Keeping the Printing Rhythm With Tom Virgin

From Midwest to Miami and to teaching art by-day and printing-by-night, Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press weaves a letterpress journey of printmaking.  We caught up with Tom after hours on what makes his printing clock tick, the tales of teaching art in the high-school classroom, and the excellent food fare that is a must for a late night printing session in Miami.

Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press prints on a Vandercook.

PRINTING, SLUGS & ROCK’N’ROLL I was born and raised in the Midwest, just outside of Detroit. Fueled by blues, jazz, Motown, and rock & roll, I made my first print in 1972. I am now in my sixth childhood, having spent twice as much time in South Florida than in my native Great Lakes State.

IN TYPE-TOP SHAPE In 2004, I took a letterpress class with Kerry McAleer at Pyramid Atlantic Center in Silver Springs, Maryland. We made cards with a short quotation of our choice. Mine was:

“The course of true love nevər did run smooth.”– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Act 1, Scene 1

I quickly realized my mistake, reset the type, and reprinted. I decided the typo was more in the spirit of the original quote, and returned the position of the second “e” to the first version. This is my first love of letterpress story.

THE PRINTING TRANSITION I am a bookworm (and a storyteller). Printmaking eventually led me to book arts. The ability to create archival editions from press printed text and images was what made me finally get into letterpress.

Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press prints beautiful broadsides.

I have always worked in communal studios as a printmaker, so the transition to letterpress was a natural step. The first presses I printed on solo, were at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts in Boca Raton, Florida. Arthur Jaffe bought my very first book for the Jaffe Collection, and mentored me for the rest of his life.

SPLENDID IN THE SUNSHINE STATE Nestled in the middle of Little Haiti just north of Downtown Miami, I am a five minute drive from Korean fusion BBQ, Haitian cuisine, Thai food, awesome burgers and, right next door, Clive’s Jamaican Jerk Shop. Four blocks away is the Little Haiti Cultural Center. I am a white guy in Miami, living the cushiest minority experience on the planet. Extra Virgin Press has a Vandercook 4 Proof Press (formerly owned by Gaylord Schanilec, and lovingly donated to EVP by Regula Russelle of Cedar Fence Press- both from the Twin Cities in Minnesota). Our second press is a Challenge 15KP. Both presses are bringing back letterpress printing to the Miami community. The presses keep me from eating all of that amazing food, every waking hour.

The printing abode of Extra Virgin Press in Miami, Florida.

PRINTING MENTORS I am fortunate to have had many teachers and mentors, all of whom have contributed mightily to my printing practice. I am especially indebted to Arthur Jaffe, who welcomed me to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, and John Cutrone (Convivio Books/Jaffe Center) in South Florida. Stephanie Shieldhouse at Highway Press, in Jacksonville, Florida gave critical support when Extra Virgin Press became a reality in 2016.

In Red Wing, Minnesota, in my home-away-from-home, the Anderson Center at Tower View, I have been well schooled by the proprietor of Red Dragonfly Press, Scott King. Scott and Robert Hedin, the retired Director of the Anderson Center also introduced me to Regula Russelle (Cedar Fence Press), Chip Schilling (Indulgence Press), Monica Edwards Larson (Sister Black Press), Amanda Degener (Cave Paper), CB Sherlock (Seymour Press), Gaylord Schanilec (Midnight Paper Sales), and Richard Stephens, all from Minnesota Center for Book Arts, one way or the other. Moe Snyder and Maria Cardenas set me straight in Portland, Oregon. Many others have lent me assistance and support.

Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press prints beautiful broadsides.

GETTING INSPIRED My Instagram feed is a constant inspiration. I follow all I can find. Regula’s Russelle’s books offer me a sublime view of the world of color that helps me escape from black and white woodcut prints. (Mary) Bruno Press, another Minnesota great, keeps me smiling, Amos Kennedy in Detroit offers a powerful moral compass, and damn fine work to back it up. Another Motown great is Signal-Return. When I grow up, I hope to create a community of dedicated printers like Lynne Avadenka has, in Downtown Detroit. Can I just say, “Hatch Show Print in Nashville?” Writers have enriched my life immeasurably.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS My visual arts practice included printing, painting, drawing, book arts, and public art, prior to my entry into letterpress printing.

