Boxcar Talk with Ke Francis

It has been over forty years since Ke Francis of Hoopsnake Press and Flying Horse Press set up shop in the creative haven of Tupelo, Mississippi. But recently, Ke has been bitten by the revitalizing bug and it shows—from spirited gatherings (with spirits) at the academic mecca of the Bellagio Center, revamping his dear and true Hoopsnake Press, and having his work shine in a multitude of galleries and collections, including The Polaroid Collection. Here, young-at-heart Ke reveals the awe-inspiring interstices found in the lush canopy of design and message.

AN ARTIST WITH MANY TALENTS I am a narrative artist with 40 years of experience. I came to be involved in book arts because I had written stories that I wished to publish and I am a trained printmaker. I set up a studio in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1970 and worked there as an independent professional artist / book artist from 1970 until 1996. I am presently in the process (a two year project) of moving my studio back to Tupelo. In 1996 I moved Hoopsnake Press to Orlando, Florida and became the Director of Flying Horse Editions at the University of Central Florida. Over the past 15 years FHE has had two other directors (Ryan Burkhart and Theo Lotz) and the press has become a world-class facility with their help. I have served as a tenured professor in a number of administrative capacities during that time period, but have always maintained Hoopsnake Press and an active studio career.

I am represented by Lowe Gallery in Atlanta and regularly exhibit there. My book works, paintings, prints, photographs and sculptures are in numerous public and private collections including The Getty Museum, National Gallery, National Museum of American Art, High Museum, New Orleans Museum of Fine Art, San Francisco Museum of Contemporary Art, Yale / Sterling Memorial Library, Van-Pelt Dietrich Collection, and The Polaroid Collection, among many others.

THE ADVENTURE BEGINS I went to Italy on a Rockefeller Grant to the Bellagio Study Center where I was lucky to spend time with some very interesting professionals, including Carl Djerassi (Djerassi Foundation in California), Rollo May (psychologist), Paula Fox and Martin Greenberg (authors) and many other interesting characters. We drank bourbon and read each other stories in the evenings for entertainment. I was encouraged to find a publisher. Following up on their suggestions, I went to see Andy Hoyem in San Francisco. He shut down Arion Press for the afternoon and I read them short stories and showed them my woodcuts. Andy was interested and liked the work but he realized I wasn’t as well known as the artists and writers he has chosen to publish (Dine, Motherwell, James Joyce, etc.) and he would have a hard time selling my work. He’s a good person and a smart businessman.

I returned to Mississippi, entered a national print competition with a woodcut and won first prize (Warrington Collescott was the juror) and met a person at the exhibit reception that wanted to sell a 14.5 x 22 C&P. I bought the press then and there and hauled it back to Tupelo. With no formal instruction I printed my first book, Jugline, using woodcuts and lead type. This strikes me as silly to have started on this letterpress venture with no formal training but I did have friends who were commercial printers and they were helpful. I sold over 150 copies of Jugline and it is in some terrific collections.

Letterpress printing would represent about 15% of the concept development and production of one of my projects so it probably makes sense that my mentors cover a wide range of disciplines. Jim Trissel was an early letterpress influence. I went to Colorado College as a visiting artist, at his invitation, and got interested in his early work with photopolymer.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS My creative process is highly intuitive. I tell my students that if they successfully complete their envisioned project with no mistakes then they have probably plagiarized someone. Unless a person is a true”visionary” they are copying ideas they have seen and appreciated. Every time they make a mistake and find a creative solution that solves a problem (a fanfold to correct an imposition mistake, etc) then the creative project moves one step closer to being their own idea and not a plagiarized idea. Mistakes are your friend…maybe even your savior…

I have been working so long I can actively steal from myself. My process is a crossover of  the creative writing process, the visual imaging process and the processes involved in multiple production. Each of these processes benefit from the mistakes made in their sister processes. Each mistake provides opportunities for innovation and creative problem solving. Every time a problem is solved creatively the whole body of work takes a giant step forward. Even the frustration becomes bearable when this principle is understood. Almost…

CRAFTSMANSHIP SHOULD BE NEARLY INVISIBLE  The history of printing has produced an amazing group of specialists who have traditionally worked on the collaborative efforts involved in the writing, designing, illustrating, printing, and binding of a book. Each of these processes have their own heritage and history.

These craftsmen and artists have devoted their whole lives to their portion of these collaborations and it is not unusual at fine press sites to find projects involving writers with fifty years of experience, designers with fifty years of experience, illustrators with fifty years of experience, printers with fifty years of experience and binders with fifty years of experience. The sum total of their experience is often 250 years (or more). I respect these collaborative craftsmen and artists and often am amazed by their facility and their faultless production.

I really have tried, throughout my career, to stay focused on the communication of concepts and ideas and in order to do that I have maintained the position that I am neither an artist nor a craftsman. If the first response to one of my works was, “it is beautifully printed – beautifully crafted” then I would certainly feel that I had failed in my effort. If the first response was an intuitive strong emotion based on the content of the work then I would feel pretty good. I am of the opinion that the assessment of craftsmanship should be (at least) a secondary response to a communicative object.

Craftsmanship, in my estimation, should be nearly invisible.

