Letterpress Printing Journeys: Amy Redmond of Amada Press

A mindful approach to letterpress (and life) is the buzz behind Amy Redmond of Amada Press. When we last caught up with Amy, she had a ball visiting & touring the Boxcar Press press floor. Now, the Seattle-based printer, visual artist, and instructor for Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts is blending a sense of creative well-being into her craft while nurturing a closely-knit community of printers. Between collaborating on her next project, keeping the fire lit under her fingertips, and happily giving back to the community with her involvement with the SVC Childrens Broadsides project year-after-year, Amy lives up to her press’ Spanish name origins: beloved.

RENAISSANCE WOMAN + PRINTER I’m a self-employed visual designer and artist, and teach beginning and advanced letterpress classes at Seattle’s School of Visual Concepts. In my private studio, Amada Press, I work with metal and wood type, fabricating stories inspired by my collection of old ad cuts and
half-tones, and adding linocuts when inspired. In recent years, I’ve been incorporating collographs and pressure printing into my work. I primarily print on a Colt’s Armory 13×19 platen press, but also work on a Vandercook 4.

This is the form for the keepsake from my first studio tour under the name Amada Press. All photos courtesy of Amy Redmond unless otherwise indicated.

My Colt’s Armory Press has a long history of fine press book work for me to live up to; years before Stern & Faye acquired it, our friend Clifford Burke used it to produce his book “Printing Poetry.” 

View of the Amada Press studio from behind the Vandercook 4, which also came from Stern & Faye Printers.

THE LURE OF LETTERPRESS My first job out of college was as a book designer, and it turned into a quest to learn more about the finer points of typography. I was also feeling the loss of not working with my hands — computer design time had been balanced by working with tangible materials while earning my BFA. Although gainfully employed in the creative field, I was effectively starving myself creatively.

That changed when a friend saw a listing for a weekend workshop with Seattle artist Bonnie Thompson Norman (Windowpane Press), and I thought letterpress would be the perfect remedy for me. It was, and still is. Halfway through the first day, I was hooked on setting type by hand, so much that Bonnie had to politely kick me out of her studio so that she could go have dinner — promising that the type would still be waiting for me in the morning.

These accordion books were the first letterpress project I ever typeset and printed, in collaboration with 3 other students. Bonnie runs an admirably tight ship: we wrote, printed, and bound these in just 2 days! 

Six months later, in October of 1998, I met Chris Stern and Jules Faye (Stern & Faye, Printers) at a Seattle Literary event called Northwest Bookfest, and fell in love with their work. The following week I drove up to their Print Farm in Sedro-Woolley, Washington to share my portfolio. The interview turned into dinner, and soon after I began apprenticing one day a week in their shop, doing whatever was needed in exchange for learning. A few years later, I put all of my things in storage, moved into a small corner of the upstairs bindery in the print barn, and worked in exchange for rent.

This was Stern & Faye Printer’s “print barn” in Sedro-Woolley, WA. The concord grapes would hang heavy on the barn, and it was impossible to resist snacking off the vine every time you entered the shop. 

Here I am mixing ink at Stern & Faye Printers, sometime around 2002. This may have been taken during the 6 months I was living at the print farm. Credit: Jules Faye

The 180-mile round-trip drive up to the Skagit Valley each week was well worth it. It’s hard to believe it’s been 19 years since then; it was such a pivotal moment for me. It not only instilled a sense of creative well-being and fine craftsmanship, it also introduced me to an amazing community of artists, designers, and printers that have become dear friends.

Pictured left to right: Rebecca Gilbert, Jules Faye, Brian Bagdonas, Amy Redmond. Rebecca & Brian, of Stumptown Printers & C.C. Stern Type Foundry, recently visited me and Jules Faye at her home in the Skagit Valley. Getting together with them is always a fabulous family reunion, and never without homemade pie. Credit: Stumptown Printers

NORTH SEATTLE’S BEST KEPT SECRET My private studio, Amada Press, is just steps from my back door in a quiet neighborhood in north Seattle. I describe it as a garage with a detached house — because that’s exactly how I went about looking for space: the studio came first. When Jules Faye approached me in 2008 about becoming the next steward of Stern & Faye’s Colt’s Armory 13×19 Press, I knew it was time to get serious about buying a place. I’d been in Seattle long enough to know that I couldn’t own a press that big and be at the whim of a landlord. The stars happened to align at the right time with both work and the burst of Seattle’s real estate market, making it all possible.

Inking up the Colt’s Armory Press. Cleaning up the press, and all 8 of its rollers, takes me about 30 minutes. 

Close-up of the badge on my Colt’s Armory Press. 

In spite of being large enough for 3 cars, my shop has never had one in it — the previous owners were also artists, and built it as their painting studio. It has flat, alley access with high overhead clearance for big trucks, smooth cement floors and plenty of outlets. What really charmed me was its wood stove — that’s exactly how we heated the Print Barn at Stern & Faye. I took all of those things, along with the apple tree (Stern & Faye also had a tiny orchard), as signs that this was the right place for me. The press was the first thing that got moved onto the property — it took another week for me to move my personal things into the house. So you can see where my priorities lay.

My shop’s sunny location makes it the perfect spot to grow tomatoes. A little bit of Seattle history lives in this photo: those red bleacher chairs are from the Kingdome, saved before it was blown up to make way for a new stadium. 

What truly makes my shop special is what’s inside of it — it has all come from local printer pals, many of whom have since passed. Most of it, like my presses and type, is from Stern & Faye and Byron Scott — but I also have a cabinet and slant top from Jim Rimmer (Pie Tree Press), and a handful of choice cuts from Maura Shapely (Day Moon Press). It’s all very beloved to me… which is how I came to choose “Amada” as my press name, the Spanish word for beloved. It also happens to be the meaning of my first name.

