We are “pulling up a chair” with Don Black, a Northern neighbor from Scarborough, Ontario.
Don is winding down his business after 50 years and the dismay and sadness of that is still a jolt to our letterpress community.
A warehouse of heavy metal and wood is not an exaggeration describing Don’s business. He and his family, particularly his son, Craig, have helped and talked with thousands of printers and artisans over those decades. Sadly, Craig passed away last year and Don is eyeing a quieter life.
Boxcar Press: It’s a delight to hear your stories. Let me first say, thank you for your kindness to me and all the others who were at one time new to letterpress printing. It must be a screwy time right now with the business..
Don: We are super busy with the closing of our business. Our General Manager Albert Kwon is invaluable in this endeavour.
Boxcar Press: Let’s go back to the beginning. Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career?
Don: The defining moment that I knew I wanted to make Printing a career occurred when I went for a tour of the Globe & Mail (newspaper based in Toronto, Canada) with my uncle who worked there. When I saw all the equipment in the Composing Room I decided this was for me.
I started to work at the Globe & Mail before I was 17 doing all the delivery jobs etc. Then I served a 6 year apprenticeship as a Linotype Machinist.
Boxcar Press: Tell us about mentors or printers that set you on a particular path?
Don: While working there was a machinist, Ed Hull, who helped me immensely by guiding me and tried to keep me on the right track. I think about him often and am super thankful for all he did to help me.
While working as an apprentice at the Globe & Mail, the Credit Union ran a contest for the best designed Printing job. This was open to seven Printer apprentices, but no mention about Machinist apprentices. I questioned them and received permission to submit an entry. Believe it or not, I won the prize of $25.00 I still tease my friend today, who was a printer’s apprentice, that a machinist apprentice beat a Printer apprentice at the Printer’s trade.
Boxcar Press: Where was the next stage in your career?
Don: I left the Globe & Mail in 1964 when the three Toronto newspapers went on strike. I started to do freelance service on letterpress equipment.
Then I received the Canadian dealership for Letterpress Equipment for Canada from Canadian Linotype Company. This was a big help as it opened doors coast to coast and helped me to meet many great people.
After I started my business in the 1980’s I became acquainted with an equipment dealer in Cleveland, Jack Boggs. He bought and sold all kinds of printing equipment. Over the next 30-40 years, we did a super amount of business. He liquidated printing shops that were closing or upgrading equipment. I purchased many truckloads of equipment from him. It was great as it gave me access to things I could not find in Canada. We still do business today and without a doubt, he is a big reason we have been successful.
In the early 1970s, something strange happened when the Globe & Mail decided to update a lot of equipment. I purchased most of the Composing Room which had some great equipment but also included were eleven machines which were now outdated. They had originally cost approximately $25,000.00 each, less than 10 years before. The value in scrap was less than $500.00. We made a large copy of the cheque and mounted it with the eleven nameplates from the machines. It has become quite a conversation piece that we still have at the office today.
Boxcar Press: What does the legacy of Don Black Linecasting mean to you as you slowly wind it down.
Don: I would say it’s the fact that we have been in business more than 50 years, conducted and did business with wonderful people all over the world and helped to keep Letterpress alive.
Boxcar Press: You handled so many of pieces of equipment, they can’t even be counted. Can you tell us about a press you remember fondly?
Don: We have a Baby Reliance Iron Press which we purchased from a customer in Winnipeg. It is a beautiful press and I could have sold it many times, but Craig, my son, always said don’t sell this press. Now that he is gone and we are closing down, I am going to let it go to a collector that had talked to Craig. I know Craig would be happy that it is going to someone who will treasure it.
Boxcar Press: Thank you Don for those great memories. We’ll talk more soon. Can you leave us with your favorite printing saying?
Don: Go with the Best! Go Intertype.
Time is ticking down on getting equipment from Don, give him a call or email to ask what he has and chances are, you’ll get a nice deal. www.donblack.ca
Welcome to Coffee with a Letterpress Friend. We are “sitting down” with many varied friends every few weeks for a cozy, relaxing chat. Certainly, we will ask questions about printing-related topics but things could go off in unexpected directions. This week during Letterpress Week, we’ll gather with a few folks, so go grab your beverage of choice and let’s start.
Today’s friend is Jim Moran of Hamilton Wood Type (HWT) in Two Rivers Wisconsin. Many of us are envious of his job at the Museum surrounded by the history and all those wood type specimens.
Boxcar Press: Hi Jim, Is there one defining moment that you can recall or point to that was the start of your printing career?
Jim: I was 10 years old and goofing around in my grandfather’s print shop. I had seen both he and my Dad setting type, so I had an idea how it worked. I opened a drawer of 18pt. Cheltenham and tried to spell my name. Where the hell was the letter J? I checked other drawers until I found one marked in pencil to designate their place. Once I set my name, I put it on a little Challenge proof press and inked it up. The black ink was always ready for proofing with a brayer hung on the end. The paper had an enamel finish for clarity. I inked up and pulled a proof! There was my name, magically! That’s all it took.
Boxcar Press: We can relate to that feeling. Is there a similar moment for your involvement with HWT?
Jim: I was working for a Green Bay printer 12 years ago and not liking it much. Sales in NOT rewarding, in my mind. I had been volunteering at Hamilton with my brother Bill, often thinking about how much I enjoyed working with type. I met a woman who was dating my cousin and we were talking about doing the things you really want to, in a general way. She said, “I think you have to ask yourself what you want and how much of your time you actually spend working toward doing those things.” She was not speaking to me specifically but I decided right then, that I would work toward getting a job at the museum. I applied for the job 6 weeks later.
Boxcar Press: Your Aha! moment. You are well suited to HWT. Tell us about mentors or printers that you admire or set you on a particular path?
Jim: I owe so much to my Dad. He was a VERY good printer and an even better artist. He worked me pretty hard, in that he expected my best and was extremely thorough in his approach to what I learned. That meant printing, repairing, composing, estimating, managing, laughing, reading and studying. Always learning. I worked with him for the better part of 29 years. My Mom’s lessons were much more subtle: patience, kindness, reading and keeping a sense of humor.
Boxcar Press: The people who guide us are always significant. So can be the equipment. Tell us about a press you remember fondly (or not so fondly) or one you have now that you prefer to use?
Jim: I have an 8 x 12 Chandler and Price that I was taught to run in 1969. I use it whenever I can.
Boxcar Press: What is that one project that you are always going to get to, that you really want to do but it just never seems to get done?
Jim: Printing a four-color billboard.
Thanks, Jim for the little chat. We appreciate this time of getting to know you and will have plenty more questions to ask at future times when the coffee is perked and we can sit again.
Debra Barclay of Ancora Press is a well-travelled printer who was inspired by the work of William Blake. She creates in her garage-turned-printshop and shares with us her lifelong printing mentors / friends she’s made along her print journey (as well as a favorite printing moment involving a Girl Scout Troop and a Vandercook).
