It’s wonderful to see our letterpress friends grow and be on the move. Earlier this month, a cool Chicago-based letterpress printer, A Favorite Design, did just that. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Amber Favorite & her husband have been able to move into their own brick-and-mortar store in the Albany park area. Way to go and congratulations!
A significant other’s trip to Europe became an occasion for me to do a little poking into the history of Basel, Switzerland. I couldn’t — and really, still can’t — put my finger on any one reason why Basel feels significant to me, as prominent as it has been in the back of mind. Perhaps it’s some subconscious awareness that many of my cultural heroes are alumni of the old university, like Friedrich Nietzsche, Carl Gustav Jung, and Herman Hesse.
In the Renaissance, it was home to father of pharmacology, the astrologer and alchemist Paracelsus; in the modern era, it was the site of chemist Albert Hoffman’s famous bicycle ride over the course of which he became aware of the effects of the lysergic acid diethylamide he’d just invented. What a cute set of Basel historical bookends marking either end of the modern era of hard science, between magical herblore on one side and psychedelic cybernetics on the other.
This is the time when I just want to be active and outside. Taking in as much sunlight and warm weather as possible before the next season arrives. I relish these moments, yet have the feeling that I am not focused on my studio work. This little bit of guilt follows me around, but WAIT!!! I have dissolved this worry by combining my two favorite things: drawing and playing outdoors.
Wherever I go on adventures, I make sure to always have space in my bag for a small notebook and a set for drawing tools. Pens, fine tipped markers and a handmade notebook.
The sketchbooks are simple to make and can be constructed in a pinch. Yay bookbinding skills!!! Any found and recycled materials such as copy paper, string or staples are used to bind together this booklet. And there you are, ready for summer action and capturing your favorite moments.
Above are images I have included are from a 2015 sketchbook. These were made while spending the weekend in a remote cabin in central New York. Below are this year’s (2019) sketches of some recent adventures.
I can captures new experiences and practice my artistic skills all in this small item. I have even asked my friends to contribute to some pages. These become great collection pieces over time. I can look back at these works and enjoy my artistic practice through the summer months.
Have something that you find intriguing? Let us know in the comments below!
Letterpress printer and artist Jenna Philpott adds a magical golden touch to a Jewish couple’s wedding celebration and Ketubah.
My husband’s coworker knew that I had a letterpress printing press. I had worked with him and his wife on other smaller projects, such as a custom stationery set for a house-warming gift and the like. Their son is in Rabbinical School at Hebrew University in Cincinnati. When their son got engaged, he asked for a special Ketubah.
A Ketubah is essentially a wedding contract used within the Jewish Tradition as a central part of the wedding ceremony. As I also paint and draw, so the family thought the letterpress plus unique artwork would be a great way to celebrate their son’s marriage.
My favorite part was the collaborative nature of the work. I am not Jewish and could not read the language either. I relied heavily on their community and mine to figure out the bits and bobs. It was also difficult to find just the right font for the couple so I made my own. The text makes the shading of the full pomegranate in the background.
I had 3 fluent speakers review the text multiple times to make sure I got it right! I drew 613 pomegranate seeds to symbolize the 613 commandments in the Jewish faith. I then had my 4 kids and even my hairdresser help me count the seeds while I got a few highlights in! HA! My letterpress mentor helped me with my paper selection (Wild 220# white by Neenah).
Rebecca at Boxcar Press was a patient gem throughout and helped me piece the work so that I could print it just right on my C&P. After printing each section, I hand dusted the piece with gold dust to add shimmer and interest without high shine.
Ultimately, I became friends with the whole family and was invited to a wonderful wedding weekend. It was a fun, complex project that made my heart and talents sing (and my feet dance at the reception!).
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!
We were pleased to lend support to Carmela Heinztelman when she was approached with a special print request. After seeing the results, we think more professional design projects like this should come to life in letterpress.