SOURCES OF PRIDE I am proud to be a contributing member of an artistic community whose primary purpose is to encourage and support the highest cultural ideals. I am proud to have been directly associated with so many brilliant and talented people, and I am proud of my family (immediate and extended) and their ongoing contributions to make this a better society.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has played a supportive role in my efforts since Boxcar began. Early conversations about my work, advice on plate making, technical support for the photopolymer processing, printing advice and sometimes just swapping funny stories and the moral support given by Harold and all of the employees has helped me through relocations, equipment moves and the many ongoing frustrations associated with trying to achieve the experience necessary to produce the work at hand.

THE PRESSES It’s a long story [laughs] involving a bunch of great folks and many presses. C&P’s, Challenge Proofers, large and small Vandercooks, Pocos, Etching presses I built and purchased, and the old Reliance – I still own them all.

SHOP TIPS The best piece of applicable advice came early in American history…Ben Franklin said, “He who teaches himself has a fool for a master.” Hard to argue with or improve on that statement.  I have flown in the face of that advice and paid a heavy price.

I have also learned some really innovative and interesting stuff from my mistakes. All of which would have not occurred if I followed some master’s advice. The important part of the quote is that it informs you, early on, that the creative and innovative path isn’t a pleasant experience….maybe rewarding, but not pleasant or easy.

WHAT’S NEXT I am currently on Sabbatical from the University of Central Florida where I maintain a research space as part of Flying Horse Press. I intend to finish some book projects that are long overdue and work on a series of paintings and engravings based on the theme of “Rafters” (people and animals isolated on rafts in dire circumstances)…stories will follow the graphic work and the books next. I have several one person exhibits (Florida Mining Gallery in Jacksonville in the Fall and Piedmont College in Georgia this winter). I am in the process of upgrading my studios in Mississippi and expect to be in production there again by the Fall of 2014.

Big round of thanks to Ke for letting us get the double-scoop on both Flying Horse and Hoopsnake Press!


A common downfall of new printers using light colored inks is thinking the print will be the same color as how the ink looks in the can. Here is a can of nice deep rust orange ink but it is actually meant to be a light apricot color. When applying an unfamiliar ink to your press, use a small amount and work your way up to color. That is much easier than having to wipe ink off and possibly put lintballs from a rag on the ink drum or disc. If you do have way too much ink on, it’s less trouble to simply wash up and start over. There is never an end to learning more press tricks!

apricot letterpress ink canapricot ink letterpress printed at Boxcar Press

Boxcar Talk With Julie Nash of Duet Letterpress

The soft staccato clicking of a Pearl Press. The fluid transfer of the ink to paper. The deft movements of feeding the press. All sync together in a performance that results in one of the many print runs at Duet Letterpress. We caught up with Julie Nash to find out just what it takes to keep this letterpress dance moving.

THE DUET DUO Duet Letterpress is a graphic design and letterpress studio owned and operated by a husband and wife duo. We specialize in custom projects including (but not limited to) stationery, invitations, announcements and business cards. Everything is designed in-house and individually handprinted on our turn of the century, pedal-operated Golding Pearl press.

I’m Julie, half of the Duet duo. I’m a Cajun girl who loves traveling, dark chocolate, really good music and pretty things. My husband, Kacey, is the other half. He was born in Texas and raised in Tulsa. He loves movies, video games and has a crazy knack for trivia. He’s an avid sailor. We also happen to be passionate about letterpress printing.

IN LOVE WITH LETTERPRESS My obsession with letterpress printing began when we were looking for invitations for our wedding. Once I held a thick, cotton letterpress printed invitation in my hand, I was in love. It felt so luxurious and special. I wanted to know more about how it was made. I started doing extensive research into the art of letterpress printing and was positively hooked.

TWIN TALENTS IN TEXAS We print in a small 12′ x 12′ studio in the Austin, Texas area. With a lot of organization and a flood of natural light, the space works out quite well for us. And, I love being in such a creative hub.

PRINTING ROLE MODELS When we were first starting out, smaller letterpress businesses like Simplesong Design [who has since really taken off!] to larger, print heavy companies like Studio On Fire really inspired us and still do!

THE DAILY GRIND Many concepts start with a brainstorming session and a pencil and paper. From there, I’ll either take the designs into the computer and convert them to vector artwork or start fresh using Illustrator to recreate the designs. The vector graphics are then sent off to Boxcar to make photopolymer plates to use for our letterpress printing.

DESIGN MEETS PRINT Thanks to my strong graphic design background, we are able to provide both print and design services. For me, I see letterpress printing as an extension of what I already knew and loved – designing. By doing our own printing, I’m able to have a hand in everything from start to finish. From brainstorming on pencil and paper to mixing ink to holding the freshly printed piece in my hand. I crave what I do and truly love it.

FOCUSED ON THE BUSINESS I design and print full time. Although we established the business in 2008, it wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to focus my attention solely on Duet Letterpress. Prior to that, I was working full time as an in-house graphic designer.

PRESS HISTORY We spent many months researching the type of press that would best fit our needs. We needed it to be on the smaller side yet pedal-operated. Once we decided on a Pearl Press, we then spent many more months locating one.

Since then, we’ve acquired another Pearl Press as well as an Old Style Chandler & Price that we are currently restoring and hoping to get it printing again.