Upper lefthand photo: Everything in my studio is up on 4×4’s so that it can be easily moved with a pallet jack.  |  Upper righthand photo: Thanks to the careful curation of past printers, I have many lovely typefaces — but Spartan (ATF’s version of Futura) claims most of the space in this row of cabinets. |  Lower righthand photo: These are my two main work surfaces: the cabinet in the foreground is a staging ground for my notes, and the larger work table in the background holds my stone.  |  Lower lefthand photo:  This photos is the view when you walk into my studio — the cabinet on the far right is the very first one I got (complete with the obligatory case of Copperplate).

PRINTING MENTORS AND INSPIRATION Chris Stern & Jules Faye will always be my number one mentors; even though Chris passed away in 2006 and the context of my work with Jules has evolved, I consider my apprenticeship to be lifelong. They have given me so much of their time and talent, and never restrained their passion for print & typography. When the two of them collaborated on personal projects, the final print was always a tapestry of fantastic stories and captivating imagery. Their print, “The Typographic Horse,” exemplifies the “love at first sight” effect their work had on me.

Shortly after Chris Stern passed away, I wrote an article about the passionate process of artwork for the Society of Typographic Aficionados . You can view more work by Chris Stern & Jules Faye on SternAndFaye.com. 

I also find inspiration from my ever-growing network of printer pals and students — they all keep a fire lit under my fingertips, and Instagram has played a big role these past few years with feeding me a steady drip of amazing work. Those who really stand out are the ones with determination and a clear vision in their work as a whole; I really admire that — it’s not something I come by easily.

From an aesthetic standpoint, I’m drawn to the graphic design work that took place between the 1910’s and the 1950’s. As a design student I didn’t understand how the work I admired by Fortunato Depero, Piet Zwart, El Lissitzky, H.N. Werkman, and Jan Tschichold was produced — becoming a letterpress printer who works with handset type brought a whole new appreciation to it. It’s like I found a missing piece to the puzzle that is myself.

DESIGNER + PRINTER I fall into the designer/printer category; they are very intricately related and it can be hard to tear one apart from the other. Design is what led me to letterpress, but letterpress is what reinforces my attention to detail and ability to think about how a design will be produced — whether it’s a website or a printed piece. When you’re printing your own work, you’re the one that pays the price when you design something that’s hard to pull off. And so you learn how to plan.

I find the mindful approach that letterpress requires to be blissfully consuming; it’s a nice contrarian lifestyle to the on-demand parts of life. As I browse my collection of metal type and ornaments, I slow down, I notice, I contemplate, I dream, and I plan. I form connections with things I’ve seen or heard. Stories materialize as excerpts from imagined conversations.

This text, from my print “Scavenger,” was taken from a scrap of paper I’ve been carrying around in a sketchbook since 2006. 

The computer has no place here — pencils, scissors, Xacto blades, and glues sticks are crucial to my work’s development; the tangible trace of my hand is evident yet invisible. Ideas become sketches, ink is drawn, mock-ups take shape. Text is set, one letter at a time. Images may be old ad cuts, or created with collographs, pressure printing, or carved linoleum.

A snapshot of the design process for the broadside for “The Thirst of Things” by poet Alberto Ríos, for Copper Canyon Press. See the finished print here. 

Precision on press requires planning, but with my art I allow room for migration once ink hits paper: colors may shift, misfeeds inspire new compositions. The process of acting/reacting is cathartic; committing an idea to paper simultaneously invites resolution to old problems and invites opportunity for new ones.

In the dead of winter this mindfulness is emphasized even more: my shop is heated primarily by a wood stove, and I can’t just start printing without some planning. The night before, I bring the inks and photopolymer base into the house to warm up; I check to make sure an air quality burn ban hasn’t been triggered by a stretch of cold, windless days; I prep a pot of homemade soup for lunch. On press day I get up early and get the studio’s wood stove started so that it can pick up the electric heater’s slack, and simmer the soup on the wood stove next to my coffee. Once I get going, I hate having to stop to make lunch… and it makes for the most delicious-smelling print shop.

PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN There are days when I think I could be a printer full time, but I don’t think I really want that — it’s having variety in my work that keeps me sane. I currently set up my work week so that I work Monday–Thursday for my design clients (web & print), and spend Fridays in my studio. Anyway you slice it I’m just a one-woman shop, so there’s a lot of pressure to stay profitable and still be able to invest in my retirement.

If I could spend my days playing on press, making art without a care for income, then yes I’d do it in a heartbeat. But if I have to take on a job printing what someone else has designed, then no — I’d rather that time be spent doing digital design, so that my print studio remains a stress-free place to be creative. There’s enough separation between how I think about the two different types of work that they fuel, rather than drain, my energy for them.

PRINTING FEATS I consider it a great honor to have been teaching letterpress at the School of Visual Concepts for the past 14 years, and to play a part in building our program. I was cautious when Jenny Wilkson first invited me, as my mentors Chris Stern & Jules Faye were also teaching there — and who was I, with just a few years at the press under my belt, to be teaching? Upon hearing my concerns, Chris and Jules invited me to assist in their class — and gave me their encouragement to accept Jenny’s offer. This wasn’t an issue of confidence; it was about respect for all the years Chris and Jules had spent in front of presses.

top photo: We have a well-appointed shop at the School of Visual Concepts, and our volunteer Teaching Assistants do their part (and then some) to making sure it remains a gem. Credit: Radford Creative. |  bottom photo: Elizabeth Mullaly (right) is one of my current Teaching Assistants. The way she quietly jumps right in when she sees something or someone that needs attention is a work ethic I admire. Credit: Sukhie Patel.

PRESS HISTORY I was about to say it was a Pilot Tabletop Press — but truly, it was a toy press given to me in elementary school, the Fisher Price Arts & Craft “Printer’s Kit”. I’m really hoping it’s still stashed in my parent’s basement, as I’d love to get it back and play around with it.