WASHINGTON STATE PRINTER
My name is Debra Barclay, and I am a letterpress printer in Woodinville, WA. I live in Woodinville with my husband, 7-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son, 6-month-old Labradoodle, and two pretty lucky black cats, Uno and Tres. I’m a New Jersey transplant by way of Brooklyn, Virginia, Rhode Island, and Oregon. My favorite color at the moment is PMS 310 (light teal).
THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS
For my undergraduate degree, I attended Providence College in Rhode Island. My degree is in English Lit/Creative Writing and Printmaking. My senior year, I took a course on Romantic Literature and fell deeply in love with William Blake’s work. William Blake was a poet and printmaker who developed techniques to bring his poetry into a more visual realm. He combined text and image in a way that I had never seen up to that point. His poetry became visual as much as text-based, and he made it so the poem’s meaning was directly enhanced by the calligraphic lettering, colors he chose, and the overall design. In this way, he elevated the printing of information into a visual experience rather than just a transfer of data. At that point, I knew that I had to integrate my two passions: creative writing and printmaking.
After I graduated, I started looking into bookmaking classes. I found a school that had a very small but well equipped Book Arts Program. This was when I found the Oregon College of Art and Craft. I immediately enrolled in a few classes, packed my bags, and moved to Portland.
I really didn’t know what I was getting into, as far as letterpress printing goes. But there I was, learning to handset type and run a Vandercook under the tutelage of two women. Kathy Kuehn is a master printer at Pace Editions in NYC and Caryl Herfort, a letterpress printer from Texas who was there as the Artist in Residence. Many may know of Caryl from Roto Press (Rest in Peace, Caryl). Both of these women inspired me to experiment and play with the medium.
A CREATIVE ADVENTURE
As I continued to set the type for a short story I had written, my mind exploded. It was so crazy to be able to touch thoughts and ideas – letterforms as material objects with a history and life of their own just struck me on a very philosophical level. I then locked up my form in the school’s Vandercook Universal, and ended up a bit deflated. This was off course from my Blake path, as Blake didn’t use handset type in his work, possibly for this reason. Yes, typesetting is intimate, but once it gets on press and you print it with great craftsmanship, it does not show any of the depth or meaning that it had taken on when I handled it.
It was much more sterile and generic than I had envisioned my piece to be, given how emotionally and physically closer I had become to the words. This created some friction between me, the machine, and process. I moved my printing over to a hand rolled proof press, where I was determined to get the “hand of the maker” involved. Then, I hand-inked each pull, and ran the pages through one by one, skewing the registration so they would all be unique.
I actually still have a scar from this very first print run I did, as my thumb got caught in the cogs of the press as I was enthusiastically running pages through. The end result was a very artistic interpretation of letterpress! I created an art installation with the small edition of books I made with this experiment. I filled three walls of a gallery with the pages, and set up three of the spiral bound books on pedestals where viewers could flip-through the pages. The only requirement was that they wear white gloves, as is common practice when looking through fine press books.
However, the white gloves I provided were covered in black printers’ ink. So, the viewer/reader added and changed the book as they engaged with it – a visual representation of how we all change and alter language as we use it. It becomes a relationship where both parties – the ideas/text/ poetry and the reader/viewer – are changed through the interaction. We are all changed in sometimes undetectable ways by every interaction we have.
I then began to approach letterpress a bit differently, and started to think more about how words are laid out on the page, how the colors might interact with one another either through size, proximity, or overprint. I also started to notice the beautiful impression that letterpress machinery gives to the paper, making the text both a visual AND tactile experience for the viewer/reader.
A LETTERPRESS CONNECTION
Through this experience, I reconciled and truly fell in love with the exacting nature of letterpress machinery. It was through these experiments that I concluded that when I create, I am collaborating WITH the machine. With this finely engineered letterpress machinery, the ability to disseminate information in a way that allows for the content to be given the entire spotlight would now be possible. We are true partners. With that, my deep connection with letterpress continued to grow and develop into where it is today. I utilize the impeccable precision of the machinery to allow me to elevate letterforms, words, ideas, and everyday life moments into experiences with tactile beauty and time-tested craftsmanship.
HOME GROWN PRINTING
Ancora Letterpress is a custom letterpress print shop located about fifteen miles Northeast of downtown Seattle. We do custom designs working directly with clients as well as printing for graphic designers and other print shops who come to us with a pre-existing design of their own.
My shop feels like home. Mostly because it’s attached to it – in my garage! I have two 10×15 Heidelberg Windmills and an 8×12 Chandler and Price. I also have a photopolymer platemaker and a small guillotine paper cutter. My favorite thing about my shop is that I get to create there! Truly, it’s a dream come true. I also really like the commute.
Woodinville is a tourist destination, as we have over 100 tasting rooms, wineries, distilleries, and breweries within a stone’s throw from my shop. This can be dangerous, but it’s really quite convenient mostly. Chateau St Michelle is probably the largest winery in the area. They have concerts on the lawn in the summers and beautiful grounds to walk around and picnic on. In the summer, we can hear the music from our backyard, which is usually a good thing. We also have a really cool theatre production company in town called Teatro Zinzanni, which recently moved to Woodinville from Lower Queen Anne in Seattle. From their website: “Teatro ZinZanni…is a three-hour whirlwind of international cirque, comedy, and cabaret artists…”
I really love living here because it’s quiet and we have lots of space. Our house is nestled into trees at the end of a cul-de-sac, yet we are incredibly close to the city. Woodinville is described as “subrural” as it is somewhere between suburban and farmland. One of our neighbors has a horse grazing in her front lawn pretty regularly, and the one across from her has over a dozen chickens on his property. We have a growing Arts community thanks to the Woodinville Arts Alliance in town.
Oh gosh! This is a hard question! So many people have helped me get to where I am today. Esther Smith and Dikko Faust of Purgatory Pie Press were my first inspirations, as they were my first apprenticeship out of school. Dikko’s skills as a printer always inspire me, and Esther’s vision and ability to draw inspiration in the everyday is joyous.
My former boss Scott Hill of Workhorse Press is a great mentor as I continue to build my business. He’s readily available to help me with any questions I have about presses, printing, or the business side of things. I’ll be forever grateful to him for taking me on as an employee and teaching me so much about the production side of letterpress. Scott is a printer by trade, with a very keen eye for how to bring a design to life on paper.
Jami Heinricher of Sherwood Press is my most recent mentor and inspiration. She taught me how to run a Heidelberg platen, and for that I am forever grateful. She helped me troubleshoot one of my presses’ weird quirky problems, and even helped me back out my stuck Windmill, after my press pulled 6 sheets of 236# Flurry Cotton paper! I admire her business model, and her tips and tricks have saved me hours of time. My friend George Feakes of Impressive Inkreations has been an incredible mentor, giving me both sage printing and business advice, insights on efficiency, and an amazing amount of support.