We searched from Texas to Florida and then started making our way north through the states until we located a Golding Improved Pearl No. 11 Press in Missouri. One weekend, Kacey and I rented an SUV, drove up to Missouri, disassembled the press and drove it home. Then, it took more months for him to clean it, prime it, paint it, reassemble the press and get it working again.

PRINTING FEATS I’m really proud of how far we’ve come with our printing knowledge and techniques. On our little Pearl Press, we’ve been able to print some very laborious pieces with tight registration like the invites we printed for our daughter’s first birthday party.

The printing information and videos on Boxcar were very valuable when we were first starting out. We’ve also gotten several tools and inks as well as the photopolymer plates that we use each time we print.

SHOP TIPS A while back on a letterpress printing forum, I remember reading about how there is a reason other forms of printing took over letterpress printing in the mainstream world of printing. Letterpress printing is hard work and very time-consuming. However, the finished piece is beautiful and something to be admired and respected. When it’s done right, it is truly a piece of art. It’s one of the reasons we continue to do what we do and love it so much!

WHAT’S NEXT I just feel so happy that I’m able to do what I love each day. I plan to continue to design and print and see where 2013 takes us!

Big round of thanks to Julie for letting us get the full story on the many sides of Duet Letterpress!

Workspace Spotlight: That Sky Blue Press

In the neighboring north of Canada sits a letterpress shop with a self-proclaimed international flavor and big expectations. Litsa Babalis, of That Sky Blue, is the owner and main designer for the company and you can find her work across the North American continent. But it all starts here and she is happy to take a break from designing and printing her environmentally responsible cards to take us on a shop tour.

THE PRESSES We have four presses: three 10×15 windmills and one 12×18 Chandler and Price.

SIZE OF PRINT SHOP 1200 square foot studio.

TYPE OF SHOP We occupy the space completely for our own production, however we often offer classes to students and letterpress enthusiasts after work hours.

THE LOCATION We are based in Montreal, Canada. Our studio is located on the banks of the historic Lachine Canal and minutes away from great coffee shops, markets, and the most adorable & friendly boutiques.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP How can you not feel creative being surrounded by these beautiful machines? Seeing them in action everyday is sure to inspire anyone.

NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN SPACE two pressman, one presswoman (me, whenever I get a chance to get on press… I take it) and one intern.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL The great people that work here.

FAVORITE INK We use soy based inks. We love the coverage they can handle and the drying time is very quick. My current favorite color has to be 871 gold…I love the way it looks on dark paper as well as the standard white cotton papers we use.

SOLVENT OF CHOICE We use California Wash for our everyday clean ups. It’s great because it’s water miscible, it has a mild odor, and is not harmful for your rollers.

PLATE AND BASE OF CHOICE We use the standard base and the KF95 regular relief plates.

OIL OF CHOICE We prefer to use a heavy weight, non-detergent press oil for our presses.

WHAT TYPE OF RAG DO YOUR CLEAN UP YOUR PRESSES WITH  We use a linen service who comes and picks up our soiled rags once a month and replenishes our stock with clean 100% cotton industrial shop rags.


FLOOR PLAN TIPS We have a very small space, so getting the right floor plan is quite important to our work flow. Adding new equipment to our space is always a challenge, so we end up moving everything around once or twice a year. We try to use every square inch as best as possible and that includes wall space. Hanging tools and chases and putting up shelving for inks and other press room supplies saves us on floor space so we can move around a little easier.

PIED TYPE As incredible as it is to have that little bit of printing history in the form of lead type scattered around in drawers and boxes, it just wasn’t getting any use from us so we gave it away a long time ago to a deserving letterpress & typography master.

ORGANIZATION ADVICE I am a neat freak. I like my press shop to be in order, otherwise I feel distracted. The best advice I can give on keeping an organized space is when you use something, put it back in it’s place and clean as you go.

PRINTING ADVICE Get to know your machines really well, take care of them, and most of all be patient with them as they get older and more stubborn…Be good to them and they’ll be good to you!

Boxcar Talk With Johnny Brewton

From mind-boggling multiple color runs to must-have limited editions, from vinyl to Hunter S. Thompson, the elusive (and quite captivating) Johnny Brewton of X-Ray Book and Novelty Co. has a great story — read on to find out how he got started in letterpress printing and where his business is heading.

Johnny Brewton of X-Ray Book and Novelty Co. wows with letterpress magic.

LETTERPRESSED FOR DETAILS I’m a letterpress printer, graphic designer & small press publisher with a focus on limited edition projects. I publish the assemblage magazines X-Ray & Bagazine plus assorted chapbooks, broadsides, artist books and miscellaneous odd print projects.

PRINTING AS A NECESSITY I was living in the San Francisco Mission district in early 1993 and began work on the first issue of X-Ray. It was to be a limited edition assemblage journal of sorts, non-disposable with original art and hand printing similar to a copy of Wallace Berman’s Semina.

Letterpress was the perfect tactile medium. So I began designing the inserts for letterpress, and paid printers like Artnoose and The Toxic Coyote to run them for me. Eventually – and out of necessity – I acquired my own press and began doing the printing myself.

