Letterpress On The Move: Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer

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.

Chris Fritton is a Buffalo, NY native and letterpress printer.

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.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

COMPELLING LETTERPRESS

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.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

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.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

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.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

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.

Chris Fritton, The Itinerant Printer, is a letterpress printer whose travels include 60+ letterpress print shop visits.

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.

PRINTING MENTORS

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.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

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.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

PRINTING FEATS

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.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

PRINTING TIDBIT

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’S ROLE

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.

Ombre roll or rainbow roll on a Vandercook.

PRINTING TIPS

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.

Ampersands, letterpress printing, wood carvings.

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!

Ali Norman: All In The Details

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.

PRINTING MENTORS

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!

PRINTING FEATS

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.

PRESS HISTORY

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.

PRINTING TIPS

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!).

WHAT’S COMING NEXT

Lots more printing!!

Top 14 Valentine’s Day Letterpress Picks for 2019

We’re smitten with printin’ and know that you (and that special someone) are too! Peruse our list of the top 14 favorite gifts for this upcoming Valentine’s Day 2019—from heartwarming (and hilarious!) cards to letterpress goodies that are sure to bring a smile from ear-to-ear for that certain someone.

Let us know what you are getting your printing paramour this year in the comments below!

Valentine's Day Letterpress Gift Guide - 2019. Cards, journals, and printing goodies galore!

1.  Letterpress Business Card workshop (Feb 7-March 14 , Poughkeepsie, NY). | 2. Fun retro illustrations in comic book form in this art poster from The Art of Manliness that is the definitive guide to wearing sunglasses for your shade-loving significant other. | 3. A tongue in cheek card from Thimble Press for the friend who is not a fan of Valentine’s Day. | 4. Ampersand Cookie Cutter from Cutter’s Craft. | 5. Splurge on 2 of Journaling Janes Letterpressed Journals – Reasons Why I Love You and Reasons Why I want to Spend the Rest of My Life with You – Make it a double gift (from J J Letterpress). |

Valentine's Day Letterpress Gift Guide - 2019. Cards, journals, and printing goodies galore!

6. Book Artist Tool Kit enamel pin from The Paper Carnival. | 7. You Are A Foxy Lady letterpress poster from Neon Kitchen. | 8. I Want You In My Arms card from Violet Press and Paper. | 9. Personalized Gutenberg Press journal from Mine Gift Store. | 10. For the music lover in your life – an art print for all ages from Cotton Blossom Press. |

Valentine's Day Letterpress Gift Guide - 2019. Cards, journals, and printing goodies galore!

11. Bigger is better and especially in Valentine’s cards (from Benchpressed). | 12. Treat your printer to a 10x or 15x Loupe (from Badger Graphics) for their shop, you can never have too many. Or google “vintage loupe” to score one with personality and history. | 13. One Fine Specimen card from Type High Letterpress. | 14. A Catch All Tray from The Art of Manliness: A tray for printers with the philosophy many try and do to aspire to in their print shops.

Hidden Treasures at Type High Letterpress

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.

Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 1
Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 4

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.

SHOP SIZE

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.

PRESS FAMILY

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
  • Craftsman 5×8
  • Golding 4×6
  • Kelsey 3×5
  • 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.

GETTING INKY

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.

BASE SYSTEM

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.

PIED TYPE

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.

ORGANIZATION SECRET

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.

SHOP TIPS

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.

Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 4
Tony Zanni Type High Letterpress IMG 1


Let’s See That Printed: Eleonore Lee’s Printing Tribute to Freddie Mercury

Sometimes the words on a person’s platemaking order just leap off the page and catch our attention. That was true with Eleonore Lee’s curving and falling text layout. Add in that they were lyrics by Queen’s Freddie Mercury and we just “had to see that printed”.  We hope this strikes a chord with you too.

