We delighted in the delicate linework in the field guide prints that came across our desks. Illustration artist Clara Cline & letterpress printer Colby Beck of Post Rider Press bring these gorgeous (and highly informative) American field guides to life via letterpress.
ILLUSTRATING FOR LETTERPRESS
CLARA CLINE: I’ve always loved nature, but when I first created the guide for my home state of Virginia I didn’t intend for it to become a series. The print seemed to resonate with folks and I started getting requests for more states, and as I did more I became absorbed in learning about each state’s local ecosystems. It wasn’t until I listened to a podcast about John Audubon’s quest to draw every bird in North America that I decided I wanted to commit to a larger project exploring native species and biogeography.
I’m a big proponent of tailoring your work to the production medium, but I feel like letterpress has influenced my illustration style even more than I expected. As I see the detail Colby’s capable of putting into each print, I find myself pushing more fine lines in my own work. I really value having a print partner who can provide feedback and guidance to ensure that what I deliver is going to translate the best way possible.
THE FINE DETAILS WHILE ON PRESS
COLBY BECK: My press is a 10×15 Chandler & Price made in 1952 and equipped with a variable speed motor. I named it Carl after it’s previous owner who printed commercially in Northern Virginia and even printed some work for the US government. Carl, the man, passed away and his press was left in the back of a friend’s machine repair shop. We dug it out and moved it down to Richmond, Virginia where I began Post Rider Press.
The Field Guide prints are 11×17 and since I run a 10 x 15 platen press, I have to print them in two sections. The illustrations get printed first because they take more finessing and then the type is printed second. When printing one design in two sections, the key is to keep the ink coverage as consistent as possible. You really have to keep a close eye on them to make sure the type is matching the illustrations so that it appears it was printed all at once.
It really depends on the amount we are printing but the print runs can take at least a full day in the studio. Due to their size, the Field Guides require a good amount of ink, which means stopping to re-ink between every 15-20 prints.
FAVORITE PART OF THE PROJECT
CLARA: That’s such a tough question! There’s so many different phases of this project that I appreciate in their own way. I do quite a bit of research to get a balanced group of species for each state, and it’s been really rewarding learning more about biogeography and our environmental balances.
That being said, as an illustrator it’s such a treat to see your work in letterpress. It’s wildly different going from a flat ink drawing to the richness of texture that letterpress allows, so every time a new guide arrives I feel like a kid at Christmas.
COLBY: I so admire Clara as an illustrator and to watch the detailed lines of her pen work come to life through letterpress printing is magical. I get so excited every time we print another state. It never gets old to watch the ridges of a shell or hair of an animal create a beautiful texture in the paper.
At Boxcar we enjoy the tales and trials shared by printers as they tackle a new project or skill. We feel like we are right along with them (cheering) as they figure out each step, particularly when we can be a small part of the process. And we love when someone sends us the final fruits of their labors. You are our heroes and we’d like to introduce to you one pressman who explored Book Printing. In his own words, meet Dale Raby.
A little bit about me – Ampersand Storybooks produces primarily small single-signature books, written by myself, though we may soon be branching out to begin printing stuff written by others. Our usual fare is serialized runs of just over a hundred impressions.
I have been writing for a few years now. My first novel, The Wives of Jacob, Book I, In the Beginning, was and is only available as an ebook. Now, while most of the customers at my day job were impressed that I had written even one book, let alone three, they were decidedly non-plussed when they found out that my books were only collections of pixels, not “real” books.
I investigated the possibility of getting my work printed into “real” books, but like most beginning writers, I lacked the capital.
Having had a brief introduction to letterpress printing some fifty-odd years ago, I did think about the possibility of a hand-operated tabletop platen press, if I could find one somewhere. I did a little checking and discovered that most presses suitable for this kind of project were also beyond my means.
One day I met a man who was a printer and happened to have an old Craftsmen Superior for sale. A price was named and the deal was done. Three weeks later we moved the press from his pickup truck to mine. Now, like most semi-discarded platen presses, it needed some work, but eventually I was able to start making impressions.
At first I used standard copy paper to print things like receipt templates. Then I went to a local office supply store and ordered a quantity of business cards with nothing printed on them. By the next week, I had some usable business cards, though they were not as flashy as “professional” cards.
