Passing the decade-mark of printing & creating adventures (from first getting into the printing rhythm of a Vandercook to adding ink to his ’57 Heidelberg Windmill), Dan Padavic of Vahalla Studios continues to amp up his letterpress design game with eye-popping pieces, expertly designed (and memorable) prints, and a creative edge that pushes the boundaries of letterpress. We were able to catch up with this cross-discipline printer (have you seen their screenprints?) for a chance to talk shop and to catch up on what keeps him motivated, covered in ink, and ever creative.
A DECADE OF EXCELLENCE I graduated from the University of Kansas in 2004 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Graphic Design. My entire time in college I took numerous printmaking classes as electives and always incorporated a tactile process into my design work. I officially began Vahalla Studios in 2006 only a couple of years after graduating college and have been running the studio ever since. We are approaching our 10th year in business and it’s amazing to think about how far we have come in such a short time. I am married to my wonderful wife Melissa who helps run the office and books here at the studio, she is a talented seamstress and amazingly creative as well.
We have a 2 year old son, Tucker, who keeps us on our toes at all hours of the day and we are expecting his baby sister here soon in April. My family and our business keep me motivated, challenged and ever so grateful that we get to do what we do and work with such amazing clients and friends.
THE FIRST PULL OF LETTERPRESS My first experience with letterpress was at the University of Kansas. We had an elective letterpress class that was a great introduction to the craft. If my memory serves me correctly we had 3 Vandercook proof presses. I cannot recall the models but some had powered inkers and some you had to ink by hand. We worked on typesetting the old school way and had fun projects such as greeting cards and poster making.
THE PERFECT PRINTING ABODE Our shop is small and we really like it that way. We have about 2,000 sq. ft. tucked around the backside of a building that is a little difficult to find if you do not know exactly where to look. Honestly we kind of enjoy the privacy and the fact that we don’t have much walk up business.
We typically schedule meetings by appointment only, but the majority of our work comes in through the web. In that 2,000 sq. ft. we have 2 Windmills and a paper cutter, as well as a composing table, type drawers, and an ink mixing station for the letterpress work. We are also a full service Flatstock screen printing studio.
We like the term analog printmaking because both the screen and letterpress processes on paper share so many similarities. It’s spot color printing at its best!
DESIGNED FOR PRINT + BEYOND Design has been an integrated part of the studio since day 1. I have my degree in design and have taught courses in typography and printmaking as well. I see design as an integrated part of printmaking. The better the design work, the more fluid the printmaking process becomes. I like to say that what we do is 75% prepress and 25% production. With this approach the printmaking process is an extension of the design process and successful projects are achieved when the two process are thought of as one.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS Everything starts in my sketchbook. Even typographic layouts. Ideas can be sketched & hashed out much more quickly and fluidly with a pencil and paper than in the constraints of a computer, and I think that is super important. Once a concept or sketch has all the elements it needs, I then begin to execute the design in the computer. Whether that is scanning in a key line piece of art or composing a typographic composition, I try to use the computer as a tool and not so much a platform for idea making.
FULL TIME FUN Yes, I have been printing full time for almost 10 years.
PRINTING FEATS I was super stoked to receive a best invitation award for the wedding suite that I designed for my own wedding. I entered it in the Neenah Un-Show a few years back and was awarded best in that category. The contest was judged by some very respected designers in our community and that is why I felt so honored to receive the award. Below are a few photographs of the suite for reference.
Our work has also been featured in many design magazines and print annuals over the years, and we have had the great honor of working with such clients as Square, Kickstarter, Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Myspace, Warner Music, Disney Music, Zynga, and many others.
PRESS HISTORY My first letterpress was a 1957 Black Ball windmill. I knew that any form of proof press or hand crank / hand fed press would be limiting from a production standpoint, and so I decided to jump in with both feet.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has given me a seamless and efficient resource for ordering my letterpress plates. They are also a great resource for inks and pressroom supplies like my swing away lay gauge and pins.
SHOP TIPS The best advice that I can give would be to try and be as systematic as possible. The mistakes I made learning to letterpress were all due to inconsistencies with paper grain, cutting down, grip and guide, etc… keep everything in the same direction as it comes off of the cutter and pencil mark your stacks with the grip and guide edges so that you can keep everything nice and tidy! Oh yea, and ALWAYS CLEAN YOUR ROLLERS!!!
WHAT’S NEXT My plans for the new year are to keep pushing, keep growing and keep refining our processes. Maximize efficiency but also keep in mind our goals to stay small and manageable. We like the personal attention we can give our clients and we love building lasting relationships with designers. I also really want to up our social media game to highlight more work that we have produced and give more exposure to the artists and designers that we work with.
A huge round of thanks out to Dan of Vahalla Studios for letting us get a glimpse of his letterpress (and screen) printing paradise.