All of my local letterpress trade guys are all absolutely my savior. After running letterpress for 40 years a piece, they collectively know everything, and there’s nothing they can’t make run correctly with just a little bit of tape and 18 point card stock. They’re also really down to earth and easy to talk to, and I love hanging out with them.
My husband, while not a printer, has been an amazing source of inspiration and strength. He single handedly moved my C&P and first Windmill up from Portland and got them situated on the garage floor. He also gave up a large portion of his workspace to allow me to have my studio. We are now looking into building him a lovely shed in the backyard for his woodworking tools for when I get a few more pieces of equipment this coming year.
GROWING THE DREAM
My business works out to be part time at the moment. I bought some equipment in early 2018, and spent about 6 months getting myself up to speed on the equipment and its particular quirks and what-have-you. Technically I’ve only been available to the public for about 7 months. I do plan to continue to solicit work and build relationships with designers, as well as develop a personal line of designs that I can offer to clients. Full time is my goal. I want to generate enough consistent job and print work so that I can take on an employee. There’s only one thing better than being a letterpress printer, and that’s sharing the workload!
THE CREATIVE FLOW
My process always begins by sitting down with the client and getting to know them a bit. I love getting to talk to people about their vision and translating that into a printed piece. I spend a fair amount of time gathering as much information as possible from the client. If it’s a wedding invitation, for example, I ask the bride to describe the ceremony and the type of event they’re going for. Is it modern, traditional, minimal, outdoor, etc? This narrows things down a bit. I get their wedding colors and match them to a PMS color that we all agree on pretty early on. I show them samples of my previous design work and see if anything stands out to them, either by way of technique (blind emboss, overprinting, etc) or if the tone of anything resonates with them.
At that point, I will begin a preliminary design. I find that this is really when the fun begins. It’s important to have a jumping off point, even if the design itself isn’t the final vision. It’s much easier for people to point out what they don’t like and for me to come up with alternatives to that, rather than envisioning something out of thin air. This has really worked well for me so far. I really enjoy the collaborative process during this stage of design.
I was the Arts Director of the Virginia Center for the Book from 2001-2003. While I was there, I helped run workshops and host events that built community involvement in the letterpress shop. I also created panel talks and art installations for Charlottesville’s annual Festival of the Book, which is a week-long event covering all aspects of books, from publishing, illustrating, designing, and reading. I also taught a class in the Art Department at the University of Virginia.
What I loved most about my time there was introducing the history and craft of letterpress to so many people in a variety of settings. One of my favorite moments was teaching an outreach program for a local Girl Scouts troop. I had the girls (who were all about 7 years old) run a pass through the Vandercook Universal. While I was in another room showing a group how to fold and slit the paper into a book, a girl came running out of the print shop in tears. Her mom asked her what was wrong, and she said through her sobs, “My print is over-inked!”
The very first presses I owned are my current ones – a 10×15 Heidelberg Windmill and an 8×12 Chandler and Price treadle that’s been converted with a motor. It’s funny that my first presses are both platens, since I learned to print on Cylinders. By the time I was ready to buy and had the space to have presses, Vandercooks were way out of my price range. Before this, I had always managed to access community print shops or presses belonging to friends.
Boxcar has helped me in so many ways! Mainly, making resources readily available has been key. It’s a one-stop-shopping kind of place. They have given me the luxury of going slowly in building up my knowledge by offering a place to get it all done, and with such ease! The Boxcar Base has made life so much easier.
Before the Base, I was using magnesium plates. I found them to be much softer and more unpredictable, requiring more make ready due to being mounted to wood (not consistently flat on the bottom, and easily prone to warping). Being able to have predictable quality in my tools has allowed me to focus on perfecting my skills as a craftsman. The ability to buy paper, envelopes, order plates, and pick up a random thing I might need here or there (can of ink, roller gauge) has been fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about the Boxcar Press website flow. It is extremely user friendly, is quick and easy to navigate, and borders on foolproof!
I also love the How-To tutorials, which have increased my knowledge of my presses. Also, I cannot say enough great things about the staff. I have had random moments of panic where I’d forgotten to upload a small file for platemaking, only to call out an S.O.S. to Rebecca Miller, who swiftly and promptly put out the fire and saved the day! Working with Boxcar Press is like having a staff of knowledgeable and kind pre-press geniuses just an email away!
Get the crop marks! This is something I don’t always do myself, and pretty much every time a two or three color cropless job goes to press, I spend twice as much time trying to get position. Even with one color jobs, I like crop marks once it gets to bindery. They seem like a luxury, but really they save you a bunch of time. And time is money, as well as a whole lotta frustration!
Spend the money! I’ve been there…I have tried to get away with a short cut, or making do without a particular tool or gadget (the Swing Away Lay Gauge comes to mind here). In the end, I end up spending way too much time having to figure out a “cheap” way to do something. Again, I’ve spent money, and potentially compromise the quality of the end result of the printed piece.
If you’re running a blind deboss on a stock that isn’t 100% cotton, or super plush, you can achieve a similar effect by adding a small amount of color that matches the paper stock with a ton of transparent white. Or, if you’re running a bright white sheet, opaque white right out of the can will do the trick.
I’ve also added a touch of yellow to gold ink in order to give it the punch it needs to stand out on an absorbent stock.
Letterpress is a lot of troubleshooting and problem-solving. Isolate problems, ask for help from fellow printers that you know, or reach out online. One of the things I love about letterpress is how knowledgeable and helpful the community of printers is. Also, a motto I like – Stay modest, do good work, enjoy life outside the shop.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
For the upcoming year, I will continue to grow my clientele. I also plan to add equipment so that I can add foil and emboss to my skill set. Currently, I am creating a design line, more of my own greeting cards, and some stock offerings that can be semi customized, like monogrammed note card sets and Holiday cards. I also hope to learn to paddle board!
Newly fledged full-time architect-turned printer, Lauren Ralph of Helen Edna letterpress shares with us her printing journey so far. From being inspired by the vivid color palettes of Van Gogh and Kandinsky to taking up printing lessons at the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA, Lauren’s bright and clean designs reflect her dedication to the printing tradition.
I began my career as an architect. Shortly thereafter, I came to the realization I missed working with my hands. The summer of 2018, I embarked on a new journey and opened my letterpress stationery studio, Helen Edna.
I took printing lessons at the International Printing Museum in Carson. My favorite part was learning the printing process and being able to print my hand-drawn designs and turning them into cards. As a result of the printing lessons, I bought a Golding Pearl. Next, I made the leap to start Helen Edna!
LOVE AT FIRST PRINT
Letterpress cards in boutiques are something that I have admired. Being able to design and print my own cards for people to enjoy is something that brings me great joy.
I live a really neat area in California that is close to just about everything. My house is near the Headlands Conservation Area, Dana Point Harbor … and next to Strands Beach in Dana Point.
All the design work and order fulfillment takes place at my home in Dana Point. While all the printing happens at my husband’s grandmother’s home (which is nearby).