Teaching high schoolers letterpress printing with Tom Virgin.

Teaching a full spectrum of arts classes in Title I Public High Schools in the fourth largest school district in the United States helped me with design. I suspect the students teach me more than I teach them. My colleagues in grad school, as well as fellow Professors, Adjunct Professors, and working artists have helped me to bring some skills to the letterpress world.

Tom Virgin and helper set-up Vandercook printing press.

PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN At this point, I am printing after school and on weekends. That is the bulk of my waking hours. My retirement from the public schools will make it possible for me to print full time.

PRINTING FEATS —In 2006 I received the Florida Artist Book Prize for Right There, an artist’s book about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and a semi accurate account of my childhood in Michigan.

–I have taught five or six thousand teenagers about art.

–Extra Virgin Press has received support from the Knight Foundation, Cannonball Miami’s Wavemaker/Long Haul Grant, Miami Dade County Cultural Affairs, and the Miami Foundation, in its quest to bring letterpress back to Miami.

PRESS HISTORY [My very first press was] a Vandercook 4 Proof Press, Serial #13622.

Vandercook presses inside Extra Virgin Press in Miami, Florida.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Cathy and Rebecca make it possible for me to function in a letterpress world, answering far more questions than can be reasonably expected. The words on the website about setting up a letterpress shop are revelatory. Thank you Harold and Company.

SHOP (AND LIFE) TIPS I am still learning, but you will be the first to know.

WHAT’S NEXT I look forward to more printing, more books, more kids, more grant applications, and teaching new printers, so that I can run both presses every day.

A triple round of applause & thanks out to Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press for letting us take a sneak peek at his wonderful + tropical printing world!

Clean Prints at Spotty Boy Press

Molly Kempson of Spotty Boy Press wears many creative hats and has a knack for inspiring those around her. From making art (and joy!) with a local research hospital’s patients to working full time as an elementary art teacher, there is never a dull moment. The recent Coffey resident book artist (University of Florida) and Hamilton Wood Type’s New Impressions exhibitionist sat down with us to talk shop about life’s inspirations (from patients she has worked with to working with her local artist studio collective), exploring the 21,000 acre wildlife preserve mere minutes from her studio, and the Eureka! moment of when she used a linoleum block in her press for the first time.

Molly Kempson of Spotty Boy Press (Floriday) serves up fresh prints and good cheer.

ADVOCATE FOR THE ARTS I’m an elementary art teacher and I make art with patients in my city’s research hospital as an artist-in-residence. I learn so much from teaching and take it to the studio with me. I’m pretty awful at science, but I like to think that I missed my chance as an understudy for Audubon and Bartram – I am obsessed with creatures.

Molly Kempson of Spotty Boy Press (Floriday) serves up fresh prints and good cheer.
Molly Kempson of Spotty Boy Press (Floriday) serves up fresh prints and good cheer.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT I finished my M.A. in art education at the University of Florida last spring (2016). I pursued that degree with ambition for both becoming a better art teacher and to work alongside MFA printmaking students. I had been making linocuts for years, and took a class in intaglio and spent a miserable semester on the same plate – I couldn’t just leave it alone. I decided to take letterpress the next semester with Ellen Knudson, whose work I already loved. It clicked right away, and when I found out I could put linoleum blocks in the press it was all over.

   Molly Kempson of Spotty Boy Press (Floriday) serves up fresh prints and good cheer. Inking up a C&P with Molly Kempson.

PRINTING COLLECTIVE I print in a collective of artist studios in Gainesville, Florida. Some folks are faculty or alumni of the University of Florida, and many aren’t – we’re a small town with a vibrant arts community outside of the university. Each studio is separate, but I love opening my door and connecting with the 19 other artists in my space.