When architect Edward Deegan contacted me about making some letterpress prints of his architectural drawings, I jumped at the chance. I admire Ed’s work and have seen many of his designs realized in our Illinois community and his work is absolutely impeccable. Below is one of the beautiful houses he designed, and one of the prints I made from his sketch of this house.
I love printing personalized artwork, and this was no different. To take a talented architect’s sketches and translate it into letterpress printed art that could be framed and hung was such an honor.
Edward had five sketches that he wanted printed. The challenge was to take these sketches and adjust them in a way that worked best for letterpress and kept the details.
We needed to apply a screen, which I had never done before. Enter Prepress from Boxcar Press! I called Cathy and explained this project, and she was excited to help. She looked at each of the pieces and told me the best way to prep the artwork. I converted the scans to grayscale, adjusted the contrast, brightness and threshold, then saved it as a TIFF. It came out perfect – the client was extremely happy!
In addition to the house renderings, I also printed for Edward a tall ships scene and two historical facades. He framed and hung them all in his office.
Thanks Carmela for sharing the printing of these drawings. In addition to being a learning experience for you on the file preparation side, it was a nice treat to see something a little out of the norm come to life in letterpress. This is a very limited edition art that will be viewed and enjoyed.
I opened my Etsy shop, Nine Day Weekend, a few years ago. My initial focus was on custom illustrations of family photographs. Early projects were all laser cut into wood, as either hangable portraits or magnets. One thing led to another and soon my love of the outdoors inspired me to create illustrations of National Parks.
I know it sounds trite, but I woke up early one morning with the random idea that I could draw the Grand Canyon simply by splitting the words in half and spreading them to the far corners of the frame. As I lay in the dark brainstorming how I could rearrange the letters of my favorite parks into similar designs. I brought my sketchbook and laptop to bed and worked until well after noon, but I had laid the foundation for my new project.
I realized early on that I wanted all of the designs to share a uniform visual language, so it was important to keep the line weights equal, no matter how big or small the letters became. Then, I quickly shifted gears and the parks became the focus of my Etsy shop (conveniently, I had already named my shop Nine Day Weekend, after the length of vacation that you create by taking Monday through Friday off work – I think this name lines up well with my new celebration of America’s natural lands and the joys of visiting them).
Over the course of the following days and weeks (and months), I kept working on the remaining parks, trying to turn each name into a distinct feature of the landscape or wildlife of each park. I allowed myself to rotate, flip, stretch, chop, and generally manipulate each letter, but my one rule was that every letter needed to be recognizably present.
Some of the images came to me very easily (like Arches, Hawaii Volcanoes, and Redwood), and I think their simplicity helps to balance out the more complicated illustrations (like Gates of the Arctic, Guadalupe Mountains, and Petrified Forest), where the letters are truly jumbled and it’s more difficult to “read” the name of the park. It’s fun to present my work at craft fairs and watch customers hover at my table while they try to “solve” all of these puzzles.
I first sold these parks as individual laser cut coaster and magnets, so people could create their own combinations of parks to resemble their favorite adventures. But I always imagined the full roster being presented together, so when I finally finished the 59th park (it took over a week to rearrange Theodore Roosevelt into a representation of his North Dakota log cabin and a bison), I needed to find the right medium for the poster.
I had met some letterpress printers on the craft fair circuit, and it seemed like my crisp lines would be a good fit for letterpress. One of them was kind enough to point me to Ted Ollier, who advised me on how to translate my digital artwork into letterpress. He also recommended I contact Boxcar Press for the plate. Having many questions, I was very happy with the patience displayed by Boxcar as I was educated on the process of platemaking. Both times that I have ordered plates (I recently created a second edition that includes the 2 new entries to the National Park roster) I was in a self-imposed rush. Why does it seem like all art projects end at the last minute?
The quick turnaround by Boxcar allowed me to get my posters printed as soon as possible. And even when their quality control found errors on my end (like using RGB instead of CMYK), I was able to correct the problem immediately without delaying production. I’ll let Ted speak to the printing qualities of these photopolymer plates, but I certainly have no complaints. As a letterpress newbie, Boxcar has been a pleasure to work with.