One of my printing mentors would be Mark Barbor, the International Printing Museum Director. Not only did he give my husband and I a printing lesson at the museum. Even more, he has been helpful in getting me started. In addition to Mark as a printing mentor, artists such as Van Gogh and Kandinsky are inspirational.
FULL TIME FUN
Over the last several months, I have been printing full-time. It is a true pleasure in seeing my designs come to life!
How does the creative process begin? First, I begin drawing thumbnail sketches in pen and ink. Next, I take a photo of the design is uploaded in Adobe Draw. From here, I use the Apple Pencil to create the illustration. After this, I export the drawing into Adobe Illustrator and adjust the Pantone colors. Finally, I prepare the design file to send to Boxcar Press. The design file includes adding registration for the designs that are full-bleed.
One of my biggest printing feats is opening Helen Edna. Opening this store is something I have dreamed about for years.
A Golding Improved Pearl No. 11, which I bought from the International Printing Museum in Carson, CA.
BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE
Boxcar Press’ customer service is impressive. They have a really fast turnaround, are always very polite, and willing to help with any questions you may have.
I have three pieces of printing tips. My first, If you are looking to save time … for card designs that are not a full bleed (and have a good margin around the design) I order precut and folded A2 Crane Lettra, from Astro.
My second tip, to achieve the perfect registration try overlaying your design with the printed design on vellum.
The final printing tip, if you are looking for Pantone ink colors to be spot on, and able to apply directly from the tube onto the disk, check out Southern Ink.
I’m hoping to exhibit at the National Stationery Show for the first time! I also plan on doing more craft fairs and continue to play with designs for my line.
Immensely large round of thanks + appreciation out to Lauren of Helen Edna!
Cozied in the north shore of New Zealand is Birkenhead – a suburb of Auckland that offers gorgeous beaches, picturesque vistas, and the hidden gem that is GTO Printers. Graham Judd was able to take a minute to talk shop with us about his trip to the Ladies of Letterpress last year, falling for printing on day one, his cozy (but efficient!) garage-turned-shop, and gearing up to create more workshops to spread the love of letterpress in New Zealand.
FAMILY AND PRINTING LIFE I grew up in a small country town in New Zealand, had a happy family life, the middle child of five. My dad was the local radio station manager and mum sang a lot in local operatic shows, so we were brought up with music and social activities in our home. We were sent to the local Baptist church and there I made a decision to follow Christ at age 17. This has influenced my journey in life ever since. I moved to Auckland with my wife in 1975, and we are still here. We now have three adult children. They all love what I do, but all have their own careers outside of printing.
FALLING FOR LETTERPRESS I left school with few qualifications and no idea of a career, but a friend who was a compositor in a local printing company suggested I look at an apprenticeship in the printing trade, which I did. And I loved printing from day one. My apprenticeship was as a letterpress machinist, training on Heidelbergs mainly, platens and cylinders. I later retrained on offset as letterpress was phased out.
NEW ZEALAND WONDERS Up until January 2018 I have been leasing a small building in the local area where we live, and I think my ‘apprentice’ Christina kept our local coffee shop in business with her mocha purchases. The situation changed and it was the time to move the business home. So now I have a small (one car garage size) area that houses most of my equipment. I’m allowed a bit of extra space in the real garage for paper stock, and I have my old Albion press at the local library. My print shop is typical, with the Heidelberg 10×15 platen and Polar guillotine taking most space, then a small stone, galley rack, ink stand, work bench, a type cabinet with my wood type, and that leaves enough room to take one step to get to anything! It works well, I can’t buy any more stuff, which is probably good!
MENTORS + INSPIRATION My basic training was done a long time ago, I’m now at the stage of life where I’m passing on my bad habits to others. But people who come to mind that impress me with their work are Jenn at Starshaped Press, the lettering of Jessica Hische, and the work of local printer Tara McLeod who would be New Zealand’s most experimental letterpress printer. In my trips to USA the things that really stand out have been visits to Hamilton Wood Museum, the International Printing Museum in Carson, Edes and Gill Printing Office in Boston, the Crane Printing Plant, and of course our visit to John at Letterpress Things in Chicopee.
DESIGNED FOR PRINT I am really a printer only, very dependent on artwork being supplied by clients. This possibly means I miss out on some jobs that won’t get past the designer/printer shops, but it does mean the job is ready to print when it gets to me, so the decisions that can make a job hard work are all done. It does mean that designers that have pushed the limits of what letterpress can do in their design, give me challenges on the press.
FULL TIME FUN I have run my business full time for nearly 35 years, that included offset and later digital machines. I was fortunate to go through the period between letterpress and digital, when offset ruled, and there was a lot work for a small commercial printer. Now that I am nearing the end of my professional career, I am ok that work is slowing a little, but I still love inking up the press whenever I can.
PRINTING FEATS In 2014 I printed a set of art prints for a client, which won me the supreme award in the Pride in Print Awards in New Zealand, the best of the best printing for that year, beating all the big offset and digital boys in the country. I thought it should get some recognition when I entered it, but was delighted and amazed that the judges put it at the top. That was pretty cool. I have trained up two ladies who have both set up successful letterpress businesses in New Zealand. I am very proud of both of them, and proud to think I had a small hand in their success. I feel the printing trade has been good to me, and am happy to give back as I can.
PRESS HISTORY The first press I purchased was an AM Multi 1250, a small offset press, back in about 1982. By 1987 I had replaced it with other offset presses, and got me a brand new Heidelberg TOK that year. My first letterpress machine was an Adana 8×5, purchased in about 1995 I think. That was about when I got a desire to dabble in letterpress after a 20 year break. I purchased my Heidelberg Platen in 2008, and that’s when I got serious about commercial letterpress again.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Living in New Zealand means I have had little to do with Boxcar Press, only seeing the name pop up regularly on google searches for letterpress stuff. Meeting the boss and Maddie and others at the Ladies of Letterpress convention in 2017 was great. I was most impressed that Maddie was willing to dive into the press to pull out all the rubbish deep inside! Getting the ink into your blood is a prerequisite of a dedicated letterpress printer!
SHOP TIPS My experience is mostly with Heidelbergs, so one thing I reinforce is, for new operators, set up and get the feeder running consistently before inking up the press. If it’s not feeding well it’s just adding to the battle of getting a good job done.
WHAT’S NEXT There are opportunities to run more workshops, both beginner letterpress and Heidelberg platen workshops. I have a plan to set up a mobile printshop, visiting schools, libraries, and events where I can share the letterpress experience. I’m on the lookout for an ex-ambulance or similar. And for a while yet continue to run my little print shop as a profitable and happy place!
A world of thanks to Graham of GTO Printers for letting us take a sneak peek into his New Zealand printing world!