I started to frequent Briar Press and Ladies of Letterpress among other locales on the web. I exchanged countless emails with the folks at Boxcar Press, picking the brains of many people there. I’m pretty sure that somebody there must’ve drawn the short straw there every time I got a response to an email! I discovered the magic of photopolymer plates and the Boxcar Base. I gradually acquired more movable type fonts, a couple of line gauges and assorted other items of printer’s paraphernalia. I took a rare day off from work and visited the Hamilton Wood Type Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, which was a very educational trip. Eventually, the dining room became the print shop. I still had much to learn, but by gosh, I was a printer of sorts!
I thought that for my first “real” book project, I would do a single-signature book. The Sasquatch’s Dilemma has only seven pages. The first page is my title page and is not numbered. I decided right away that I wanted my books printed on some good stuff, not copy paper. I did some investigating, got a few swatch books and eventually discovered Flurry paper – a 100% cotton paper.
As Flurry was associated with Boxcar Press, who would be making my plates, I decided that this was a good choice. I did have some concerns at first. I was afraid that the text-weight paper would be too thin and the ink would bleed through it. My initial fears proved unfounded.
The pages are printed upon Flurry cotton text-weight paper and the book covers are made from Flurry 118# pre-scored blank cards. I use a three-hole pamphlet stitch with tails on the outside of the cover for binding. Each book comes in its own envelope, which was designed to fit the card that forms the cover. I plan to continue using the envelope as long as the book is thin enough to fit.
Did I mention I had a lot to learn? There was the question of format. I hit upon the idea of using a pre-scored greeting card as a book cover quite early on. The only thing then was to determine the optimal size. I gave myself headaches learning about paper grain and the proper use of a bone folder. I developed a jig for binding my books. The stitching jig did not look like much, but it worked. After much consideration I decided upon the Flurry 10.5” x 7.25” greeting card. The pages could be cut to 7” x 10” for a folded size of 5” x 7” out of the Flurry text-weight paper. This would give a nice cover overlap such as a hard-cover book might have.
I resurrected an old photo trimmer from my film photography days and learned to trim my pages a few at a time, keeping the scraps to be used eventually for business cards for myself and a couple of other local businesses. The text-weight paper is not really optimal for business cards, but it gets the job done.
Kim and Diane, known as “the Copy Editors” badgered me about various things that were decidedly outside the traditional purview of copy editors. Kim was relentless, and not above using a hammer to get things into my head, so I learned a few more things. I did mention I had a lot to learn, didn’t I? Under Kim’s tutelage, I became familiar with terms like “small caps”, “drop caps”, “orphans” & “widows”. At the time Kim was busy with college but continued to educate me. Kim has since graduated and now works in a print shop… which I think is pretty groovy!
I found many free type fonts out there on the web along with images for my cover image. As most of them were intended primarily for either HTML documents on the web or inkjet printers, not all of them were suitable. Naked Chicks didn’t make the cut as Diane hated it. Kim nixed Comic Sans as “The Devil’s Font”. Crimson Text (now Crimson Pro), Alice, Black Chancery and Typographer Woodcut were all incorporated into The Sasquatch’s Dilemma.
When it came time to order plates, Kim showed me some of her poetry. Shortly thereafter, Ocean Creature was hastily assembled into a second single-signature book manuscript. Both were submitted to Boxcar Press as PDF’s and converted into plates.
Upon receipt of my polymer plates, I started learning about how to correctly assemble the leaves into pages for my book. For those of you who have never assembled a book before, well, suffice to say that it is not quite like one of those books you might have made in first grade bound with an office stapler. I used the proofs provided to assemble a dummy book so I could be sure of printing my books correctly.
When it came time to print, I had to learn how to properly set up and ink the press. Proper inking and roller clearance was fairly important when printing those Typographer Woodcut drop caps at the beginning of each chapter. Too much ink and the fine spiderweb inside the box of the letter would block up. Too little and it would not look right either. The paper seemed very forgiving of my errors in printing the pages.
Printing the cover introduced me to another difficulty. The cover image for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma is not a half-tone. All printed areas are solid ink. Large areas of solid ink are difficult to print in letterpress. I found that I had to add more ink to the disc after about every third impression. Pressure had to be high. There was no finesse involved here; I just piled on packing until I was almost afraid of breaking my press.
Flurry took the ink well, despite the heavy pressure I was using. I did experiment with wetting the paper and then printing, but while it worked, it did not work well enough to justify the extra headaches.
I chose the soft white paper hue for both the cover and the pages for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma. This is a sort of “off white” or cream-colored hue. They do supply a very nicely done swatch book for those who want one.