In addition to the plate I ordered for my new 18″ x 24″ print of all 61 National Parks, I also created a smaller plate that features the 5 National Parks of Utah (with the designs themselves arranged into the shape of Utah).
I’m excited to see how outdoor enthusiasts respond to this print. These parks are all very well regarded and highly visited – I’ll actually be visiting them with my family later this month to coincide with National Park Week. I’m incredibly proud of these posters – I love running my fingers along the deboss and I love seeing all of my illustrations lined up in a perfect grid. I looked up the specific Pantone shades of green and brown used by the National Park Service, in order to get as close as possible to the real thing. My hope is that these prints inspire folks to visit, treasure, and protect these amazing lands.
So Dan found me when I was still in a now-defunct letterpress co-op. I ran the original posters on the SP-20 there, but for this run I needed to borrow the SP-20 at the letterpress at Harvard where I teach, the Bow & Arrow Press. I started Reflex Letterpress about this time last year to salvage something out of the demise of the co-op.
The smaller pieces I ran at Reflex on the Vandercook No 4. The presses were feeling good that day, there were no oddities in either run.
The smaller pieces I ran at Reflex on the Vandercook No 4. The presses were feeling good that day, there were no oddities in either run.
Want to snag a print of this beautiful poster? Shop here!
Chris Paul, of North Carolina-based Old North State Press, shares with us how an evening introductory printing class flourished into a love for printing machines and letterpress. From there, with the help of numerous, generous mentors and his wife/partner, Danielle, he has immersed himself happily in the craft. Read on to discover how Chris passes on the knowledge he’s learned with the letterpress community.
CRAFT AND TRADITION
At Old North State Press, we are dedicated to preserving the tradition and craft of fine letterpress printing. We started our journey with the acquisition of a simple cylinder press in 1998. The studio now boasts an impressive array of heavy, outdated machines and equally obsolete related equipment, all meticulously maintained and loved.
In addition to supporting custom client work where the unique characteristics of letterpress printing is desired, the press produces original designs for stationery, note cards, wedding invitations, birth announcements, broadsides, and other printed matter.
I am a classically-trained designer and typographer and completed my MFA in Design at Yale School of Art in 1995 where I was first introduced to traditional printing methods. I enjoy fretting over the details and coaxing beauty from these iron beasts. My wife and partner, Danielle, is a fearless editor and etiquette expert. She has a Masters in Communication. This background comes in quite handy with our clients and the work they bring us. Danielle has a keen eye for fine presswork and ensures every piece we produce measures up to our exacting standards.
GETTING THE PRINTING BUG
Back in the early 90s, while in grad school, a few of us signed up for introductory printing classes, taught once a week on Thursday evenings, at the university printing facilities. The start of the digital era in design was in high gear and while many of us had been working in print for some time, our understanding of the tradition and craft of printing was limited. I had only seen pictures of metal type in books. Greer Allen, the former University Printer at Yale and one of the instructors, would regularly shake his head at how little we knew! He was, however, a truly patient and enthusiastic teacher.
In the class, Greer and a local book designer, Howard Gralla, taught us how to set type by hand and print our simple creations on a Vandercook proof press. I was hooked immediately. The exquisite mechanics. The rich history. The endless possibilities. I vowed then and there I would learn as much as I could about letterpress and, one day, find a press of my own.
I got a job doing design at IBM in 1995. In 1998, Danielle and I moved into our first house. It had a garage and thus, room for a press. We acquired our first press, a Vandercook No. 3, soon after moving in.
THE SHOP: A CREATIVE HAVEN
Because I work in software design, I tend to think of everything as versions. We’re currently on version 3.0 of our shop which we built in 2014 after moving to the Charlotte, NC area. Our shop is about 400 sq ft and houses all of our equipment. We still have the original Vandercook No. 3 but have since added two late model 10×15 Heidelbergs. The first Heidelberg was re-built from the ground up by Graeme Smith while he was with Whittenburg in TN. It is a beauty and our most prized piece of equipment. The second Heidelberg was acquired this past summer and is in need of a good cleaning and some serious TLC. Our intent is to dedicate this second machine to foil and die-cutting.
