From micrometers, press galley beds and gauges… the lucky .918 lurks all around the shop here at Boxcar Press. Have a favorite one in your own shop? Send us a photo or reply in the comments below!
From micrometers, press galley beds and gauges… the lucky .918 lurks all around the shop here at Boxcar Press. Have a favorite one in your own shop? Send us a photo or reply in the comments below!
From Midwest to Miami and to teaching art by-day and printing-by-night, Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press weaves a letterpress journey of printmaking. We caught up with Tom after hours on what makes his printing clock tick, the tales of teaching art in the high-school classroom, and the excellent food fare that is a must for a late night printing session in Miami.
PRINTING, SLUGS & ROCK’N’ROLL I was born and raised in the Midwest, just outside of Detroit. Fueled by blues, jazz, Motown, and rock & roll, I made my first print in 1972. I am now in my sixth childhood, having spent twice as much time in South Florida than in my native Great Lakes State.
IN TYPE-TOP SHAPE In 2004, I took a letterpress class with Kerry McAleer at Pyramid Atlantic Center in Silver Springs, Maryland. We made cards with a short quotation of our choice. Mine was:
“The course of true love nevər did run smooth.”– William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Act 1, Scene 1
I quickly realized my mistake, reset the type, and reprinted. I decided the typo was more in the spirit of the original quote, and returned the position of the second “e” to the first version. This is my first love of letterpress story.
THE PRINTING TRANSITION I am a bookworm (and a storyteller). Printmaking eventually led me to book arts. The ability to create archival editions from press printed text and images was what made me finally get into letterpress.
I have always worked in communal studios as a printmaker, so the transition to letterpress was a natural step. The first presses I printed on solo, were at the Jaffe Center for Book Arts in Boca Raton, Florida. Arthur Jaffe bought my very first book for the Jaffe Collection, and mentored me for the rest of his life.
SPLENDID IN THE SUNSHINE STATE Nestled in the middle of Little Haiti just north of Downtown Miami, I am a five minute drive from Korean fusion BBQ, Haitian cuisine, Thai food, awesome burgers and, right next door, Clive’s Jamaican Jerk Shop. Four blocks away is the Little Haiti Cultural Center. I am a white guy in Miami, living the cushiest minority experience on the planet. Extra Virgin Press has a Vandercook 4 Proof Press (formerly owned by Gaylord Schanilec, and lovingly donated to EVP by Regula Russelle of Cedar Fence Press- both from the Twin Cities in Minnesota). Our second press is a Challenge 15KP. Both presses are bringing back letterpress printing to the Miami community. The presses keep me from eating all of that amazing food, every waking hour.
PRINTING MENTORS I am fortunate to have had many teachers and mentors, all of whom have contributed mightily to my printing practice. I am especially indebted to Arthur Jaffe, who welcomed me to the Jaffe Center for Book Arts, and John Cutrone (Convivio Books/Jaffe Center) in South Florida. Stephanie Shieldhouse at Highway Press, in Jacksonville, Florida gave critical support when Extra Virgin Press became a reality in 2016.
In Red Wing, Minnesota, in my home-away-from-home, the Anderson Center at Tower View, I have been well schooled by the proprietor of Red Dragonfly Press, Scott King. Scott and Robert Hedin, the retired Director of the Anderson Center also introduced me to Regula Russelle (Cedar Fence Press), Chip Schilling (Indulgence Press), Monica Edwards Larson (Sister Black Press), Amanda Degener (Cave Paper), CB Sherlock (Seymour Press), Gaylord Schanilec (Midnight Paper Sales), and Richard Stephens, all from Minnesota Center for Book Arts, one way or the other. Moe Snyder and Maria Cardenas set me straight in Portland, Oregon. Many others have lent me assistance and support.
GETTING INSPIRED My Instagram feed is a constant inspiration. I follow all I can find. Regula’s Russelle’s books offer me a sublime view of the world of color that helps me escape from black and white woodcut prints. (Mary) Bruno Press, another Minnesota great, keeps me smiling, Amos Kennedy in Detroit offers a powerful moral compass, and damn fine work to back it up. Another Motown great is Signal-Return. When I grow up, I hope to create a community of dedicated printers like Lynne Avadenka has, in Downtown Detroit. Can I just say, “Hatch Show Print in Nashville?” Writers have enriched my life immeasurably.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS My visual arts practice included printing, painting, drawing, book arts, and public art, prior to my entry into letterpress printing.
Teaching a full spectrum of arts classes in Title I Public High Schools in the fourth largest school district in the United States helped me with design. I suspect the students teach me more than I teach them. My colleagues in grad school, as well as fellow Professors, Adjunct Professors, and working artists have helped me to bring some skills to the letterpress world.
PART TIME PRINTER, FULL TIME FUN At this point, I am printing after school and on weekends. That is the bulk of my waking hours. My retirement from the public schools will make it possible for me to print full time.
PRINTING FEATS —In 2006 I received the Florida Artist Book Prize for Right There, an artist’s book about Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and a semi accurate account of my childhood in Michigan.
–I have taught five or six thousand teenagers about art.
–Extra Virgin Press has received support from the Knight Foundation, Cannonball Miami’s Wavemaker/Long Haul Grant, Miami Dade County Cultural Affairs, and the Miami Foundation, in its quest to bring letterpress back to Miami.
