Melissa Livingston: Falling For Letterpress

Melissa Livingston of Livingston Press is located in the sunny city of Oakton, Virginia. On this warm fall day, she shared with us a small peek at her printing world and the wonderful printing community that inspires her daily—from running letterpress workshops, printing mentors (and family), and the itch to get back on press.

Melissa Livingston cheerily prints on a Chandler & Price Oldstyle in her letterpress shop in Oakton, Virginia.

INSPIRED BEGINNINGS As a small child I fell in love with letters while watching them dance across the big screen the first time I saw the movie 101 Dalmatians. The opening credits were revolutionary at the time. The spots on the dogs morphed into words; it was art to me. Because of my love of letter forms, color and paper, I studied commercial art in college and then worked as a book and calendar designer.

Melissa Livingston's gorgeous letterpress business cards for Livingston Letterpress

A RETURN TO THE PRINTING ARTS After taking a long sabbatical to raise my 5 wonderful children, I decided I wanted to get back into design. By that time everything in the design world had changed from waxed columns of type placed by hand on the art board to being completed on a computer screen. I missed the hands-on experience, so one day on a bit of a whim I decided to buy a 6×10 Kelsey Excelsior Victor tabletop press that came with a Boxcar Base, despite not actually knowing anything about how to print.

Melissa Livingston prints on a Chandler & Price Oldstyle in Virginia.

PRINTING MENTORS After an on-line search I discovered Alan Runsfeldt at Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop in Frenchtown, New Jersey and took the little press to him to learn how it worked. Alan became a mentor and a friend. I purchased my first drawer of type from a basement in Bethesda, Maryland and with the patient guidance of Rebecca at Boxcar Press, learned how to submit a file to create a polymer plate. I was printing! I printed my niece’s wedding invitations, Christmas cards and lots of other projects. I set up a little designated printing space in my basement and loved creating on that little press.


One day the little press broke and seeing my disappointment, my husband searched on eBay for a press. He came across a 10×15 Chandler & Price Oldstyle not far from our home. A dear friend helped us move the press into our garage and through YouTube videos and the kindness of other artists in the field (including Alan who taught me how to properly oil my machine), I continued to learn the craft of letterpress printing.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

THE CREATIVE FLOW My passion is really the hands on aspect of the craft. I prefer a machine powered by foot treadle. I have also collected quite an array of wooden and lead type and I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of setting type. I stock only primary colors of ink and mix all my colors by hand. I have also added a Potter Press for poster making, which does not have an inking mechanism, so all inking is done with a brayer.

Hand-set type locked-up in a chase by Melissa Livingston.

I do some design work with Illustrator, but prefer to leave the computer-related tasks to others. I work with a wonderful designer, Holly Osborn, whose work you can find on my website. It has also been a joy to collaborate with my daughter Megan as she has designed a few wedding suites.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

VERY VIVACIOUS IN VIRGINIA Livingston Letterpress began with the Chandler & Price in a corner of our garage. In the cold winter I would use a space heater and a candle under the ink disk to keep it warm enough to move the ink. In September of 2014 I moved into a real studio we added onto our home. The studio is a sacred, beautiful space to me; a physical reminder that dreams really do come true! I have a stunning composing table that found its way to me through the kindness of a jewelry artist who had inherited it from a printer friend. I have cases of type that sat for decades in basements and now have new life as letters are inked and pressed to the paper to print once again. I am connected to my tools as I have cleaned and scrubbed and made them functional again. It is an amazing feeling to look around the room and be surrounded by love; love for the craft, love for the kindness of others who have taught me or passed along tips or equipment, and the love of a family that supports this passion of mine.

PRESS HISTORY 6×10 Kelsey Excelsior Victor tabletop press, 10×15 Chandler & Price Oldstyle

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has been a wonderful resource to me. I use a 5×7 Base, a 9×12 Base and also very small bases that allow me to mix polymer plates with handset type. I love the flexibility that platemaking allows a letterpress printer. I recently ordered plates in Korean, Arabic and Russian!