Because of my desire to learn everything I could about traditional letterpress, I also got into hot metal typecasting in the early 2000s. With the help of some amazing mentors, I was able to acquire an English and American Thompson Sorts Casters and a small library of matrices. I first learned to cast type under the thoughtful tutelage of Pat Taylor, former proprietor of Out of Sorts Type Foundry, and Rick Newell formerly of Heritage Printers in Charlotte. We also have many cases of metal and wood type, an antique John Jacques & Son paper cutter,and all the various accoutrements you’d expect in a working shop.
What we love most about our shop is having a dedicated, climate controlled space to design, make and learn. Letterpress has a deep heritage, and these machines teach us something new every time we use them.
NORTH CAROLINA COOL
Our shop is located on our property in an older, heavily wooded and secluded neighborhood south of Charlotte, NC surrounded by horse farms. We are 10 minutes from historic downtown Waxhaw and 30 minutes from Uptown Charlotte.
I am deeply indebted to many for the generosity of their time, patience and wisdom. I first learned to print from Howard Gralla and Greer Allen while a grad student at the Yale School of Art. Rick Newell helped me acquire my first press and type, and he taught me what it means to run a shop. Pat Taylor, Rich Hopkins, Mike Anderson, and Jim Walczak inspired me to give typecasting a go and encouraged me to keep at it.
Fritz Klinke of NA Graphics took me under his wing early on and instilled within me a love of the process, hot metal type, and the journey of “figuring it out.” Elias Roustom of EM Letterpress taught me more than a few tricks of the trade along the way and his work continues to inspire me. Further, where would any modern day letterpress printer be with a reliable rigger? Pete McFee has moved every press I’ve ever owned and introduced me to electricians and repair techs who know and appreciate these old machines. Priceless!
I’m also indebted to and inspired by the many designers, printers, and clients I’ve met along the way who have shared hints, tips and techniques and pushed me to learn and make.
Last but not least, sincere thanks to my partner, Danielle, who has taken this journey with me, providing support and encouragement at every step.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN
I am not yet a full-time printer, however, I spend as much time as I can in the shop and am fortunate to have clients who keep coming back and pushing me to learn new things. I suspect one day I’ll be doing more printing than not, but we’re still a few years off from that goal.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
By day, I work in technology, designing digital experiences and products. Thus, my design process for letterpress can seem to be a bit fragmented. Sometimes, an idea occurs to me and I have to get it out as quickly as possible. Other times, a fragment of an idea may sit in my head, stewing, for a few weeks/months before I act on it. Occasionally, I will start with a technique I want to learn…like die-cutting or foil stamping and create from there.
While I end up sketching quite a bit in the late process, my early iterations are almost always via writing. My sketchbooks have more words than drawings. I have an old t-shirt from Emigre with the slogan “Design Is A Good Idea” and this embodies how I approach what I do. Once I think I have something, I’ll sketch around the idea and poke at it multiple times before attempting to start something digitally.
There is so much great work out there, you never have to go too far for inspiration…old and new.
I’ve been a member of the American Typecasting Fellowship for over 15 years and am a graduate of Monotype University, both run by the amazing Rich Hopkins. Our shop was one of 15 that Rich choose to feature in the book, The Private Typecasters, hand-printed and bound by Henry Morris at Bird & Bull Press. We’re also featured in the book, Vandercook 100.
Most of all, we are proud of our ability to continue to learn, make beautiful things and share what we know with others.
Our first press was Vandercook No. 3 Proof Press, acquired from the Charlotte Composition Company with help from friend and mentor, Rick Newell. I won’t tell you how little I paid for it, but I will say they almost paid me to haul it away. I love that press because it is so simple.