PRESS HISTORY [My very first press was] a Vandercook 4 Proof Press, Serial #13622.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Cathy and Rebecca make it possible for me to function in a letterpress world, answering far more questions than can be reasonably expected. The words on the website about setting up a letterpress shop are revelatory. Thank you Harold and Company.
SHOP (AND LIFE) TIPS I am still learning, but you will be the first to know.
WHAT’S NEXT I look forward to more printing, more books, more kids, more grant applications, and teaching new printers, so that I can run both presses every day.
A triple round of applause & thanks out to Tom Virgin of Extra Virgin Press for letting us take a sneak peek at his wonderful + tropical printing world!
The creative trio behind WE ARE 1976 effortlessly combines fun, eclectic, and world-wide inspirations to create hand-made letterpress paper goods in the heart of Dallas, Texas. From punches of color to fun & funky illustrations & prints, the shop is a happy culmination of the team’s love of learning, community printmaking workshops, and the ambition to keep the creative juices flowing. The crew caught us up on eight (and counting!) joyous years honing their craft, incorporating letterpress in their day-to-day lives, and enjoying the rich printing community that surrounds them.
FUNKY + FUN Hello! We’re Vynsie, Jully, and Derek and we own a small shop and letterpress design studio in Dallas, Texas called WE ARE 1976. We opened our shop 8 years ago and we carry handmade and beautifully designed objects (ceramics, jewelry, and home goods) and paper goods (stationery, cards, and prints) from independent makers from all over the world.
About four years ago, we started making our own line of stationery and art prints and have added custom branding, design, and letterpress printing to what we offer. We also teach printmaking workshops and host guest instructors that teach workshops such as calligraphy, water coloring, and jewelry stamping. We all grew up around the Dallas area and love being a part of the creative community here.
FIRST TASTE OF PRINTING Vynsie’s background is in graphic design. She got her first taste of letterpress and antique printmaking techniques at Graham Bignell’s Paper Conservation in London many years ago (cleaning old type cabinets in exchange for press time).
She also worked at Peter Harrington’s Rare Books (at their sister antiquarian print shop, formerly known as Old Church Galleries) which deals in rare books and antique prints made from wood, copper and steel engravings.
We carried the same vision and love of printmaking when we started our business. We have a diverse collection of art prints from illustrators, designers, printers (letterpress and screenprint) from the United States, Europe, Japan and Australia. Dallas also has a really tight letterpress community and we’ve been fortunate enough to get to work with them in various ways – the amazing people at Inky Lips Press, Missing Q Press, Color Box Studio, and Studio 204 were very generous with their time, expertise, and the work they shared in our shop. Five years ago we decided to make letterpress a permanent part of our shop. We started taking more letterpress workshops from places like Punch Press in Austin and San Francisco Center of the Book and with a bit of patience, we were able to locate two presses. We started printing immediately, teaching ourselves and each other.
BIG PRINTS IN TEXAS We moved to our current location because we needed a bigger space to fit our letterpress studio, which takes about half of our shop space. We’re in a charming historic district called The Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff, Dallas. We’re across the street from a wonderful pie shop, Emporium Pies, and cute shops like Green Pet, Neighborhood, and Wild Detective. Most of the businesses are independently owned and we feel incredibly lucky to be here. There’s also amazing food and drinks on every corner in Oak Cliff – Small Brewpub, Hattie’s, El Si Hay and Spiral Diner. Also, The Texas Theatre is a revitalized theatre with independent programming, fun events, and they host new art exhibitions monthly at their Safe Room gallery.
PRINTING MENTORS One of our presses is from the Art Larson’s Studio Hortan Tank Graphics. When the press was shipped to use, his colleague Joe Riedel came down to help us set up and was invaluable in teaching us the fundamentals of running and operating our presses. And, as mentioned above, we were really encouraged and motivated by many in the Dallas letterpress circle – Casey McGarr of Inky Lips Press, Jason McDaniels of Missing Q Press, Rhona Warren of Color Box Studio and Kim Neiman and Virgil Scott of Studio 204. Also, in our shop, we carry work from other illustrators/printmakers that really inspire us – Daria Tessler, Nate Duvall, Naoshi, Deth P Sun and Kelly Puissegur.
DESIGNERS + PRINTERS We’re both. We’re a family business and work on most projects together whether it’s just exchanging ideas initially or packaging finished projects. It’s so important for us to create unique and beautifully crafted pieces for us and for our clients so there’s lots of discussion and brainstorming before we even start designing or printing. We usually go through a few rounds of roughs and concepts before we get to a finished piece. We have a nice collection of antique type, so we work on many typeset posters, digitally design work, and use Boxcar plates.
FULL TIME FUN With our custom work, own line of stationery and our workshops we’ve been printing full-time for 4 years now. We’re lucky that we have really good team here so if we’re not printing that day, we’re designing something new, or trying to come up with new ideas.