I used silver ink to print the title and my name on the cover over the top of the black sasquatch image. Now I found that the Flurry paper did take a nice “bite” from the polymer text and the silver ink showed up well enough to read, though it was really more gray than silver. I had wanted to print the sasquatch’s eyes in red ink, but with my relative inexperience, I reasoned that registration would be somewhat of a nightmare, so I just left them white.
Public response to The Sasquatch’s Dilemma has mostly been positive, and at $7.99 each, I have sold enough copies to just about break even. One positive comment I got was in response to the “tactile” nature of the cover, which is primarily the “bite” from the title and my name as well as the wood type ampersand I am using as a trademark on the rear cover.
Kim’s book, Ocean Creature, was, in many ways, very different from The Sasquatch’s Dilemma. The cover was formed from a sandy beach image printed with gold ink. The effect was very delicate and the image itself quite understated. I used the soft white card for the cover of Ocean Creature as for The Sasquatch’s Dilemma, but printed the pages on bright white text paper.
As I printed Ocean Creature in a second run, I had learned quite a bit about setting up the press and keeping my grubby paws off the work. Ocean Creature exhibits much better pressmanship, in my opinion.
Some details about paper and ink in printing these two projects: Flurry paper handled it well by taking the ink without bleeding through. It cuts and folds and there were no issues with piercing the holes and binding it with thread. The 80 lb text-weight paper is opaque enough to handle printing on both sides. I use oil-based ink in my printing as rubber based ink frightens me just a little bit. Kinda like polymer plates did when I first learned about them.
Now, there are many printers who have printed a book or two. There are many writers who have had their books printed. Many people have designed books, set type for them, made up cover art and internal illustrations, selected the ink, selected the paper, cut the paper, bound each book, pulled the operating lever of a platen press to print each page of the book, marketed the book, and sold copies of the book. I am proud enough to say I have joined the ranks of those who have written their own book and went through all the processes listed above to eventually take the money and sell their own book to the actual person who will read it.
My book may not be a literary masterpiece. It isn’t especially well executed and you will find smudges and more typos than I would care to admit. I did it all myself though, and I take a certain amount of pride in that. All in all, this was an interesting journey and as I have another dozen or so manuscripts in various stages of completion, the journey is not yet finished.
We’re still very much the same questioning, searching, and inquisitive bunch of folks and this month’s installment is a good testament to this. We enjoy the wonderful, creative, and just plain cool things that catch our eye day in and day out. In this latest installment that made us oooh and ahhhh, we bring you a cool kickstarter giving new life to an Okuma litho proof press, a hue-tastic interactive color exhibit, beautiful traditional bookbinding and much more!
Lithosphere: The Story of Big Dreams and A Big Press
Shelley Thornstensen of the Printmakers Open Forum has successfully completed a kickstarter that involves moving & setting up a big, beautiful Okuma flatbed lithography offset proof press. Thornstensen envisions a new life for large scale equipment for her print shop in Oxford, Pennsylvania. This press, 13.5 feet long and over 10,000 pounds is a versatile piece of equipment that will print woodblocks, litho plates, or litho stones. She has unique techniques to use on this press and looks forward to sharing this knowledge with other printmakers (please check out her summer print camp!).
In completing her financing campaign to move and perform maintenance on the press, she has found a wonderful amount of support and a lot of encouragement from the printmaking, as well as an online community. Thornstensen returns the favor with many rewards for participating in the fundraiser. These include stickers, totes, fine arts prints, and t-shirts with a bear design designed by Andrew Mullaly (fun fact: Okuma means “bear” in Japanese!).
Check out her social media page ( Facebook, Instagram, Tumbler ) to see the latest developments on this cool project and see the new press for yourself. Leave her a comment just to say “hey” and to remind her how awesome she is!
Grab your Pantone swatch book, camera, and sense of playful wonder for The Color Factory exhibit in the SoHo area in NYC!
The enchanting all-ages interactive exhibit features brilliantly colored rooms to dazzle the senses — from a light blue ball pit room, a history & origin of colors room (so cool!), custom-colored macarons in their gift shop, and more.
Originally based & started in 2017 in San Francisco, the exhibit’s popularity soon blossomed into the NYC and a Houston installment exhibit. Currently, the pop-up experience exhibit is going from now until April 2020.
A tree root system that is 385 million years old was discovered in the Catskills region in the fossil soils near Cairo, New York (about a 3-hour-ish car drive from us here at Boxcar Press). The findings show potential forests and flora evolved during the Devonian age (the age of fish as well as early forms of sharks, spiders, and insects).