One of our first real print jobs on the Vandy was the birth announcement for our son, Aidan. We did the same when Erin came along in 2003. In 2017, we printed Aidan’s high school graduation announcement on our Heidelberg.
Boxcar has been an inspiration from the beginning: I distinctly remember my first encounter with Boxcar and how elated I felt that someone was actually running a successful business doing letterpress! I then invested in the Boxcar Base and haven’t looked back. I use Boxcar Bases on each press I own and Boxcar processes all my photopolymer plates.
What I love most about Boxcar are two things: One, Harold Kyle and the team have continued to innovate from the very beginning…helping to modernize letterpress and make it relevant for today. The Boxcar Base and Swing-Away Lay Gauge are two prime examples. Second, the team at Boxcar shares everything they know and have helped me be a better printer. I’ve not found anyone more dedicated to the current community of designers and printers.
Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? If you’re just starting out with a press like a Heidelberg, focus first on mastering the paper feed. There are so many nuances to feeding and once you master it, your life with be less frustrating and your printing faster and more satisfying.
An old technique I found out about recently, the Flying Dutchman, can help you get tighter registration on a Heidelberg by taming paper bounce:
Read everything you can get your hands on about technique and setup and don’t be afraid to fail. Successfully printing on these old machines can be challenging. The most important piece is to keep at it. It takes time and experience to encounter the various challenges that will present themselves. When they do, step back and think. Frustration, failure and disappointment are how we learn.
I founded the Facebook Letterpress Group in 2007, and we are currently 4500+ members strong. Included in the group are both active and many retired printers with great experience and know-how. I turn to the group regularly when I encounter something I haven’t yet figured out. The team at Boxcar, the Letterpress Commons, and Briar Press sites are also a tremendous resource. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and keep asking until you understand.
WHAT’S COMING NEXT
This might actually be the year we get more of our custom stationery line up and running. This is a goal we’ve had for some time…but…life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans! Now that our children are older, we have more time to dedicate to our various printing projects.
We also held our first letterpress workshop recently, partnering with the Charlotte Chapter of AIGA. It was a big success so we expect to do more of the same and help spread the love for letterpress and type in the Charlotte region.
Crafted with care, hypnotically delicate, and dizzyingly detailed are what instantly come to mind when viewing Ali Norman’s body of printed work. A traditional printmaker by nature, Ali enjoys expressing her vivid concepts through silkscreen, etchings, and now letterpress. The Florida-based printer shares with us the joys of learning new techniques, infusing nature motifs into her work, and pushing the limits of her art.
ALL AROUND LOVE FOR PRINTING
I’m a printmaker with a huge passion for etching, but I also love to dabble in other processes (such as letterpress!). I first learned about it from the amazing Eileen Wallace during my MFA. She helped spark my interest and encouraged me to push the limits of my polymer ideas. Learning from her was an incredible privilege!
HOME IS WHERE THE PRESS IS
Currently, I have access to etching presses at home and at work (the University of Tampa), but no real letterpress access. I’ve been lucky enough to make friends with Sarah and Phil Holt, who have the cutest little letterpress shop at home!
They were very kind to let me use their beautiful orange Vandercook to print my most recent polymer creation. I’m hoping to work with them more in the new year! You can check out Sarah’s letterpress work on instagram at @monpetitpaperco.
I am really inspired by and thankful for the amazing printmaking community that has popped up on Instagram. I have “met” so many amazing artists and learned some cool techniques just from the internet. On a more personal note, I pay close attention to my dreams and am strongly attracted to old engravings, magical texts, and tattoo linework.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN
I am not currently printing full time. Having just finished my MFA in the spring of 2018, I’ve been teaching part time at the University of Tampa. This gives me a good amount of free time to work on making and selling art on the side! So far I am finding it to be a really healthy and rewarding balance. Although I grew up here [in Florida], I haven’t been back for quite a while! I’m still currently exploring the area.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS
I absolutely LOVE designing for photopolymer!! I’ve found that drawing the key layer first on tracing paper allows me to then flip-flop my ideas, scan them, and easily draw color layers. I’ve tried working more digitally, but always go back to the tracing paper!