Most letterpress printers find a sense of home in the happy clinking & whirling of the press. Danny Rhoades of Creative Beasties Workshop is no exception. The IT-by-day and printer-by-night found the letterpress bug bit hard after planning his own wedding. Turning part of his garage into his printing mecca, Danny finds inspiration in exploring creative options with his clients, his supportive family, and letting the press provide valuable teaching moments. Since our last visit with Danny, he caught us up on new printing tricks, the feeling when registration is spot on, and the wonderful rhythms printing has played in his life.
PRINTING JAM SESSIONS + FAMILY LIFE I’m a 37 year old married father of 2 adorable twin girls (age 2). It’s mostly me by myself printing since my wife is usually dealing with the kids. I sometimes have creative friends come over for printing sessions but other than that it’s just me.
BLOSSOMING PRINTING LOVE When my wife and I were planning our own wedding we both got super interested in the invitation options out there and came across letterpress. I instantly fell in love and that eventually blossomed into Creative Beasties Workshop.
PRINTSHOP EFFICIENCY Our workshop is in the tandem portion of our garage. It’s only about 288 sq ft so it’s very limited. My favorite thing about it is the Heidelberg Windmill 10×15 press that brings it all together.
AT HOME PRINTING We’re in a pretty new constructed suburban neighborhood. The most interesting thing about our home is that it backs up to a 20 ft. sound wall for Highway 65.
PRINTING MENTORS One of the first people to teach me about letterpress was a gentleman I met on the Briarpress.org forums who goes by the handle, Inky. He taught both my wife and I the basics and helped us really understand the foundations of the process. I owe him a lot.
PART TIME PRINTING, FULL TIME FUN I wish I could print full time, but with a mortgage and budding family, I can’t afford to do that just yet. I work in IT and my day job pretty much supplements our workshop quite a bit.
DESIGN BROUGHT TO LIFE I don’t design as much as I’d like mostly due to time constraints, but when I do it’s usually after a lengthy conversation/meeting with the client to fully understand their motivation and inspiration so I can bring it to life and elevate it the best I can. One of my weaknesses is not knowing when to stop. This is something I am working on, and think I’m getting better … but I know it’s a flaw of mine.
PRINTING FEATS One of my proudest moments occurred when I was able to produce a 3 color work, shortly after having trained only for three days on the press. The registration was perfect and the colors were spot on.
PRESS HISTORY I learned on a C&P old style, but when I bought my own I went straight for the kill and got a Heidelberg Windmill 10×15. I didn’t even know how to use it! I was super scared at first and had to take a three day training to understand how to work it.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Anytime I need any advice … or help with a job I can always count on Boxcar to be there to walk me through it.
PRINTING TIPS For just starting out, don’t blame yourself too much. I blamed my inexperience a lot before I realized there was an actual problem with the press that needed to be fixed. The same thing happened with rollers. Once I changed to a different supplier things worked out much better. Sometimes, it is actually the equipment.
WHAT’S NEXT I hope to continue printing and eventually build a client base that can support me printing full time.
A big, huge Windmill-size round of thanks out to Danny of Creative Beasties Press! We look forward to seeing what cool, new projects come his way.
East Haven, Connecticut hugs the shoreline of Long Island Sound and is home to Lourdes Irizarry of Slackline Press. Lourdes’ self-proclaimed printing hideaway has cool tunes playing in the background, a loft nook above the main printing floor, and a treasure of letterpress tools collected over the years. Stepping back from her platen presses, Lourdes gives us a tour of where the printing magic happens, thanks in part to the support she has found in the New England letterpress community.
MINIMALIST PRINTSHOP Our shop is small so I like to keep it light and tidy. It has neutral, recessed lighting throughout and natural light from two windows and a sliding barn door that opens to the outside. The floor is a sturdy but affordable, wood textured linoleum over a leveled cement floor that I don’t have to worry about damaging. We built shelving from old wood we salvaged from the renovation, as well as a 7 ft. workbench with storage for large sheets of paper.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSION My favorite thing about our shop is a small crawl space in the rafters that was converted into a tiny loft for storage. I outfitted it with an old letterpress tray table I made. It’s a great space to hide with my laptop or sketchbook when I need quiet time to design. My prized possession is my first press – a Golding Jobber #6 named Brumhilda.
SHOP SIZE The entire space is approximately 300 sq ft.
CONNECTICUT SPLENDOR Our shop is a half of a detached garage that was drywalled and insulated to be functional throughout the seasons. It’s located behind our tiny cape on the Connecticut shoreline close to New Haven. It’s a short bike ride away from the town beach and town green where the library and farmer’s market is.
TYPE OF SHOP Our garage turned studio is in a residential neighborhood, on the border of a commercial part of town.
PRESS FAMILY I have 3 platen presses – a Golding Jobber #6 8×12, Golding Pearl #11 7×11 and a Sigwalt Nonpareil 6×9 tabletop press.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL It sounds silly, but I can’t live without my pocket ruler, to help center or square artwork while printing.
INK OF CHOICE I print with Van Son rubber-based inks. My favorite is rubine red. It never gets tacky, is easy to mix and looks lovely by itself.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE I find mineral spirits work best for me. Easy Street, which was recommended by someone at Boxcar, is a huge help when switching colors, cleaning up dark ink or if ink has been on the rollers for more than a few hours.
BASE SYSTEM I’ve had the Standard Boxcar Base for the 5 years I’ve been printing. I started with KF95 plates then switched to 94CHFB but I can’t decide if I like one more than the other.
OIL OF CHOICE I use 3-in-1 oil.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG just use old t-shirts that I collect from anyone getting rid of them!
PIED TYPE I don’t have a lot of metal type but what I do have came nicely sorted, so I don’t think I have any lying around.
KEEPING IT ORGANIZED Clean as you go! Everything in my studio has a home, and if I didn’t put things back in their place I either wouldn’t find them when I need them or I wouldn’t have enough space to work. I think my favorite organizational solution is plastic shoebox size bins to store printed cards. They’re stackable, easy to see what’s inside and keep dust out.
SHOP TIPS I feel like I will always be learning. I did notice very early on, how friendly and eager the letterpress community is to share advice. I think acquiring presses that needed some elbow grease and restoration helped to get to know the ins and outs of my presses. They all have their own unique quirks. It takes time and patience but I think it’s a really valuable way to learn.
The printing life of Salem, Ohio’s very own Keith and Jamie Berger of the Cranky Pressman has catapulted since they first set-up shop more than three decades ago. From tight-registration and spot-on prints to changing into a decidedly full-on letterpress shop, the duo creates expertly crafted letterpress prints. We caught up between in runs with the brothers to talk shop, see how the printing world has changed, and keeping up the tradition of old-fashioned know-how.
ALL IN THE PRINTING FAMILY KEITH BERGER It was the 70s and my father was a Graphic Artist and worked with printers. He told me, a lazy teenager without any interest in school, to “learn a trade” and printing seemed the answer. After a 2 year vocational school stint I was ready to go out and be a printer. I worked in the prepress departments, doing camera work, stripping and color separations. It was 1983 when I found a local small print shop where the owner was selling his business. I have had the shop ever since. Fighting the good fight.