WEST COAST WONDERS We go back and forth between our house in Grass Valley California and our apartment in San Francisco (lower Haight). My studio is located in the basement of the house my Dad built (in Grass Valley). We’re on 5 acres surrounded by Cedar, Black Oak and Sugar Pine trees. It’s a nice place to work & call home.

PRINTING MENTORS Jon and Louise Webb who published Outsider (Loujon Press), Wallace Berman (Semina), Graham Mackintosh (White Rabbit Press) and of course H.N. Werkman.

THE DAILY GRIND Step 1. Wrap my head around the obvious big idea and make a rough first draft – just to get it out of the way and grasp the concept.

Step 2. Take an abstract sideways approach, which is usually too wacky and avant-garde for a client. It’s always good to try something that’s the opposite of whatever seems obvious.
Step 3. I combine steps 1 and 2 and make a mutant third version. That process can change depending on who I’m working with. I’ll usually go with the one that’s the most appropriate for the integrity of the project.

DESIGNS THAT STAY TRUE TO THE CRAFT Sometimes I’m asked to design to look like letterpress when the piece is to be mass produced and offset printed. I avoid the exaggerated and over distressed look. It’s become overused and cheapens the craft. Once you see this used in a T.G.I. Friday’s commercial the jig is up!

FULL TIME FUN Not running the press full time yet but I print as much as possible and hope to be running it full time by the end of the year. Working out some details, website and getting ready to launch X-Ray Letterpress Service.

PRESS HISTORY Around 1994 while visiting my Dad I came a cross a little Kelsey 5 x 8 at a junk shop. I didn’t buy it but I told my Dad about it. He went down, purchased it and gave it to me for my birthday. I still have it.

Press List: Vandercook Universal No.1, Poco Proof Press, C&P 8×10, Kelsey 5×8.

Seeds on Hard Ground – Tom Waits
The Sudden Fart of Billy Childish – Billy Childish
Mistah Leary, He Dead by Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson – X-mas in Woody Creek
Richard Brautigan chapbook: Desire in a Bowl of Potatoes
POOP! – Charles Bukowski/Michael Montfort Box of Photos & Broadside
Bern Porter FOUNDS 1- 9
True Confessions – Tom Waits
The assemblage magazines X-Ray and Bagazine
Broadside of the Month Club. B.O.T.M.C.
Tom Waits Orphans LP and CD set
Neil Hamburger Heckle Cards 1 & 3
Neil Hamburger & Pleaseeasaur Souvenir Record
Instructions for Redemption – Mark Faigenbaum
Tanka-Toys – August Kleinzahler
The American Scene – F.N. Wright
Outrun the Blast – John Brewton Sr.
City Lights Bookstore 1969 – Michael Horowitz
In Search of Yage A William S. Burroughs Pictorial
13 Jazz Poems – A.D. Winans
The Ferlinghetti Arcane – Jack Hirschman
(to name a few)

BOXCAR’S ROLE I still use wood and lead type, but the Boxcar base and polymer plates have expanded the possibilities. It allows me to liberate the type and experiment in ways that I thought weren’t possible with multi color projects.

SHOP TIPS I’m probably not the best guy to be giving anyone business advice so here goes nothing: Don’t print anything you don’t want to look at for more than 15 impressions. Always be sure the project (at least) pays for itself.

If you’re not getting the desired result (no matter what you try and everything seems to be correct), clean off the ink, redo the tympan (packing) and start over. Always keep a keep roller gauge handy. Share your knowledge. Make the world a more interesting place with what you produce. Take your time. Have fun!

WHAT’S NEXT In addition to X-Ray Letterpress Service, we also have a few interesting projects in the works: Bagazine 5 which includes work by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo, Richard Hell, Tom Waits and more. We have a few chapbooks and artists books lined up and are discussing additional projects with Richard Hell, Dan Melchior, Billy Childish, and maybe even a booklet + vinyl record of the Tim Leary, John Lennon, Yoko Ono conversation from the 1969 Bed-In. We’ll see…

Big round of thanks to Johnny for letting us get a sneak peek on X-Ray Book & Novelty Co.!

Boxcar Talk With Eric Woods

A year-long celebration commemorating the 10 year anniversary at The Firecracker Press in St. Louis, Missouri is in full swing. The beginnings were humble in a dirty old warehouse with a questionable freight elevator, but two moves later, they are thriving & pushing the limits at their present space. Owner Eric Woods and Print Shop Manager Matty Kleinberg confess they eat, drink, and sleep letterpress, and it’s a diet that has served them well.

HOMETOWN ROOTS I’m originally from the small town of Piedmont, Missouri. My close family is from that region and I still have close ties to the area. One of my grandfathers owned a lumber and hardware business, the other was a retired Missouri State Park Superintendent. I grew up with one foot in town and the other deep in the country.

THINK INK I had known about letterpress since art school in the 1990s but didn’t get involved until well after. I’d worked in New York designing book covers, had come home to work at the local newspaper, and then got recruited to St. Louis by a large ad firm. The idea of starting a letterpress studio had been percolating for 5-6 years and after feeling unfulfilled with my design career I came home to tell my wife I was quitting my job. At the time we called it “going off the grid” but I had a feeling it was the right thing to do. Within days of quitting, I had signed up for a letterpress class through a local printer and rented a studio space with a few mates.