ALL IN THE DETAILS
Works take me anywhere from a week to two months to complete before printing, but I’m always working on a few things at once. I try to keep it slow and steady, drawing at least a little every day until I am satisfied. I also often work back in to images, so that can end up dragging things out… as goes printmaking!
FAVORITE PRINTING TECHNIQUE
Intaglio will always be my go-to process, but it’s not always very practical! I like to change things up, especially with quicker processes like letterpress or lithography. It is so satisfying to see a trapped layer lock perfectly in to place each time, and to feel like one with a machine. I also really enjoy how the design process for each technique is so different – it keeps me on my toes!
At this point in my career, I am just very proud and grateful to have made it this far! I’ve been working hard to make my passions a reality and am really seeing that come back to me lately.
I currently have a little tabletop Conrad E12 etching press that was found by a friend of mine at a thrift store! After some heavy cleaning, I now use it almost constantly. I’m hoping to also have a letterpress to call my own some day. Floridian printers – hook me up please!
BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE
I had my polymer plates for my most recent print made by Boxcar Press! I was a little nervous about someone else making my matrices, and they turned out perfectly. I’m really grateful for this service.
I’m still quite the beginner at letterpress, but I manage to learn something new every time I print. I even managed to smash my fingers in the Vandercook once (oops!).
Right down the highway from Syracuse, New York, is Rochester’s very own Type High Letterpress. At the helm of this cozy, treasure-packed print shop is Tony Zanni. From wood & metal type goodies to presses that shine, Tony gives us a tour of this hidden gem tucked away in upstate New York.
PRESSES AND WOODCUTS AND TYPE, OH MY!
Our shop is located on the second floor of an old candy factory in downtown Rochester, NY called the Hungerford Building. It houses around 40 other artisans of varying crafts. We occupy a 1,200 sq. ft. space that is long and narrow.
At the front of the shop is a small retail area. The rest of the shop is packed to the gills with over 700 cases of wood and metal type, and over 150 galleys of dingbats and cuts. At the back we have our 4 large presses: a Damon & Peets 8×12, Heidelberg Windmill (with factory foil stamping attachment), a Vandercook No. 3 Proof press and a giant Wesel Iron Handpress. We also have a fun collection of small table top presses hiding around the shop as well.
The space in and of itself isn’t really interesting, however, what it’s filled with captures imaginations and inspires creativity. There are all sorts of letterpress goodies to look at. We have originals of Adobe’s Wood Type Ornaments typeface, old wood cuts from various shops around the western NY area, slug cutters, miterers… The Hell Bucket. There’s a lot of stuff to look at if you ever visit.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS
This is going to sound funny but my favorite thing about the shop is that it’s heat included. Our original location was a bit better but boy was it cold in the Upstate winters. The new space… Toasty!
As for fun things / prized possessions, there’s a couple. First would have to be my Vandercook, Izzy. Yeah, I named her Isabelle or Izzy for short. I found her thanks to Shelly at French Press. I asked Shelly to visit this estate sale (because I couldn’t attend) and had her look for Vandy’s. She called and said there was a Vandy in the garage, mostly complete. I said great, put me on the phone with the seller, offered $500 sight unseen. They said yes and I picked it up two days later. I honestly think this was the last $500 Vandercook to be had and this was back in 2009.
This past summer I acquired another nifty item: a Lufkin 6 ft. tape measure with inches and Pica rules on it. Maybe not super practical, but pretty cool.
One more super cool thing I have is an original plate of the very first Photographic image printed in a magazine. It is “A Scene in Shantytown, New York” that appeared in the March 4, 1880 issue of New York Daily Graphic – the first halftone photograph ever printed by a newspaper. Yes, we have a pretty cool collection.
I jokingly refer to my shop as the “train car”. It’s about 15′ wide by 65′ long and has 3 windows in the back and a double door up front. With any luck we’ll be moving down the hall later this year a space that is 1500 square feet. I’m not looking forward to moving all this again.