Eleonore Lee's "Lover Of Life, Singer of Songs" fine art print tribute to Freddie Mercury of Queen strikes a chord with the heart.
Eleonore Lee's "Lover Of Life, Singer of Songs" fine art print tribute to Freddie Mercury of Queen strikes a chord with the heart.

In spring 2017, the Fine Press Book Association sent out a call for entries for their annual fundraising portfolio.  Since I already had a huge project to complete before heading off on a trip, it seemed fitting to add another project to my docket.  

Eleonore Lee's "Lover Of Life, Singer of Songs" fine art print tribute to Freddie Mercury of Queen strikes a chord with the heart.

This project was especially enticing as it would support their fine press journal, Parenthesis, and the portfolio would be shared among other printers. Last year was a year in which I was re-discovering myself after a good decade of hardcore parenting. An exchange portfolio would allow others to discover me too.

Eleonore Lee's "Lover Of Life, Singer of Songs" fine art print tribute to Freddie Mercury of Queen strikes a chord with the heart.

Like a lot of printmakers, I am a sucker for exchange portfolios. Something I particularly appreciate about letterpress and handmade paper exchanges is that they are a lot more lenient about format. The parameters for this portfolio were generous … produce 125 prints. Within these parameters, it was definitely possible to consider a less likely subject matter.

If you do not know, most often Fine Press work has a tendency to publish known and lauded dead poets. Always the contrarian, I felt like shaking it up a little with less-predictable words. My work aims to ask questions or bring attention to something you might not usually notice.  

Because music means so much to me, I have been considering making art about the music that pervades my life. Whilst at work I am known as “that person who wears their headphones and sings out loud”.  One epic late night, two BFA students and I had a lot of paper to make. We loudly sang through 2 CDs of Queen’s Greatest hits. That was my inspiration.

Eleonore Lee's "Lover Of Life, Singer of Songs" fine art print tribute to Freddie Mercury of Queen strikes a chord with the heart.

I was not a huge Queen fan in my youth, finding Freddie overwhelmingly exuberant. However, I grew into Queen. I learned the lyrics intimately in the same way that I spend a lot of time with the poems I work with. Singing along both joyfully and studiously, so that I could be as accurate as possible with the pacing and the sounds. By including the breaths, the uh’s and drawn out syllables, the project was most enjoyable.

I also revelled in the details: The paper is Neenah’s Flash Pearl Starwhite. Not only is it shiny pearlescent like some of Freddie’s leggings, but it also covers Flash, for Flash Gordon’s theme song, by Queen.

The font is Montserrat. Freddie had a dream to perform with and finally collaborated with Montserrat Caballé on the album Barcelona. And of course, I did my research: Freddie loved red and yellow, bold loud colors. The rhythm of the song is included in the yellow and red dots. They are foam dots, with 2” dots representing a full beat, 1” dots a half beat and ½” dots a ¼ beat.

I wanted a mix of more iconic images of Freddie as well as images from his videos. I chose the song because the lyrics combined with the video spoke volumes about Freddie.

He lived flamboyantly and boldly in public, at a time when being gay was a crime in most countries. In ‘I want to Break Free’ the band appears dressed as working class women. We first see Brian May wake up, with curlers in his hair, very rapidly followed by a hairy arm wearing bangles brandishing a vacuum. After a few swipes, all of Freddie scurries out boldly, staring right at the camera and gives us a brief, contented smirk before proceeding with some very sexy vacuuming (to the music). He dances and sings and winks appearing to enjoy himself a lot. It may seem run-of-the-mill today. It was bold back then, especially for a shy, cat-loving man wrestling with his sexuality. All of these words and images worked well on the tri-fold design I had in mind.

Eleonore Lee's "Lover Of Life, Singer of Songs" fine art print tribute to Freddie Mercury of Queen strikes a chord with the heart.

Although the images have enough small details and fine lines, I would never have attempted type with such fine details so I thank Boxcar Press for the plates. They also provided a fine press discount on the plates for this project.  

