Boxcar Talk With Guy Pettit

From expanding the bustling press shop floors to running the community-driven Flying Object gallery/bookstore/community letterpress space, Guy Pettit has been passionate about spreading the word (and a bit of ink here and there) about the wonders of printing. The Massachusetts native hopped on the line with us at Boxcar Press to talk about the richer things in life: inking up the rollers, working with the fabulous community at Flying Object, and of course, his dual love of letterpress & doberge cake.

UP CLOSE WITH GUY PETTIT I love doberge cake from Gambino’s Bakery in New Orleans, Louisiana. That’s where a lot of my family is from. Doberge has about a thousand layers of dessert pudding alternating with white cake. I’m about to eat a piece. It’s really all that matters.

INK IN THE BLOOD I got started after borrowing a friend of mine’s Kelsey 5×8 while she was abroad for a year. I’m pretty closely connected to small press publishing and poetry, which exposed me to letterpress frequently before I actually knew what it was.

BRILLIANCE IN THE BAY STATE We’re located in an old volunteer firehouse on a historic common (aka a 17th century palisade – the biggest one of its kind) in Hadley, next to the Connecticut river. I’ve had to do a lot of renovations but the space keeps opening itself up in really exciting ways, almost as though it was the natural next step in this buildings career. There’s a belfry. The concrete floors were perfect for the heavy machinery. Oh, and we have a shower in the studio! And great stone terrace out front. It’s a beautiful space.

PRINTING LEGACIES My mentors are my friends, the volunteers who work at Flying Object, the 501(c)(3) non-profit gallery/bookstore community letterpress I run, all the wonderful people I’ve met working on chapbook presses, Emily B. Goodale of Brave Men Press, and Art Larsen.

THE DAILY GRIND I don’t print full time, but I do spend a lot time managing the non-profit, programming the classes, events, and exhibitions here, and doing design work. I’d like to have more time to spend on my printing projects but I’m not sure if it’s a goal to be a full-time printer. I like the variety that my current jobs affords me.

PRINTER’S PARADISE I’m a designer & printer, and a major influence of mine is the designer Alvin Lustig, many of the artists associated with Fluxus, finding ways to combine new technologies with letterpress, designing intuitively. I’m not trained – I studied creative writing and publishing in college – so my process is always changing. I’m always trying to push myself and break my own rules. But you could probably say my designs tend to blend photographic images with geometric shape. I’m also colorblind, so I’m constantly working with unconventional color combinations. Often people will look at a design of mine and look shocked by the color choices. I sort of enjoy that. I like mistakes. I’m always trying to incorporate them into my designs.

PRINTING FEATS I’m proud that Flying Object is really open to anyone who’d like to get involved and that letterpress is a major reason why people gravitate toward the space.

BOXCAR’S ROLE [Boxcar] has helped make printing with photopolymer plates, which we do a lot of, completely stress-free. I love the professionalism and forward-thinking attitude.

PRESS  HISTORY After my year with the borrowed Kelsey, which I’d probably consider my very first press, I bought a Vandercook 4T. It was a big jump but I knew that it was a press I could share with a lot of people and was really the cornerstone behind opening Flying Object.

SHOP TIPS Find out what kind of printing (invitations, cards, books, pamphlets, posters, etc) you like best to do most and do everything you can to make that your focus. I’m a book lover and that’s who I seek out.

WHAT’S NEXT We’re expanding the press-room and converting the unit upstairs in our building into an apartment for a resident creative director, maybe for someone with letterpress experience. It’s going to be a big year!

Many thanks to Guy for letting us take a sneak peak at the wonderful world of the Flying Object shop!

Boxcar Talk With Nancy Hill

Boxcar Press goes one-on-one with colorful Nancy Hill, one-half of the dynamic letterpress duo of Hazel & Violet Press, (the other printing power is Beverly Wolfe) to talk shop, slip in a few amazing printing stories, and show how letterpress has shaped quite an adventure the two will never forget. Read on to get the full interview.

PERFECT PRINTING PARTNERS We are two long time friends who share a love of typography, paper, and letterpress printing. Although we both have full time jobs, we love printing every chance we get.

LETTERPRESS LUCK We had been watching, looking, hoping… for just a table top hobby press – when an opportunity came along to buy a complete letterpress shop. We learned to print by taking classes, personal instruction, and good old fashioned trial and error.

AWESOME ARIZONA Our shop is in a completely renovated garage – complete with cabinets, sink, insulation and flooring. Not sure if you can call it ‘decor’ – but, we definitely have a turn of the century industrial feel. Since there are no curtains on the windows,  we would have to call it a shop, not a studio. We have a new style Chandler & Price 10×15 named Beauty and a Windmill named Baby. We also have a Potter #2 named Beatrix at our gallery in downtown Phoenix. Our favorite thing about our shop is that we get to print there.

PRINTING LEGACIES Ladies of Letterpress has been a great mentor for us. The team at our first NSS was just great and has led to many new friends. Many of our mentors we haven’t even met. They are the guys on Letpress.

PRINTER’S PARADISE We do not print full time – but that is really our goal!