= (A fresh stack of letterpress Cranky Bucks notes. Don’t tell the cops!)
JAMIE BERGER:Cranky Pressman is a partnership between brothers, Keith and myself. The Cranky brand was launched in 2003 but the partners are good old boys who have been around much longer than their Victorian era mascot.
In 1983, Keith bought a printing business that had been around since 1938. The shop likely started as a letterpress printery, serving the local business community in Salem, Ohio, which was a thriving industrial town at that time.
Much of the equipment was very old when Keith first acquired the place, from the Chandler & Price platen press (retrofitted with an electric drive motor) to the various pieces of old bindery apparatus such as perforators, drills and cutters. Of course the old shop also had many antique line-cuts, wood and metal type, plus the 1,000s of bits and pieces of furniture and other standard letterpress printing supplies.
(Pica the cat: the mascot of Cranky Press near a beautiful specimen of vintage wood type)
I was living and working as a graphic designer and art director in New York City in the mid-1980s. At that time in my career, pretty much all of the work I was involved with was print-based. Most graphic design materials at that time were printed with offset lithography including slick 6-color presses. However, letterpress was often preferred for projects like corporate event invitations or when a classy personalized presentation was required.
The 80s print shop did have small offset lithography presses which were the workhorses on day to day jobs. Beside invitation work though, letterpress at this time was mostly used for imprinting packaging and other pre-converted materials, die-cutting, scoring, numbering and foil-stamping.
We were always fascinated by the array of old machines, type and cuts around the place when I was in town visiting. Actually, they hand-set and printed my wedding invitation by letterpress in 1988.
Over the next decade or so, with the advent of the Macintosh and continued growth of lithography and eventually digital printing, the traditional craftsmanship of printing began to fade around the shop. In the early 2000s, Keith felt it was time to change and get back to craft-printing.
(Close-up detail of a piece we did Carly Rounds at Design 360)
Cranky Pressman, an all-letterpress shop, was born in 2003 [and] now serves the graphic designers, ad agencies and other creative businesses throughout the country.
THERE AND BACK AGAIN, A PRINTSHOP’S TALE KEITH: The shop I mentioned [earlier] came with a C&P, a Miehle Vertical, lead type, lock-up table and a cream puff of a Heidelberg Windmill that the original owner hardly used and was unable to train me on. Me being the ever savvy businessman decided that offset printing was the way to go. So I traded in that cream puff of a windmill on a fancy single color offset.
Meanwhile I was numbering, perforating and die cutting on the hand feed and Miehle. Eventually, I started doing stuff like napkins and book covers which were fun but made no money. The offset seemed to be going the same way. Sales were becoming tough-going and everything was changing to digital. This is when we, Jamie and myself, saw that letterpress as the way to go. To make a way too long story short, eventually we converted to all-letterpress and I sold that offset and brought back in a another Windmill exactly like the one I had sold years earlier!
JAMIE:Other than the wedding invitation mentioned above, my involvement with letterpress was mostly as an observer and occasional print buyer until I moved back to Ohio in 2012. I mainly look after the creative and marketing for Cranky Pressman. This has meant spending a lot of time studying and learning about the craft, more as a journalist than a hands-on printer.
However, when you spend so much time around printers, working closely on projects as a designer and/or art director, you get the urge to have a go and making some prints yourself.
Since relocating and working out of the letterpress shop, I’ve begun to dabble in some small hand-set pieces, mainly for Cranky Pressman promotions. This inspired me to begin working in print doing personal printmaking, including hand-setting, linocuts and woodcutting.
OPULENCE IN OHIO KEITH: Our small business was located downtown in the depressed small town of Salem, Ohio, on the second floor in a back alley. What could go wrong with that! But the invention of the internet helped save the day. Then again being that savvy visionary businessman, I figured that 10,000s of lbs of equipment should probably not be located on the second floor of a 125 year old building. Luckily there was a freight elevator, so we packed up the old print shop that was in the same place since the 50’s and moved it a block and a half away. Moving a letterpress shop is a story in itself. Fortunately, I have blocked the experience from my memory so that I can begin to function fairly normal again.
(Letterpress printed and die-cut gift card holder for Lucille’s BBQ)
JAMIE: After being at the same location since the 1950s (the first owner started the shop at another location in the 30s), the shop was recently moved two blocks down the road but in the same small town of Salem, Ohio.
The former location was on the 2nd floor of a 19th Century industrial building that was being converted to shopping and dining businesses. This was the ideal time to move the letterpress shop into a more appropriate ground floor workshop space.
Salem, is a historical old town in northeast Ohio, exactly halfway between Cleveland, Ohio and Pittsburgh, PA. There are still some factories in town but many of the old industrial buildings are empty. The town came upon some bad times, with factories and businesses closing, starting in the 1970s through the end of the last century. The closest bigger town in Youngstown, which suffered the same sort of economic downturn as Salem, but on a larger scale. The surrounding areas are mostly farmland.
Being more of an outsider myself (my family moved to this area from nearby Akron when I moved away to college) I can honestly say, the local folks are a hearty bunch. They can sometimes come across a little gruff (they’ve been through a lot after all) but there are many who never left and never intend to.
I am happy to report that over the past 10 years or so, it seems as though the little town is breathing new life. There are new shops, bars and restaurants around. The local high school stadium was recently renovated and other civic improvements are underway. Strong local historic and preservation groups are key to a lot of these good things happening around town. The Historical Society itself also went through a fairly recent expansion and the displays there are very well done and interesting. It nicely showcases the town’s rise, fall and rising again.
The space we recently moved from had some good old-world charm, with wooden floors and a rickety freight elevator. Our new workshop is much better organized, brighter and built for letterpress production on one side, and letterpress creative printmaking on the other side. We don’t yet have the place fully decorated or broken-in but everyone is happier working in the new space.
GOOD NEIGHBORHOOD EATS My favorite two local places to go out are among the oldest and most, shall I say, down to earth.
For eating (and drinking) you can’t beat the honest food and atmosphere at Mike’s Penn Bar and Grille. For pure drinking, soaking up local color and pool playing, I like Fernangeles. They don’t have a website and their Facebook page is only half-built, but is was the 1st or 2nd licensed bar in Ohio. The wooden walls in the bar area have paintings from the 19th Century that were done by travelers in exchange for room and board. Please note, you will likely get a good sampling of a variety of local yokels if you visit, so don’t wear your best clothes.
(A shot of the printmaking-studio-side of the shop. You will see Jason in the shot again. He is such a ham!)
PRINTING MENTORS KEITH:Early on I used a hot type setter that had Intertype and Ludlow typesetting machines. Bob Lesh is his name and he loved the trade of hot typesetting and we would discuss the history, and more interestingly, the system of a letterpress shop. We both believed that the usefulness of hot typesetting and letterpress would always have its place. Easier said than done, especially for the hot type, I am trying to save his vast collection and keep it viable for future generations.