PRINTING FEATS As simple as this sounds, just operating these complex machines is something we’re proud of. Whether it’s just servicing the press, troubleshooting to get the perfect impression, or finding a solution for a squeaky part, learning to trust our instinct with the mechanics of these antique presses while producing beautiful high quality print work brings a new kind of confidence that we don’t get from our normal day-to-day life. We’ve been very proud to do more custom work – wedding invitations, branding projects, personal stationery. All of these moments and projects are important to our our clients and we’re so honored to be a part of it.
PRESS HISTORY Vandercook 325 and Challenge Proof Press. We have added a Vandercook 219 and tabletop Pilot.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has made it so much easier for us to create custom work for our clients and for our own line of paper goods. Super helpful with file prep questions and any changes or adjustments.
WHAT’S NEXT Designing and printing more!
An amazingly large round of thanks out to Vynsie + team of WE ARE 1976. Keep up the phenomenal & beautiful letterpress work!
When the intricately-detailed illustrated flamingo graphic passed through our platemaking service, we were eager to learn more about what was to become of this plate and the resulting final pulled print. The printer behind the design, Dana Kadison, let us in on how the illustration project came to be and how she turned a long-mused-over concept into reality.
Dana filled us in on beautiful (and long-term) project details: “As a photographer and collector, I have built a library of images and ephemera that is the foundation for an ongoing series based on the Mexican bingo game Loteria. Currently there are eight Loteria images. Each one exists in more than one “state”: my CMYK proofs, which will eventually have reverses and be printed as cards in a boxed set; monoprints, which I produce whenever I want to work out an idea or a reverse (like the Yeats Mariachis); soon, the editioned prints which include letterpress layers; and finally, Ofrendas, of which the Flamingo is the first. The Ofrendas, or offerings, are simpler statements of the ideas in the Loteria card series.”
“The Flamingo Ofrenda is casual and references Jose Guadalupe Posada’s work. About two years ago, inspired by a set of Players cigarette cards, I was thinking about, and scratching, all kinds of birds, particularly finches, but also hornbills, crossbeaks, frogmouths, macaws, etc., and finally settled on a flamingo for card #2. The flamingo, for Americans at least, is undeniably iconic and the males and females look alike.”
“Now there is a suite of 8 images ready for editioning on 18×24 sheets of paper. Each one synthesized from a myriad of “stuff”: you know, the words, texts, images, objects, conversations that make up a life. And the first thing I wanted to add to each image is the text that will be on the reverse each of card when they become actual cards. For the viewer the text would be a clue to what I was thinking. Of course I wanted it in my own handwriting. And this is where letterpress comes into play. It all started with the idea of plates of text in my own handwriting.”
“So I took a class at Robert Blackburn on a Vandy 4. The flamingo, my first plate from Boxcar, was for that class. Using that Vandercook 4, I printed the flamingo two ways, straight and then over monotypes. All the prints have the same degree of impression. I like the straight prints, but am still deciding about paper. The monotype backgrounds please me the most, perhaps because I did not try to register them with the plate. Knowing that, once set, the Vandy would take care of itself, part of this exercise was to let go of the urge to register. While all of this is happening, I did press my first image with Pilar Nadal at Pickwick Independent Press in Portland ME.”
“Letterpress is an aesthetically and physically freeing experience. We all know that paper is not really 2D, that it has depth. Letterpress layers add visible texture that can be seen with or without ink. And a letterpress registers. It is a little unsettling to use a press, completely unlike pulling the screens myself. Atmospheric conditions in the NYC studio are so variable and water-based inks misbehave in such interesting and frustrating ways that achieving consistency in CMYK prints takes great physical and mental stamina.
With letterpress I can imagine more and physically achieve more. For the editions of the first 8 images, I chose to set the 6.5×10.25 card faces on 18×24 sheets of paper and handwrite the text from each reverse below the screenprint of its card face. The handwritten texts are becoming letterpress plates. And there was more beautiful white space available. So parts of the reverse images are now finding their places as letterpress in that white space. For example, #2 will be embedded in the enlarged body of my scratchwork flamingo.”
A large heaping round of thanks out to Dana for letting us get a sneak peek at the brilliant flamingo designs!
When best friends Britt Madden and Ava Goldberg of Banshee Press set-up shop in the creative & booming city of Denver, Colorado, they sought to foster the true tradition of letterpress by raising the bar for elegance, quality and beautiful craftsmanship. Fast forward a few years later and the magnificent duo still prints perfection, adds to printing ephemera collection, and heckles one one another in good fun. The brilliantly cheery pair sat down with us to catch us up on the next moves for the shop, properly cut paper (the foundation for success!) and why you shouldn’t print & mix colors alone at night.
BUILDING FROM THE GROUND UP We are a duo (Ava & Britt) born and bred in Colorado. We met in high school and have been best friends ever since. After college, many travels and odd jobs we decided to unite our creative talents and work a job we loved and built from the ground up. We both majored in print, and decided letterpress was a perfect channel for our perfectionism and design dreams, so creating Banshee was an obvious move. Out of the studio we take advantage of all the adventure Colorado has to offer and spend our free time outside with our friends and family.
THE FIRST TASTE OF LETTERPRESS Britt didn’t have letterpresses in her school, and once she graduated decided that she needed to learn. She bought a C&P 10×15 New Style on Briar Press and taught herself in her garage. Ava’s school did have letterpresses and she learned to use them while in college. We maintained our practice the best we could until we began Banshee with the purchase of our second press, the Vandercook Uni I.
