Fresh Impressions: Ladies of Letterpress 2017

The Ladies of Letterpress annual conference never fails to deliver an amazing week of printing, creating, and inky, hands-on, up to your elbows fun.  Add to that two letterpress movies, and the time in St. Louis, Missouri was pretty much letterpress supreme delight. 

Cathy Smith I often find it hard to describe to other printers what the conference experience is like and to give it justice.  You are in a bubble for five days where conversations center around printing and antique presses and it’s never boring. The energy is great and I usually end up saying, “you have to go there next year”.

This year’s conference was in Saint Louis and was a collaboration with StL Print Week which is offered through Firecracker Press and Central Print.  St. Louis itself has a lot going on in terms of attractions, housing renovations, and pockets of strong community sustainability projects.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Our activities centered around Firecracker Press and Central Print which share a wonderful joint storefront space.  The neighborhood has little “pocket parks” on many of the blocks, and is on the cusp of bursting into a vital place to live and work.  That just added to the appeal of our conference headquarters.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

It was easy to get excited about our printing space because of the many vintage presses, the aisles of type cabinets, the retro and bohemian décor, and so much natural light.  With the help of Peter Fraterdeus, I gained a larger appreciation for wood type as we learned to look at the letters as art forms of negative and positive spaces,  I tried my hand at linoleum block carving taught by Rachel Kroh and have a new passion for this.  I love the endless possibilities of photopolymer plates; however, it was freeing to work with other tools to create printed projects.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

What I really love is meeting fellow printers as we talk about all things letterpress.  I revel in the information sharing and passion of panel discussions, and can highly recommend Pressing On: the Letterpress Film.  

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

If you have an opportunity to see it, do so, and then watch it again.  This year, I was joined by three of our printers from Boxcar Press, plus owner Harold Kyle, and it was great to share with them the experience and value of a Ladies of Letterpress conference.

Samantha Peck Samantha is one of our windmill printers here at Boxcar Press and she agreed that being able to attend the event this year was an unforgettable time.

The opportunity to learn letterpress printing from the most advanced printers in the industry left me with a wealth of new knowledge, tips, and tricks to incorporate into my daily printing at Boxcar. Thanks to the great workshops offered, I now own my very first press that I built from household materials!

I also was able to use a variety of different presses and type to create unique prints that I turned into the covers of my handmade journals. I even got to try out linoleum block carving.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

Through hands on learning and expert printers’ shared stories and advice, I gained some absolutely invaluable experience and memories. It was very rewarding to see so many inspired and creative printers all in one place carrying on the art of letterpress printing together.

Madeline Bartley Another one of our windmill printers recalls that her best moment from Ladies of Letterpress was during her workshop, Advanced Windmill with Graham Judd.

During a demo we became curious about the condition of the windmill’s impression lever. Why doesn’t the lever release back to its usual position? The red ball lever didn’t move back far enough. The lead to Graham and I pulling out old die cut scraps from the base. Together we pulled out two waste baskets of oily paper detritus. 40 years worth!  It was like an archeological dig into letterpress history.

Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. Boxcar Press has printing fun at Ladies of Letterpress conference 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri.

This Boxcar Lady had a wonderful time attending the conference and is looking forward to more in the future!

Leanna Barlow My experience at Ladies of Letterpress/ Print Week was absolutely amazing.  Spending time in another city surrounded by people who love the same thing you do is surreal. I have only worked at Boxcar press for about 2 years. At Boxcar we don’t set type, so this was my first time seeing such a vast collection of type! And actually getting to use it. Firecracker Press has such a great space and the staff was so talented and passionate about printing. I think what I took away from the experience overall was the willingness to teach and be taught, particularly by some who have been printing substantially longer than me. It was nice to see that there was no “generation gap,” as they call it. The older generation of printers was genuinely excited to be with the new and up-and-coming printers like myself. For me, making my own press out of everyday supplies, along with the advanced windmill class, has helped me develop as a working printer and an artist.

A huge shout-out to all the amazing participants at the Ladies of Letterpress conference this year! Have a fun story or cool thing you learned at this year’s meet-up? Let us know in the comments below!

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!