Letterpress City Tour: San Francisco

In our third excursion of our letterpress city tour series, the cheery Kim Austin of Austin Press shows us the brilliant printing world that weaves its way through the vibrant San Francisco, California community. Beyond the year-round fog, iconic Golden Gate Bridge, and rows of colorful Victorian Houses, San Fran offers a haven for printers and artisans alike. Kim shows us around her historic Pier 70 neighborhood and beyond. Similar to her beautiful letterpress prints, the city is “where elegance meets function.”

Kim Austin of Austin Press (San Francisco) tours us through her creative and brilliant community.(All photography courtesy of Kim Austin unless otherwise noted.)

CALIFORNIA DREAMING I moved to San Francisco in 1988, just after graduating from college. I came here out of my life long desire to move to the city from the suburbs and also to go to graduate school to study photography.

DAILY LIFE Well, mostly my studio. I work a lot. But it is such an amazing place. Pier 70 is one of the oldest shipyards in the country. Lots of history and texture. My quarter of the town is also quite great. Bayview, the Mission, Dogpatch, Soma … all great neighborhoods with lots of functional and fun outlets.

The Noonan Building in the Pier 70 disctrict of San Francisco houses Kim Austin of Austin Press.Kim Austin of Austin Press (San Francisco) tours us through her creative and brilliant community.

MUCH LOVE FOR SAN FRAN I love SF. Always have since I was a kid. It is a beautiful city and it has always had a funky edge, which is such an important quality for artists. I made art here for years before I ventured into letterpress. It was a seamless transition for me. And yes, letterpress is much loved in our city.

The Mission of San Francisco has beautiful murals and creative energy.(Photography courtesy of The Bayview Performing Arts Workshop.org)

RICH IN LETTERPRESS RESOURCES There are some great resources here: Center for the Book being one of them. We also have Dependable Letterpress that has recently opened its doors for public events. The American Bookbinders Museum and Arion Press/ M and H Type are also great.

Center for the Book Arts in San Francisco. Center for the Book Arts in San Francisco.(Photography courtesy of Center for the Book Arts)

FAVORITE LOCAL COLLABORATION The open studio organized by Artspan is a fun event that artists participate in city-wide. We open our studios to the public for a whole weekend to share our work and process with the community. It is fun to welcome everyone from kids to grandparents and share the curious world of letterpress with them. Everyone is always fascinated. Letterpress seems to have a universal appeal.

Kim Austin of Austin Press (San Francisco) tours us through her creative and brilliant community.

SAN FRAN STYLE Well, of course, there is Hatch and Hamilton. We all bow to them and their brilliance. But I think anyone who takes the time to learn letterpress and struggle through the physical and emotional process is deserving of admiration. It is something you really have to work out on your own and when you do that, it speaks for itself.

COMMUNITY SUPPORT Lots of printers find their way to Kelly Paper for the basics: ink, paper, solvents, etc. Logo Graphics is another print shop that lends a helping hand to those starting out or in need of assistance.

FAVORITE NEIGHBORHOODS Pier 70 has long been a favorite spot for me: abandoned brick buildings, the bay, stray kitties… it is such a unique place – unpolished, with lots of texture. The Mission has also been such a fun part of my life here in SF. Ever-changing, lots to see, and do, and eat. again unpolished and lively! Artists work in Pier 70, every slice of life lives in The Mission. Pier 70 was the port where ships were built and rope was made. Workers flooded here during the day. The Mission has historically been the Latino neighborhood full of small shops and eateries to meet the locals needs.

 Pier 70 in San Francisco offers thriving creative and production scenes.Pier 70 in San Francisco offers thriving creative and production scenes.Pier 70 district.
(photograph courtesy of www.pier70sf.com)

FOOD + EATS El Toro for a great taco. Zuni for roasted chicken and oysters, Serpentine for great local SF vibe, Out the Door for the best Vietnamese, Mitchell’s for ice cream, All Good Pizza for sitting outside on a picnic bench in the center of the city.

SHOP ’TIL YOU DROP  The Mission is full of great interesting small shops. Dog Patch has lots of local makers, and of course, you have to go downtown to Union Square, right?

FESTIVAL + FAIRS We have lots of open street fairs, food fairs, holiday markets, and makers markets. You can also find music venues, lectures, and performances. Check out Yerba Buena for ongoing events. Bottom of the Hill has a great calendar of contemporary music. City lectures for the arts are also quite fun.

A LIVING, BREATHING CITY So many changes! Bayview is a neighborhood in transition but still holds tight to its history and locals. Dog Patch is now on the world scene. Pier 70 will be one of the most visited ports in the near future – think the Highline in NYC.

Center for the Book Arts in San Francisco.The Dogpatch in San Francisco.(top: The Bayview photography courtesy of Bayviewperformingartsworkshop.com | bottom: Dogpatch photography courtesy of Peter DaSilva)

FUN + DOWNTIME SPOTS Love Kabuki Spa for total chill. Also driving a bit down the coast to Sam’s Chowder House is such a treat and nothing is better than a healthy walk in Lands End.

CITY SPIRIT Well, we are good people. SF/CA is a place for those who think a little bit differently. We come here to find a path that is unique, not cookie cutter. We strive to look out for others and do the right thing. The weather helps and so does being close to water- on both sides!