But as far as “real” presses go, the Pilot really was my first. In June of 1999, I went to Bellingham, WA with Chris Stern & Jules Faye to visit their friend Rob. We were talking about printing and I was admiring his 7×9 Pilot Press sitting in the corner on its original stand. After a while Chris turned and said, “Well Amy, you can have it if you can pick it up.” I laughed and then saw Rob nod his head — Chris was actually serious, and Jules confirmed it. Together we moved it out that day.

My first studio was efficiently tucked into a tiny breakfast nook in a shared house. We didn’t use the dishwasher, so it became my ink table— I kept ink and tools on its racks. 

Chris and Jules then helped me put together a cabinet of type from their collection, and Scotty (Byron Scott, their adopted grandfather and avid letterpress collector) contributed some things as well. I still have that cabinet today; on the back, scrawled in chalk, it says “Scotty,” and I love that. Also in that cabinet is a 50-pound case of figures from various typefaces, all displayed face-up. It had been sitting in a stack of cases in the print barn & I remembering cooing over it with Chris when he said, “Yeah it’s purdy, but ya don’t ever wanna buy a case of junk like that.” He then turned to me with a sly grin. “Ya want it?”

I lovingly refer to this 50-pound case of figures as one my apprenticeship “hazing” moments. 

I had the Pilot for 2 years, and when I moved into the bindery loft of Stern & Faye’s Print Barn, they convinced me that it was time to move on to a bigger press. To this day, the Pilot still lives in Seattle with John Marshall, former owner of Seattle’s Open Books Poetry Shop in Seattle. It’s nice to know it’s still in our Pacific Northwest literary letterpress family.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has been making my photopolymer plates since — I think — 2003 or 2004. At that time there weren’t many options, and most required faxing in a proof of the artwork — which was a royal pain. But Boxcar spoke my design language and accepted PDF proofs (revolutionary!) and that was the hook that got me in the door.

But the real reason I keep coming back is the people — everyone is so helpful and accountable to doing good work, and I appreciate the time spent helping me troubleshoot. As an instructor I know I can direct my students to Boxcar and that they’ll be well-taken care of. And as a participant in SVC’s Poetry Broadside project with Seattle Children’s Hospital and Seattle Arts & Lectures, I know that the project would not be financially possible without plate donations from Boxcar and paper donations from Neenah. On behalf of the printers at the School of Visual Concepts, thank you!

PRINTING TIPS Roller bearers are my best friends — I never lock up a form in a chase without them. Also, always use protection: slipsheet your prints. These two simple things can prevent so many problems.

Wide, type-high rule placed on the inside edges of the chase act as roller bearers, preventing ink slur as the rollers roll on/off the form. 

Document your work. David Black, another letterpress instructor at SVC, once advised starting a shop log to keep track of press maintenance. I do, and it has become so much more than just a record of press oiling. I document ideas, typeface choices, and archive my mockups. These logs are valuable resources that I refer to often.

I currently have 4 studio logs, and added a fifth just for the projects I do for APA (Amalgamated Printers Association), of which I’m a member. 

And finally, when it comes to buying equipment, be patient. The right press, the right type, it will come along. Talk to people, get to know them… there’s an underground current of dedicated printers that offer a far more rewarding experience than a whirlwind bidding session on Ebay will, and you’ll meet people genuinely interested in your success if you take the time to invest in your local community.

WHAT’S NEXT I’m finally — finally!— going to set up an online store for Amada Press. I’ve been in several group and solo shows over the years, but the positive response my work received in the 2017 “Pressing On” Exhibition at Hatch Show Print really highlighted the importance of investing time into making my work more accessible.

I also have several ideas on my perpetual project list in different stages of production, including two book concepts and a long-form broadside. The more I cross off, the more room I have for new ideas. My work is fueled by motion.

The red and blue flags in my studio logs mark ideas that have not yet been printed. I’m happy to say it’s a never-ending list. 

Immensely huge round of applause & thanks out to Amy for the gorgeous peek into the printing realm of Amada Press. Keep up the beautiful work and we look forward to seeing more of your printing adventures unfold. Find her on Instagram too (@AmadaPress)!

2017 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides: Part 2

Part two in this year’s inspiring blog feature of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides project explores the work of five more clever printers and their young poets as part of the collaborative effort between the Writers in the Schools program (WITS – a poetry program spearheaded by Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick), long term patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the School of Visual Concepts. These five printers share with us how they brought to life the young poets’ colorful imagination in a cornucopia of color, text, texture, and fun imagery.

Jane Suchan While at Seattle Children’s Hospital, 14 year old Mary McCann learned to knit and wrote the two poems used for her broadside.  I was drawn to Mary’s poems because of their emotion and imagery.  I work at Seattle Children’s, so I had the good fortune to visit and get to know Mary a bit.

Jane Suchran letterpress prints for 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

As Mary and I were chatting she gave me some great design input: her favorite colors, the fun to be had with a ball of yarn, the sense of coziness and comfort she feels from sitting quietly and knitting.  Mary is creative, energetic and playful, so I sought to reflect those characteristics in my design.  Since we both have orange cats, and cats and knitting just naturally go together, I knew I wanted to include a cat somehow as our shared secret.  

Jane Suchran letterpress prints for 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides- knitting imagery.

The big, cushy arm chair and a playful cat ready to pounce on a ball of yarn tells a little story to go along with Mary’s poems.  This line in Mary’s poem “Fabric coming off the end of the needle” made me think of knitted sweaters with intarsia motifs, so that’s where I got the idea to create a stockinette pattern with Mary’s name.  I printed in yellow behind the stockinette to create a fifth, blended color as a nod to Mary’s love of color.  Mary’s vision is impaired, so I kept images simple, used easy to read fonts in a larger size and high contrast colors.  My goal was to honor Mary and her poetry, to produce a keepsake that she would love and her family and friends would cherish.

Jane Suchran prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

These broadsides were printed on a Vandercook SP15 press at the School of Visual Concepts over three days.  In my first pass I used a large Boxcar base to print a block of soft yellow that would become the background for Mary’s name across the top of the broadside.  Printing the yellow behind the teal was an easy way to get a fifth color out of four passes on press.