CREATIVITY IN THE CENTENNIAL STATE Our shop is located in the RiNo (River North Arts District) of Denver. It’s a concentration of creative businesses, including architects, art galleries, designers, furniture makers, illustrators, wineries, breweries, sculptors, photographers, and an array of studio spaces. The buildings are covered in murals and color and the streets bustle with evening nightlife. Our space is full of natural light, plants, and presses, and we enjoy having people come and go as they walk by. Our favorite thing about it is that we can use the space for all of our creative endeavors, not just letterpress, and encourage our friends to visit us to do so as well.
MEET THE PRESS FAMILY Our first press was a Chandler and Price 10×15 New Style. We now additionally have a Vandercook Universal I and a Heidelberg Windmill 10×13.
DESIGNED FOR PRINT We are both designers and printers and we print designs provided by our clients as well. We have a quirky aesthetic, and enjoy designs that utilize the unique capabilities that letterpress offers.
THE CREATIVE FLOW Normally we begin any design job with close conversations with our clients. The more information we can gather, the faster and more efficiently we can design to their needs. It saves us energy and them money. We then move into our brainstorming sketch phase where we put whatever our brains come up with down on paper.
After a “would you want that to be your logo?” elimination, we come back to clients with a variety of ideas that we narrow from there. Sometimes we know that either Ava or Britt will be more of a fit for a particular job and will work solo in those situations, but never without feedback from the other.
PART-TIME PARADISE We do not print full time. Britt has two young kiddos that capture much of her attention and Ava owns and runs her own business as well. Printing full time is something we wouldn’t mind, but at this point in our lives is not something we can make the time for.
PRINTING FEATS Making it onto Boxcar’s blog! For the past two years we have published an artist series of letterpress editions that we are very proud of and enjoy doing immensely. We recently purchased a Windmill and have taught ourselves how to use it. And finally, we are best friends in business and we still love each other with all our hearts.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar is our patient, kind, and understanding babysitter. We know the rules, and yet, we sometimes break them. They always call us with a smile to remind us of our errors before we make them. They have kept us from adding additional stress to our jobs, and consistently make this huge piece of our process easy. Thank You!
SHOP TIPS Bow down to King Reggie and make him your friend. Properly cut paper is the foundation to success. And don’t mix and print color alone at night.
WHAT’S NEXT In 2017 we are going to focus more on our own designs and begin creating a line of products all our own. It’s easy to lose yourself in printing other people’s jobs, and we want to keep our aesthetic a priority. It makes everything more fun.
Immensely huge round of thanks out to Britt & Ave of Banshee Press for letting us take a peek at their printing paradise!
Jason Dewinitz of Greenboathouse Press, is a fine press printer who hails from Western Canada. He is also an award winning book designer who has thrown open his studio doors to give us this friendly and laid back tour. His current studio isn’t on a waterway anymore, so for the interesting background story on the name, read more here.
THE LOCATION Greenboathouse Press is located in Vernon, British Columbia, a year round tourist destination in the lower southern region of BC. The workshop is attached to the house and is 20 by 24 feet (480 square feet), otherwise known as not big enough. While I certainly appreciate the community that a shared space offers, I prefer to work alone (or with an apprentice), so I cherish my private space.
EFFICIENTLY PRODUCED SHOP I was going to say my space is simply a glorified two-car garage, but “glorified” is a bit of an overstatement. The upside of a garage is, of course, the garage doors, but in my case it’s also helpful that both the electrical panel and furnace room are off the garage, as I needed to run a 220V line and running water to my Monotype Super Caster. The ground-level entry and concrete floor are also great, considering that the casting machine likes to spill molten metal all over the place. As for a floor plan, as can be seen in the photos, I’ve set up a number of workstations, for cutting paper, setting type, printing, casting, and working on machine bits & pieces. Although every square inch of space is taken up, it’s an efficient and reasonably comfortable area conducive to getting things done.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP I’m pretty fond of every single thing in the shop, likely due to the fact that only about 30% of my equipment is currently set up there. The bulk of my stuff is at the print shop I’ve set up for my students at Okanagan College, so what’s in my shop at home is the best of it. Aside from the machines and tools, likely the two features I appreciate the most are the long work bench at the back of the shop (for setting type) and the shelving unit behind the press, which holds all of the stuff one needs while printing (ink, reglets, leads/slugs, furniture, tools, etc.) at arm’s reach while printing.
PRESSES I work almost exclusively on a Vandercook 15-21, the adjustable bed of which is crucial in my shop given that I have quite a bit of European type that’s not .918”. At the college shop I also have an SP-25 Power and a giant 14.5” x 22” C&P. I’ve had a couple of SP-15s pass through as well, which I sold to get the SP-25, although I’m currently looking to sell the 25 in order to get my hands on a 219 or Uni III (I need another press with an adjustable bed, and the 25 is simply more than I need in terms of size).