I think the thing that impresses me most about Boxcar is the kindness of the staff, especially their patience as they have walked me through how to confirm my artwork is 100% black.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

PRINTING FEATS I am so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way through letterpress printing. I treasure the connections I have made with people who have come to print and I love seeing their reaction as they create a treasure. I am inspired by the words people choose to turn into art. I was thrilled to get to print the menus and booklet covers and hand-stitch the bindings of the booklets for the 2015 Kinfolk Dinner in Washington, DC, but my favorite projects have been to print wedding suites for my oldest son and daughter.

Big round of thanks out to Melissa for the fun happenings at Livingston Press. Keep up the amazing work!

The Creative Muscle Behind Able Bodied Press

John Bethell of Able Bodied Press has transitioned fluidly from one endeavor to another. The translator turned chaplain turned printer has an engaging personality that speaks volumes (and so does he – John is fluent in four languages!). From working with the FDNY as a chaplain to translating Arabic in service of the U.S. Navy, John found the wonders of printing on his Kelsey his true calling. We stopped in with the ever-humorous printer to get the ins and outs of his printing world.

John Bethell of Able Bodied Press

TRANSLATION INTO PRINT My name is John Bethell and I was born and raised in New York City. I’m an Episcopal priest by trade who is spending some time away from regular church work. I was an FDNY chaplain for a few years and now work with the Clemson Fire Department in North Carolina. I’m the uncle to a beautiful set of twin boys who just turned one: Roman and Jude.

Behind the scenes at Able Bodied Press

I spent five years in the Navy as an Arabic translator and I miss it a lot. I’m looking at going back.  I’m also fluent in four languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, and American Sign Language. I’m prevented from getting too boast-y about it by reminding myself that I can’t pass a math test or spiral a football. But I do love language.

LAUNCH INTO LETTERPRESS I went to I.S. 72 on Staten Island (we number our junior high schools there) and Mr. Sprague taught graphic arts. We set and printed our own business cards and notepads and it was amazing. I printed for a bit in high school and then stopped for years. When my sister got engaged, I realized it would be a cool time to relearn the craft and bought a rusted out Kelsey Excelsior on eBay. It’s been a great way to feed my latent introvert.

PRINTING IN THE PALMETTO STATE My dining room has been converted into a print shop – I had to once I picked up the Rear Admiral (on account of his one star). I live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina. Clemson is a great town where football reigns in the fall, if you’re into that sort of thing. Otherwise, we’re not far from the Appalachian Trail.

The at-home studio of Able Bodied Press

Work samples and a peek at the studio of Able Bodied Press

DESIGN FOR PRINT I mostly just print! I’ve been printing full time since February 2015. It had been a hobby for a while. To be honest yet diplomatic, I was working in a place that wasn’t the healthiest fit for a number of reasons. I left my full time job and have a pretty decently-stocked print shop in my house. It’s been great.

SHOP TIPS I’m most productive cranking Wu Tang while I work. 36 Chambers has gone triple platinum in my shop. Try it. Oh – if you include trivia in the comments on your Boxcar order, you might get a reply on your plate when it arrives. Might.

Letterpress Business cards by  Able Bodied Press

THE CREATIVE PROCESS  It’s real tough to get momentum without getting distracted and my least favorite part of printing is cleaning the press even though it only takes a few minutes. Once the press is clean, I can go for hours. It all hinges on having a clean press for me. And there’s the Wu Tang part of it, too.

Letterpressed + edge painted business cards by Able Bodied Press

PRINTING FEATS  It’s simple, but I bought a run down Kelsey Star and the runners were in pretty rough shape. Getting my roller gauge right where it needed to be was cause for celebration. The other would be when I finished my sister’s wedding invitation set. It was pretty basic and didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted it to in my head, but I was pretty proud of it.

FAVORITE INK COLOR + TYPEFACE What a question!  It’s like asking me my favorite Veep or Arrested Development episode — tough to narrow down. My favorite typefaces are Caslon and Porter Sans Block. Caslon’s the first typeface made for English and the Declaration of Independence was set in it. I think it’s got a neat pedigree and it’s pretty solid and classy. Porter Sans Block by Finck is just great fun to work with and look at. My favorite ink colors are Marian Blue (285U) and this yellow green over by 382. The former is the color used in art to represent Mary and the yellow green is my best friend’s favorite color.