Letterpress quickly proved the perfect combination of graphic design and hands-on craftsmanship. It was everything I’d been searching for and offered complete control from concept to production. In an odd way I’d been practicing for a career in letterpress my whole life. I bought a C+P 10×15 in 2002 and The Firecracker Press was born!

SPLENDOR IN THE SHOW-ME STATE We own a 2500 sq. ft. building in the Cherokee neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri. The front of the shop is a mix of retail and studio space. We sell posters, books, cards, and stationery… all of it made in the back of the studio. If you stop by you’ll see printmaking in action and we’re happy to show visitors around. We have two C+P platen presses, a Golding Pearl, two Vandercooks (#4, SP20), a large sign press, and a variety of smaller desktop platens. I guess I’d call our decorating style functional chaos but we try to run a clean shop.

A WEALTH OF KNOWLEDGE Dick Niehaus introduced me to the St. Louis Letterpress Society and helped me find our first press. We’ve learned a lot from Dick and others in the Society and they’ve been a great resource over the years. We’re lucky to have such a thriving group and a rich history of letterpress printing in St. Louis.

THE DAILY GRIND We work with a wide range of clients but most jobs start out the same way… with a conversation. We research the project, draw out ideas, and then build designs on the computer.

Once we’ve got a tight mockup we’ll go through a round of changes with the client and work toward final approval. We use the approved mockup as a road map to construct hand-carved woodblocks, lead or woodtype, and/or photopolymer on press. There is real magic that happens from the digital realm to the tangible, printed form and that’s what keeps us hooked. After 10 years I’m still surprised at the moment of creation.

FULL TIME FUN We’re open 6 days a week and print full time. From the beginning it was important that we jump in with both feet. We eat, drink, and sleep letterpress.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT Technically our first press was a Nolan Proof Press that my father helped me dig out of an old school. But the press that launched The Firecracker Press was a C+P 10×15 that we rescued from an old printshop. The owner was retiring and had sold off all his other equipment. The only thing left was the C+P . My friends and I moved it across the state and onto the second floor of our first studio. It fit through the front door and into the elevator but was larger than the door to my studio by about 6 inches (a rookie mistake). We tore the wall down and put up new drywall before morning. My landlord never suspected a thing.

INSPIRED BY THE PAST We love rescuing old equipment and giving it new life. We have studio tours for all ages that pass on the knowledge we’ve gained. We’ve got a robust internship program and have hired several interns as part-time and full-time employees. Our connection to history through the methods/techniques we use inspires us. It’s always a pleasure to meet people that have old stories or are somehow drawn to printing. We’re
proud and feel lucky that we’ve been able to do what we love for so long! Our clients have been generous and amazing.

BOXCAR’S ROLE You guys used to make photopolymer plates for us on a regular basis. We now make our own but do use your services for plates that are over-sized. We’re inspired by Boxcar’s size and reach.

SHOP TIPS The question we hear most from young artists and printers is: “How much do I charge for my work?”, and our answer is this: letterpress rarely comes easy and is often accompanied by hard work that our clients never see. As a result, we continually educate our clients and communicate with them throughout the making process. We set expectations early and work hard to deliver quality work. We developed a cost schedule in the early days after researching new and old methods of structuring prices. We’ve updated it over the years but it’s a system that’s served us well.

WHAT’S NEXT We hope to expand the studio and are working on plans to build onto our current location. If all goes well, we’ll more than double in size, with a venue for performances, a larger retail shop, a garden, and of course, more studio space.

Lots of thanks out to Eric for letting us get the full scoop on Firecracker Press!

Workspace Spotlight: Headcase Press

Letterpress printer Nicole Monforti of Headcase Press has a dual career.  When she isn’t finessing ink through her presses, she makes jewelry from recycled lead type in her New Bedford, Massachusetts studio.  This printer and designer is all for following wherever her art and presses take her.  Recently, she completed a custom order for cufflinks for some of the cast of the Disney Broadway musical “Newsies,” and she can often be found at local artfests in the eastern Massachusetts area. Nicole is a proud member of Ladies of Letterpress and will be displaying her stationery and jewelry for the second year at the 2012 conference in Asheville, North Carolina in August. Walk through the door of her workspace and take a look around.

THE PRESSES: I have four – A 10 x 15 Heidelberg Windmill, a 8 x 12 New Style C&P, a Vandercook 14 proof press and a 3 x 5 Kelsey that I use for demos at shows.

SIZE OF PRINT SHOP: About 800 sq. ft in a shared space of 2,000 sq. ft.

TYPE OF SHOP: Commercial.

THE LOCATION: The space itself is great – it’s an old mill building so it has lots of old industrial elements and high ceilings.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP: I love the paint job in the shop, especially the red stripe (which was not easy to get straight!), and the history of the building itself. I love thinking about all of the things that have been made here over the past 100 years.

NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN SPACE:  The space is shared with a classical figure sculptor and one printing intern (Will is the red haired guy). He’s a recent Montserrat College of Art (my alma mater) graduate and he works for me as a part time pressman.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL: Probably my slug cutter, making the jewelry without one would be nearly impossible. After that, it’s a three way tie between tweezers, a pica ruler & locking quad guides.