For reference, the Tyrannosaurus rex was living between 68-66 million years ago. Woah!
I enjoy all videos that show letterpress printing, printmaking and book arts. This one appeals to me because it’s serene and zen-like. It is pleasing to the eye with the colorful paper and the tools and watching her work. Her voice and hands just soothe. I hope it pleases you.
Need holiday gift ideas for the letterpress lover in your life? We’ve put together a list of our top 19 holiday gift ideas for the 2019 season — we found some handy supplies, books, and printing swag that any printer would love to receive. Let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comments section below!
I was very excited when I first read AJ’s poem because it would allow me to mix my love of comic books and letterpress. I love that AJ wrote a poem about the Incredible Hulk that a lot of kids and adults alike could relate to. His mom translated it to Chamorro, the language of the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands. I felt honored that I was trusted with creating a print using not only AJ’s words, but also the traditional language of his family.
Hulk is a character who struggles with fear, pain, and anger but also can use strength to do a lot of good as a superhero. Since AJ’s words reference all of these darker feelings, I didn’t want to emphasize the negative with imagery. What was a way that I could compliment AJ’s words and bring a little bit of that lighthearted feeling to a character who is everything but? How about Legos? I had been looking for the right project to experiment with printing Legos, and this seemed like a perfect fit!
I looked at a lot of inspiration for how to render Hulk using pixel art, and decided to use this as an opportunity to reference something else from my childhood. I used character sprites from the Super Nintendo video game “The Incredible Hulk” (1994) as a reference. Eric Bailey and Anthony Rosbottom were the original artists that worked on this game, and there were so many possibilities for really dynamic poses to draw from for my inspiration. In Photoshop, I created a simplified rendering of one of the sprites using a grid that was 32 pixel wide. I usually try to minimize the amount of time I’m on the computer when I’m working in letterpress, but I ended up designing every aspect of this print in Photoshop and Illustrator.
My broadside had a total of six passes on press. I rebuilt the pixel art using 1×1 Lego pieces, and a base that I made with a piece of wood and two sheets of Lego Baseplate. For the first pass, I started with the brighter green. Once the first color was printed, I slowly removed all of the Lego pieces using an ink knife. I should have gotten a plastic putty knife or some other tool to help remove these pieces as the ink knife really easily slipped and scratched the Lego pieces.
Once all the Legos were removed, I set up the pixel art for the dark green layer. I continued this process for the remaining pixel art colors. As I printed, I used a pica pole to help square off any of the Lego pieces that started moving around a bit. As they moved, it created an interesting energy/vibration that I really love the look of; as long as it didn’t get too out of alignment that is! All of my additional type for the poem, colophon, and byline were printed as my last pass on press using a photopolymer plate.
I didn’t get a chance to talk with AJ about his poem, but I hope that he enjoyed how I chose to represent his words. It’s an honor to be a part of this year’s Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project, and it was such a fun project to work on. I can’t wait to print with Legos again!
I always feel honored to participate in the Children’s Hospital Broadside project. This is my fourth year and each time it is such a treat to work with the poems and illustrate something that will hopefully resonate with the poet.
The poet had drawn a little comic that he used as inspiration for the poem so it only seemed right to keep that idea with the 4 sections of the poem. Rather than have a grid layout that’s common of comics, it seemed more appropriate to have it a little more freeform. The 4 sections of the poem are separated and on the page in a somewhat ordered yet almost haphazard way. Because of this, I added a light grey swoosh in the background to help draw the eye through the lines in the correct order. The final print came out with 6 colors in 6 passes (I had originally planned for a 7th but decided to skip it in the end).
I used rather non-traditional plates for this project. I have a laser cutter at home and decided to make my plates with it. I used an acrylic sheet (a break from my normal wood) as acrylics tend to warp less. I engraved the design onto the surface and while providing a great surface for inking, printing the background offered a bit of a challenge. It was not quite low or shallow enough and transferred ink so it was a little messy.
I had to do quite a bit of sanding and scraping to keep everything clean. Despite the challenges of printing with my homemade plates, I was pleased with the outcome.
My poet this year was Chance Petrone, who wrote What I Do. I was instantly drawn to this poet simply because of his cool name.
My initial idea was to play with the image of a lightning bolt based on Chance’s imagery of his lightning quick speed but felt it was too obvious. It only spoke to one aspect of Chance that he conveys in this poem describing himself. Aside from running at lightning speed, Chance points out that he doesn’t always follow the recipe and that people are drawn to him. These two descriptions led me to the magnet image with the surrounding force field. I liked that the magnet conveyed how dynamic he is and also had a lightning bolt-like shape.