Jane Suchran prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

 I had photopolymer plates made for the rest of the design elements, and pass number two was a run of teal for the chair, Mary’s name and the colophon.  Pass three was the orange cat and ball of yarn, followed by a fourth pass in dark charcoal for the poems.

Jane Suchran prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

The only tricky thing about my design was the tight registration of the orange cat and the back of the teal chair.  I had the photopolymer plate made with the cat and chair positioned together as they would be when printed even though I knew they would be in two different colors.  Before printing the chair I used an Exacto knife to carefully cut away the photopolymer plate for the cat and set it aside, along with the plate for the ball of yarn.  After printing the chair, I left the photopolymer plate adhered to the Boxcar base in the press bed.  I cleaned the teal ink off and added the photopolymer plate for the cat and yarn onto the base.  I pulled away the photopolymer plate used for the chair and other teal elements, re-inked the press with bright orange and was ready to roll in no time.   

2017 SVC Children's Broadsides meet-up.

Jenny Wilkson This year, Jules Remedios Faye and I collaborated on one poetry broadside. There were three letterpress processes we were excited to use: photopolymer for the text, because our chosen poem was the longest of the bunch; laser cut imagery, just because lasers are great, and collographs for detail in the illustration, which is Jules’ specialty.

Jenny Wilkson prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

First, we double-hit a solid with straight rubine red, to achieve a saturated dark pink background. After it dried, we overprinted purple laser cut butterflies, being careful to add cobalt drier to the ink so that it would dry on top of the pink pass.

Jenny Wilkson prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

Jules created a collograph for the light purple detail in the butterfly wings by gluing lace and sealing it with acrylic gel medium on an identical laser cut block, making registration a cinch. Finally, the gold text was printed using Boxcar plates.

Laura Bentley The broadside is a three color design printed with handset metal type ornaments, metal type, and photopolymer plates.   Type was set and printed on a Vandercook SP-15 printing press from the 1960s. The ornaments were arranged dripping down the page with the spacing growing such that the ornaments were breaking apart in a nod to the poem’s title.

Laura Bentley printing on a Vandercook letterpress press.

Simple shapes in dramatic colors echo the everyday and extraordinary experiences mentioned in the poem. The poem text and colophon was printed in a fourth pass on the same press with photopolymer plates and a metal base from Boxcar Press. Laura Bentley prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

I didn’t get a chance to talk with either of the young authors this time. Sometimes with all that’s going on it isn’t possible. But I enjoyed learning about their experiences through their words. Poet Ann Teplick works with patients in this classroom and helps the students express their experiences through poetry.

Laura Bentley prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

While I have a good variety of metal type ornaments to print with, and found a great font to use for the author’s names, my metal type collection came up short when it came to typesetting the poem text and colophon. Using a photopolymer plate opened up the possibility to print any typeface available on the computer, but for this design I chose a digital version of a typeface (Venus) from the age of printing with metal. While I have a couple of metal fonts of Venus, none were appropriate sizes. I like that Boxcar can fill in gaps in my metal type collection!

(Laura’s full blog article goes in-depth here on this year’s printing journey)

Leah Stevenson As I was thinking about my poem for this year’s Broadside project, I was instantly inspired by the recurring presence of red and yellow/gold. I was also struck by how much more space was devoted to the thorny devil desert lizard compared to anything else Ewan wrote about in his poem. Because of that, I really wanted to have that be a focal point of this piece.

Leah-Stevenson letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

Toward the beginning of my process I received an email with some scans of drawings Ewan had done. They represented what he saw in his mind as he wrote and read his poem so I really wanted to find a way to incorporate them. While beautiful, I was a little stuck on how to use the drawings I had received from Ewan while remaining true to my own style. I ended up just starting to draw a desert lizard to see where it would take me. Eventually, I realized I could use Ewan’s drawings as little ‘tattoos’ on the lizard.

Leah-Stevenson uses a Vandercook to print.

One of my favorite things about doing letterpress printing is combining my experience in digital design with the analog system of printing by hand. I was able to design the broadside digitally and used those designs to get photopolymer plates made. I printed the whole piece on a Vandercook SP15 press in SVC’s letterpress studio.

Leah-Stevenson uses a Vandercook to print.

I ended up with four passes through the press. I had actually planned a fifth pass (a blue for the baseball cap to bring in the Cubs in stanza three), but was on the fence about how much it really added. Once I pulled a proof of it, I decided it wasn’t necessary and left it out, giving me some extra time for paper cutting and sorting.

Leah-Stevenson letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

Unfortunately, I was not able to meet with my author this year but I did get a little insight into his mind when I received the drawings he had made for the poem. I really loved having that extra bit of my poet’s creativity and imagination that I could incorporate into the broadside. It was fun to get a glimpse into his mind and see what he had envisioned when he was writing the poem and use that as another place to take my design.

Carol Clifford For this annual project I usually work with the assumption that the young poet will see the finished piece I created for them, and in the past my hope has been to create an image for them to grow up with. This year’s piece was different though because I learned during the poem pick meeting that sadly Julissa had passed away. Knowing this influenced the feeling I wanted to convey. I didn’t want to make something too frivolous or silly. I usually don’t, but felt particularly aware of that this time. Plus, Julissa’s poem was serious and reflective, so I wanted to honor that as well as create a piece that felt more reverent.

Carol Clifford letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

Initially, I had planned to combine several techniques: pressure printing, hand-set type, collagraphs, and linoleum cuts. However, I decided I didn’t want the “chatter” from pressure printing which is often a result. Nor did I want the heavier lines from linoleum cuts. I chose instead to use all polymer plates. In part for simplicity, but moreover for the clearer lines and shapes that I felt suited this poem.  

My hope for Julissa’s family is that I created a piece that is quiet yet witnesses her questions. I, too, would like to believe that birds walk on the clouds.