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL Where to start…value, of course, being relative, I have a handful of tools that are worth a fair penny, and a few of those are also extremely valuable to me in terms of utility. At the top of the list would probably be my point-micrometer, which is one of only a handful in existence that measure in (North American) typographer’s points, with increments of 1/16th of a point. This is extremely handy for casting type, but also great for simply measuring type & spacing while setting & finalizing forms. Next to this would be a good alignment gauge and lining gauge, both used for casting. In terms of printing I’d have to say my favourite tool would be a pair of stamp-collecting tweezers that are ideal for pulling out sorts & spacing when correcting forms. And, by the way, I can’t seem to find these things anywhere, so if anyone has a source please let me know!
FAVORITE INK & COLOR When I inherited my first press & etc. from Caryl Peters (of Frog Hollow Press in Victoria, BC) with whom I very informally apprenticed, she also passed along two partial cans of a black ink that has, in my experience, no equal. It was a formula developed by Stephen Heaver and produced by Hostmann-Steinberg. The stock is long gone, but even after 14 years in the can, the stuff prints like nothing else I’ve worked with: perfect viscosity, deep, rich but matte black, and holds up for hours on the rollers. My two cans are almost gone now, so I contacted Hostmann-Steinberg in Canada who pulled the formula up from their US division and they were kind enough to make a big tub of the stuff for me, but I have to say it’s just not the same. I’m pretty sure they scrimped and used synthetics, and the new formulation is far too thin and soft. I’ve found, though, that if I work some out on the glass and (gulp) leave it exposed for about 3 days, then skim off the top skin, it works pretty well. Wish that I could find a stash of the old stuff though!
CLEAN-UP ROUTINE I have a very simple wooden cradle that holds both my oscillating and rider roller carriage, as well as my two rubber rollers, and this makes clean-up pretty easy. I use California Wash, mixed 50/50 with water, and paper towels to get most of the ink off, and then do the final cleaning with straight Wash and clean rags. I’ve got clean-up down to about 15 minutes. I use a lot of heavyweight Bounty paper towels, and chopped up old cotton sheets for rags.
OIL OF CHOICE I use pretty much any non-detergent oil, I’m not fussy as I use very thin coats on the rails and just a few drops in the oil holes.
BOXCAR BASE + PLATE SYSTEM I use the standard Boxcar base with standard plates. As I’m not doing job work and thus don’t feel the need to pound deep into chipboard, this simple configuration has worked very well for me. My most challenging job with polymer thus far was the Feliciano book, which was an alphabet book with each letter having two fill plates and a stroke plate with VERY fine lines. The registration was near impossible, but the plates did their job and the results were darn solid (see images).
PIED TYPE It all goes in the casting machine. Last summer I melted down over 2,000 lbs of old type and cooked them into fresh ingots for the Super Caster. Now there’s a fun job.
ORGANIZATION ADVICE Mostly I just follow “A place for everything, and everything (usually) in its place…”
PRINTING TIPS Roller bearers. Sure, the Vandercook allows for careful height adjustment to the rollers, but that does nothing for maintaining inking with uneven or gapped lines of text. Bearers actually control the height of the rollers, and can be taped here and there to address the text arrangement. And, change your packing/tympan with every new form. And, keep your press clean. I’ve seen presses that look as though they haven’t been cleaned in decades, and the result is always crappy printing. And one last secret: keep the ink light on the press, just a kiss of contact between roller & type, and then double-ink every pass.
Many thanks to Jason for this look inside the Greenboathouse Press! Visit Jason’s Pinterest page to see more of his presswork.
Part-time printing doesn’t have to mean small design. Big-hearted printer Jennie Putvin of Nane Press excels at breaking the mold as a side-business letterpress printer. The tactically inclined and design-centric Jennie has been printing up a storm in her unique studio that gleans its creative current from surrounding artists within the building and from the fact that her studio is part of a refurbished church. We caught up with her between late night print runs to check out how beautiful the perfect balance of makeready can be to the thrill of holding the final finished custom letterpress piece.
A LOVE FOR PRINTING At my day job I’m a graphic designer, but at heart I’m a craftsperson. Letterpress printing is a great marriage between the two; making something wonderfully tactile with your own two hands gives you a sense of satisfaction you just can’t get sitting in front of a computer.
HOME IS WHERE THE PRESS IS My studio is in a refurbished church with gorgeous original details and kooky additions. While I’m the only printer in the space, other artists of different disciplines are always working and creating. Feeding off the creative energy in the environment is definitely something that keeps me going.
NATURAL BORN PRINTER I took printmaking classes in college, and as a designer, I’ve always been interested in type and book design. So it sort of came as a natural progression to take my first letterpress printing class at the Center for Book Arts in New York City. It was also great to be able to rent studio time in their facilities before I bought my first press.
DESIGNED FOR PRINT I design and print my own work, as well as print other people’s designs. Other designers’ work always poses an interesting technical challenge, and I think makes me a better printer.
THE CREATIVE FLOW I’m always collecting images and writing down ideas. For custom jobs, I always make an inspiration board with a color palette. Some of my projects are hand-illustrated, and some are only type-based. In the past, each of my designs has been tailored towards a specific client, but I’ve got plans to start building cohesive ready-made designs that look more like my personal style.
(above photographs courtesy of Eliza Gwendalyn)
FULL TIME FUN I don’t print full-time, but I would love to one day!