FAVORITE INK: Holyoke Fine Papers (a local company) makes rubber & soy based inks that I really like. I’m partial to their “moss”.

SOLVENT OF CHOICE: Colorlok Glaze Off works miracles!

PLATE AND BASE OF CHOICE: I use the deep relief Boxcar base for the C&P and the standard for the Heidelberg. I’ve used them for the past year or so.

OIL OF CHOICE:  Mobil DTE oil extra heavy for the Heidelberg. WD40 for squeaky parts on the C & P.

WHAT TYPE OF RAG DO YOU CLEAN UP YOUR PRESSES WITH:  Old T-shirts. I think the jersey material works best.

FLOORING MATERIAL: Gorgeous wood floors!

FLOOR PLAN TIPS:  Keep your paper cutting/folding station far from the presses, because you just never know….

PIED TYPE: 300 lbs currently, waiting to be cut and turned into jewelry. (Hell box donations are always welcome!)

ORGANIZATION ADVICE: Post-it notes, I have them on everything.

PRINTING ADVICE: Make sure you have room to move around. I crammed things in at the beginning and I’ve since re-arranged about 4 times to make it more user friendly.

Boxcar Talk With Chris Torres

In a delightful conversation with Boxcar Press, Chris Torres of Farmwood Press saunters us through the moment of letterpress love (it involved four letterpress beauties), reveals the new plans for his family’s twin passion of photography & printing, and explains why getting dirty while printing is still oh-so-satisfying.

UP CLOSE WITH CHRIS TORRES We are a husband and wife photography team in the Atlanta area. We wanted to diversify our services, our craft, and have always loved letterpress. We thought this would be the perfect way to explore a new medium while meeting the needs of our clients.

INSPIRED BY FRIENDS  Some of our close friends were letterpress printers and we adored the craft. We would go to their studio to see the process. They decided to sell their company for personal reasons and we decided to buy it from them. They taught us how to print using the machines they sold us. However, the process was perfected through help from veterans in the letterpress industry. It also helps that I come from a large-scale commercial printing background. So much of the logical aspects to printing and managing client expectations came natural to me. I have loved having a medium where I can “get dirty” again.

PRINTING IN THE PEACH STATE Our studio is currently in our garage that is a simple, small two-car garage. We have used every inch of available space to safely print. Of course, it will soon be in our new home and have a space of it’s own. We now have a New Style Chandler & Price (Omer), Vandercook Universal III (Norma), two Heidelberg Windmills (Helga and one unnamed) and a Champion 305 cutter. We love to incorporate vintage furniture from factories that is functional yet beautiful.

We have old sewing tables from a zipper factory in Pennsylvania and two old heart of pine tables that we use. We cannot wait to settle into our new space and truly make it an experience to print in. We will update you all once we are settled in!

PRINTING MENTORS Greg Carpenter, a letterpress printer in Chickmauga, Georgia who has seen it all! He has grown from a letterpress apprentice when he was a teenager and has been printing ever since. Whenever I travel up to see him for a day, I leave with so many questions answered and yet feel like a new world has been opened up before me. Also, Bob Schmidt, a local Atlanta printing repair man that has seen about everything from within the presses and the people who work them.

DAILY GRIND When we design, we do so with the clients in mind. Our desire is the create a piece that they will carry with them for a lifetime telling their future generations through these pieces. Our joy is that this may be part of their legacy. We don’t print full time, yet. We’d love to very soon, but right now, our work load is more part time. So far it’s been the perfect balance for us with our photography company that requires travel.

FOCUSED ON PRINTING We personally do some basic designing, but mostly we are just printers. We do have one designer on staff that does wonderful custom work and represents Farmwood Press when we design in-house.

BOXCAR’S ROLE We started out using exclusively copper plates. We love their history and crisp feel to the printing. However, it was cost prohibitive and we could not keep using them as it left our profit margins razor thin. We turned to Boxcar Press for their photopolymer plates and were extremely impressed. Their quality and crispness met the standards we had with copper plates. Also to add that the durability has been a surprise as well. Their turn around time and customer services has been crucial to some tight turn times we’ve had with our jobs. They have aided in ensuring that we prepare the perfect files for plating so that we can take care of foreseeable problems. We have loved working with them!

PRESS HISTORY Well, we happened on our first presses as a collection from our friends that were selling due to family changes in their life. We acquired two Chandler and Prices, one New Style one Old Style, affectionately named Omer and Maude. Also a Heidelberg Windmill, Helga and a Poco Proof Press who now lives creating pieces at an Australian print school. We have since sold Maude, our Old Style and our Poco and last year adopted a Vandercook Universal III which we named Norma, which means “pattern” or “rule”. She was cared for by another letterpress shop who loved every turn of her cylinder. Our presses are more than just tools for us to use but rather our family members.

SHOP TIPS Build your reputation organically. We thrive on personal relationships with our clients to find out their needs and working with them to provide that. Whether they are a business, designer, or a bride we take steps to meet them on a personal level. We do not do advertising but rather network with those that can bring us the work. Once they experience our quality craftsmanship and connection with Farmwood Press, we find that they come back for the experience.