DESIGNER + PRINTER KEITH:Mainly a printer but designer’s were originally printers so both I guess.
JAMIE: I studied and began my career as a graphic designer. I then spent most of my career working as an advertising art director. I am now (re)learning to be a graphic designer and printmaker at a ripe old age.
FULL-TIME SHOP FUN JAMIE: Yes,the shop is a full-service commercial letterpress shop.
PRINTING FEATS KEITH:Staying in the printing business for 30 + years. Although it has never been pretty it has always been interesting.
JAMIE:I had two prints (1 linocut and 1 woodcut) accepted in this past year’s Regional Artists juried show at The Butler Institute of American Art. So I guess I am beginning to learn how to print a bit.
PRESS HISTORY KEITH:It was not a letterpress, but an AB Dick duplicator that I ran in my living room!
JAMIE: Never owned a press myself but enjoy using others!
( Jason Vaughn (our head pressman) discusses printing specifications with Keith (at left).)
SHOP (AND LIFE) TIPS KEITH: Listen to your elders. They may have a different perspective but you can always modernize their advice.
JAMIE: I am still learning so you may not want any of my tricks if I had any!
WHAT’S COMING NEXT KEITH: To save the hot type and letterpress system and to “learn a trade.”
JAMIE: We will be continuing to set up, organize and decorate the shop. We hope to have more events such as workshops and visiting artists working in the space. We also are working on some new bindery and printing offerings to be announced.
A double round of applause & thanks out to Keith and Jamie of the Cranky Pressman for letting us take a sneak peak at their wonderful printing realm!
Harumi Kobayashi of Mejiro Graphics is a letterpress printer whose pan-Pacific Ocean life travels have brought her zen on press, a wealth of creativity, and a patient approach to challenges on her beloved Chandler & Price. Her eye-catching, beautifully crafted letterpress work features whimsical Japanese-style artwork with bold, striking colors. Harumi fills us in on the trek so far and what lies ahead on her printing & creative horizons.
THE PRINTING ADVENTURES SO FAR I am originally from Japan and I’ve been interested in lettering and calligraphy since I was a child. I was able to use my calligraphy experience and take a position as an assistant to a freelance book cover designer in Tokyo. After this I worked for a printing company in their graphic design department. In 2003 my husband and I moved to the US. We lived in Kauai, Hawaii and Port Ludlow, WA.
When we lived in Port Ludlow, we found a two-week-old kitten in the forest and we bottle-fed and raised him. Since then Olele is a member of our family and the inspiration for my letterpress card designs.
In 2016, we moved to Sherman, TX, where I work at a small commercial printing shop.
FINDING CREATIVITY When we moved to the States, I established Mejiro Graphics** and I’ve been enjoying working as a graphic designer. Later I taught myself web design to broaden my services.
Creating the websites was interesting, but I felt I was always trying to keep up with current trends and technologies. It was about then that my sister told me about letterpress printing. I googled letterpress and learned about people who still put value in setting lead type and printing on fine paper [and] on old printing presses. I felt I had found something that I had been looking for and was hidden inside me for a very long time. I told my husband I wanted to buy an antique printing press. He enthusiastically supported me and helped me find a press and he built me a printing shop.
**A Mejiro [may-gee-row], or Japanese White-eye, is a small olive-green songbird with a conspicuous white eye-ring.
SEASIDE ENDEAVORS We moved to Port Ludlow, WA so my husband could attend a wooden-boat-building school, and we were very lucky to rent a house on Puget Sound. So my husband built his shop and my printing shop in the 2-car garage, and we each had an ocean view. It was very quiet and peaceful. We heated our shops with wood we harvested from the forest and felt quite self-sufficient.
PRINTING MENTORS I was delighted to get to know Ellie Mathews and Carl Youngmann at the North Press in Port Townsend, WA. Ellie taught me how to set type and Carl always gave us good advice and solutions when we had problems about printing. Through them we met many local letterpress printers and bookbinders.
Their work and their enthusiasm for printing inspired me a lot.
DESIGNED FOR PRINT I’m a designer and a printer. I enjoy exploring and sketching the ideas for our greeting cards. My husband and I evaluate the designs and re-sketch many times. When we’re satisfied with the design, I scan the sketch, create a digital file in Adobe Illustrator, and fine-tune the design.
I order the polymer plates at the Boxcar Press. When I receive the plates, I mount it on a Base, hand-mix the ink and print it. As all you know, the press doesn’t work the same way every time and we are sometimes frustrated. But usually one of us has patience and comes up with an idea to fix the problem.
We put our hearts into the process and we’re always happy and content when we see the finished card. It’s delightful to see the colors come alive when printing on fine paper and for the image to take on the depth that letterpress printing gives.
PRINTING FEATS I’m proud that my husband restored our press completely. In addition, when we realized how important it was for the rails to be flat and of even height after a lot of trial and error printing, he began to think of ways to build up the rails. He wasn’t satisfied with the multiple layers of tape to make up for the heavily worn uneven rails so he disassembled the press again and using a metal and epoxy mixture, renewed the rails to almost new condition. Then we moved on to inking and other challenging printing issues. I’m happy that we worked together and continued to enjoy the challenge of printing our original greeting cards.
PRESS HISTORY We found our first press in Portland, OR. We brought it home covered in tarps in a rainstorm, of course. It is an old-style 1890, 8×12 Chandler & Price. It is our first and only press for now. We think it is beautiful.
BOXCAR’S ROLE When we bought our press, we didn’t know anything about printing and polymer plates, and we didn’t know anybody to ask. When we called Boxcar Press, they were always happy to help us and gave us information and suggestions.
SHOP TIPS I have two Boxcar Bases of the same size. For two-color printing, I put each plate on a Base and test print without inking to adjust registration and packing. This way I can see where to add packing easily and it helps avoid the ink drying out on the plates because we use and prefer oil based ink.
WHAT’S NEXT When we moved to Texas, unfortunately we needed to put our press in storage. We don’t have a lot of extra money at the moment so we’re looking for a free or low-cost place to set up our shop. I have several new card designs and hope we’ll be able to print them in early 2018.
A huge round of thanks out to Harumi Kobayashi of Mejiro Graphics (Etsy store) as we’re eager to see what she comes up in the not-too-distant future.
R&B Printery is a letterpress haven to husband-and-wife team Robin & Brannon Carter. From down-south roots, clean printed impressions, pops of punchy color, and a whole lot of letterpress love, the South Carolina duo’s work continues to inspire. We catch up with the creative couple to talk shop, honoring their printing mentors, and the allure of pulling open vintage drawers of metal type for the first time.
FROM REFRIGERATION INSPIRATION BOARD TO TAKING THE PLUNGE My wife Robin and I were already on a journey to discover a creative outlet that we could adventure into together when we happened to open an issue of Southern Living Magazine and read an article featuring 9thletterpress out of Florida. The old vintage press, stacks of clean paper, and colorful inks intrigued us. At the time, I really had no idea what letterpress printing even was! We tore out the article and hung it on our refrigerator for inspiration.