Carol Clifford letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

Immense round of applause and thanks to all of the wonderful printers who donated their time and efforts to this truly beautiful project!

2017 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides: Part 1

For its seventh year running, Boxcar Press has the immense pleasure of supporting the magical outcome created by this year’s 2017 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project. Guided by Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick of the Writers in the Schools program (WITS) and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, an inspiring group of young poets and artist/printers collaborated together to produce 21 broadsides in a limited run of 110 broadsides. WITS worked with big-hearted printers as well as long term patients at the Seattle Children’s Hospital in this exceptional opportunity for fun, creativity, and stirring works of art. This first installment of a two part blog showcases four printers who share their creative printing process and capture the wonder of the children’s writing.Boxcar Press donated photopolymer plates for the 2017 Seattle Children's Hospital Letterpress Broadsides, a project by WITS + the School of Visual Concepts.

Sarah Kulfan I was very excited to print Merrick’s poem for this year’s Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project. As someone who spends a lot of time outdoors, his colorful descriptions of the natural world resonated with me and provided a rich trove of inspiring imagery that would pair well with his words. I printed a total of 6 passes on a Universal I, combining a linoleum block, metal type, and a Boxcar plate.

Sarah-Kulfan-letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.  Multicolor letterpress printing from Sarah Kulfan.

This was my fifth year printing for this lovely project which brings together so many talented and generous folk. I was immediately drawn to Merrick’s poem. His words remind me of all the many blessings that nature provides, discoveries that I have found in my own wanderings outside. I haven’t met Merrick yet, but I hope to get a chance so that we can compare our adventures in nature.

Sarah-Kulfan-letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

This year, I wanted to try my hand at a reduction cut that would combine split fountain layers. Using high-drama imagery of a hurricane worked really well for this process as it provided a big-sky, full frame backdrop. The poem speaks to the cycles of nature and the process of destruction and darkness followed by light and new life. The gradients capture the weather transition from light to dark and the reduction cut allowed me to build up the dark layers of the passing storm clouds. There were four total passes on the reduction cut and these included two split fountains. I printed a fifth layer of metal type for the poem. The final pass was the colophon text, printed from a Boxcar photopolymer plate, which saved a lot of time hand setting and proofing tiny type.

Chris Copley Each year, I find myself wanting to push my artistic envelope in the Children’s Hospital Poetry Broadside Project — exploring a technique or concept while still making a piece of art that might appeal to people who know nothing of me or the poet or the project. I also try to reflect the feeling or personality of my poet.

Chris Copley letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

Nandi, my poet this year, was not quite 5 when she wrote her piece about a huge stuffed animal that fell on her while she was in her hospital bed. The poem features strong emotions, and moves from upset and angry (at the big bunny) to loving and heartfelt (toward her mom). I tried to bring that out in the frame around the poem.

Chris Copley letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides. Chris Copley letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

I also embedded folk-art-style drawings of animals and a few “easter eggs” in the frame, just for fun. I drew the original art on black paper, then cut it out with an Xacto knife. I scanned the cut-paper art and ordered a polymer plate from Boxcar; this was my third (and fourth) pass. The first two passes involved the technique I wanted to explore — perpendicular split fountain printing. I printed a red-to-mustard-yellow pass (the color blocks behind the text blocks), and then turned the paper 90 degrees to print a blue-to-olive-green pass (the highlight colors in the frame).

Unfortunately, in trimming the paper to permit it to fit on the press, I unthinkingly cut off my gripper edge. So when I went to print the polymer frame, I couldn’t. I quickly went through a list or three or four options for solving my disaster, and decided the least bad solution was to cut the polymer plate in half. The problem was compounded when printing the second half of the plate, when my favorite press inexplicably fish-tailed my paper a different direction on every pass, making close registration virtually impossible. I cried almost the entire run, convinced the broadside was ruined. But I finished the project, hand-setting the poem and colophon in Bodoni and printing it without a hiccup. And it didn’t look too bad, in the final analysis. Five passes through the press.

I never met Nandi, but I met her mom, Adele. Nandi was camping with Dad the week we met. We chatted for nearly an hour about Nandi’s poems and how her health crisis brought out Nandi’s strong spirit. I saw the connection between Adele and Nandi, and saw photos of the little girl and the big bunny. I wanted to bring out in my design Nandi’s playful, vibrant personality, and her love for her mother.

I used two other techniques: hand-set metal type; and pressure printing. I wanted soft edges to the color blocks behind the stanzas of Nandi’s poem, so I used the back side of a Boxcar Press base (with the swirly pattern of the grinder as a design element) and a paper pressure “plate.” I did the same thing with the color highlights in the frame. I like the contrast between the crisp polymer printing and the softer pressure-printed colors. And I like the way the metal type echoes the sharp edges of the polymer plate. This is another of those projects that turns out better than expected, with different parts contributing to a unified whole.

Heidi Hespelt As always, it was a privilege to illustrate one of these wonderful poems by these talented children. My poet was Nick Gerdin, age 9 and he wrote 2 poems, titled Orange and Red. His plan is to continue the series by writing poems about other colors of the rainbow. I love the word pictures that Nick painted. He is obviously an insightful guy.

Heidi Hespelt letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

I used several different methods to bring my illustration to life.  The titles, Red and Orange, are done in large antique wood type, the rest of the type is polymer from Boxcar Press (thanks, Boxcar, for your support!), and I carved the tiger, the cheetah on lino blocks using photographs as inspiration.

Heidi Hespelt prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.

The setting suns and the bottom border are also carved from lino blocks. All of the printing was done on a Vandercook press at the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle.

Heidi Hespelt prints on a Vandercook for SVC Children's Broadsides.Heidi Hespelt letterpress prints for SVC Children's Broadsides.

Much of the joy of participating in the Children’s Hospital Broadside project each year (this is my fourth year!) is the camaraderie between the printers and the creative way each printer (artist) interprets the poem that they are given. I like to think that our efforts will live long lives on the walls and in the portfolios of the poets and their families, and that our artistic visions will add a dimension to the poems that brings out a deeper meaning.