The background blue I had initially planned to pressure print. I don’t know why I say I’m going to pressure print every year, as if it is some easy-peasy technique, because I just can’t seem to make it work the way I want it! While in the 12th hour, after attempting several unsuccessful approaches to pressure printing, I put out a request to the other printers on the project for a spare large piece of linoleum. I received many responses which just shows how supportive this group of printers are. BUT, as I was in the 12th hour, I needed something asap and found a small piece of leftover Marmoleum flooring from our kitchen. I had one chance to make it work.
I transferred the magnet outline and hoped for the best. Carving away this fairly simple shape was a bit more difficult than expected. The abstract pattern of the Marmoleum is the same throughout the layers. Carving into the flooring material was easy enough but once you carve out a spot it doesn’t look any different than the un-carved part. This made it hard to read. The results were fine and similar to what I had hoped from pressure printing.
I didn’t want the angled ground shape to be solid because I thought it would look better textured next to the texture of the blue background. I created a subtle texture with cloth under the draw sheet.
After these first two layers, next came the magnet fill/force field and the text which all went smoothly.
One of the most evocative stanzas in Audrey’s poem describes her comforting visualization of driving home from the hospital—softly, gently, like clouds drifting away. I seized the image of clouds, and her color of freedom, “real and super shiny gold.”
When I was sketching the design for this broadside, I was on vacation in New Mexico. There, I saw Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings of clouds from above. I admired the gradient in the sky, from a saturated blue to almost white. I decided to abstract my clouds into geometric forms and cut the printing plate from plywood on a laser cutter. I printed the sky on my Vandercook SP-15 with a split fountain of blue to opaque white, with the clouds knocked out, in the white of the paper. The gold ink in the title is made up of a two-part gold paste and varnish concoction that is the most “real and super shiny gold” I know how to print. I first printed the title in blue in order to give the gold ink something extra smooth to sit on so it would really sparkle.
All type was printed from photopolymer plates donated by Boxcar Press. I set everything at an angle, parallel with the clouds, and curved the left margin of the poem in a long graceful swoop to echo the shapes of the clouds and to give the broadside that “freedom feeling.”
This was my 2nd year as a printer for this project. Last year helped set my expectations for how quick the timeline moves and how to portion out my time. I had the best intentions for getting things done early, and ahead of time, but seeing my intended imagery through ended up taking a lot more time than I had hoped for. It was a relief to know what my absolute worst case timeline would be for finishing everything up. Thanks to Boxcar with the rush plates right on time!
Almost immediately after selecting the poem I was working with, I had an idea of how I wanted to accompany the poet’s words with imagery. He had listed many things that he was, and the last section of his poem he talks about going camping with his family. I thought back to the “Hidden Pictures” in Highlights magazine, where an illustration of a scene would have various items hidden within it. This seemed like a perfect fit, having a camping scene, and then including many of the other items in the poem.
I did my illustration in Procreate on iPad pro, which was a lot of back-and-forth… I couldn’t be entirely solid on the hidden pieces before drawing the scene. And I couldn’t draw the entire scene without figuring out how the hidden pieces would be woven in. This is definitely one of the things that ended up being a longer process than I had anticipated. I had such a vivid vision in mind of what this would eventually look like and it was harder to get that out onto screen and to paper.
When I finally got my linework of the illustration where I wanted it to be (as well as the text of the poem, of course!) and had hand-lettered the title, I worked on figuring out how to use color on the final print. I really wanted to use yellow, as that color was one of the things mentioned in the poem (and, “pee”). With the lush forest setting, I wanted green to have a presence as well. Still working in Procreate, I played with some fill layers, and settled on a light yellow and a light blue, that would (hopefully) layer to make a decent green. I exported my Procreate file to a PSD, and brought it to the desktop to do the nitty gritty of file prep and fine-tune some trapping, and get files plate-happy.
Fast-forward a couple of days, my plates arrived and my paper was on hand. I had reserved some (read: full day’s worth of) press time at SVC, cashing in a vacation day to do a weekday print marathon. I pawed through a swatch book to get a ballpark idea for ink mixing, but I’m always one more to shoot from the hip with my inks rather than precisely measure out proportions (it’s been working well for me!). Since I was planning for a lot of ink coverage and overlap, cobalt drier made its way into all three of my colors.