A few months went by as we continued searching and talking about what would inspire us. One day standing in front of the refrigerator, I looked at that photo and said, “I wonder if there is anyone around us doing letterpress? Someone we could take a class from. See what letterpress is all about”. After some internet searching and a few phone calls to local artists, we discovered that there was this old guy in Spartanburg, South Carolina (at the time we were living in the next county over) teaching the art of letterpress. We looked him up and signed up for his introductory to letterpress class.
We took the Intro class. Then signed up to take his Letterpress 2 class. Meanwhile, we discovered that the printing studio where he worked was part of an artists’ cooperative. The printing studio was amazing! Drawers full of old vintage metal and wood type, century old printing presses, and everything you’d need to have fun printing, all ready to go!
So, having no real background in art, other than childhood art classes for both of us in high school, we took the leap, signed up to be members of the West Main Artists’ Cooperative and set out to become real letterpress artisans! Oh, and that old guy became our mentor and cherished friend.
We ended up moving just to be near the presses when we officially launched R&B Printery!
PRINTING IN THE PALMETTO STATE Our printing studio is in the basement of the West Main Artists Co-op in Spartanburg, SC. The Artists Co-op hosts creative spaces for 50+ local artists in an old renovated Baptist church building turned gallery and studio space just two minutes from the heart of downtown Spartanburg.
As member artists of the co-op, we get to mingle and share creative space and ideas with some amazing artists. From other printmakers, to fine jewelry, ceramics, glass works, fiber arts, painting and water colors, to music, photography, and videography, the co-op is home to a breadth of creative talent.
The city of Spartanburg, the only city in the United States with this unique name, has a vibrant art community centered around a Downtown Cultural District, featuring an array of outdoor art, including a new Lighten Up Spartanburg walking light bulb outdoor exhibition featuring 28 light bulb sculptures.
We work out of the co-op for print production and our home studio (which is just a mile away – bought for that very location!) for design, inventory, and shipping.
PRINTING MENTORS The late Mr. William “Bill” Wheatley (that old guy we mentioned earlier), was our mentor for several years and helped us through the beginning stages of learning the technical aspects of printing with vintage presses and equipment. Sadly, he died in 2015 but his legacy lives on as we try to continue what he started. Wheatley worked tirelessly to build a printing space that could move beyond simply housing old stuff to be admired, to creating a living, breathing print studio that could run as a fully-functioning print shop. We still miss him.
DESIGNER + PRINTING TEAM We are a husband and wife team living, working, and creating in the Upstate of South Carolina. We both grew up as creatives. Robin, in a house surrounded by a family and a lifestyle that nurtured the creative spark. I grew up from an early age drawing with a pencil through my early high school years, even taking AP Art. Our natural giftedness for art was set aside for both of us as we became involved in other school-related activities.
But, the small flicker of that creative spark is what brought us to letterpress printing. I love getting my hands dirty with activities such as positioning type in visually appealing arrangements. I also handled the digital design elements for our custom clients. Robin has always been drawn to hand lettering. In college, she was the unofficial banner maker for her sorority, hand painting most of their event banners. Hand lettering our line of letterpress greeting cards is now a major design focus for Robin. You can watch a short video of us working in our studio.
We both hold Masters degrees in biology and have worked as professional teachers. Robin also has an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science. So, we both bring this need to protect the environment into our printing. We consider ourselves first, an eco-friendly letterpress printing studio. Our line of greeting cards uses a 100% post-consumer waste (PCW) recycled, 110# card stock manufactured in Germany and sourced locally here in the United States. Our in-house envelopes are also 100% PCW recycled and our clear card sleeves are made of a corn-based bio-plastic that is compostable and 100% biodegradable. We recycle papers and makeready materials through our production and packaging process, reusing and reclaiming scraps for other purposes. We also use soy-based inks, and collect discarded and reclaimed inks to keep them out of the landfill.
FULL TIME FUN WITH A DASH OF PART-TIME PLAY Brannon has just recently, about 6 months ago, been able to devote all of his official “work” time to R&B Printery. Robin still teaches online high school, but devotes her time away from the classroom to designs, local artist markets, and social media. Maybe one day, we’ll both be free to pursue our creative side together full-time!
PRINTING FEATS I think one of the biggest points of excitement for us is to look back at some of our very first designs and prints. Cards we thought were amazing and that people would just love to purchase and put in the mail. To look back now, four years later and wonder “what were we thinking!”. Some of our early prints were terrible! But looking at where we are now, that we’ve been able to persevere the highs and lows of starting and running your own small business, and to see that we can now truly print some wonderful letterpress pieces that our clients love, this just makes us ecstatic! We hope 4 years from now we will still look back and think the same thing about what we are producing today as evidence of continued improvement and ongoing growth!
Another accomplishment we are proud of is that we’ve designed and built custom displays for participating in handmade markets and pop up shops. Our newest display is only a few months old but we debuted it at the prestigious Indie Craft Parade in September. It was a feat of engineering to build something modular so it would fit into our car while still being eye catching to draw in shoppers. We are super proud of the way we built in the ability to run a video of our process on loop with our iPad Pro as a part of the display. It’s proven to be a wonderful way to introduce new clients to our process and discuss ways we can print something custom just for them.
MEET THE PRESS FAMILY As I stated earlier, we were lucky in finding the West Main Artists Co-op and being able to benefit from all of the hard work of those who built the printing studio from scratch.
Our main workhorse press, that we started on and still use today, is a vintage 1906, 8×12 Chandler & Price old style. We are lucky to also have access to a manual Vandercook proof press that we use for some custom projects. We also have a newer 10×15 Chandler & Price Craftsman style that we’re in the final stages of getting operational.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press is our go-to provider for everything photopolymer. We use the Boxcar base + photopolymer plate system and have found the team in platemaking to be extremely knowledgeable when questions arise. It feels like we have a team of people working for us when we send off designs to have made into plates. Every once in a while, I’ll get a call from platemaking to check on a rendering aspect of our design which we greatly appreciate.
The Boxcar videos on setting the roller height of our presses using a roller gauge were extremely helpful early on. The blog and articles at Boxcar and the discussions posted on Letterpress Commons have been invaluable during the learning process.
SHOP TIPS I write and mark all over my boxcar base during makeready and setup. Periodically, I need to clean up my base and start with a clean slate.
I’ve found that Mr. Clean Magic Erasers do an AMAZING job of bringing my Boxcar base back to life. Two minutes and a Magic Eraser and it looks like I’ve bought a new base!
WHAT’S NEXT Our biggest goal for 2018 is to expand our name recognition in our community, the Upstate of South Carolina, and across the State. We are printing projects for clients all across the U.S. but we want to let people in our own state know that they don’t have to go far away to fill their letterpress needs. We’re right here, close to home.
Immensely huge round of thanks out to Brannon & Robin of R&B Printery for giving us a look into their lovely printing world!