Boxcar Talk With Chris Torres

In a delightful conversation with Boxcar Press, Chris Torres of Farmwood Press saunters us through the moment of letterpress love (it involved four letterpress beauties), reveals the new plans for his family’s twin passion of photography & printing, and explains why getting dirty while printing is still oh-so-satisfying.

UP CLOSE WITH CHRIS TORRES We are a husband and wife photography team in the Atlanta area. We wanted to diversify our services, our craft, and have always loved letterpress. We thought this would be the perfect way to explore a new medium while meeting the needs of our clients.

INSPIRED BY FRIENDS  Some of our close friends were letterpress printers and we adored the craft. We would go to their studio to see the process. They decided to sell their company for personal reasons and we decided to buy it from them. They taught us how to print using the machines they sold us. However, the process was perfected through help from veterans in the letterpress industry. It also helps that I come from a large-scale commercial printing background. So much of the logical aspects to printing and managing client expectations came natural to me. I have loved having a medium where I can “get dirty” again.

PRINTING IN THE PEACH STATE Our studio is currently in our garage that is a simple, small two-car garage. We have used every inch of available space to safely print. Of course, it will soon be in our new home and have a space of it’s own. We now have a New Style Chandler & Price (Omer), Vandercook Universal III (Norma), two Heidelberg Windmills (Helga and one unnamed) and a Champion 305 cutter. We love to incorporate vintage furniture from factories that is functional yet beautiful.

We have old sewing tables from a zipper factory in Pennsylvania and two old heart of pine tables that we use. We cannot wait to settle into our new space and truly make it an experience to print in. We will update you all once we are settled in!

PRINTING MENTORS Greg Carpenter, a letterpress printer in Chickmauga, Georgia who has seen it all! He has grown from a letterpress apprentice when he was a teenager and has been printing ever since. Whenever I travel up to see him for a day, I leave with so many questions answered and yet feel like a new world has been opened up before me. Also, Bob Schmidt, a local Atlanta printing repair man that has seen about everything from within the presses and the people who work them.

DAILY GRIND When we design, we do so with the clients in mind. Our desire is the create a piece that they will carry with them for a lifetime telling their future generations through these pieces. Our joy is that this may be part of their legacy. We don’t print full time, yet. We’d love to very soon, but right now, our work load is more part time. So far it’s been the perfect balance for us with our photography company that requires travel.

FOCUSED ON PRINTING We personally do some basic designing, but mostly we are just printers. We do have one designer on staff that does wonderful custom work and represents Farmwood Press when we design in-house.

BOXCAR’S ROLE We started out using exclusively copper plates. We love their history and crisp feel to the printing. However, it was cost prohibitive and we could not keep using them as it left our profit margins razor thin. We turned to Boxcar Press for their photopolymer plates and were extremely impressed. Their quality and crispness met the standards we had with copper plates. Also to add that the durability has been a surprise as well. Their turn around time and customer services has been crucial to some tight turn times we’ve had with our jobs. They have aided in ensuring that we prepare the perfect files for plating so that we can take care of foreseeable problems. We have loved working with them!

PRESS HISTORY Well, we happened on our first presses as a collection from our friends that were selling due to family changes in their life. We acquired two Chandler and Prices, one New Style one Old Style, affectionately named Omer and Maude. Also a Heidelberg Windmill, Helga and a Poco Proof Press who now lives creating pieces at an Australian print school. We have since sold Maude, our Old Style and our Poco and last year adopted a Vandercook Universal III which we named Norma, which means “pattern” or “rule”. She was cared for by another letterpress shop who loved every turn of her cylinder. Our presses are more than just tools for us to use but rather our family members.

SHOP TIPS Build your reputation organically. We thrive on personal relationships with our clients to find out their needs and working with them to provide that. Whether they are a business, designer, or a bride we take steps to meet them on a personal level. We do not do advertising but rather network with those that can bring us the work. Once they experience our quality craftsmanship and connection with Farmwood Press, we find that they come back for the experience.