WHAT’S NEXT We are especially excited about 2012! We are building a new home that will be finished in a few months. We will have a finished basement that will house both of our companies. We are extremely excited about this. We need space for our employees as we kept bumping into each other! This new space will allow us a few extra hundred square feet from the garage we were printing in, and we’ll have two dedicated areas each. It will be nice to have the additional elbow room. Commercial space has not been the wisest option for us as we work from home and have a family. This is a great way for us to keep the businesses separate yet still being at home.

A huge round of thanks to Chris for letting us get the full scoop on Farmwood Press!

Boxcar Talk With Elizabeth Munger

The way Iowa native Elizabeth Munger of The Paper Nest speaks of letterpress, you find her exhilarated, curious, and earnest. Her voice on the relationship of paper choice and printing is crisp, bright, and even. And for good reason—after exploring the University of Iowa Center for the Book program, serendipity chanced upon her when a good friend teamed up with her to form The Paper Nest (a shop that shows lots of love to quality paper and printing). Elizabeth sat down with us to discuss the new future of letterpress, shop tips, and the heaping mounds of press fun that go with it.

UP CLOSE WITH ELIZABETH MUNGER I am an Iowa native who’s been making art as long as I can remember. It started with my obsession for drawing horses. I am a maker by nature and my hands are usually busy with some form of crafting.I have been printing for about 14 years and running the Paper Nest for three. Printing is definitely one of the things I enjoy most. I am process- oriented and love problem solving on the press.

When I’m not on the press, I’m usually sewing, drawing, and doing collage/ assemblage work. If I have access, I love to make paper. When I’m not engaged in some form of art, my favorite thing to do is pal around with my dog, Mr. Pants.

INK IN THE BLOOD My first love was Intaglio. Then, a few years later, I was introduced to letterpress while enrolled in the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book. During my time there, I discovered paper and relief printing which had never made much of an impression on me before. Learning to use a Vandercook was a revelation in printing for me.  I went from hand wiping plates to using a self- inking machine. It totally changed the way I thought about printmaking and I felt like I could literally print a million!

My main focus was making artist books. I spent a lot of time thinking about images & materials and how they worked together. Since I was set on editioning, I was constantly ordering paper online. I had a friend who was doing the same thing, and one day, she and I were talking about how convenient & great it would be to buy paper locally.  The idea eventually worked its way into the Paper Nest and because paper & printing go so well together, it seemed only natural to make it a paper and letterpress shop.

INKING UP IN IOWA The Paper Nest is a combination letterpress and paper store. I sell printing and bookbinding papers and tools and custom letterpress printing. I ran it out of my home the first year. The Vandercook was in my home studio and my paper inventory was on a second floor studio that I rented. My first inventory order was 450 lb. and I pretty much knew then and there that I needed to find a location that was ground level. I sort of lucked out a year later when I ran into a friend of mine, who runs a bead store, Beadology, here in Iowa City. She had a space in the back that she was interested in renting to another small business. This became the home of the Paper Nest.

Now I have a downtown location that has an alley entrance and is big enough to house me, my dog, Mr. Pants, a C&P craftsman, a huge guillotine, paper cutter and all my paper.  We have been here going on 2 years now, and I am constantly humbled with how lucky I’ve been to be surrounded by such a great printing, bookbinding, & crafty community.

PRINTING LEGACIES Virginia Myers was my first printmaking instructor at the University of Iowa, and was a huge influence on my intaglio and foil printing. She is an amazing person, & without her I would have never discovered printmaking.

My other mentors would probably be the ladies I took my first letterpress class with. I had never been part of a group that was constantly doing such great work. This really encouraged me to push myself & make the best work I could.

THE DAILY GRIND As much as possible, I like to collaborate with whomever I’m working with/ for. I try to start by getting as much of an idea of what they want. Sometimes this means we work backwards from what they don’t like to get to what they really like.  For example, we might start with something as vague as colors or tone to more concrete ideas such as image.

I really enjoy researching to play on historically correct images, font, and materials.  I tend to draw everything by hand and then combine it with text.  I try to use the computer as a tool, not as my main substrate.

PRINTER’S PARADISE I am both [a printer and designer], although I feel like I relate more into an artist/ printer category then designer. My goal is to definitely have one job: printing and talking about paper.

PRINTING FEATS Opening up this business is probably one of my biggest accomplishments. I have to learn all sorts of things that I never thought I would. My latest accomplishment, which I am very excited about, is that I was accepted into the MFA program at the University of Iowa Center for the Book and will be starting this fall.

BOXCAR’S ROLE  Boxcar has been awesome! It is nice not worrying about making plates. It’s so convenient to be able to send out a digital file and get plates back that are so clean. If it weren’t for Boxcar, I would have more steps and be spending more time making them myself.

It’s such an advantage to be able to call Boxcar and get advice on how to make a file better for plates. I also think their printing videos are great. I feel like they really walked me through a number of printing issues.

PRESS HISTORY Well, I was getting ready to graduate from the University of Iowa’s Center for the Book and was starting to feel anxious about not having access to a press.  I started looking around and put the word out. An instructor at the Center mentioned that she had a Vandercook Universal I and I was welcome to come by and give it a look. So I went and checked it out, and that was pretty much it. I had to do some work on it before I moved it (lots of sanding rust, new rollers, etc.)

