Letterpress On The Move: Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer

Always on the move, letterpress printer Chris Fritton just might be coming to a town near you. Chris has visited over 160 letterpress print shops in North America, where he is known as “The Itinerant Printer.” As a guest printer, he enjoys making one of a kind prints, cards and posters with his hosts, with the added bonus of the letterpress camaraderie. The Buffalo, NY, native shares with us his creative origins and printing on the go.

Chris Fritton is a Buffalo, NY native and letterpress printer.

A PRINTER’S JOURNEY

I’m the former Studio Director of the Western New York Book Arts Center in Buffalo, NY, and for the past four years I’ve been doing The Itinerant Printer project. I travel around the US & Canada visiting different letterpress shops, and the only thing that I bring with me on the road is paper & ink. I use what those shops have in their collections (wood type, metal type, border, ornament, photopolymer plates, etc.) to create unique prints.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

COMPELLING LETTERPRESS

I got into letterpress printing as a writer and a book artist. I started out by making my own cut & paste zines during my teens, and then poetry chapbooks. I learned how to screen print early on, but that never really felt like the perfect medium for me.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

When I found letterpress, everything clicked.  There was something so compelling about actually building the language — setting every letter in every word and stanza by hand. It was so visceral and fundamental. I was lucky enough to print at a place in Buffalo run by one of my mentors, Hal Leader: Paradise Press. It was a tiny space right in the middle of a modern print shop, and it held all of his type and presses, as well of those of his mentor, a Roycroft master printer named Emil Sahlin. I worked at Paradise Press until Richard Kegler had the idea to start the Western New York Book Arts Center. Then I got in on the ground floor of that project.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

PRINTING IN NEW YORK & ON THE ROAD

WNYBAC was my baby, and that’s where I printed for six years. We had an incredible collection that we used to create gig posters, event posters, broadsides, cards, etc. I knew where every single thing was in that shop, from the tiniest ornaments to the missing sorts that were in standing formes.

My favorite thing about it was the energy. We were always experimenting, always trying something new, always using alternative materials and processes. It was an incubator, really, and a springboard for what I would do in the future.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

Now, everyone’s shop is my shop, at least for a day. With The Itinerant Printer project, I’m often only in a location for 24-48 hours. I have to familiarize myself with the shop, its contents, and try to create something interesting. Often, I have no idea what I’ll find; I don’t even know what kind of presses they’ll have. It’s a never-ending challenge, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

BEAUTIFUL BUFFALO, NEW YORK

All of Buffalo is a cool landmark. It’s a city rife with amazing architecture, copious greenspace, and a revitalized waterfront. The city is steeped in history, and its blue-collar legacy is evident everywhere you turn.

Chris Fritton, The Itinerant Printer, is a letterpress printer whose travels include 60+ letterpress print shop visits.

I miss it when I’m away, but so many of the shops that I visit have fantastic surroundings as well, from Menagerie Press in Terlingua, TX, among the Chisos Mountains to the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, WA, with a view of the Space Needle. It’s impossible to choose a favorite.

PRINTING MENTORS

Although I look to the past for ideas sometimes, I tend to appreciate the work of my contemporaries just as much, if not more. I really like the work of modern letterpress printers who are combining analog & digital technologies to get intriguing results. Right now, off the top of my head, James Tucker of the Aesthetic Union, Brad Vetter, Dafi Kühne, Kathryn Hunter of Blackbird Letterpress, Lindsay Schmittle of Gingerly Press, and The Print Project in the UK are churning out astonishing work that looks like nothing else. It’s their openness — their willingness to embrace something that may or may not work, as well as their desire to make something that doesn’t look like traditional letterpress that makes their work so arresting.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

FULL TIME FUN

The Itinerant Printer project is a full-time job for me, much like a traveling band. I often take a break during the summer, however, and when I’m home in Buffalo, I run commercial vessels on Lake Erie as a “day job.” It’s a nice break from printing and traveling, and often I find that I feel recharged when I return to letterpress.

THE CREATIVE FLOW

When I’m on the road, because I’m going in blind, I have to design on the fly. Because I’m normally using movable type, I design primarily on the press bed (if it’s a proofing press), and have to make decisions about color & form very quickly. The experience has made me very decisive, but also accepting of failure, because when you’re working that fast, it doesn’t always work out the way you thought it would.

Chris Fritton of the Itinerant Printer project visits a vast array of letterpress print shops across the US and Canada.