WHAT’S NEXT We are especially excited about 2012! We are building a new home that will be finished in a few months. We will have a finished basement that will house both of our companies. We are extremely excited about this. We need space for our employees as we kept bumping into each other! This new space will allow us a few extra hundred square feet from the garage we were printing in, and we’ll have two dedicated areas each. It will be nice to have the additional elbow room. Commercial space has not been the wisest option for us as we work from home and have a family. This is a great way for us to keep the businesses separate yet still being at home.

A huge round of thanks to Chris for letting us get the full scoop on Farmwood Press!

Boxcar Talk With Elizabeth Rittmeyer & Kelsie ZImmerman

Is there anything Elizabeth Rittmeyer and Kelsie Zimmerman can’t do? The energetic Elizabeth finally sat down with us to spill the details on just how ambrosial letterpress life at Sugarcube Press can be.

SUGAR, SPICE & EVERYTHING PRECISE I’m a 95%-self-taught letterpress printer, been doing it for 16 years. I’m a Portland, Maine transplant to SoCal via Seattle (I gloat profusely about living in the coolest places). The entire family is back in Maine so my husband and daughter go for 2 months and I get one before the printshop needs me back. I’m over 21, vegetarian 19 years, have a rational and hyper-creative husband who independently designs bags and i-gear for other companies like NAU and Apolis and he does production in Vietnam 4 months of the year (thus I become uber-super-mom). Our 11 year-old daughter is also so creative that she gets up at 6:30 a.m. to write stories before school. I love squirrels, pre-1900 books, tiny cut glass s&p shakers, ‘50’s odds-n-ends for my 1951 house with round livingroom, thrift stores and side-of-the-road finds, my proudest being a fire-orange Danish chair with swooped teak arms.

Sugarcube Press in action

INK IN THE BLOOD In 1995 I moved from Portland, Maine with my husband to a little rural island off of Seattle; he got a sweet job in K2 Snowboards. Well, after one trip on the ferry (after I missed the first two), through Seattle traffic, I decided there was just no way I could commute to Microsoft every day. What’s a girl to do on a wooded island with one blinking red light? Be the coffee-girl at a café. Lucky for me Jennifer and Ron Rich of Oblation remembered me from a book fair and asked if I wanted to be their paper-maker, which I did until I learned to print (enough) to be their printer for 2 years. With their success they left for Stumptown and I stayed on my island and did online weddings only. Looks like I was hooked.

CALIFORNIA DREAMING We recently moved to a new space in our sweet little Ojai downtown, a 6-minute walk from my house. We have 800 square feet with softly glowing buttercream walls, two all-windowed garage doors facing directly East with view of the mountains and with the doors fully-open we’re virtually “outside”.
An outside view of Sugarcube Press
Kelsie has a design-center, we have a processing + shipping area, and a near-half is the print shop. I am the second owner of my 1956 8×10 C&P named Dwight (she’s a girl), and 10X15 Heidelberg named The Butterfly that was bought from Frank Boross of Toxic Coyote Press (he had her for 25 years). Jack, my leggy Chihuahua mutt pound-dog, guards it all.

PRINTING LEGACIES I love Bonnie Thompson Norman of The Windowpane Press in Seattle. Her books are letterpress and lino-cuts; I adore Madeleine Zygarewicz of Panorama Press, she’s a doll; and I get really happy looking at 9SpotMonk, I gravitate to overlays and splash. Though I am amazed at people who achieve tight-registration and I totally bow to them, I prefer “movement” with overlays and juxtapositions that create new colors.

Sugarcube Press's print shop
DAILY GRIND “Design” happens every day; it’s inspiration and whimsy from a thrift-store goody or a conversation with a pal. My humor tends towards sarcasm and irony, so our cards are pretty funny. I like the one-offs and tongue-in-cheek play with words we English grads live for. These days I do quick pencil sketches and collaborate with my partner and designer-guru extraordinaire Kelsie Zimmerman; she uses our sketches and ideas and gets them plate-makin’ ready to send to Boxcar.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT I’ve always been a “designer” in the sense I draw, collage, carve, arrange and conceive. Up until I met Kelsie in 2007, I was the solo-business owner and designer. Our collaboration allows me to concentrate on Sugarcube’s printing; I print every single thing that comes out of the shop to supply over 400 stores.