PRINTING FEATS Paper has the ability to impact people’s daily lives in a very unique way. I’m always excited when my work is shown in galleries or published in a book—but when I hear that someone has received an invite or card I’ve printed and loved it enough to save it, well, that’s the best compliment a girl can get!
BOXCAR’S ROLE The great folks at Boxcar help me troubleshoot along the way. If there’s a part of a design that’s going to be challenging for the plate to print (usually with punctuation in a thin font), I get a call from them with the heads-up. Knowing more about the limitations of the photopolymer has probably saved me dozens of hours of headache on the backend.
PRESS HISTORY A Vandercook Universal I. Her name is Phyllis, and she’s a great press.
SHOP TIPS I couldn’t live without my calipers. My shop isn’t humidity-controlled, and I spend a decent amount of time getting packing right. I’m always swapping in and experimenting with different types of paper, and knowing how thick your makeready is before you disassemble what’s under the drawsheet takes out a lot of guesswork.
WHAT’S NEXT I’ve got a collaboration in place with a calligrapher that I’m super excited about. I also just got a die-cutting jacket for the press, so I’m really looking forward to experimenting with that!
A huge round of thanks to Jennie of Nane Press for letting us catch up with the delights of her printing abode.
One of the best types of letterpress print shops is cozy (but mighty!) — one where you can kick up some beautiful prints, sway to some good tunes, and enjoy a good scone or cookie (or two) from the local bakery just a stone’s throw away. If this sounds like a printing haven to you, Nane Press (rhymes with rain) in Red Hook, Brooklyn is a must-see. Jennie Putvin will be be slinging ink with a cheery smile on her face when you walk in to her printing abode (just be sure to say hi to Bradley the shopcat while you’re there). MEET THE PRESSES I have two presses: a Vandercook Universal I (her name is Phyllis) and a C&P Oldstyle 10×15 (his name is Bill). I love them both and feel so lucky to have met them.
SIZE OF PRESS SHOP A small but mighty 300 square feet!
THE LOCATION My studio is an old church in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Red Hook is a great neighborhood full of artists and makers right by the water, a little off the beaten path. On long workdays (and, let’s be honest, shorter ones too) I always make my way over to the local bakery, Baked. They have a breakfast cookie that is to die for. The pier with amazing views of the city is also a 5-minute walk away. In a city full of tiny spaces, being in a church with 3 stories of open air in the middle is amazing. I sublet from an artist who makes robots and kinetic sculptures, so there is always something interesting happening in the space!
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP I have my own space, which is great. And I have a full cabinet of adjustable furniture, which I hear is a rarity. I love the idea of a little perfect set of tools making its way through time, finding its way to my printshop.
I’m constantly rolling through Pandora playlists. Usually I listen to mellow folksy music, but the hiphop makes its way out after 9pm. I also have some large prints hanging up and some gorgeous antique schoolhouse lights I installed myself. We also have an ornery shopcat named Bradley.
NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN SPACE I’m the only printer in the space, and my rooms are private. But there’s a full metal shop on site, which comes in quite handy when you need any kind of a tool for a press repair!
I CAN’T WORK WITHOUT My Schaedler rule. I’m obsessed with making sure things are straight, and I’m totally lost without it.
THINK PINK INK I use Van Son Rubber based inks. I was completely obsessed with neon pink 806 for awhile, but I think I’m currently in between favorite colors. I guess you could say I’m playing the field!
KEEPING IT CLEAN I use mainly Crisco, and then Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits to finish. Not having an HVAC system, I looked at a lot of different options when I got my first press, looking for the lowest amounts of VOCs in my cleanup as possible. My system works great, and I haven’t really noticed any wear or pitting on the rollers.
DRESSING THE PRESS I have a Boxcar 9×12 base for the Vandercook. I used to use the 94FL plates, which I loved. I’ve just switched to the KF95 and those work great, too. I’ve just got the C&P up and running, so I have to do some experimenting with my current base, because I want whatever system I have going forward to be able to work with both presses.
OIL OF CHOICE I have a bottle of 3-in-1 that works great.
WHAT TYPE OF RAG DO YOU CLEAN UP YOUR PRESSES WITH I’m all about the roll of reused cotton rags from the painting department at Home Depot. They’re amazing — no lint and heavy duty.
FLOORING MATERIAL When Paul Moxon came by a couple years ago, I think he commented that I had the most uneven floor he’d ever seen. Because the floor has been recovered in the past to preserve and replace the original wood, the floor in my rooms is made of about 3 different materials. This is going to sound totally shady (it’s not though, I swear), but there’s actually a raised spot that gives right in the footpath in front of the Vandercook, so I don’t even need a floor pad.
FLOOR PLAN TIPS In such a small space, I’ve just got everything lining the walls as much as possible. I need every square inch to move around in! But having your ink right next to the press is essential.
PIED TYPE I purchased my first press with a type cabinet and galleys. There’s so much set type in the galleys that I have not even TOUCHED. It’s a project that I keep saying I’ll get to one day…
KEEPING IT ORGANIZED Let everything get into complete disarray until I can’t find anything and I start knocking things over, and then do a major overhaul cleanup. I’m joking (but only a little bit)! I don’t keep parent sheets of paper on hand since I don’t have a guillotine, so I really have to keep my paper and envelope stock organized and separate, otherwise the overrun from jobs builds up and there’s towering stacks of paper everywhere.