PRINTING IN THE EMPIRE STATE
We are in the Hungerford Building. surrounded by many other creative artists. On the first Friday and second Saturday of every month we host events. We are the northern border of an area called the Neighborhood of the Arts. About 3 blocks away are the Memorial Art Gallery, Anderson Alley Arts building, plus a host of other galleries & public art pieces.
TYPE OF SHOP
Type High is a commercial letterpress print shop specializing in hand set typography and design for letterpress printing. Obviously, I use Boxcar Press for our plates when the need arises. We teach letterpress workshops in our space, how to set type properly and print an edition. In addition, I also teach a semester long letterpress design class for the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The long list of things currently in the shop from largest to smallest…
Wesel Iron Handpress
Sheet 18×24 printable 16×22
Vandercook No. 3 Proof press
Sheet 14×20 Printable 13.5ish x 18.5ish
Heidelberg Windmill 10 x 13 with Foil
Damon & Peets 8 x12
Nolan Proof press 12 x 18 galley proof press
Showcard Press 14 x 20ish
Old style Pilot Press 7 x10
Sigwalt 2×3 toy press
Challenge 26.5″ cutter
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The most valuable tool in my shop is my line gauge, Pica Stick, ruler… whatever you want to call it. My favorite one is a Gaebel 612H-12 with inches, Picas, Points and millimeters. Not only is it great for measuring and drawing straight lines, but it’s also great for opening ink cans, cutting open packages, getting things out from under the press. Not to mention, slicing pizza, and cutting cookie cake on those special occasions.
My favorite inks are from the old cans we pull out of shops that we buy out. The older the ink, the better the coverage. Plus it’s usually free and we’re saving it from going to the landfill. When we have to buy new stuff, it’s usually Van Son due to ease of ordering with our local supplier.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
Don’t tell anyone, I order California Type Wash. It’s an older solvent, that’s probably not as good for the environment as some of the newer stuff but it’s by far the best i’ve ever used. It cleans quick, dries fast, and will take 100 years of ink off in only a few wipes. I like to challenge myself when cleaning up the Vandercook to do it only using one or 2 rags at the most.
For most jobs I need plates for, I use the Boxcar Base and polymer plates. My base is beat up, but it still does the trick. To be honest, I hate printing with polymer plates. It’s been my experience that the ink does not carry well, and they can be finicky at times with the amount of ink on the roller and the roller height. Since we go in between hand-set type and plates, it is challenging at times for make-ready.
OIL OF CHOICE
You’re supposed to oil these things? Honestly, I just use the same oil I use for my race car. If it’s good enough to run at 6000 RPM for an hour in a race car it’s good enough for a press.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
I’m cheap… I use Scotts Rags in a box… but only the ones from small mom and pops hardware stores, because they are different from the ones at Home Depot.
I just recycled a 91 lb. bucket of pied worn out old metal type. However, there’s still standing forms from shops we cleaned out years ago. Some of the type from those shops may have been sold or dumped at this point but the standing forms are still in our galley storage. There are also 5 drawers of miscellaneous wood type hiding in the shop. I need a few more hours in the day to handle pied type.
I guess the only secret I have is a Sharpie. I have a pretty photographic memory for where my type is, what it is, and to where that random Cap L needs to go. When I take something out to use, I write in Sharpie the cabinet and drawer number on the back of it. Other than that, as long as I put it away I know right where it is. When I don’t, well let’s just say I swear a lot until I find it.
Things I wish I knew from day one: How to price my work for lines of type setting, vs pricing a computer-aided design. And pricing for press time vs make-ready time vs finishing time. That probably needs to evolve for each person. As a one man shop, it’s tough to figure all that out. If anyone has a magic button for that, let me know.
We count down the top 18 gift ideas in our 2018 Holiday Letterpress Gift Guide for that special printer on your list. Featuring calendars, prints, and type-themed goodies that are sure to please! Let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comments section below!
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!