweat and blood before I had it down. Crying at 2am because your ink distribution isn’t right and you have no idea why is not fun. But when I finally pulled a perfectly printed piece off the press, I was in love.
BRIGHT IDEAS IN THE COPPER STATE I now print on my 100-year-old Chandler & Price 8×12 floor press of which I am only the third owner! It came with the original motor but a 100-year-old motor is a bit scary. I prefer to use the foot pedal where I have more control.
I live in Arizona so my press is in my garage because it never gets too cold here in the Valley of the Sun. My husband and I just moved into our house a few months ago, so I am still working on setting everything up. But if anyone needs advice on moving a printing press across the country, I’m your gal!
PRINTING MENTORS I am constantly in awe of Studio on Fire. They aren’t afraid (and must have great clients) to use the best quality materials and push the boundaries of letterpress.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS I’m a designer and printer. I went to school for graphic design and even at a young age, I was always drawing and creating. I have a love for visual simplicity, nature and animals. I also love a little twist of humor. I pull inspiration from children’s picture books, Japanese design, and any great use of negative space and clean design.
I start each design by sketching it out on paper. Then I’ll recreate it on the computer. I love the process of designing by hand, manipulating the design digitally, and then turning it back into a tangible object. But it’s not an easy process for me. There’s a lot of erasing, crumpled paper, and ctrl+z going on.
FULL TIME FUN With a very supportive husband, I launched Bears Eat Berries two years ago and it is what I do full-time. In addition to my product line, I do some freelance design work and custom projects.
PRINTING FEATS I am extremely proud that I learned how to letterpress print on my own. Again, it wasn’t the easiest route, in fact, it was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But I surprised myself at how determined and patient I was in the process. It’s that age-old adage of “if you put your mind to it, you can do it” and my business is proof of that. By learning myself, I gained a deep knowledge of techniques and of my own press’s quirks.
It may sound strange, but I’m also extremely proud of each sale. When a stranger buys one of my products it reminds me that there are people out there that share my aesthetic and value independent designers/artisans… and that’s a very rewarding experience.
PRESS HISTORY I was living in Pennsylvania at the time and was on the hunt for a press to start my brave/foolish new adventure into printing. On a random google search I came across Dolce Press, a print shop in New York. The owner was selling her 5×8 Sigwalt tabletop. I drove up one day with my father and picked it up. I then spent the next few months figuring out how to use the darn thing!
BOXCAR’S ROLE Because of Boxcar Press’ professionalism and high quality work, I am always confident in ordering plates and supplies through them and never have to worry about it. They’re also just really nice people to work with. They are flexible and as a small business themselves, they understands the needs of an independent business like mine.
Boxcar also has brilliantly morphed the concept of letterpress printing with their Boxcar Base and polymer plates and allow us designers to design freely and not be constricted by handset type or expensive materials.
SHOP TIPS My advice for letterpress printing is to not be afraid… there’s no one “right way” to print. Today’s printers are applying new techniques to this age-old craft and these new approaches are exciting. Develop a workflow and technique what works for you. It’s the end result that matters. Also, believe in your style. Though it’s always helpful to find design inspiration from others, it’s important to find your own voice.
WHAT’S NEXT Bears Eat Berries is a constantly evolving venture. I’m experimenting with new materials and I’m planning on releasing more limited edition prints and series. You’ll see more than greeting cards from my shop in the coming year. I also love to hear the wants and needs from my customers… so if anyone reading this has an idea they want to see, let’s talk!
Big round of thanks out to Laura for letting us take a sweet look at Bears Eat Berries!