This was pretty great because it allowed me to really get to know the press and it made it seem more like mine. The other interesting thing is that she bought the press, along with the rest of a print shop, from someone who had been storing it for years, in a garage in Sioux City, Iowa.  Coincidentally, I grew up in this city, so we were in the same place at the same time but never met. It took us both moving to Iowa City to meet!

SHOP TIPS My best piece of business advice is to take advantage of your local resources. If you don’t know how to do something there is usually some one in your community who is happy to help and vice a versa.  This also helps to build a community.  I also think being open to new possibilities and taking action is what ends up making me feel the most successful.

WHAT’S NEXT Well I’m lucky enough to have my sister, Katie Munger, back in Iowa. She has similar interests and recently decided to come back here and help me with the Paper Nest. I’m also really looking forward to getting a better handle on the business end of things and expanding. I’m hoping to offer more preprinted products as well as custom work and binding workshops. Eventually, I’d like to be able to offer equipment rental and printing workshops.

Big round of thanks to Elizabeth for letting us get the full scoop on The Paper Nest!

Workspace Spotlight: Slow Print

Nestled next to the hearty Mississippi River, Iowa’s own Slow Print hangs back in the thriving old Warehouse District in Dubuque and houses extraordinary letterpress work, a neatly arranged showcase of letterpresses spanning from a 1900s Chandler & Price to a 1960s 10×15 Heidelberg Windmill, and as many letterpress stories as there are ink cans. Peter Fraterdeus of Slow Print let’s us take a look at what’s inside.

Workspace Spotlight at the Slow Print letterpress shop in Dubuque

THE PRESSES: 1960s Original Heidelberg “Windmill” 10×15 – Red Ball, main workhorse production press; 1950s Original Heidelberg “Windmill” 10×15 – Black Ball, mostly die-cutting and fail-over; 1940s Vandercook 219 Proofer 19×26; 1930sMiehle Vertical V36 Cylinder 13×19.5, and a 1900s Chandler & Price Gordon Old-Style 10×15.

THE LOCATION: My shop is in Dubuque’s Historic Millwork district, a few blocks from the Mississippi River, and in fact, I’ve been one of the “flagship” tenants. In the past two years, a public-private partnership has upgraded the District, including all the streets & sidewalks and a full-block quadrangle building to the tune of well over $20 million. I just hope I don’t get gentrified out – but the arts are a primary core function of the newly active district.

I’m a block from the Voices Warehouse Gallery and a block from the new Dubuque Community Food Co-op, so it’s an exciting time to be in the area. The building is an early 20th century brick warehouse. The space I’m in was converted to offices many years ago, but it’s surrounded on the 1st floor by raw warehouse, currently inhabited by an ‘architectural salvage’ and antiques dealer.

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP: My large blue oriental rug in the coffee/lounge area (about 100 years old, it’s nearly worn out) with the futon couch and 1960s LaPavoni espresso maker.

NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN THE SPACE: One, just me and my new apprentice for the summer, Rachel.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL: Other than the Heidelberg Red Ball, and my MacBook Pro (without which there would be no business!), the most valuable tool is my loupe.

PLATE AND BASE OF CHOICE: I use KF95 on a locally machined aluminum base. I bought a 24×48 slab of .875 aluminum and had it machined down and cut into numerous smaller sections from 18″x24″ (used on the Vandercook) down to 2″x3″. It’s been in use since about 2007.

FAVORITE INK:  Oil-based – either VanSon or others as needed.

SOLVENT OF CHOICE: WM Wash from LithCo. I use Putz Pomade on the rollers after wash-up, which keeps any remaining medium from drying into the surface. The slightly pumice gritty stuff also helps keep the rollers from glazing. I’ve been using rollers from Advance in Los Angeles with very, very good results.

OIL OF CHOICE: 30W non-detergent

FLOORING MATERIAL: Hardwood floors.

PIED TYPE: Plenty. Much of it is wood type, as I purchased a barrel full on ebay some years ago. Couldn’t stand to see it auctioned off a handful at a time. I have one galley full of 24 point Legend, the beautiful Ernst Schneidler calligraphic type, purchased from an eminent printer who was closing up his shop a few years ago.

He shipped the type in the cases, with nothing but a sheet of single-corrugated cardboard on top. When the shipment arrived, the UPS driver set it on its side (although it was marked “keep flat”) and all the type was pied in a mound under the wrapping. I was not at all happy. Took hours just to get it into the galley, and I still haven’t figured out how to read Legend backwards. Major headache.

ORGANIZATION ADVICE: High tables and work surfaces with plenty of storage underneath.

PRINTING ADVICE: These are hardly secrets, but for the auto-didacts who haven’t yet figured it out, these will help a lot.

  • Don’t add white to color. Add color to white.
  • There’s nothing worse than slimy long ink for sharp printing. But don’t add too much mag, or the ink won’t want to come off the roller!
  • There’s no point to adjusting the rollers if there’s too much ink on them.
  • How much is “Too Much” ink or “Too Long” ink is entirely dependent on the form being printed.

Deep impression only makes sense with deep paper, otherwise it’s just gauche. (Note to clients: you can’t have deep impression on both sides of the same sheet – unless there’s no overlap from back to front)

Slow Print Workspace spotlight