Printing Festivities at Fitzgerald Press

If you are looking for a printer to work elbow to elbow with and soak up some letterpress magic, consider John Fitzgerald of Fitzgerald Press in New Orleans. John works solo in his shop down in the Deep South, but he recently opened his doors for us to see his creative and functional printing workspace.


COMING BACK TO THE BEGINNING. Let me introduce myself by saying that I feel like I occupy a place in the ever changing print scene. When I was in Junior High School I took Print Shop. I was drawn to printing even earlier after seeing my older sister’s art class lino cuts. This was the 1960’s and the last of letterpress was still hanging on in the commercial print world. In Jr. High they still started us on letterpress, even though the advanced students were doing offset lithography. By the time I got to trade school it was all offset as was my career in commercial printing, until the digital takeover. By the late ’80’s jobs were getting harder to find and I never really liked offset printing anyhow. I’d always done little lino cuts and special letterpress jobs on equipment that I scrounged from old letterpress shops and could fit in the garage. So I turned to letterpress printing as a full time job as the ‘90s began. All this to say that I saw commercial letterpress die and be re-born as high craft. I never went to art school and my orientation is towards production. Still I treasure the artistic side of the trade and find myself right at home in this revived letterpress world.

PRINTING CHIC DECOR By far my favorite thing in my workspace is my old cherry wood handled copper riveted ink knife that I’ve had for 30 years. My space has two big windows that let in natural light. I also have an overhead fluorescent fixture and use these with a combination of clip lamps and floor lamps. I think of my shop as a working shop, and decoration is definitely an afterthought. I have prints and posters from friends and colleagues on the walls but that’s about it. Equipment and workspaces line the walls, and I have an island in the middle, that includes the proof press, pilot press and galley.

MEET THE FAMILY  I have five presses – a C & P Craftsman, an original Heidelberg 10″ x 15″ (Windmill), a C & P Pilot 8″ x 10″, a Printasign Duplicator Model 40 Sign Press (that I use as a proof press) and a Kelsey 3 x 5″  (that I use to bring to shows for demonstrations).

HEAVY METAL HOME I rent space in a one story cinderblock building, on Saint Bernard Ave, in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans, between the Treme and Saint Roch neighborhoods. My space is a 18′ x 25′ rectangle, and the rest of the building is occupied by the owner (Red Metal) who is a blacksmith artist.

DRESSING THE PRESS  My most valuable tool is my C and P Craftsman 12″ x 18″ press. I have two Boxcar bases, one thats 7.5″ x 4.5″ and one thats 12″ x 9″. I use a jet 94 FL plate and I’ve been using this set up for about 8 years now.

GOLD IS THE NEW BLACK  I use regular commercial offset inks (Zip Set). I mix custom colors using the Pantone system. My current favorite color is an improvised mix of dense black and 875 gold. This makes a super dense, warm and delicious black.

PROTECTING THE EQUIPMENT For clean-up, I scrape as much ink off the disk as I can, then run the press with a little kerosene to loosen things up. I do my major cleanup with kerosene and then finish the rollers with a roller wash (Varn V-120). I don’t like to use mineral spirits because it’s too strong. Kerosene leaves an oily residue that doesn’t seem to hurt ink colors and helps protect metal in this humid climate.

A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING THAT IS TYPE  I have no pied type! Over the years I’ve rescued a lot of type – much of it is now stored in gallery trays, but I keep it all sorted. Pied type is an offense!

SYSTEM THAT WORKS FOR ME  In terms of organization, the main problem I have is that I’m a solo operator and I fly by the seat of my pants. Every active job has a file folder in a rack on the wall, so I don’t lose track of things, but that’s about as far it goes for organization.

PROPERLY ATTIRED When I come into the shop, the very first thing I do is put on my apron. It’s like being in costume – I know I’m here to work.

YOU HEARD IT FROM ME   “Be attentive to ink roller height” is the best advise I have – getting the ink to contact the form just right is the key to good letterpress printing. I’d been printing for years before I really understood that.


Huge round of thanks to John for letting us take a tour of his wonderful shop!

Boxcar Base and polymer plates in action: Fitzgerald Letterpress, New Orleans

It just makes our week when we receive beautiful letterpress things from our platemaking customers, so we were thrilled to open our mail a little while ago and find some great letterpress pieces from Fitzgerald Letterpress in New Orleans, printed on a Heidelberg 10 x 15 windmill with a Boxcar Base and 94FL photopolymer plates.

Owner John Fitzgerald was kind enough to send us some thoughts on letterpress and printing in New Orleans. John writes, “I’m running a mostly one-person operation in the Bywater section of New Orleans. Things are still a challenge here, but they were before Katrina too. I do custom work like invitations and business cards, plus some note cards and art prints that I sell at a local art market and wherever else I can. The letterpress scene here is small. When I moved here in 2003 there was one artsy letterpress outfit (Hot Iron Press) and they have since shifted to a fine art focus and don’t take much custom work. This town is not really up to speed with the hip, new letterpress scene, which is fine with me because being hip is a lot of work. As it is, there are a few people who like the look and want letterpress. As more people see it and want it word spreads and some day New Orleans will join the scene (which by then it will no longer be hip and we can all relax.)”

“The original idea came to do a print depicting something like the “last supper” but inclusive. We call it “All Are Welcome.” Girls stand very close to girls and boys hold hands with boys, men hold babies, old fat skinny young – we are all here. My wife Katy Quigley made the drawing and I cut the block and printed on Crane Lettra 14 x 20. Then Katy hand tinted them. People like the image so I scanned a print (not tinted) and sent you a re-sized file. Then I ran about 500 of them on Cougar (Domtar) 80# cover, natural white. Then I scored and trimmed them to A-7 size and wrapped them with a matching envelope. I think I’m done running cheap paper. Next time I’ll go with something like Crane Lettra (they also have a nice matching envelope.) The run was smooth and trouble free once I got the feeder to cooperate. I did a version of Pantone 4625 with some 874 metallic gold thrown in for that extra opaque punch and subtle glow.”

Thanks so much for sharing your work with us, John!