I hope others in this exchange enjoyed this project as much as I did envisioning and printing it.
You can learn more about Eleonore’s project with Parentheses at  FPBA.com.




Printing Reality with Lauren Emeritz of Abstract Orange

Graphic designer & printer Lauren Emeritz creates brilliantly colored fine artists books & punchy prints. Lauren talks about teaching printing at an area Community Art Center, creating artists books, and introducing many to letterpress at events in the Capitol area.

FOR THE LOVE OF LETTERPRESS  

I am a graphic designer, letterpress printer, and book artist in Washington, DC and have always loved type and printing. While attending the University of Delaware, they were beginning to set up a print shop. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to print. Now Pyramid Atlantic Art Center is my go-to print place.

Emeritz Lauren ( Washington, D.C. ) letterpress prints beautiful hand-crafted fine editions artists books.

(Letterpress Demo at the Smithsonian Solstice Saturday Event)

PRINT FOR THE COMMUNITY

I print at the amazing community art center – Pyramid Atlantic Art Center (PAAC). Unique to the DC-area, PAAC offers workshops on how to learn to print, and the rental of presses to print on your own. I discovered PAAC at their Biennial Book Arts Fair. This fair is home to beautiful art made by hand. But ultimately, this created a spark in me to reconnect with making art by hand. 

Emeritz Lauren ( Washington, D.C. ) letterpress prints beautiful hand-crafted fine editions artists books.

ART ON THE HILL

I live in DC, so there is lots of cool artsy stuff. I love the Smithsonian Art Museums, the National Gallery of Art, the Library of Congress — they have so much amazing art and printed pieces! The Library of Congress was on my bucket list for a number of years. I finally made it there for an American Printing History Association (APHA) event. It was awesome and now I try to go back every couple of months. 

PRINTING MENTORS

Ray and Jill at Lead Graffiti do cool work and love to share their knowledge. Vince Frost is a graphic designer who used a lot of wood type in his designs. When I teach at Pyramid I get inspired by the people in class. I get to share my passion for letterpress: type, ink, paper, and printing with people who may love it too or may not have done it before. It is always fun to see new ideas and the directions people explore.

I did an internship at Hatch Show Print in December 2017 and it was wonderful to have access to so much wood type — one of the first things that I loved about letterpress. The people were so creative and friendly and the shop was AMAZING – I highly recommend a journey there! I would love to go back for an artist residency sometime. 

Emeritz Lauren ( Washington, D.C. ) letterpress prints beautiful hand-crafted fine editions artists books.
Emeritz Lauren ( Washington, D.C. ) letterpress prints beautiful hand-crafted fine editions artists books.

PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN

My primary job is as a graphic designer for my company Abstract Orange. I enjoy printing and I do it mostly for fun. While I would love to do it full-time, I am concerned that if I printed commercially it might lose the satisfaction. Teaching at Pyramid keeps me fresh and experimenting. When I letterpress now, I use a combination of techniques. For small text and logos I usually use polymer. For hand-drawn type I usually carve linoleum or wood blocks. Each process has it advantages and I try to be intentional in my process, using the one that will best suit my goals for the project.

PRINTING FEATS

I made a Hand-Carved Alphabet book that I sold to the Library of Congress. At one of the APHA events, I sold my book to their special collections. It was one of the most exciting and validating events in my life. I started the project several years earlier without any particular goals or directions. Through a series of events, the book ended up in a show on a table next to works by Edward Gorey and Frederic Goudy! As a type nerd, Goudy has a special place in my heart!

I picked-up my bookmaking skills from a number of places along the way.  I started with different portfolio books at University of Delaware; workshops at Hamilton Wayzgoose; Ladies of Letterpress conferences, New York Center for the Book, GW Corcoran, and AIGA DC. The bookbinding associates at PAAC are always amazing and helpful.

Emeritz Lauren ( Washington, D.C. ) letterpress prints beautiful hand-crafted fine editions artists books.