Sukhie Patel I love carving linoleum and engraving wood, so I knew I wanted to draw and then hand-carve the poem’s illustrations. Carving is, for me, a form of meditation, and it was a beautiful way to contemplate this young poet’s life and honor her through that process. It was hard to narrow down what to illustrate, as the poem had so many vibrant images to choose from. I wanted the broadside to capture as much of the visual levity and sweetness of the poem as possible, so I chose to carve this metallic gold ice cream cone of whimsical pastel cotton-candy-esque clouds, with Mount Rainier popping out amidst them. It ended up being 6 separate blocks, and including text, 8 passes.

Sukhie Patel letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

I found out two days after receiving the poem that the lovely young poet, London Marshall, had passed away at age 9. My approach thus shifted from designing a broadside to delight a 9-year-old audience, to designing a commemorative broadside for her family. I wanted to create something the family would want to return to at different stages in their grieving, that did not preclude a path of healing, and could bring them a smile. I hoped the illustrations would capture the levity of being nine years old, the vivacity of being a young girl, the earnestness of feeling in love with the world around her. It was an honor to print London’s poem, and spend time with her words.

Sukhie Patel letterpress prints for the 2017 SVC Children's Broadsides.

My print consisted of 6 hand carved linoleum blocks and two photopolymer plates. I don’t know how I would have pulled this off without the help of Boxcar. I had never printed with photopolymer before, but with the structure of this poem (each line began with “I am”), I didn’t have any cases of metal type with enough capital I’s! Incorporating photopolymer also allowed me to select a more contemporary and youthful typeface. It was such a pleasure working with Boxcar on this project, and (despite being a sucker for handset type) I can’t wait to incorporate photopolymer in more of my designs. It really did open up my eyes to a whole new set of techniques and approaches.

Stay tuned & read on about this amazing Broadside project in the upcoming Part 2. The ever-inspiring work of both poets and printers and the brilliant results are why Boxcar has a big soft spot for such an amazing tradition year after year.

2016 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides: Part 2

Part two in our blog feature of the 2016 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project features six more artistic printers and young poets as part of the collaboration between Writers in the Schools program, long-term patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle, Washington. These six printers share with us how they brought each writer’s words to vivid life in the 2016 edition.

Nicole Cronin 2016 marked my fourth year participating in the Children’s Broadside Project. Each time, I am excited to create art for a good cause alongside my fellow printers!

I was immediately drawn to Jasmine’s poem because of her detailed imagery and playfulness in her writing. It felt whimsical and fancy and hopeful… so I wanted my broadside to depict her words so the reader felt like they were right there, watching acrobats performing and climbing ribbons! One of my favorite things in designing for letterpress is linoleum carving, so I decided to carve a hand drawn wreath and the pink ribbon. The most time consuming and also enjoyable part of the process was carving and printing the wreath. It was challenging to line up the acrobat between the ribbon and the wreath (which in hindsight sounds crazy, but so true).

Nicole Cronin creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I printed the poem, acrobat and gold dots using Boxcar Plates which produced the most consistent passes on press.

Nicole Cronin creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

This project is personally fulfilling, and I am honored to have had the opportunity to design and print Jasmine’s poem. With great leadership by Jenny Wilkson at SVC, we have a strong team that provides time, paper, plates, etc. and I am so grateful to have contributed a small part.

Carol Clifford This will be my 7th year of working on the Children’s Hospital Poetry Broadside Project. Each year we are presented with poems from the children to read over and consider. Then we all meet as a group and each chooses a final poem to interpret and print for the young poets. I usually sit down with a cup of coffee and take time to read each child’s poem. Then I reread.

Many of these kids are heartbreakingly wise beyond their years.

Carol Clifford creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I will connect with some of the poems more than others. A few suggest ideas and images fairly quickly. I usually draw thumbnails right away in the margins, percolating on others until we meet to get our final assignment.

I chose Two Constellation Poems by Matthew Whitesel because I liked that this was one of his first attempts at a poem, and it turned out so visually rich and funny. I liked the challenge of creating a dark field of color with letterpress printing. As a bonus, I just happened to have a unicorn image I had recently used for another project.

Because of the line “Why he has a pet unicorn, I have no idea,” I knew I wanted the unicorn to be front and center and gold (Right?! I used MS-1151 Rich Gold Paste from Hanco Ink Co) Printing gold as the featured color directed building up the background. With experimentation and suggestions from other printers, I learned that highlighting the shine quality of the gold ink is more successful when printed over another color, especially a darker color.  To form the dark background, I was inspired to use two colors that overlap and create another color with a lot of depth.

Carol Clifford creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I try to work out all the steps of a broadside before going on press, but inevitably, once I am in the studio, I tend to combine techniques to accomplish my ideas. This method of working can be maddening, but also allows for a lot spontaneity and, fingers crossed, happy surprises. The image was created with a combination of linoleum blocks and polymer plates.

I had planned for a four color run. It turned out to be nine!  Two runs of red to get the saturation and color I wanted, 4 runs of gold to solve registration woes and for clarity on the colophon and then black and blue runs with linoleum blocks.  I am really pleased with the final result.

When I come up with ideas for the broadsides I keep in mind the age of the poet. Ultimately though, my hope is that the piece will not be too “childish” and that the broadside will give both the poet and his family moments to enjoy for years to come. I haven’t met Matthew but I was told that his younger brother thought it was really cool to have something he wrote printed. This experience has inspired both of them to write more.

Leah Stevenson The Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project was a fantastic and challenging experience. I was equally excited and nervous to be a part of the collaboration. It was my first time and I wanted to ‘get it right’. These kids go through so much and being able to create a piece of art with them felt special and so important, even more so because we knew some of the kids wouldn’t and didn’t make it to the end of the project . I unfortunately never got the chance to interact directly with the kids but just hearing their stories through the poetry was extremely powerful. This was not just a piece of artwork that we were creating but also a piece that represented these kids in a way that a lot of people don’t get to see.