PRINTING FEATS

To date, I’ve visited over 160 letterpress print shops in 45 states and 4 provinces. I’ve covered over 60,000 miles and made close to 25,000 prints on the road. That feels pretty noteworthy to me. To culminate the whole adventure, I recently finished a 320-page coffee table book comprising 1,500 photos and 130,000 words that tells the story of all the people, places, and prints along the way. The book is a monster and it had to match the scale of the project.

Chris Fritton, Itinerant Printer is a letterpress printer.

PRINTING TIDBIT

Here’s a fun fact: I’ve never owned a press. I have a great collection of wood type and sundries, but no presses. At this point, it wouldn’t make sense to get one either, as long as I’m on the road.

BOXCAR’S ROLE

Boxcar was elemental when we were doing jobbing or custom work at the Western New York Book Arts Center. It was the fastest, easiest, most reliable way to get the results we needed. When I’m on the road, Boxcar is the first name that comes up in every shop for photopolymer platemaking. It’s amazing to see how far its influence stretches, to every corner of the US & Canada.

Ombre roll or rainbow roll on a Vandercook.

PRINTING TIPS

Perhaps a useful letterpress printing technique? Baby wipes with a little bit of baby oil for cleaning your hands. It acts as a solvent for most inks and keeps you from running to the bathroom every thirty seconds to wash up. Other than that, employ as many techniques as you can to get the results you want: pressure printing, laser cutting, 3D printing, woodcut, linocut, photopolymer — don’t restrict yourself.

Ampersands, letterpress printing, wood carvings.

WHAT’S COMING NEXT

In 2019, I’ll round out The Itinerant Printer book tour. After that, I’m considering taking the project global in 2020 — The Itinerant Printer, around the world. I can’t wait to see what printers in other countries are doing, as well as spend time learning about them, about their presses, about their cultures. Logistically, it will be a lot different than the North American tour, but I know it’s possible, so keep your eyes peeled for a launch date!

Ali Norman: All In The Details

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.

PRINTING MENTORS

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!

PRINTING FEATS

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.

PRESS HISTORY

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.

PRINTING TIPS

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!).

WHAT’S COMING NEXT

Lots more printing!!

Making the Leap Into Letterpress: Lauren Rolph

 

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.

TACTILE ARTIST

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.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

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. 

Lauren Rolph letterpress

CALIFORNIA COOL

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).

PRINTING MENTORS

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.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

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!

CREATIVE PROCESS

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.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

PRINTING FEATS

One of my biggest printing feats is opening Helen Edna. Opening this store is something I have dreamed about for years. 

FIRST PRESS

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.

Lauren Rolph letterpress

PRINTING TIPS

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.

WHAT’S NEXT

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!

Flourishing Creativity with PRESSDD

Braiding her cross-disciplines of graphic design, web programming, psychology and a love for minimalistic & organic design, Giorgia Katerina of PRESSDD creates beautiful letterpress pieces with panache. Having come by letterpress from a curiosity to know more about the printing tradition, Giorgia has woven into her bespoke creations a love of floral motifs, her great eye for detail, and welcoming warmth. We talk shop on her next adventures into a custom line, the joys of finding zen in her press room, and the exciting feeling of accomplishment when an ink run lines up just perfectly on the press.

RENAISSANCE WOMAN Obtaining a degree in psychology, I originally envisioned pursuing something in this field. Shortly thereafter, I came to the realization my love for design was stronger than that of psychology. As a result, four years ago I started out as a freelance graphic designer and web programmer. Now, I specialize in bespoke wedding stationery. 

GETTING HOOKED ON LETTERPRESS  My journey into letterpress was very unconventional. With a background in graphic design, letterpress was the last thing on my mind. Always looking for design inspiration, I started noticing beautifully printed pieces. Curious by nature, I became eager to learn how to make stationery pieces. As a result, I became hooked on letterpress!

PEACEFUL PRINTSHOP My press room is my personal oasis, complete with no distractions … just me and my press. First and foremost, the accessibility of my press room is second to none. Connected to my home studio, this gives me the flexibility to print at any given time. In this room, you will find a Chandler and Price 12×18 press. In addition, I have a Kensol 27T (which is not part of my studio). Complete with no distractions, just me and my press!

BEAUTY IN THE BUCKEYE STATE I’m based in Rocky River, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. A picturesque little town where coffee shops and restaurants are all within walking distance.

FINDING THE CREATIVE VEIN As a self-taught printer, with no true print mentor I find my design inspiration comes from minimalism and organic elements. With a passion for exploring various textural elements, I love how letterpress can create a beautiful, deep blind impression.

PART TIME PRINTING, FULL-TIME FUN As a stationery designer, and a part-time printer I always look forward to press days … as it gets me up and moving, and away from the computer! 