It’s my personal gallery of prints from friends. Trading with other multiple-makers (ceramicists as well as printmakers) has provided me with a space that is just buzzing with colors and details that want to keep me moving forward.

FAB IN FLORIDA North Central Florida is full of springs, bright blue pools of water in the forests where manatees warm up in winter and alligators stay scarce. Being able to kayak in clear fresh water all year is something people don’t associate with Florida. I spend most weekends on the water without making it to the beach, which baffles some people.

Molly Kempson of Spotty Boy Press (Floriday) serves up fresh prints and good cheer.

Gainesville has a ton of parks in city limits, too. I can bike to a 21,000-acre preserve full of sandhill cranes, bison, wild horses, and massive gators from my studio within fifteen minutes.

Molly Kempson of Spotty Boy Press (Floriday) serves up fresh prints and good cheer.

PRINTING MENTORS Ellen Knudson (Crooked Letter Press) taught me impeccable studio manners and problem-solving skills. Martin Mazorra taught me at Penland and helped me work through ideas faster using negative space more effectively. Sarah Shebaro (Striped Light) showed me what linocut letterpress can look like in a style that riffs off of modern quilting. It’s amazing.

I am always entranced with Jennifer Farrell‘s ingenious typesetting and her ampersand series. 

Ashley Taylor is a Florida printer constantly changing and mixing print mediums with intention and perfectly honed craft. She’s as comfortable making wood veneer letterpress matrices with Eileen Wallace as she is mixing day-glo puffy screenprinting over traditional etchings.

PART TIME PRINTING, FULL TIME FUN I don’t print full-time. I would say 40% of my “work” time is spent printmaking, the rest teaching in my school and hospital. My work is reciprocal – I make work inspired by the people with whom I work. If it’s a kindergartener’s drawing of a snake she saw (or imagined) or my experience making a portrait of a patient/wildlife rehabilitator’s fox, it’s working material. I take it to the studio with me. My students and co-collaborators fuel my practice completely.

PRINTING FEATS Last summer (2016) I was the Coffey resident book artist at the University of Florida’s special collections. I was able to continue working with Ellen Knudson, who did nearly all of the binding and most of the typography (I can carve all day, but I don’t consider myself a designer). Working with the natural history collections in UF’s special collections, I created a print portfolio of all of Florida’s woodpeckers with three-color reduction prints of each bird. We made an edition of fifty artist’s books of eight prints each in portfolio cases.

I was recently selected for the New Impressions exhibition at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum along with some serious print heroes.

PRESS HISTORY  My current press was actually my very first press! It’s a C&P 8×12, and I love it. I can’t print the big stuff I’m used to, but I’m adjusting. I have been carving linocuts in the chase and my reduction prints have never been better!

I’m a teacher of small children and used to planning for the worst case scenario. Planning for a press move took months for me, and I was blessed with a wonderful seller (a great stationery printer in his own right – Matthew Wengard) and very enthusiastic & almost dangerously cavalier movers. If you’re a control freak, my only advice for a press move is to surround yourself with optimists experienced in moving heavy things.

Chandler & Price (Florida).

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar lets me focus on my strengths – linocut and woodcut carving – while producing high-quality plates for book arts and stationery purposes. My artist’s book (the Woodpeckers of Florida) was printed and bound in eight weeks and wouldn’t have been possible without photopolymer plates – this project required 2400 passes through the press, leaving no time to set or distribute type.

SHOP TIPS For platen press relief printers, carve in your chase! And for you reduction block printers on proof presses, watch and make notes on those quoins. Ghosts can haunt your registration, and no matter how neurotic you are, cut more paper than you will ever need for a reduction print.

WHAT’S NEXT Another book arts project on North Florida vernacular language for plants, animals, and buildings is in the works.

A huge round of applause out to Molly of Spotty Boy Press and we’re excited to see what new book arts & printing adventures she’ll be embarking on soon!