(This is the artist book I carved, printed, bound and sold to the Library of Congress. (uses polymer for the colophon page)

PRESS HISTORY

My first press was probably my hands. I loved making rubbings. I own a Vandercook 99 (that is one without an inking system). My Vandercook 99 lives in my basement. I print on it sometimes, usually small runs or irregular things you couldn’t print on a larger Vandercook, such as round coasters. I have also used it for printing demos/workshops at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Renwick Gallery, and Shop Made in DC. Because it is smaller and only 110 lbs, it is fairly portable for demos.

Emeritz Lauren ( Washington, D.C. ) letterpress prints beautiful hand-crafted fine editions artists books.

BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE

Boxcar Press really revolutionized letterpress printing. I realized at some point that things were being letterpress printed using fonts that were more modern than lead type. Next, I figured there had to be a way to print modern computer designs on the letterpress — and I found Boxcar Press! I love the merging of old and new technology and combining my computer design skills with hands-on printing techniques. I tell my students who are interested in polymer to check out Boxcar Press because they “invented the system” we use to print polymer.

FAVORITE INK COLOR

At the moment, I have been printing some neon orange lately. It is lots of fun!

Emeritz Lauren ( Washington, D.C. ) letterpress prints beautiful hand-crafted fine editions artists books.

WHAT’S NEXT

Very recently, I did a letterpress printing demo with the Smithsonian American Art Museum to celebrate the Solstice. I’ve also taught a Hand-Carved Type Workshop at the Ladies of Letterpress Conference in October 2018.

I am not sure where 2019 will take me, but I am excited about the possibilities! 

2018 Holiday Letterpress Gift Guide

We count down the top 18 gift ideas in our 2018 Holiday Letterpress Gift Guide for that special printer on your list. Featuring calendars, prints, and type-themed goodies that are sure to please!  Let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comments section below!

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

1.  Flurry Paper from Boxcar Press.  | 2. The Vandercook 100 book by JustVandy   | 3.  PANTONE holiday ornament by PANTONE.   | 4. RGB & CMYK & PANTONE sticker by gschroeds.  | 5. Letterpress Metal Type 110 piece puzzle by alicing.  | 6. Hamilton Wood Type Water Bottle from Hamilton Wood Type.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

7.  Letterpress type Serving Tray by forrest.   8. Live Love Letterpress mug by OddMatter .  | 9. Letterpress Metal Type Composing Stick Enamel Pin  by ThePaperCarnival.  | 10.  2019 Fundraising Calendar from Green Pea Press. 11. 2019 Letterpress Calendar by HighwayPress.  | 12. Heidelberg Windmill Press t-shirt by Boxcar Press.

Holiday Gift Guide 2018

13. Hamilton Wood Type Blue Pullover Hoodie from Hamilton Wood Type. | 14. Daredevil furniture from Springtide Press.  |  15. Gallery Magnets from Springtide Press.  |  16. Printing Digital Type on the hand-operated flatbed cylinder by Gerard Lang |   17. Letterpress Paper Turtle Sculpture Kit by Questionable Press.

20th Anniversary Boxcar Press printing apron - Boxcar Press - Holiday Gift Guide 2018

18.  Boxcar Press Printing Apron by Boxcar Press.

All In The Printing Family With Two Tone Press

Thirteen years ago, printer and illustrator Michelle Dreher began the roots of Two Tone Press in Kansas City, Missouri. Joining forces with her sister, Angie, who helms the business side, brought exciting changes. It catapulted the growing letterpress print shop into a well-run machine full of creativity, fun & eye-catching prints and cards. They branched out with their blossoming printmaking community workshop. Michelle recounts the adventures of buying a building, expanding her studio for her sky-high printing visions, and what’s just around the bend.