Letterpress print samples at Able Bodied Press

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has helped in a ton of ways – from the free videos to the gauges and guides to the phenomenal (and fast!) customer service, they’re the reason I’m able to work as much as I do.

PRESS HISTORY A 5×7 Kelsey Excelsior named Swabbie. A few months ago, I found a decent Kelsey Star on Briar Press.

The 5x7 Kelsey Excelsior at Able Bodied Press

WHAT’S NEXT I just saw the Indigo Girls in Asheville in concert for the first time two weeks ago, so I can basically close the books on 2015. Who knows what’s going on next year.

Huge round of applause and thanks out to John for letting us get a sneak peek at his wonderful printing abode & world at Able Bodied Press!

Printing Traditions at The Tympanum Press

When you step over the threshold of the warm & cheery Goshen, Indiana apartment that houses The Tympanum Press, you find yourself surrounded by the delicate smell of ink, the intoxicating jingling laughter of Amy & Richard Worsham’s daughters, and a Kelsey set-up lovingly in the living room (next to the accoutrements of a shop that’s steeped deep in family printing traditions). We sat down with the husband-and-wife duo to talk shop, printing at home, and the joys of leaving the house with relatively clean fingernails.

Amy Worsham of The Tympanum  Press

HOME-STYLE PRINTING I’m Amy Worsham from the The Tympanum Press. My background is in graphic design, with experience in bookbinding and paper making. I homeschool our two youngest girls and operate our press out of our home in downtown Goshen, Indiana.

THE INK RUNS DEEP My husband has printing ink in his blood. His great-grandfather took to printing early in life and as a boy earned enough to pay for his small press and buy a bicycle before leaving school. He went to work for Joseph Bryan, a prominent Virginia newspaperman, who shortly after acquired the Richmond Times. He was sent to New York by Bryan to learn the operation of the linotype machine and met its inventor, Ottmar Merganthaler, in Baltimore on his return trip. In 1892 he set up the first linotype machine in Virginia, and eventually went on to found the Richmond Press, which he ran into the 1940’s. We still use the Kelsey Excelsior that he bought for his son, Richard’s grandfather, who in turn ran it as a job press for many years. In 1998, Richard trained under Walter Clements at the Rugby Print Works and had been running the press since then on small jobs for friends and family.

We started working together shortly after we were married to bring in a little extra money while we were still in college. We didn’t advertise and considered ourselves mostly a hobby press, but were amazed at the interest in our work. Graduate school drew us to South Bend, Indiana in 2009 where we decided to open as a job press. Since then, we have gradually expanded our portfolio from business cards and invitations to everything from broadsides to even small books.

Letterpress printing from The Tympanum Press

CLOSE TO HOME Our print shop has always been run out of our apartment. We have our old reliable Kelsey 5×8, so we’ve always managed to set aside a corner of our living space dedicated to our press. Recently the area needed for our press space has increased as we’ve expanded our line by taking in more jobs from online sales sources like Square Marketplace and Etsy.

Our current workspace is what some might call a living room. The press, tables, shelving, and equipment take up most of the space, but since both Richard and I are self-employed, we don’t have much time for lounging around anyway. It is truly amazing how much can be accomplished with the right attitude and well-made equipment, no matter what size.

Amy Worsham + letterpress printing from The Tympanum Press

DESIGNED TO PRINT My background is in graphic design. Richard takes the side of the cranky printer, and enjoys setting in cold type with a light impression, while I have brought the adaptability of digital design and graphic arts training to our letterpress process. Our goal is to pair the tradition of printing with modern techniques and create things that remind us of the power of the printed word.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS Depending on the project I’ll either grab a pencil and start sketching or go straight to the computer. For many of our cards and graphics I use Adobe Illustrator, but I also do a good number of linoleum block cuts on or off the press. For custom projects, I like to start with a number of precedents, honing it in with a pencil and paper, and finally moving to the computer for a final pre-proof design.