Friend of the Urban Forest helps clean up neighborhoods in San Francisco.

HIDDEN GEM Kelly’s Mission Rock. It has been here forever and sits right on the water. Funky, lots of old wood including recycled bleacher seats to create the facade. Seagulls, views, and the best fish and chips and seafood salad anywhere. You can eat outside on the wooden deck and look across the bay to Oakland. Often there are huge container ships from far-off lands in the dock of Pier 70. The vibe is local and mellow. Dogs are welcome!

LETTERPRESS STUDIOS IN SAN FRANCISCO
San Francisco Center for the Book – San Francisco, CA
The Aesthetic Union – San Francisco, CA
Dependable Letterpress – San Francisco, CA
Noble Impressions – San Francisco, CA
M and H Type / Arion Press – San Francisco, CA
In Haus Press – San Francisco, CA
Paperflirt – San Francisco, CA
Ladybones Print Shop – San Francisco, CA
Thrysus Press – Berkeley, CA
Set In Motion Press – Berkeley, CA
Peter Koch Printers – Berkeley, CA 

MUST-SEE STOPS
American Bookbinders Museum – North America’s only museum dedicated to preserving and sharing the beautiful artistry and craftwork that is bookbinding.
Golden Gate Bridge – No trip to the San Fransisco area would be complete without stopping in at this iconic bridge with breathtaking views.
Chinese New Year Festival and Parade  Internationally-renowned Chinese New Year parade featuring a 270-foot Golden Dragon and thousands of parade-goers each year.
Seward Street Slide – Let your inner kid out and slide down these public concrete slides.
John’s Grill – The infamous diner where Sam Spade of 1941 noir film classic The Maltese Falcon orders his “chops, baked potatoes, sliced tomatoes”.
Lombard Street – Like the Golden Gate bridge, this landmark is worth the 27-degree incline uphill walk.
POPOS – 68 privately owned public open spaces scattered throughout the city.

We hope you enjoyed our third installment of our letterpress city guide! Interested in showing your city some love? Contact us today! And if you’re planning a letterpress-centric trip, be sure to check out the print trip map on Letterpress Commons!

Keeping Creative in California with Alissa Bell

Armed with a Chandler & Price 12×18, Alissa Bell flexes her creative muscles by balancing both business sense and creative aspirations. The cheery, go get-em gal has been in love with letterpress since she took her first class at the San Francisco Center for the Book, and has flourished as the Artist in Residence at the Kit and Ace Pasadena store, an iconic staple of creativity in Los Angeles. We caught up with Alissa between ink runs to catch up on her beautiful letterpress greeting card line and how her children are growing up with letterpress all around them.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

CREATING BALANCE WITH LETTERPRESS I run a letterpress and design studio in Los Angeles with two girls, Hanna and Audra, and my dog Henry. Before I got into letterpress, I worked in public accounting for 4 years. I’m naturally a classic, type A person, but also love exercising my creativity. Creating my business gave me a perfect balance of both.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT I first took a class in San Francisco at The Center for the Book. That’s where I got hooked.

LIVE IN CALIFORNIA Currently we are the Artist in Residence at the Kit and Ace Pasadena store. It’s definitely a unique opportunity to be doing our thing inside the shop while people browse the clothing and wander the neighborhood. My favorite thing about the space is that, compared to any of our previous locations, it’s the shiniest. Also, for this season, we are able to give people access to watch letterpress live, which is rare.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

THE DESIGNER & THE PRINTER We do a little bit of both. I’m lucky to have a nice balance in our work that allows us to both flex our creative muscles, as well as execute another business or designer’s vision. I have been running the business for four years, three of which were full time.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS Giving my brain clear space to create is most important. So, cleaning my home or studio are musts, and sometimes getting out of my normal environment, either a coffee shop, or lately, RVCC in Downtown LA. The actual inception of an idea comes differently for me each time. Sometimes I have to just put a lot of things down on a page and see what I can pull from. Other times I’ll have a quick flash of an idea, in the shower or wherever, which are the easiest to materialize.

PRINTING FEATS I’m proud of my team. I’m proud that we’re working in Kit and Ace. I’m also excited we have grown, and are able to make creating our own collections of greeting cards a priority.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

PRESS HISTORY A Chandler and Price, 12” x 18” was my first and my last.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has been an amazing resource since the beginning. Even when I didn’t know what I was doing, Rebecca sat with me on the phone and talked me through what kind of base I would need and what kind of plates to order. Since then, I’ve used them for all of my plates. They always catch my errors, show me grace in the ordering process, and present a great product. I love them.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

SHOP TIPS This may not be new to many people, but this year we got to experiment with ombré ink on a platen press. We were able to tie back the part of the press that rotates the ink disc so the color was applied unevenly, allowing us to create both color ombré and a black and white gradient.

We caught up with LA-based letterpress printer Alissa Bell of Alissa Bell Press about printing passions, flexing the creative muscles, and enjoying letterpress in sunny California.

WHAT’S NEXT For the next year, we’re working on finding a new location after our residency at Kit and Ace, focusing on continuing to teach Hanna how to print, and having a good time. Last year we launched our ready to order stationery collection, and in 2016 we hope to build our collection of ready to order wedding invitations on our site.

A huge appreciative round of applause (and thanks!) out to Alissa for letting us get a glimpse of her wonderful printing world out in sunny California!