I got ready to print, paper counted out, press set up, my first plate stuck on to the base, and my creamy light blue ink on press. I thankfully didn’t need to do too much for makeready, and getting through my stack of 110 plus sheets went pretty quickly. Then, cleaning off the press and moving on to the light yellow I’d mixed that had a good deal of translucent white in it, aiming to get a nice green on the overlap of that with the blue areas. It worked, and the green that came out was actually better than I had been hoping for. My last run-through of the press was my key plate with all the linework and my darkest color.
The cobalt drier seemed to help, and when I went to trim my prints out a day or two later, they were plenty dry.
I wanted to create a broadside highlighting this poem, and enticing the viewer to keep looking, or to return later and find something new. I didn’t want to create something that was one-note, and could be digested in the first glance. I’m really pleased with how the broadside turned out. I believe I was able to breathe life into the words of a child, to share them, to memorialize the spirit that delighted in so many of the little things, and to celebrate that.
For our ninth year, we here at Boxcar Press have enjoyed the honor of supporting this year’s 2019 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project. It is helmed by Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick of the Writers in the Schools program (WITS) and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. This year’s creative young poets and printer/artists joined forces to build a magnificent collection of 20 broadsides in a limited run of 110 editions.
The works of arts are a collaboration of kindhearted printers bringing alive the thoughts of long-term patients from the Seattle Children’s Hospital. The result is nothing short of fun, colorful, whimsical, and inspiring. This first installment of a two-part blog highlights four printers who share their creative processes and showcase the magic of the children’s writing. Enjoy!
When we gathered at SVC to kick off this year’s series with the reading of the kid’s poems, I was convinced Gerald was a real llama. I wasn’t alone. After Ann Teplick (one of the lead poets for this project) finished reading Liam’s poem, she said she’d met Gerald. “He’s real?” another printer asked. “Oh no,” she replied. “He’s a stuffed toy, but he seems real.” Liam’s words had brought Gerald to life, a feeling that stuck with me through the creative process. We spent a lot of time together, me and Gerald. And he is quite a lovable little stinker.
His larger-than-life personality demanded the same dominating presence on the page. Picturing a simple illustration with a large color background, I set about figuring out how to turn the sketch into a reduction cut.
Not wanting to leave anything to chance, I tested my sketches on a small 2×3 inch linoleum block and printed a run of 200 so that I could play with color & the reduction cut process. Remember how I said Gerald was a stinker? Yep. He bit me. Twice. (Some may say my carving tool slipped, but they weren’t there. Gerald knows what he did.)
These tests were really informative. I quickly learned how opaque white ink would look on the cream-colored paper: in short, not as I expected. To make Gerald appear “white” I found it best to shift from my original plan of printing his entire body in white, to only printing the suggestion of his curly locks. I also played with the background color, and how to best define Gerald’s outline. These “Gerald trading cards,” as I came to view them, were later sent out to members of the Amalgamated Printers Association in the monthly letterpress bundle.
I like to create full size mock-ups to nail down the details before getting on press. The design of the broadside didn’t change much from these 2×3″ tests to the final 9×12 image; just a little rotation of the angle at which Gerald would be peeking out of the corner, in order to make room for the type.
The first pass through the press was Gerald’s curls and face. To prep my platen press (a 13×19 motorized Colt’s Armory), I let it run with opaque white ink for about 20 minutes to draw out any trace remains of other ink hiding in the rollers. I cleaned it with Putz Pomade and roller wash, and inked it up again with opaque white and began printing. The effect was subtle, but enough to make the non-printed parts of the page appear “whiter” than they actually were.
Carving the second part of the reduction cut was easy, even if Gerald wasn’t thrilled to receive the haircut. Removing his curls was deliciously satisfying.
I decided — with the help of an informal Instagram poll comparing my test prints — to set Gerald on a blue background, rather than a green one. At one point it was going to be a split fountain of the 2, but that was just a symptom of indecision.
Passes 2 (blue) and 3 (gray) of the reduction cut aren’t well-documented, but I did snag a photo of my alignment tests on make-ready from previous year broadsides. In these 4 prints you can see evidence of Home Life(2017), Self-Portrait Poem (2016), How to Fix a Laptop (2015), and Favorite Things (2013).
The fourth and final pass through the press was the metal type, printed in the same gray as Gerald’s eyes, nose, mouth, and outline. The title was set in Boul Mich, a typeface designed by Chicago’s Ozwald Cooper in the spirit of the trendy Broadway typeface of the 1920s. The body and colophon are set in Spartan, my house sans-serif face.