PRINTING TIPS Push everything a little too far before you pull it back. That goes for inking, impression, and design. I look back on old jobs and on a lot of them there’s always a little nitpicky thing I would have done differently. But I think that’s part of the process of growing as a craftswoman. It’s important to challenge yourself. Sometimes that extra hour (or two, or three!) you spend on makeready makes all the difference in the world.
A whirlwind of creative energy, Ted Ollier of the Bow & Arrow Press & Mindhue Studio is a creative tour-de-force who loves blending art & education via letterpress (and with gusto we might add). When he’s not getting students and the letterpress-curious up to speed at the Crash Courses and Open Press Nights found at the Bow & Arrow Press at Harvard University, Ted moves deftly from part-time teaching to pursuing his own fascination with typesetting, designing conceptual artwork, playing bass, and the enjoying the thrill of finding type still wrapped in foundry sealed wax paper. We caught up with Ted amidst the fun to see why the fascination with printing still reigns supreme.
PRINTING DEXTERITY I was born in Toledo, moved to Austin during the 80’s Rust Bowl, and moved to Boston in 2008. I have a BA in Liberal Arts from the University of Texas at Austin, a BFA in Studio Art and Communication Design from Texas State University, and an MFA from Massachusetts College of Art. I’ve been a designer, prepress technician, type designer, printmaker, photographer, bass player and artist at various times in my life, sometimes all at once. My BFA concentration was in metalwork and fine art printmaking, and I worked prepress and design in a small offset litho shop in Austin while I was getting that degree. That dual experience — seeing printing both as an art and as a business — definitely has come in handy dealing with letterpress.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT A friend of mine was running the Bow & Arrow Press, a letterpress shoehorned into the basement of Adams House, a residence hall at Harvard University. When I moved to Boston, he asked me if I’d like to take it over, as he had other projects coming up. I did, and the rest is history.
THE PRINTING BEAT IN BOSTON We’re shoehorned into three-and-a-half connected rooms in the basement of the Adams House Residence Hall. Odd corners, protuberances, closets and shelving are just part and parcel of the Bow & Arrow experience. We have a Vandercook No. 4, a Vandercook SP-20, an old Vandercook roller press, a C&P Pilot tabletop press, a Charles Brand intaglio press, and two museum pieces: a C&P windmill press and a Pearl treadle press. The Pearl is, alas, too fragile to run and I don’t really trust the C&P around so many inexperienced people, so they stay quiet. The Charles Brand intaglio press is our most recent addition, donated by a printmaking colleague of mine, and it’s nice to be able to demonstrate forms of printing even more obsolete than letterpress.
Our type is old and has not always been handled properly, but that doesn’t stop people from setting amazing things with it. Some of my favorite faces in our collection are a nice selection of Futura Light, a nice selection of Stymie, a case of New Century Schoolbook, and a case of Kennerly Italic. We also have more than 500 printing plates and linoleum blocks in our library.
We have the full complement of rubber-based PANTONE inks, and have an uncoated guidebook for mixing custom colors. We use California Wash, NTT type wash, and Super Rubber Rejuvenator. I’ve heard there is some controversy about SRR in letterpress circles, but judicious use over the last five years has kept my rollers looking as smooth and matte as the day we installed them. We have a small manual Challenge guillotine cutter, and the usual complement of composing sticks, pica sticks, leads, spaces, coppers, chases, quoins, keys and other ancillaries.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS I’m both a designer and printer. It depends on if it’s for a commercial job or for my own artwork. The commercial jobs tend to be relatively straightforward: legible type, minimum of ornamentation, some judicious color if that’s what the client wants. These days it’s an uphill run explaining the concept of spot color or the limitations of the letterpress to people who are used to immediate CMYKOG inkjet printing, but it usually works out to everyone’s satisfaction. I definitely subscribe to the idea that design is there to facilitate the transfer of information, rather than a chance for an art director to demonstrate some faddish stylization or pointless gingerbread.
My own artwork, on the other hand, is heavily conceptual and very intellectual. I spend quite some time tweaking and mulling the concepts that I find intriguing and compelling, and then thinking about what’s going to end up on the paper. That said, I try as best as I can to distill things down so that someone seeing the images for the first time will find them interesting enough to explore the concept further, rather than be put off by a hermetic sterility or ivory-tower isolation. My main intention is to get people to see these ideas in the same fascinating light that I do. This desire to show and share interesting information about the world keeps me from getting too far into outer space — at least that’s what I hope.
FULL TIME FUN I also teach part-time, and have a day job doing scanning and Photoshop work, along with some intermittent design. I’ve taught printmaking and intro graphic design, and recently I’ve been able to use the Bow & Arrow Press to teach letterpress and intaglio. That’s wonderful because I’m able to keep the Press busy and engage students in a more formal teaching environment than our informal classes and open press hours. Plus, the heightened visibility of the Press has allowed us to work with people from all over campus, including the Harvard Summer School, the Harvard Extension School, the Graduate School of Design, and the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. Printing is only one of the several hats I wear, but I’d love to do more of it.