PRINTING FEATS That our first job was a 3 color wedding invitation and we didn’t kill each other. Also being selected Best Letterpress of Phoenix 2011 by New Times.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Great patience and so much help from Cathy when we first started ordering plates. Even now Boxcar is so helpful when we call with stupid questions.

PRESS HISTORY Well…we saw an ad on Craig’s List for an entire shop for sale and we just jumped in. It took every friend we have and a horse trailer to get it to our shop.

SHOP TIPS  Our favorite business advice – don’t break out the wine until you finished cutting the job.

WHAT’S NEXT While we are still printing our retail stationery, we are well on our way to growing our commercial letterpress business. We are really enjoying working with designers on their projects, and we are starting letterpress classes later this summer.

Big round of thanks to Nancy Hill for letting us get the full story on Hazel & Violet 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.

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Boxcar Talk With Kent Aldrich

Kent Aldrich is everywhere: from falling in love with World War II posters, cutting his teeth on metal type, and standing quite still as the elusive (and brilliant, we might add) man behind Nomadic Press. He refuses to be defined by printing parameters, rather, he deftly commands them in his letterpress work. Read on to find out more on the musings of this passionate printer.

Kent Aldrich, the man behind Nomadic Press, shared these photos of his printshop with Boxcar Press

THE NOMADIC PRINTER I was born in 1964 and I am still living today. I was fascinated with type forms as a young child and designed a couple of fonts (leaning heavily toward an art deco style) when I was in second grade. I have lived most of my life in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. I have been married for 22 years to the same woman, Emily, with whom I have 2 children. I ride a scooter with 46 rearview mirrors on it, I shoot a decent game of pool, and I like a beer with a strong hop flavor.

Kent Aldrich, the man behind Nomadic Press, rides a scooter with 46 rearview mirrors on it.

TEXT, FUN & ROCK ‘N ROLL When I was fourteen years old, I had fallen in love with poster art: Rock posters, French night club advertisements, WW2 recruiting posters. Anything intended to be tacked upon a telephone pole or hung up on a wall. So, I stole a composition stick (and the first line of a dead form) from a local jobbing shop and rode a hound down the Mississippi river to Winona. Once there, caught in the yellowing teeth of a full moon midnight, I sought out a lonely gravel crossroads where I met with the Devil and sold my soul for to print.

From there it was a series of graphic arts classes in high school,wooden renaissance festival presses, and a 3 year run-in with Coffee House Press and (the then just established) Minnesota Center for Book Arts. All of which conspired to push me into starting my own print shop, The Nomadic Press.

MAJESTIC MINNESOTA The building housing The Nomadic Press was built in 1914. The brick, from which it was built, was fired in a kiln a mile and a half away on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. It was originally a Mom & Pop grocery store and sat at the end of a street car line. The owners lived above the store, as did my wife and I for the first 7 years of our owning the place. With maple floors and woodwork and big, west facing windows, the interior of The Nomadic Press has been laid out following suggestions published in Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing (1684) and has been outfitted in the style of a jobbing shop from the 1930s.

Nomadic’s press stable includes: two hand fed Chandler and Price old style platen presses (10 by 15 and 8 by 12), an automatic feed Kluge (12 by 18), a Vandercook Universal I (with a power carriage, adjustable bed and take-up tapes), the Pearl (more on that press later), and a spattering of table-top hobby presses.

PRINTING LEGACIES Al Schwerdt showed me how to print clean work using inking balls and a solid oak lever press and taught me the satisfying importance of the ethical and respectful treatment of both clients and vendors.

Allan Kornblum, who founded Coffee House Press, and spent years patiently teaching me the craft of letter-spacing and the fine art of keeping my hands out of the hungry jaws of a roaring platen press.

Will Powers, who made it plain that a printin’ man is a man well satisfied.

And Joseph Moxon, who said it best when he said; “As he set this stick of letter, so he sets on till his page is out”.

THE DAILY GRIND When I was first learning to print I slept on the floor of the print shop with my head on the feet of the press. Every morning I drink a hot cup of Van Son rubber base ink. Black. I have a ream of 80 pound text for lunch and bowl of 24 point em quads for dinner. My children were conceived in a room directly above my C&P 10 x 15. Too much information? Probably. But, heck yes, I print full time! For the last 26 years I’ve printed full time, and I plan on dying with my stick in my hand (that’s composition stick).

A letterpress art print by Kent Aldrich

DESIGNED FOR PRINT Letterpress printing is, by its nature, a process who’s accessibility and immediacy demands a skillful confluence of art and craft. It is not enough to know how the press is best run, nor is it at all well enough to fix a pretty picture in one’s mind. Rather, a holistic knowledge of afore and after is called for.

ALL THAT’S FIT TO PRINT When I am designing my own work, and am using movable metal type, I like to set an element and print it. Then I set the next element and print that. And so on ’till the work is finished. It is a process that often finds me printed into a corner. And it is always a thrill to find the word, or type face, or ornament or color which, when laid down with the rest, finally pulls it all together and lets me walk out clean. When designing for clients, it all must be planned out beforehand though. Then I set great store in knowing what kinds of printed pieces they do /not/ like. Here be monsters.
Kent Aldrich uses movable metal type when letterpress printing.