Leah Stevenson creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I selected poetry by a young student of 6 years who had four short poems together, each in English and Spanish for a total of 8 pieces of text to work with. Having grown up in South America, I felt an instant connection to the poet through her use of Spanish & English in her writing.

It was a challenge to figure out how to piece all these separate poems into one cohesive broadside. I had recently visited L’Opéra de Paris (the Paris Opera House) and was inspired by the mural on the ceiling for this piece as it depicted various scenes from different operas all together. I decided to take that concept and separate the poems into four sections surrounding the sun in the middle. This gave each poem it’s own stage, so to speak, while still tying them together.

Leah Stevenson creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I used a combination of pressure printing and photopolymer plates on this broadside. I used pressure printing for some of the background colors, as I wanted a little more fuzziness around the edges – not so clean and precise. To contrast, I used photopolymer for its clean lines for the more details work as well as the text. I actually hand wrote the poet’s name, age and title of the piece and digitized that to create a photopolymer plate. It felt like it gave a different emphasis on the poet that paired nicely with the illustrations around it.

Leah Stevenson creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I had a lot of registration going on in this piece, which proved challenging to control with the larger run. I had at least 8 passes and getting everything to line up was tough (and in some cases impossible) but it was definitely a learning and enriching experience and worth every minute I spent on it.

Jill Labieniec  This year I worked on the group poem which combined words and ideas from different children. It was challenging to include all the imagery from the poem so I opted to add my own idea into the mix.

Jill Labieniec creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

The overall theme was kissed by the rain so I figured a mermaid who lived in a puddle would be very appreciative of a little rain.

Amy Redmond I am a Seattle-based visual designer, a letterpress instructor at the School of Visual Concepts and letterpress printer since 1998.  

I work with photopolymer but absolutely fell in love with handset type.  For personal work and special projects like the Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project I work only in handset type. The focus it requires, and the time, is my way of paying my respects to both the poet and the poem. I become fully immersed in the words and the process, and the extra time it takes is worth it. The poems the children write represent a huge amount of energy and heart on their part; it’s only fair that I attempt to meet them on equal ground.

This is my 6th time as a contributor. I do it for several reasons: to bring the poems into light, to be a part of a larger community project, to challenge myself, to learn from my mentors, to work side by side with the Seattle letterpress community. It is a very closely connected group and this Broadside project is one of the ways we maintain that association. The artistic work on this project gets better each year. We all work hard to out-do ourselves, and put to use new tricks we’ve learned throughout the year. We learn from each other to push the traditional boundaries of broadside design.

My poet, Zack Edge, incorporated a lot of imagery into his poem. I used large wood type (front and back) to help create a landscape in which his words would live. On the left the orange words form a wide tree trunk; on the right a sky and a field are formed. I used pressure printing techniques to create the white cloud when printing the blue sky, and it was serendipity that the wood type I chose happened to have a few stars carved out of from its backside.

For the smaller type, I handset everything in metal type – Spartan – on a 1903 Colt’s Armory Press. With all the various weights I was able to play with the cadence of the type, and pushed — as far as I felt comfortable — the composition of the poem itself. By placing the last line of the poem to the far right in the cloud and having it stand alone, I hope to give it emphasis so that others also take note of its gravity.

Laura Bentley I received a reflective and powerful poem by a 16-year old named Mackenzie who worked with poet Ann Teplick. I was struck by the earthquake imagery in the poem. It made me think I could do something with shifting plates of earth or seismographs. After weighing several options I was excited about the thought of using metal type ornaments that look a bit like layers of earth and thought I could put something together that imitated seismic faults, albeit in an abstract way.  The bars of ornaments can also reflect just the abrupt ups and downs that life can take.  Thank you Mackenzie, it was an honor to print your words.

For colors and typeface I was leaning towards both “earthy” and “mid-century modern, particularly, a typeface from the age of printing with metal, even if I would be printing it with photopolymer.  

The metal type ornaments were set to the correct lengths, and arranged in position in the press bed. Each color is printed in a separate pass through the press. For an edition of 110, I started with 120 pieces of paper. For those of you counting that meant that 120 pieces of paper through the press four times meant feeding paper through the press 480 times!

Laure’s full blog article covering her printing adventure can be found here.

A huge round of applause and thanks out to all of the printers who donated their time and efforts to this amazing project!

2016 Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadsides: Part 1

In its sixth year of running, we’ve teamed up with amazing young poets, and inspired printers to share with you 2016’s Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project in a two-part blog feature. The collaboration of 22 artists and pediatric patients is helmed by poets Sierra Nelson and Ann Teplick of the Writers in the Schools program and the School of Visual Concepts in Seattle. WITS works with long term patients at Seattle Children’s Hospital to write poetry, out of which printers & artists create beautiful letterpress broadside prints. Boxcar Press supports this project with photopolymer plates for the limited run of broadsides. Participating printers share their experiences bringing each poet’s words to life in this year’s edition.

This first installment features six printers who share their printing process and experiences with the youth writers of the program.

2016 Seattle Children's Hospital letterpress broadsides project
Letterpress broadside posters from the 2016 Seattle Children's Hospital letterpress broadsides project

Bonnie Thompson Norman Every year, I feel a strong connection to the young person whose poem I print. I know each person who works on these broadsides feels the same way. We don’t always have (or choose to have) the opportunity and/or privilege of meeting our poets, but the bond is a strong one. As the project comes to an end, we all gather for a potluck dinner. All of the completed broadsides for that year’s project are displayed. Each of us reads “our” poem and talks about the process of creating the image, designing the text, printing, etc. The sharing that takes place as we read and talk about our connection to the young person who wrote the poem and our experience in interpreting it for others to see, is a meaningful bond for all of us and each of us…to the writers, the poets who work with them, and one another. It is what keeps us looking forward to coming back year after year. It isn’t just a legacy for the poets and their families. It is our legacy, too.