Another look at the Sugarcube Press print shop
FULL TIME FUN I work full-time for Sugarcube Press and thankfully, finally, for no one else! Every-other year I’d panic and go get a desk job. But this past year was sweet to permanently be at my cast-iron “desk” all day; now I stand at the C&P for a solid 5 hours before it gets too tiring, then it’s off to other necessities: packaging, shipping, calling on invoices, and brainstorming.

PRINTER’S PARADISE In general, being a printer of good caliber; I print every single card and ephemera from Sugarcube Press on the C&P. Sugarcube has grown exponentially thanks to my go-getter-never-say-I-can’t partner, Kelsie. She rocks! We are both really proud of our growth over the years.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Our first NSS in 2008 found us paying thousands of dollars for wood-mounted metal that due to a changed formula (later discovered) was crumbling away as I printed. I was freaking out! We met with Boxcar at that show and decided to make the change to polymer plates: lightness in shipping, less cost in ganging–up images, less hazardous waste in it’s making, and polymer doesn’t smash (whoops) like magnesium.

Another look at the Sugarcube Press print shop
PRESS HISTORY I found my first press, named Big ol’ Pearl, a 10×15 1890’s C&P, in the Printer’s newspaper, in 1997-ish, in PDX. Drove down from the island in a huge Ford truck and extra-long Uhaul. Really spendy ferry ticket. My driver, backing it up in a rain-sodden field, became mired in the mud 500 feet from my studio door. One guy suggested we dump the press in the muck and drag it! The other guy (hello, Einstein) pointed out the press, being in a trailer, was already on wheels, we just needed a come-along, and a few hours of cranking got her inside with nary a drop of rain on her.

SHOP TIPS If you want to grow, get a partner! Kelsie and I both do different jobs and our expertise is necessary for our success. She designs and does all of the layout and haggling to get our catalogs done, online pop-up sales, keeps reps happy and trade shows looking sweet. I’ve mostly got the printing and stock under control; ya gotta make it to sell it!

WHAT’S NEXT Making more of everything and tripling growth.

Big thanks to Elizabeth and Kelsie for showing the sweeter side of letterpress with Sugarcube Press! Check out their nifty videos here!

Boxcar Talk With Travis Friedrich

The man behind the up and coming Parklife Press, Travis Friedrich, lets us in on the things he can’t do without, his insatiable love for letterpress, the curious journey of his beloved C & P, and his vintage paper cutter.

Friedrich carved out a few minutes to tell us about the things that keep his rollers inked.

Travis Friedrich

(photo credit: Annemie Tonken)

EAST OR WEST, LETTERPRESS IS BEST I grew up in Oregon but have lived in North Carolina for most of my post high school life. I’m 31 now. Although my college degree is in engineering, I’ve always loved print and design. I enjoy making grilled cheese sandwiches, watching tennis, playing ping pong, drinking fancy cocktails, and printing with headphones on.

Travis Friedrich

(photo credit: Annemie Tonken)

INK IN THE BLOOD I’ve enjoyed printmaking since I was about 13 years old — although it was mostly linoleum cuts and a little bit of lithography early on. It wasn’t until about 2005 that I learned about letterpress. At the time, I was living in Portland, Oregon and working at my first post-college job as a mechanical engineer, but I wasn’t wild about what I was doing. I came across a letterpress shop not too far from my apartment, and I thought how cool it would be to be doing something like that rather than sitting in front of a computer all day. By the end of that year, I was very seriously considering trying to find a way to make printing my career.

Vintage Challenger CutterSTUDIO WITH SOUTHERN CHARM  Parklife Press exists in a cozy studio at my home. It houses a C&P 10×15, a C&P 12×18, and a 123 year old Challenge paper cutter. My favorite thing about the studio is probably the lax dress code.

