Thirteen years ago, printer and illustrator Michelle Dreher began the roots of Two Tone Press in Kansas City, Missouri. Joining forces with her sister, Angie, who helms the business side, brought exciting changes. It catapulted the growing letterpress print shop into a well-run machine full of creativity, fun & eye-catching prints and cards. They branched out with their blossoming printmaking community workshop. Michelle recounts the adventures of buying a building, expanding her studio for her sky-high printing visions, and what’s just around the bend.
EAST OR WEST, LETTERPRESS IS BEST
I grew up in a military family, so we moved around a lot. We lived in Germany and South Korea for several years before ending up back in the US. I later came to Kansas City to attend the Kansas City Art Institute and loved the city so much I never left.
FALLING FOR THE PRECISION OF LETTERPRESS
At the Kansas City Art Institute, my degree was in illustration, but I spent a couple semesters in printmaking. While there, an interim instructor introduced me to the Vandercook. I immediately fell in love with its hairline precision and registration which made multi-color relief printing so easy.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
I started Two Tone Press in 2005 in a super-drafty warehouse loft on the top floor of an industrial brick building. I was later joined by my sister Angie in 2011 after buying a building in a soon-to-be up & coming neighborhood. She has a business background paired with a love for art and helped whip this place into shape. Together we built our own studio with a modest storefront and lots of open space and high ceilings. It’s been a long eight-year renovation journey but the studio is finally taking the shape of our initial vision.
KANSAS CITY COOL
When I purchased our building, there really wasn’t much going on around us. It has since started to flourish with other creative-minded folks who have banded together to build our own unique neighborhood.
We even named our new area TowerEast District based on the very orange and prominent tv tower right next to us. It’s been interesting being a part of something new.
My passion lies in creating colorful relief block prints so I draw inspiration from my peers in the field. Our favorite shops are The Firecracker Press in St. Louis, MO and Tugboat Printshop in Pittsburgh, PA.
FULL TIME FUN
Two Tone Press is where I spend most of my time, but I do love to teach. I have been a part-time studio art instructor at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art for over 10 years. And just last year in 2017, my sister and I along with another colleague, Ani Volkan, started our own community printshop called Print League KC. It shares the same studio space as Two Tone Press. In addition to letterpress, Print League KC offers workshops of other print processes such as etching, lithography, and silkscreen.
THE CREATIVE FLOW
At our studio, we create everything from custom wedding invitations to business cards. When there’s “free” time, we create our own line of colorful poster prints and cards. Due to my illustration background, I tend to incorporate hand-carved block images where I can.
With the immense support of my family, buying my own building to create our unique studio was a huge accomplishment. And later, being able to give back by starting a community printshop felt really good. I enjoy sharing my passion for printmaking with others.
I gained a lot of experience working at another local print shop, Hammerpress, for several years after I graduated college. Then in 2004, Brady Vest, the owner of Hammerpress, offered to sell me a Vandercook No. 3 for $400. I jumped at the opportunity.
It was a clunky machine that had no motor and a funny little hand crank to distribute the ink. Once I started my own studio, I later traded it for an SP15 from Indianapolis which is still my favorite press to this day.
BOXCAR PRESS’ ROLE
We started by using metal-backed polymer plates that we spray-mounted to MDF boards. This made precision printing challenging because the boards were never perfectly flat. Then in 2013, my sister recommended we finally invest in a Boxcar Base so we bought the biggest one that would fit on our Vandercook, a 19×13.
I can’t even express how much it changed our whole world by making setup so much faster and easier. The grid marks were totally worth it. I’ve never regretted the purchase for even a second and can’t believe I didn’t invest in one sooner.
Here is one of our useful letterpress printing techniques. We like using a sheet of mylar on top of the tympan sheets around the cylinder to keep a clean surface and then we also like to use removable sticker paper on it to bump up certain areas of the print.
We look forward to expanding our store to offer print work from all over the world. We also recently bought the building next door which now has a gallery space on the second floor. We’re excited to put together interesting exhibits that will include letterpress and other print work.