Here is a video of the creative process for a few of us:

(video courtesy of www.seattlechannel.org

One last comment on the bond between printer and poet… last year, I wrote a blog post about my young poet who I was able to meet on his 17th birthday. He teared up when he saw how I had interpreted his writing. We met at the Children’s Hospital where he was (again) a patient when I gave him his copy of his poem that I designed and printed. We were both emotional when he saw how I had interpreted his writing. It was so gratifying to see how he appreciated what I felt was our collaboration though we had not met before.

Chris Copley 2016 was my second experience with the Seattle Children’s Hospital poetry broadside project. My 2015 project was both artistically challenging (still a rookie to letterpress, I carved three 10-inch-by-13-inch linoleum blocks to illustrate the poem’s text and images) and emotionally poignant (the poet I worked with, 13-year-old Ahmie Njie, died about a month after I printed her poem). Exchanging a few Facebook IMs with her before she passed away remains one of the highlights of my life.

I liked the idea of incorporating the text of the poem itself in the illustration of the poem, so I planned to do that again in 2016. I worked with a poem by 12-year-old Kayli Jones, a Chinese-born adoptee living with her American parents and three brothers in Idaho. I exchanged a few email questions with the poet’s mom to learn a little more about the poet.

Chris Copley creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

The primary design concept for me revolved around Kayli’s Chinese origins. So I decided to use the poem’s text to represent branches of a Chinese-style cherry tree in bloom. Cherry blossoms are considered a symbol of good luck in Asia, and Kayli’s poem ends on a note of hope and determination to beat her cancer.

I hand-drew the letters of the poem, then ordered a polymer plate from Boxcar. This was my first polymer plate print run, and it worked SO WELL. I couldn’t have been happier. All of my text was printed in black. I then hand-set a tall, thin column of text for the colophon; the form was intended to evoke the look of a column of characters on a Chinese-style painting.

I decided to print the second color, red, using a different technique — pressure printing. I used a print from the first color run to cut out the cherry blossoms, and then glued them onto another print to create the pressure-print “plate.” I used the print with the blossom “holes” as a frisket to mask the speckling you get with pressure printing. Printing the blossoms also went pretty smoothly, although I had to recut the frisket twice to try to get the blossoms the way I wanted.

(An added disaster-turned-blessing: I forgot to bring a linoleum block as required for pressure printing, so I used the backside of a Boxcar base, and the swirly pattern on the base’s bottom side left an absolutely beautiful effect on the cherry blossoms.)

Finally, I added another element, at least to some of the prints: several hand-drawn Chinese-style chops, also in red ink. Two of the chops spelled Kayli’s name in characters reminiscent of ancient Chinese text. I printed them freehand on only a few prints, using an ink-stamp pad because I worried they would distract from Kayli’s poem.

I was really happy with the broadside design and printing, and I felt it represented Kayli well. As much as I enjoy the artistic and technical challenges of portraying a poem, it’s important to me to represent the person whose work I’m illustrating.

Darcie Kantor It was an honor to be part of the Children’s Hospital Broadside project. This was my second year participating.

Darcie Kantor creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

For my process I combined Boxcar plates for the poem and did a linoleum block reduction for the fire/flames. It was a fun project to work on.

Darcie Kantor creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

Juliet Shen The boy who wrote this poem was a registered member of the Swinomish tribe whose lands are north of Seattle on Puget Sound. I had designed a font for the Lushootseed language (indigenous to this area) and asked my contacts in the Tulalip Lushootseed Department to have his poem translated so it could be typeset in both languages.

Juliet Chen's beautiful broadside as featured in the 2016 Seattle Children's Broadsides.

When it comes to making art work, I am against the appropriation of traditional Native American art styles by outsiders because my research for making the Lushootseed font revealed that the iconic imagery used by Northwest tribes has deep cultural significance. I decided to design to my particular strengths, which are typographic, not illustrative, so I typeset the poem in a shape that I hope looks like an elk to readers. I rely on polymer plates because my primary focus is on typographic design and I need the control that using polymer affords me.

Heidi Hespelt I do want to say that our printing community is amazing!  I had a terrible back injury at the end of last year and was pretty much out of printing commission. Amy Redmond offered to do the actual printing for me if I wanted to be involved in the design. She made it possible for me to participate by giving of her time and printing expertise.

Heidi Hespelt creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

Project supervisor, Jenny Wilkson, selected a younger poet for me, not knowing that she chose what was secretly the one I wanted. Serendipity.  My poet was Alex Enderle, and the poem was “I Am Me”.  Alex was 7 when he wrote the poem.

Heidi Hespelt creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

I think of it as the cupcake poem.  I wanted a younger poet because I have a now 5 year old grandson that is a big part of my life and felt like I could probably tune in to what a little guy might find interesting. Bright colors and yumminess that you can see seemed important and I loved what I was able to accomplish with Boxcar plates.

Annabelle Larner I’ve participated as a printer in the Seattle Children’s Hospital Broadside project since its inception about 6 years ago.

Most of my work is all hand done. This year’s project, from April 2016, was printed using a hand-cut wood block as the printing base, with a lightning bolt used as a pressure print. It was printed with a split fountain ink in dark blue, then the final polymer type was printed in red.

Annabelle Larner creates beautiful broadsides for the 2016 SVC Children's Broadsides project.

Working on this project is extremely rewarding, and also hard. I want to really get into the words of the printer and try to convey their feelings in a way that is not too literal or childish, as I know kids can appreciate darkness, and what they are going through is pretty dark. Sometimes I get to meet the kids and it’s always special. Their parents are often very grateful, and seeing the kids talk about their poems is amazing.

Stay tuned & read on about this amazing Broadside project in the upcoming Part 2. The creativity and intensity of both poets and printers and the dazzling results are why Boxcar is proud to have a part in this project every year.