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!

Workspace Spotlight: The Arm

As studios go, The Arm in New York might be one of the best hidden secrets.  If you go before it opens, you might wander up and down this Brooklyn street wondering if you are in the correct location.  There is no sign, just some apartments, empty-looking warehouses with metal rolling doors, and a small corner store. The street number is right but still nothing to say “here it is”.  But minutes before the 11 am hour, a couple of people wander up.  They carry paper and what could be a plastic printing plate.

This looks promising. And on the hour, a skateboarder arrives, unlocks the door, rolls up the metal rolling cover to show a big picture window and its welcome to The Arm.  Here there are the presses, the notices on the window. The activity begins as many more printers arrive in succession.

Daniel Morris of The Arm describes what’s inside.

THE PRESSES: I am a bit of a freak for late model Vandercooks. I have two SP-15s, two Universal Is and two Universal IIIs. For smaller work there are a couple of C&P Pilots and a Kwikprint 86 foil stamping press. Because I also recondition presses there are often one or two others in some state of restoration at any given time. The equipment has been chosen very carefully to be safe and suitable for a shared work environment.

SIZE OF PRINTSHOP: 1500 square feet

THE LOCATION:  The Arm is on the ground floor of a renovated nineteenth century stables building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The studio takes up the bulk of the ground floor. I built the glass shopfront so that it opens 8 feet wide — getting equipment in and out is a breeze.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP: The way I have laid out the space, the press room is visible from the street, but the type room is tucked away. This was to make sure that passers-by could see what was going on from the street, but also to make sure that people weren’t too distracted when composing type forms.

TYPE OF SHOP: Community + educational. I set it up specifically to be able to share it, my presses and my knowledge of printing. I teach classes from the space almost every week and make the presses available for people to use for their own projects. We’ve got quite a community of printers here in NYC. It is far more fun in the space when there are a few people in working.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL: The trusty .918 roller setting gauge.

FAVORITE INK: We use the Van Son Rubber Base Plus system and maintain an inventory of all the base colors for the Pantone mixing system. With these inks, a Pantone book and a scale you can’t go wrong.

SOLVENT OF CHOICE: I use Gamsol for washup. It is an artist’s grade mineral spirits. We keep it in Justrite plunger cans and make sure all waste rags end up in our sealed Justrite waste cans. I’m a bit militant about shop safety protocol, MSDS sheets, etc.

PLATES AND BASE OF CHOICE: I am very fond of the standard base and the KF95 plates. I don’t like the deep relief plates, but do have a couple of small deep relief bases for people that bring them in. There must be nearly a dozen Boxcar bases here at The Arm.

FLOOR PLAN TIPS: Make sure your press is situated where you feel comfortable and have good light. Get yourself a good anti-fatigue mat (I love the 2×6 Uline Cadillac mats for Vandercooks) and your feet, legs and back will thank you.

PIED TYPE:  I am proud to say my shop has no pied type. As one of the owners of The Dale Guild Type Foundry, I love to work with metal type, but my policy is to sort the good stuff and melt the bad. May as well turn it back into something useful- we can smelt old foundry type to make new type and Linotype metal, Monotype, etc. we give to our machinist to melt down to make fishing sinkers. You’ve got to keep your machinist happy.

ORGANIZATION ADVICE: Down time is critical. Sometimes you just need to take everything apart, clean like crazy, and put it all back together.

PRINTING ADVICE: Coffee and good records are key [to making the space feel creative and comfortable]. But it is important that the music isn’t too loud that you can’t hear when the press is trying to tell you something.

Big round of thanks to Dan Morris for letting us get the grand tour of The Arm!