EFFECTIVE AND FLORAL INFUSED DESIGN  As a designer, I like to keep things simple and modern with a touch of organic elements. I love working with florals. Whether it is scanning them to use as background images or sketching them for the press. Similarly, I like to incorporate elements of old-school romance in my work. My favorite period is the French Renaissance!  

PRINTING FEATS My clients are second to none, and I absolutely love working with them and helping bring their vision to life. Simply put, there is no better feeling than being able to give my clients a bespoke letterpress wedding suite designed and pressed specifically for them.

PRESS HISTORY As a perfectionist, and having spent countless hours on any given project, my first print job was such a rush! I had just started as a full-time freelancer … and my first assignment was a wedding suite.

BOXCAR’S ROLE First and foremost, I want to give a shoutout to my girl Rebecca, who was a dream to work with! She and Boxcar Press have saved me quite a few times during the plate making stages. From helping me stock my studio with all the essentials (like everything in my shop … and outside of my C&P and type) to being an excellent printing resource in my times of need. Needless to say, I was lost without the help of Boxcar Press!

PRINTING TIPS My biggest frustrations is setting up a registration for a run. I have spent countless hours measuring, and remeasuring just to ensure the plate is in a perfect position. My advice, print a digital copy of the plate design using the same size sheet of paper you’ll press. Next, tape the plate over the print and transfer it to the base. This will help you save time, and will minimize the number of hours spent measuring (or remeasuring).

WHAT’S NEXT There are a couple big plans on the horizon for PRESSDD. Most recently, I’ve reintroduced greeting cards into my printing repertoire. In addition, I will also be looking to expand my wedding stationery and will be releasing a semi-custom collection.

We here at Boxcar Press would like to give a huge round of applause and thanks to Giorgia Katerina of PRESSDD! We’ll keep our eyes peeled for what she cooks up next in the print shop.

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Inquisitive Printers Want to Know – Things that Caught Our Eye

Those of us here at Boxcar Press are a searching, probing, questioning bunch of folks.  We are drawn to many things creative, fascinating and colorful.  Letterpress definitely fits those criteria, so we have to believe all of you out there are like-minded as us.  It should be no surprise we discover through reading and listening and yes, emails from you, a goodly number of interesting stories that are parts imaginative, informative, and just plain neat.  We are sharing folks too.  Every other week, we endeavor to pass on to you a few bits of knowledge that have caught our eye and think you might ooh and ahh over as well.  So, here goes…

From Cathy:  A video on a German papermaker that is hypnotic and soothing as you watch him at his craft.  

From Norway, the Future Library – An incredible story of a forest that was planted in 2014 and in one hundred years will be harvested to make paper to print 100 books written in that time period. The part I particularly like is that they are also preserving a printing press and instructions to operate it, in the event that books may not even be printed on paper in 100 years.  I think a letterpress machine is perfect for this and have pondered which press might be fitting. The whole undertaking of the Future Library fascinates on many levels.

haunted press in Toronto, Canada
(photo courtesy of www.printcan.com)

And for fun, an amusing story about an alleged haunted Washington Model printing press in Toronto Canada. in the home of a newspaper editor.  Perhaps he has a deadline to meet.

From Rebecca:  Graphene is a technological marvel to watch out for as it is on the fast-track to revolutionize the medical, construction & safety, and art realms. This material has been documented as being 200 times stronger than steel, yet lighter than paper. Here’s a fascinating “how it’s made” video to pique the mind and jump-start new ways of utilizing this material. Maybe one day the mighty graphene will affect the way printers of all disciplines use their machines in new creative ways?

Next, we’ve been following letterpress printer Tristan Rodman for quite a while on his experiments with letterpress printing and creating playable paper records. Tristan has been keeping a log of his experiments and perhaps with a few more tweaks, letterpress can pave a way for a new way of sharing and collecting musical masterpieces.

Bonus: Although a few years old, listening to the first 3-d printed record album still gives us goosebumps as the needle hits the plastic. We find it a fine choice to honor Nirvana with this intriguing new way to braid new 3-d printing technologies with old school craftsmanship.

We hope you explore some of our links and perhaps learn a little bit more about what interests us here at Boxcar Press.  Email us at info@boxcarpress.com the things that delight you also!

Melissa Livingston: Falling For Letterpress

Melissa Livingston of Livingston Press is located in the sunny city of Oakton, Virginia. On this warm fall day, she shared with us a small peek at her printing world and the wonderful printing community that inspires her daily—from running letterpress workshops, printing mentors (and family), and the itch to get back on press.