Working with Liam’s poem was a treat, and things that are important to Liam are clear in his description of his beloved confidante: strength, tenderness, and a co-conspirator willing to weather the highs and lows of life. May we all be so lucky to have someone like Gerald, stinky as he may be, by our side.
Every year as I contemplate and work on this project, it has tremendous importance to me. Yet, I never feel like I do enough. Some artists meet their poets or the poet’s family if the poet had passed. I have never done that. I don’t know if my heart can handle it. I have done 5 or 6 of these. I have cried each time. Even the funny poems hit me and not for any specific reason, although I experience so many feelings. It’s simply just how human the poems are.
You get this unique, precious look into another person’s life—and sometimes death. It’s a rare thing, especially in this era of phony social media where our curated personalities pretend to connect with others. I really wish I had taken more photos, particularly of process photos of my last print but I did have some fun with this one. I used Boxcar plates for all of my printing.
I had played with clean lines and texture. I ended up printing everything clean and then carved away parts of the plates. I used sandpaper and wood cut knives to distress the plates and then I overprinted again. I also wiped away a little ink on each pass. I wanted there to be some “grit” below the surface.
The poem is clean and neat. It’s really tight but there is some real agony beneath it. Happiness, too… but I wanted to lean into the darkness without doing something traditionally dark. As always, I feel very lucky to be part of this project and to exercise my skills.
My poem was an excerpt of a longer poem, written by Isaac Gardner, age 24. I was lucky and got to meet him a few weeks before I started the project. He was incredibly open and excited about seeing his poem in print.
Isaac’s poem was very powerful, and the excerpt I had was in reference to darkness and light, and how he had a star in his pocket that grew brightly as he called upon it for help in the darkness.
I was immediately drawn to the star, and to creating a dark, stormy background with a path of light cutting through. I’m interested in textures and colors as opposed to using literal images, but did use a star as a sort of centerpiece. Boxcar made the poem excerpt in polymer, and the rest of the broadside was done by hand.
I began by making a linoleum cut of a star and printing it as my first pass. Next I created a collagraph–I mounted bookboard and painted it with acrylic medium with brush strokes for texture. This was my second pass.
For the third pass, I wanted to make a dark area to surround the star, and so hand-cut linoleum sheets mounted to a piece of shelving, and printed this background in a dark bluish color over the textured collagraph. I had to make sure the blue was transparent enough to show the texture while still being dark and moody. It was tricky!
Finally, I printed the polymer plate with the excerpt of the poem in a dark reddish color to contrast with the blue.
I was happy with the overall result! And was thrilled to meet Isaac and participate in this meaningful project. Thank you Boxcar!
In the spring of 2019, myself and a lucky group of other letterpress printers gather to be part of the Children’s Hospital Broadside Project. This was the ninth year of the project. We listen as the poems are read and choose (and sometimes negotiate) which poem we will print.
Sierra and Ann are able to share a little bit about each poet and I learned that my young one, Finnley Foster, was already an accomplished rider and had her own horse named Norman. Because she was so young, I wanted to keep the colors of the broadside gay and colorful, suggesting a carousel. And yet, I wanted to keep the horses lifelike because she described them so specifically and because she really knew what horses look like.
I enlisted the help of one of the other printers, Laura Walczak, because she is more savvy than I am with cleaning up images on a computer to get them ready for reproduction and because she has a laser cutter. I found several copyright free images on-line which I thought suited the lines that Finnley had written. Laura was able to work on the images and create the wooden laser cuts in a matter of hours.
I worked out and mixed all the colors in advance to create a harmonious palette for the run of seven colors. I did many mock-ups of hand cuts shapes of the horses before settling on the positions for each one. I printed the text on my Vandercook SP-15 but I printed each of the horses on my 1926 10 x 15 Chandler & Price. The horses required quite a bit of ink to get full coverage on each image and I was able to achieve this more easily on the C&P although it did require some careful paper handling as the sheet was over-sized relative to the press.
Throughout all the press runs, each broadside had a slipsheet laid between them so the ink would not offset from the front to the back of the next. Even so, I laid all the broadsides out on my work table to dry for several days before the final trimming.
At the completion of the project, we gather to read the broadsides to one another and talk about the process of working on them. Then we wrap up a complete set of the broadsides in a portfolio along with ten copies of the poet’s own piece which are later presented to the young poet and/or their family. Because of Finnley’s enthusiastic interest in horses, I gave them all of the laser cuts in case she would like to play with them.