PRINTING FEATS When I got to the Bow & Arrow Press, it was somewhat underutilized and chaotic, and although I had printmaking experience, I didn’t have much printing experience. In the last six years, with the help of many of the people who run Adams House, I’ve been able to grow the Press into a bright, busy, organized place. Since we reside in a undergraduate dormitory, we are required to have Open Press Nights where students (and others) can come to see what this obsolete printing process is all about. Through weekend Crash Courses supplementing these Open Press Nights, we’ve enabled the Press to accrete a growing population of people who keep coming to explore not only typesetting, but also bookmaking, relief printing, engraving and drypoint, page layout and imposition, and many other things. Through all of this, and probably because of it, I’ve also been able to find my way toward gaining experience as a letterpress printer. Nowadays, I’m very pleased that I can run multi-color tight-registration jobs with a reasonable throughput on both our Vandercook No. 4 and Vandercook SP-20.
PRESS HISTORY The first press I ran was the Vandercook No. 4 that has pride of place at the Bow & Arrow Press. It’s still my favorite. It’s small, but it’s bulletproof, and I’ve been very pleased with the registration I’ve been able to get on what is supposed to be a proofing press.
BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar Press has been an integral part of this whole thing from the very beginning. I know that letterpress people are supposed to extoll the romance of cold lead type and disown anything digital, but when you’re running a four-color design with modern typefaces, complex line art, and a final emboss, it’s time to examine one’s base assumptions. It’s the final product that really matters. Designers can be just as obsessive with thousandth-em kerning in Illustrator or InDesign as they can be with coppers or brasses, and with OpenType glyph sets, you have more ligatures, swashes and ornaments than you really know what to do with. That’s not to say I don’t bliss out when sitting down to typeset with the font of Standard Italic 18-pt that I found at Letterpress Things in Chicopee still wrapped in foundry-sealed wax paper and binding string, but one has to recognize that there are things that formalized lead typesetting cannot do.
Since I have an extensive technical background in prepress, I haven’t needed the help of Boxcar Press in solving problems, tweaking designs, and fixing trainwrecks as other people might, but I think that’s a bonus for both of us. I think of Boxcar just as I did about the service bureau where I used to get film positives and offset printing plates made back in the day: I send you my files, you process my files, you send me my plates, and I run them. No fuss, no muss. In the five years I’ve been using your services, I’ve only ever had one hiccup in the process, and that was dealt with swiftly. I can’t think of higher praise to give.
SHOP TIPS Running a Press with a substantial public component takes patience and care. At any given time there are probably three or four people in the shop who have never touched a piece of lead type in their lives. Although I have Student Pressmasters and kindly regulars to help smooth over the bumps, the Crash Courses that I started teaching in 2009 have really kept the worst kinds of newbie mistakes to a minimum.
WHAT’S NEXT Recently, some of my regular Open Press attendees and I were able to purchase a Vandercook SP-20 for a joint-use project. We’re still looking around at lease options and way of organizing the business, but our intent is to take some of the lessons learned at the Bow & Arrow and pursue them in an independent venue. Will it become a full-time printing gig? We shall see, as I still love the Bow & Arrow and everything that surrounds it.
Here at Boxcar Press, we look at many, many files every week that are submitted for platemaking. Wedding invitations, greeting cards, text for fine press books and even the occasional unidentifiable piece (translation: large blobs and sketchy lines). More than a few of these files make us wonder what they will look like in their final printed form. So, we decided not to wonder anymore and will be periodically following up with customers to satisfy our inquiring minds and to get the full story on neat projects. For added interest, we will be following the process of the plate through our shop and pick up with the printer on press.
We saw this letterpress poster file and admired the boldness of the design. It also appealed to us because it was for a musical festival put on by Adirondack Sustainable Communities Inc, an organization whose vision statement is empowering communities to care for the people, the land and the future of the Adirondacks. The Adirondack Region is a six million acre region of endless lakes and wild mountains in Northern New York. With the assistance of Peter Seward, one of the organizers of this weekend’s event, we were able to get the rest of the story on this letterpress poster
Todd Smith and I, Peter Seward, organize and host a free all-day music festival called Hobofest – now in its sixth year – in the small mountain village of Saranac Lake. Part of our collaboration is designing a new graphic each year, which serves to brand the event, featured as posters, flyers and on T-shirts. From the beginning our primary means of funding the event was through T-shirt sales, and we often marvel at how many of these shirts are out there.
In addition to printing on shirts, the graphic is also printed as a fine art print edition. This year was the first time that we printed the design using a polymer plate. We wanted the precision that this process offered and to take advantage of Bluseed Studios’ Vandercook press. In years past, I actually used the Vandercook as a solid base to silkscreen on!
Bluseed Studios is an inclusive community art center offering studio space for printing, paper making, and ceramics, and a gallery and performance space upstairs. We printed with burlap paper made at Bluseed Studios, donated by Drew Mattot and Maraget Mahan, who travel the world with a portable pulp beater as the Peace Paper Project. Drew and Margaret were the ones who recommended that we use Boxcar Press to create a polymer plate!
We’ve always limited the design as one color and strive for impact and clarity, and an aesthetic informed by earlier printing technologies. We’re very happy with the prints which we’ll vend alongside our other merchandise on event day.