EAST OR WEST, LETTERPRESS IS BEST

I grew up in a military family, so we moved around a lot. We lived in Germany and South Korea for several years before ending up back in the US. I later came to Kansas City to attend the Kansas City Art Institute and loved the city so much I never left.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

FALLING FOR THE PRECISION OF LETTERPRESS

At the Kansas City Art Institute, my degree was in illustration, but I spent a couple semesters in printmaking. While there, an interim instructor introduced me to the Vandercook. I immediately fell in love with its hairline precision and registration which made multi-color relief printing so easy.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

I started Two Tone Press in 2005 in a super-drafty warehouse loft on the top floor of an industrial brick building. I was later joined by my sister Angie in 2011 after buying a building in a soon-to-be up & coming neighborhood. She has a business background paired with a love for art and helped whip this place into shape. Together we built our own studio with a modest storefront and lots of open space and high ceilings. It’s been a long eight-year renovation journey but the studio is finally taking the shape of our initial vision.

KANSAS CITY COOL

When I purchased our building, there really wasn’t much going on around us. It has since started to flourish with other creative-minded folks who have banded together to build our own unique neighborhood.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

We even named our new area TowerEast District based on the very orange and prominent tv tower right next to us. It’s been interesting being a part of something new.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRINTING MENTORS

My passion lies in creating colorful relief block prints so I draw inspiration from my peers in the field. Our favorite shops are The Firecracker Press in St. Louis, MO and Tugboat Printshop in Pittsburgh, PA.

FULL TIME FUN

Two Tone Press is where I spend most of my time, but I do love to teach. I have been a part-time studio art instructor at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for over 10 years. And just last year in 2017, my sister and I along with another colleague, Ani Volkan, started our own community printshop called Print League KC. It shares the same studio space as Two Tone Press. In addition to letterpress, Print League KC offers workshops of other print processes such as etching, lithography, and silkscreen.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

THE CREATIVE FLOW

At our studio, we create everything from custom wedding invitations to business cards. When there’s “free” time, we create our own line of colorful poster prints and cards. Due to my illustration background, I tend to incorporate hand-carved block images where I can.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRINTING FEATS

With the immense support of my family, buying my own building to create our unique studio was a huge accomplishment. And later, being able to give back by starting a community printshop felt really good. I enjoy sharing my passion for printmaking with others.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

PRESS HISTORY

I gained a lot of experience working at another local print shop, Hammerpress, for several years after I graduated college. Then in 2004, Brady Vest, the owner of Hammerpress, offered to sell me a Vandercook No. 3 for $400. I jumped at the opportunity.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

It was a clunky machine that had no motor and a funny little hand crank to distribute the ink. Once I started my own studio, I later traded it for an SP15 from Indianapolis which is still my favorite press to this day.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE

We started by using metal-backed polymer plates that we spray-mounted to MDF boards. This made precision printing challenging because the boards were never perfectly flat. Then in 2013, my sister recommended we finally invest in a Boxcar Base so we bought the biggest one that would fit on our Vandercook, a 19×13.

Michelle Dreher of Two Tone Press (Kansas City, Missouri) creates beautifully printed letterpress cards, invitation suites, and more.

I can’t even express how much it changed our whole world by making setup so much faster and easier. The grid marks were totally worth it. I’ve never regretted the purchase for even a second and can’t believe I didn’t invest in one sooner.

PRINTING TIPS

Here is one of our useful letterpress printing techniques. We like using a sheet of mylar on top of the tympan sheets around the cylinder to keep a clean surface and then we also like to use removable sticker paper on it to bump up certain areas of the print.

WHAT’S NEXT

We look forward to expanding our store to offer print work from all over the world. We also recently bought the building next door which now has a gallery space on the second floor. We’re excited to put together interesting exhibits that will include letterpress and other print work.

Inquisitive Printers Want to Know: Extra Things That Caught Our Eye

This month’s installment of the Inquisitive Printers Want to Know showcases an enjoyable animated video short “Typesetter Blues” and today’s Mars-bound InSight probe. Read on to learn more!