PRINTER’S PARADISE The Nomadic Press is run out of a brick building which was built in 1914. Last year, Emily and I paid off the mortgage, and we now own the building outright. I have done printing for Nelson Mandela and Vaclav Havel, and I have produced work for the King of Norway and the Palace at Versailles.

Kent Aldrich's business cards for his print shop, The Nomadic Press

BOXCAR’S ROLE Having begun my letterpress printing career more than a quarter of a century ago, and having cut my teeth on metal type, I have worked with all manner of plates and blocks: Linoleum and end grain maple, electro-plate and zinc, copper, lead and magnesium. All have graced chase and bed here at The Nomadic Press. And they have all served adequately well.

But the photopolymer printing plates that Boxcar has developed, and now sells, are a printer’s dream come true. They are quick and clean and precise and they provide a seamless interface between my state-of-the-art presses (circa 1890s) and the cutting edge graphic design technology of today. And they impart, into soft papers and onto hard, a crisp impression that does a printer proud. It is hard to imagine the occurrence of the 21st century letterpress revival without Boxcar steaming into the station and hauling most of the freight.

PRESS HISTORY You always remember your first press. As is so often the case, I simply mentioned that I was looking for a press to someone who had talked to a person who knew of a clamshell platen that somebody had somewhere. So, for fifty bucks, I bought a 7 x 11 inch Pearl press, a Paragon guillotine cutter and a cabinet of type. And I had to get them out of a basement by the end of the week. I still print with her (and oh, the sweetness of her kiss!).

An elegant piece printed by Kent Aldrich of the Nomadic Press

SHOP TIPS Know in which direction the grain of your paper runs, and be very kind to your register pins.

WHAT’S NEXT Big picture; I am working to build another 21% growth in gross over the previous year. Small picture; I hope to be able to print something using Pantone Mixing System number 332 (uncoated).

Huge thanks to Kent for letting us get a sneak peek at the fabulous Nomadic Press!

Photographs provided by Kelsey Johnson and Andrew Hine


Our Boxcar Talks over the past year have showcased letterpress studios from all over. But there’s nothing quite like Pangnirtung, a small community of 900 people on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, and there’s no one quite like Jenn Robins, who took our Boxcar Plates with her during her Artist in Residence under the northern lights. Jenn, alongside a translator speaking Inuktitut to the Inuit print and textile artists, gave presentations and demos on many forms of printmaking. Jenn has shared her incredible journey and work with us.

Jenn got into printmaking, studying under Mary McCullough, at Okanagan University College. Due to some health issues she studied for 10 years – one course at a time! On her wish list was to see the light of the North, the blue spectrum. After a few trips to the western arctic, she built friendships and became enamored with the land of the North. She completed a 6-week artist in residency in the Uqqurmiut print studio in Pangnirtung, in the Eastern Arctic, where the Inuit artists are known for their exceptional original prints.

Jenn does not claim to be a letterpress printer. She is a visual artist whose work consists of various forms of intaglio and relief printing; her unique contribution to the printmaking world is her explorations of printing and embossing on various metals, using a variety of ink viscosities and the etching press.

Jenn Robins

Jenn Robins

Stencil brushes & ink


Left - shop aprons; right - Jolli & Eva (fellow artists) with a pulled print


Spring---enough sunshine to expose outside


May workshop

Left - Josia, a fellow printmaker (and really great person); right - the shop

Left - Josia, a fellow printmaker (and really great person); right - the shop

Top - Cape Dorset & Inlet; Middle - Cape Dorset community; Bottom - Cape Dorset Sunset

Top - Cape Dorset & Inlet; Middle - Cape Dorset community; Bottom - Cape Dorset Sunset

Her teaching in the Arctic had to be resourceful with only small amounts of supplies and ink available. Our Boxcar Plates were used as intaglio plates – they are made of thin metal, with a photopolymer surface – and she remarks on how they are a versatile plate, greatly used in a variety of image-making options such as photogravure and relief printing.


One of Jenn's inked plates

The equipment was limited, but was used with fantastic results. Jenn’s homemade miniature UV light box with a tiny 4” x 4” range, and our supply of photopolymer plates enabled her to create several hand-pulled prints and also to give demonstrations of this process to the printmakers and textile artists of Uqqurmiut. Jenn also took the simplest of styrofoam plates created by the textile artists and turned them into exquisite little aquatint hand-pulled prints, using Boxcar plates. Jenn proves that with a lot of hard work and imagination, possibilities are endless.

Temp lightbox assemby - photo etching

Temp lightbox assemby - photo etching


Temp burner unit in action


Temp UV light system 6x4 - post exposure

Temp contact plate for photo etch

Temp contact plate for photo etch

Jenn teaches at the local colleges, VCA and VISA, and continues to give workshops at the University of Victoria. She’s planning on heading North again, as soon as the chance arises. There will be an exhibition of her work with several pieces created using our Boxcar Plates, alongside her fellow artists, this fall. To read more about Jenn, her experience and a look at many more photos, please visit her website.