It is both moving and inspiring to be part of this project for nine years. I am grateful I am invited to be even a small part of the young poet’s journey as they are so sweetly encouraged to write by Sierra and Ann. The generous support of businesses like Boxcar Press, Ecological Fibers, Neenah Paper, Puget Bindery and Evolution Press working with all involved makes this possible.
Michele Burgess of Brighton Press is a fine arts book artist, creative soundboard, and part-time university professor who loves to share printing with those around her. For three decades, Michele and her husband have been enjoying the fruits of their collaborative efforts one pulled print at a time.
AN ARTIST BY NATURE I am a visual artist obsessed with working in book form. My husband, Bill Kelly, founded our press in 1985 and it has morphed and grown before our eyes.
THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS I went to the Cranbrook Academy of Art for my MFA in the mid-’80s. There was a very funky letterpress there and small, crumbly piles of type. I enjoy the intentionality, the craft, the beauty of its collaboration with paper.
CREATIVE COLLECTIVE We are a small band of like-minded people using the studio as a creative laboratory. We create and publish collaborative artists’ books that braid the visions of both poets and visual artists. Everything is original and achieved by hand.
Bill Kelly, who founded the press, Nelle Martin, associate director/production designer/letterpress printer and I collaborate creatively with whoever the artist and poet might be. Most often, one of us is one or the other, or, in Bill’s case, both. We also often collaborate with papermakers such as those at Twinrocker, Cave paper, and the Morgan Conservatory to get a certain color or weight that we’re looking for.
Sonja Jones, in her 80’s and a previous librarian, has been a guardian angel and does our boxmaking. Kathi George, our crackerjack copy editor who makes sure we don’t have a plate made with a typo in it. Jenny Yoshida Park also works closely with us on typography and website and catalog design.
Recent poets include Bill Kelly, Chard deNiord, Bianca Stone, and Martha Serpas. Recent artists, besides myself and Bill include: Jinane Abbadi, Ian Tyson, Miya Hannan, Jenny Yoshida Park. A full list of artists and writers can be found on our website—34 years worth.
Sometimes we work with outside bookbinders Mark Tomlinson, Claudia Cohen, and Lisa Van Pelt, who have added creative ideas to the bindings. There’s a lot of back and forth regarding structure and content until it all melds together.
My favorite thing about it is that we never know what the final outcome will be until the B.A.T. (from the French phrase “bon a tirer” — good to pull. The subsequent prints should look like that one) is complete and that we can never remember whose idea certain things were. Synergy.
COAST-TO-COAST PRINTING We are bi-coastal now. We do most of the production in San Diego, which is getting a little less cool every year, and we do a lot of the creative work in Vermont in relative solitude. We also work in other artist’s studios sometimes or at the dinner tables of our writers.
PRINTING MENTORS Gerald Lange, Michael Bixler, Robin Price, Walter Hamady have been my letterpress mentors. William Blake, Sonja Delaunay, Ken Campbell, Anslem Kiefer, and Barbara Fahrner have been my book art mentors. The poets I work with inspire me. I get energy and fortitude from my collaborators at the press.
PART-TIME PRINTING, FULL-TIME FUN We decided years ago not to require the press to support us physically, so we teach at universities part-time.
THE ARTISTIC PROCESSES I start a book from a small kernel of inspiration which is always mysterious in its origin. Sometimes, the poet is my muse or his/her words. From there, I usually start working on visual images that expand on, rather than illustrate the text. The best scenario is when the poet and I are working together from a kernel and we’re spinning a web together.
PRINTING FEATS I’m proud of the meandering path we’ve taken, despite the hardships. With regards to a project: A Woman Hit by a Meteor. Our paper was MUCH too large for the press, so we folded it and through that limitation were able to imbue it with a sensibility of folded maps in ancient, celestial atlases.
PRESS HISTORY Vandercook 219, old style. I love the Vandercook, the sound, the weight, the intuitive simplicity of the machine.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has helped us realize some visual formats that we couldn’t have done with lead type. Also, we were able to create Arabic calligraphy, Chinese and Japanese text that we couldn’t have done otherwise. Boxcar has been super-efficient, patiently helpful, both with my classroom needs and for Brighton Press.
PRINTING TIPS: Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Slightly more punch, less ink.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT A book called WHERE AND HOW BLOOD WAS MADE with poet Chard deNiord. It will be my most complex book to date.