From Cathy: How can you not love a title like Typesetter Blues?  Enjoy this short animated video about the fickleness of love in a print shop (Fun Fact: the printer in the video is named “Harold”).

Typesetter-blues-letterpress-printing - inquisitive(photography courtesy of TOGETHER/Pahzit Cahlon)

From Rebecca:  Seven months ago, NASA sent up the Mars-bound InSight probe. Today, the probe is schedule to land on the surface of Mars. The cool little probe has the job of collecting data of Mars’ surface and drilling a hole 5 meters (16.4 feet) down.

Mars_insight_probe-NASA(photography credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The data will be able to help scientists understand the creation of Mars and its geological landscape evolution.

Making the Leap Into Letterpress: Lauren Rolph

 

Newly fledged full-time architect-turned printer, Lauren Ralph of Helen Edna letterpress shares with us her printing journey so far. From being inspired by the vivid color palettes of Van Gogh and Kandinsky to taking up printing lessons at the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA, Lauren’s bright and clean designs reflect her dedication to the printing tradition.

TACTILE ARTIST

I began my career as an architect. Shortly thereafter, I came to the realization I missed working with my hands. The summer of 2018, I embarked on a new journey and opened my letterpress stationery studio, Helen Edna.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

I took printing lessons at the International Printing Museum in Carson. My favorite part was learning the printing process and being able to print my hand-drawn designs and turning them into cards. As a result of the printing lessons, I bought a Golding Pearl. Next, I made the leap to start Helen Edna!

LOVE AT FIRST PRINT

Letterpress cards in boutiques are something that I have admired. Being able to design and print my own cards for people to enjoy is something that brings me great joy. 

Lauren Rolph letterpress

CALIFORNIA COOL

I live a really neat area in California that is close to just about everything. My house is near the Headlands Conservation Area, Dana Point Harbor … and next to Strands Beach in Dana Point.

All the design work and order fulfillment takes place at my home in Dana Point. While all the printing happens at my husband’s grandmother’s home (which is nearby).

PRINTING MENTORS

One of my printing mentors would be Mark Barbor, the International Printing Museum Director. Not only did he give my husband and I a printing lesson at the museum. Even more, he has been helpful in getting me started. In addition to Mark as a printing mentor, artists such as Van Gogh and Kandinsky are inspirational.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

FULL TIME FUN

Over the last several months, I have been printing full-time. It is a true pleasure in seeing my designs come to life!

CREATIVE PROCESS

How does the creative process begin? First, I begin drawing thumbnail sketches in pen and ink. Next, I take a photo of the design is uploaded in Adobe Draw. From here, I use the Apple Pencil to create the illustration. After this, I export the drawing into Adobe Illustrator and adjust the Pantone colors. Finally, I prepare the design file to send to Boxcar Press. The design file includes adding registration for the designs that are full-bleed.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

PRINTING FEATS

One of my biggest printing feats is opening Helen Edna. Opening this store is something I have dreamed about for years. 

FIRST PRESS

A Golding Improved Pearl No. 11, which I bought from the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA.

BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE

Boxcar Press’ customer service is impressive. They have a really fast turnaround, are always very polite, and willing to help with any questions you may have.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

PRINTING TIPS

I have three pieces of printing tips. My first, If you are looking to save time … for card designs that are not a full bleed (and have a good margin around the design) I order precut and folded A2 Crane Lettra, from Astro.

My second tip, to achieve the perfect registration try overlaying your design with the printed design on vellum.

The final printing tip, if you are looking for Pantone ink colors to be spot on, and able to apply directly from the tube onto the disk, check out Southern Ink.

WHAT’S NEXT

I’m hoping to exhibit at the National Stationery Show for the first time! I also plan on doing more craft fairs and continue to play with designs for my line.

Immensely large round of thanks + appreciation out to Lauren of Helen Edna!