Melissa Livingston cheerily prints on a Chandler & Price Oldstyle in her letterpress shop in Oakton, Virginia.

INSPIRED BEGINNINGS As a small child I fell in love with letters while watching them dance across the big screen the first time I saw the movie 101 Dalmatians. The opening credits were revolutionary at the time. The spots on the dogs morphed into words; it was art to me. Because of my love of letter forms, color and paper, I studied commercial art in college and then worked as a book and calendar designer.

Melissa Livingston's gorgeous letterpress business cards for Livingston Letterpress

A RETURN TO THE PRINTING ARTS After taking a long sabbatical to raise my 5 wonderful children, I decided I wanted to get back into design. By that time everything in the design world had changed from waxed columns of type placed by hand on the art board to being completed on a computer screen. I missed the hands-on experience, so one day on a bit of a whim I decided to buy a 6×10 Kelsey Excelsior Victor tabletop press that came with a Boxcar Base, despite not actually knowing anything about how to print.

Melissa Livingston prints on a Chandler & Price Oldstyle in Virginia.

PRINTING MENTORS After an on-line search I discovered Alan Runsfeldt at Excelsior Press Museum Print Shop in Frenchtown, New Jersey and took the little press to him to learn how it worked. Alan became a mentor and a friend. I purchased my first drawer of type from a basement in Bethesda, Maryland and with the patient guidance of Rebecca at Boxcar Press, learned how to submit a file to create a polymer plate. I was printing! I printed my niece’s wedding invitations, Christmas cards and lots of other projects. I set up a little designated printing space in my basement and loved creating on that little press.

melissa-livingston-letterpress-invitation-suites

One day the little press broke and seeing my disappointment, my husband searched on eBay for a press. He came across a 10×15 Chandler & Price Oldstyle not far from our home. A dear friend helped us move the press into our garage and through YouTube videos and the kindness of other artists in the field (including Alan who taught me how to properly oil my machine), I continued to learn the craft of letterpress printing.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

THE CREATIVE FLOW My passion is really the hands on aspect of the craft. I prefer a machine powered by foot treadle. I have also collected quite an array of wooden and lead type and I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of setting type. I stock only primary colors of ink and mix all my colors by hand. I have also added a Potter Press for poster making, which does not have an inking mechanism, so all inking is done with a brayer.

Hand-set type locked-up in a chase by Melissa Livingston.

I do some design work with Illustrator, but prefer to leave the computer-related tasks to others. I work with a wonderful designer, Holly Osborn, whose work you can find on my website. It has also been a joy to collaborate with my daughter Megan as she has designed a few wedding suites.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

VERY VIVACIOUS IN VIRGINIA Livingston Letterpress began with the Chandler & Price in a corner of our garage. In the cold winter I would use a space heater and a candle under the ink disk to keep it warm enough to move the ink. In September of 2014 I moved into a real studio we added onto our home. The studio is a sacred, beautiful space to me; a physical reminder that dreams really do come true! I have a stunning composing table that found its way to me through the kindness of a jewelry artist who had inherited it from a printer friend. I have cases of type that sat for decades in basements and now have new life as letters are inked and pressed to the paper to print once again. I am connected to my tools as I have cleaned and scrubbed and made them functional again. It is an amazing feeling to look around the room and be surrounded by love; love for the craft, love for the kindness of others who have taught me or passed along tips or equipment, and the love of a family that supports this passion of mine.

PRESS HISTORY 6×10 Kelsey Excelsior Victor tabletop press, 10×15 Chandler & Price Oldstyle

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has been a wonderful resource to me. I use a 5×7 Base, a 9×12 Base and also very small bases that allow me to mix polymer plates with handset type. I love the flexibility that platemaking allows a letterpress printer. I recently ordered plates in Korean, Arabic and Russian!

I think the thing that impresses me most about Boxcar is the kindness of the staff, especially their patience as they have walked me through how to confirm my artwork is 100% black.

Melissa Livingston prints gorgeous letterpress pieces in Virginia, USA.

PRINTING FEATS I am so grateful for the opportunities that have come my way through letterpress printing. I treasure the connections I have made with people who have come to print and I love seeing their reaction as they create a treasure. I am inspired by the words people choose to turn into art. I was thrilled to get to print the menus and booklet covers and hand-stitch the bindings of the booklets for the 2015 Kinfolk Dinner in Washington, DC, but my favorite projects have been to print wedding suites for my oldest son and daughter.

Big round of thanks out to Melissa for the fun happenings at Livingston Press. Keep up the amazing work!