FULL TIME FUN Since starting the Tympanum Press, we have transitioned from small jobs, mostly for fun, to part-time job printing, to regular work, but in the last year it has become a full-time operation for me. As orders continue to come in, we are looking for a larger press and additional equipment, as well as space outside our home. It is amazing how far we have come operating the press just like those old advertisements promised in the 20’s.

Letterpress printing at The Tympanum Press

PRINTING FEATS Gosh, this question is tough. Sometimes in our hectic schedules mixing the perfect color is an accomplishment… Sometimes leaving the house with relatively clean fingernails is an accomplishment!

PRESS HISTORY We’re still printing on our very first press, the reliable 5×8 Kelsey Excelsior. Richard was trained on a Pearl and we are definitely looking for a larger floor press. We never had the space since we’ve always printed out of our home, but since we’ve gone full time I am very excited at the hugely expanded potential of a larger press.

The Tympanum Press prints with a 5x8 Kelsey Excelsior

BOXCAR’S ROLE Photopolymer plates, especially with the Boxcar Base, have allowed me to tailor our printing to our community and combine my love for design with the versatility of letterpress. Boxcar has allowed me to create a cohesive line of products within my budget.

SHOP TIPS Never rush a print job. Take your time. When nothing is working, clean it all up and start again.

Letterpress printing from The Tympanum Press

WHAT’S NEXT 2015 is going to be a great year for us. We’re not only investing in a larger press and plenty more lead type, but we also have big plans for much more platemaking through Boxcar as way to get many of our customers the types of stationery styles they are looking for.

Huge heaps of thanks out to Amy and Richard for letting us take a sneak peak into the wonderful world of The Tympanum Press!

(photography courtesy of Grant Beachy)


Sarah Wilkinson and Karis Van Noord are two beautiful California girls living their dream with Tabletop Made. With a garage turned studio and music at full blast, their stationery line proves that with a little you can get a lot. Each one of their cards are hand printed on a tabletop Kelsey Excelsior and the response has been nothing but positive. They have been featured on well-known blogs such as Design*Sponge, Sycamore Street Press, and more as of late. Read on about these ladies to hear what everyone is talking about.

How did each of you first get into letterpress?

We dreamed of starting a letterpress card company, and for fun, we took two workshops at Irvine Fine Arts Center with Madeleine Zygarewicz of Panorama Press. We were hooked! We immediately started searching for a press of our own.

What was your very first press?

Our first press (that we still use to this day) is a Kelsey Excelsior 6×10. We nicknamed him Sven, and he’s a hard-working man. He complains sometimes, but he’s had a good life so far.

What medium do you usually print?

Most of our designs are on photopolymer plates, but we do have a couple of steel plates. We also have a few collections of metal type, which we use for our own personal designs, say stationery with a friend’s name. However, photopolymer is our medium of choice.

What’s your process from sketch to press?

Taking inspiration from just about anything, we sketch, scan and trace the image to Illustrator, play around with colors, send each other ideas, rework the design a couple of times, prepare the file for plate-making, jump for joy when the plate arrives, and slap it on our Boxcar Base!

What other print shops do you admire?

We love Deadweight, Great Lakes, Morris + Essex, Tall Cow, Dutch Door Press, and Krank Press.

Who or what inspires you the most?

Living in Santa Barbara is a huge inspiration to us. We love looking at local textiles, architecture, natural landscapes, Mexican pottery, paper cuts – basically everything around us!

What’s your favorite item from Boxcar Press?

We love our base!

Any neat tricks you can share?

We have one trick that we swear by. We use paper corners to hold our paper in place. This allows us more room for the design since we don’t have to worry about mashing clips up on the base.

How was your experience showing at LA Renegade Craft Fair?

LA Renegade was an insightful experience. It was our first fair ever! Since we weren’t sure what to expect, we over-prepared. We basically brought our whole print shop. Now we know better! Our favorite parts included meeting fantastic artists who were so friendly and helpful to us and seeing our customers in person! We want to try out the SF Fair next.

Thanks Sarah and Karis for showing us your talent and hard work! Check out their blog and shop for all the latest from Tabletop Made!