Aside from two days of a community college letterpress class (I couldn’t stick with the 2 hour commute required to stay in the class), all of my letterpress education has been “virtual.”  The Briar Press discussion boards, the Letpress list-serve, and Boxcar training videos have been invaluable.

DAILY GRIND  Most of the design work I do is for wedding clients. I start by asking for as much info about design preferences and inspiration as the client can give, then I put a few initial first drafts together for the client to look at. At that point, the client inevitably loves my least favorite draft, and we go from there, tweaking and refining. It’s amazing though how often I end up loving the final design and am glad that I was pushed away from my initial preferences.

FULL TIME FUN I’m definitely both a designer and a printer. I split my time pretty evenly between the two. I’ve been doing it full time since shortly after I started in 2005, and I’m certainly amazed that I’m able to do this full time. The cubicle job that I had after college was not that awesome. During that time I remember mentioning that I’d love to have a print studio at some point in my life. But I definitely didn’t think it would happen so soon, and I didn’t think it would be a career.

BOXCAR’S ROLE The speed and ease with which I can order and receive a plate is huge. As for the plates themselves, my tiny studio appreciates that Boxcar’s plates take up so little physical space and I love how easy it is to trim, alter, and reposition them. It’s much more flexible than other plate systems.

PRESS HISTORY My first press was a Kelsey 5×8 tabletop, which quickly frustrated me. After just a few months I upgraded to the press I still use — a C&P 10×15 Old Style. I was in the bay area at the time, and came across a guy who had been storing an old press in his warehouse for years, and I bought it from him—despite the fact that I knew I would be moving across the country three months later. Transporting the press to NC from California was not easy, but it was totally worth it—I love that press.

SHOP TIPS Occasionally, take on a job that you’re not sure you can pull off.

WHAT’S NEXT The new Parklife Press website just went online in early February and folks really seem to be liking it. I designed and printed a bunch of brand new invitation designs and re-photographed everything. I also added a bunch of new business content.

Big thanks to Travis Friedrich for letting us shine a spotlight on his creative letterpress talents at Parklife Press!

Boxcar Talk With Ivan Gulkov

Printer and designer Ivan Gulkov first molded his passion for print in the colder climates of Siberia, Russia before turning out clean, modern collections at Pillowface Press that pay homage to the printing roots in the sunny state of California. Now, Gulkov balances the cool with the fun, with a nod to the old while creating the new. And he does it in spades.

Read on to get the full scoop.

Ivan Gulkov of Pillowface Press shares the full scoop on his background and printshop
Ivan Gulkov of Pillowface Press shares the full scoop on his background and printshop

SMOTHERED IN INK My name is Ivan Gulkov. I hail originally from the frozen wastes of Siberia, though currently reside in sunny California. PILLOWFACE PRESS is a small printmaking studio I set up to experiment with handset typography and photopolymer. Until recently, ours was one of the most traditional and conservative trades. For five hundred years, the tools and techniques of assembling type have not changed. Fonts were discreet, tangible things, you experienced on a physical level. In every letter, every space and ruler, there was a trace of the creators hand. Computers changed everything.

Continue reading

A Facelift For Brittle Photopolymer Plates

Are your polymer plates starting to curl at the edges?

Like our skin, plates can be affected by the weather and age. When humidity levels are low, the plates can look and feel brittle. And with the passage of time, the thinner polymer on the edges of the plates are pulled towards the denser polymer text and images on the front which causes curling. There is a natural aging of the plates as they do have a limited life expectancy but we can offer a few simple steps that can hydrate and give extra life to your plates.

Printight, maker of Toyobo plates KF95 and KF152, offers these suggestions if you have a platemaking system. Boxcar also gives similar steps for the majority of you who are without such equipment.

1. Place your plate back in the washout system for one minute or immerse in water. We suggest room temperature for a quick dunking, a minute may only be necessary if your plates are severely curled.

2. Sponge off the water and place back in the drying oven of the platemaker for 5-10 minutes. We also suggest, alternatively, a hair dryer to warm the plate and make it more pliable (placing your plate in a box and blowing the hair dryer into the box will keep the warm air more contained).

3. After the plate warms and starts to uncurl, place the plate in its bag and set a heavy object on it to keep the shape.

This should help your plates relax so you can adhere them to your base for additional print runs. Some warnings for you – take care to avoid putting your hair dryer too close to the plates and be patient as warming the plates takes time. And watch that you don’t handle them too roughly after the wash and during drying so your relief images don’t chip.

Store your plates flat. One last tip, you may have to check your adhesive backing to determine if it needs to be re-applied to the back of your plate for a secure hold on your base.

If you have some storage and uncurling tips, tell us about them so we can share. It’s great when we can all learn from each other!

Boxcar Talk With Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson is wonderful letterpress gal creating beautiful designs with 42 Pressed. Armed with typographical know-how and an acute attention to detail, Robinson’s work has been hit after hit with her letterpress customers. Read on to get the full scoop on this extraordinary lady of letterpress!

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Jackie Robinson and I am the owner/creative director of 42 Pressed. I live in St. Augustine, Florida with my husband, two dogs and brand new baby girl, Riley Magnolia Robinson. We also spend a lot of our time at our other house in Charleston, South Carolina, where my family lives and hope to get back to one day!

How did you first get involved in letterpress?
I went to grad school at a small portfolio school called the Creative Circus. I studied graphic design there and had a professor, Berwyn Hung, who was a big letterpress printer. It wasn’t until after I graduated that I really got into it, and he taught me everything that I know. After I started messing around with designing stationery and doing a few wedding suites for friends and for my own wedding, it just kind of clicked that this was what I wanted to do.

Tell us a little about your design process.
I really like to think out of the box and be different. My design style is heavily based on typography (I love type) so you will see a lot of that throughout my lines. When I am designing for a wedding, I really try and hit all different styles and imagine myself a bride again who wears Jcrew, one who is a hippie, one who is classic and chic, etc. and I pretty much establish a style that seems to fit every bride in their own right. My line appeals to pretty much everyone who likes to be a bit different and stray from the ordinary. I love using different materials and textures; I love to pair rough with delicate. I really just like to play with the unexpected.

When did you start printing?
42 Pressed has been operating since November of 2009.

What are some accomplishments you are proud of?
I am proud and fortunate to have gotten lots of great press: we’ve been featured on Martha Stewart, countless amazing blogs, and recently landed on the cover of Stationery Trends. We also attended our first National Stationery Show in May of 2010 and landed in 30 stores nationwide as a result.

How has Boxcar Press helped you with your business and printing?
Honestly, so so much! I was using Magnesium that was mounted on wood for my plates for a long time. I had issues with warping, with the magnesium pulling off the wood etc. Yes, it’s true that the mag mounted on wood is what real letterpress is all about, but the photopolymer plates have given me so much less of a headache. I know what to expect from them every time, and it’s a great product that I can rely on to get the job done well without the added stress that letterpress sometimes brings. If you are a letterpress printer, you know so many things can go wrong, so it is nice to eliminate a problem all together, and Boxcar plates help me do that.

What was your very first press? Was it love at first sight?
My first press was a Vandercook 15-21 and is still my only press. It has an adjustable bed which I love, it would be hard to bring on another press since I am just so in love with the one I have currently.

Describe your print shop. Any cool or nifty things about it?
It is fun, lots of color, lots of sunshine pouring in, dogs lounging around, music is always blasting. It’s definitely an inspiring space to be in.

Any neat tricks or advice you can share?
Never let a letterpress defeat you or frustrate you, always try and solve the puzzle and win.

What plans do you have for 2012 that you’d like to share?
Well, we just had our first baby!! So things have been insane around here, but I am starting to get back into gear again and think about the 2012 stationery show that we plan on attending. There will be a lot more ready made things, and I am also planning on designing and releasing new products once a month (ready made items) to keep us fresh and new with limited quantities. Stuff will go fast and remain relevant and in the now!

Many thanks to Jackie for letting us take a sneak peek into her shop and hard work! Check out out her cool designs at 42 Pressed!