Printing Inclinations With Jennie Putvin of Nane Press

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.

Jennie Putvin of Nane Press works expertly on her Vandercook printing press.

photograph courtesy of Eliza Gwendalyn

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.

Letterpress work samples from Jennie Putvin of Nane Press

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.

A peek inside the Nane Press letterpress print shop

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.

A peek at the type inside the Nane Press letterpress print shop

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.

Letterpress cards from Nane Press Letterpress work samples from Nane Press
(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!

Letterpress work samples from Nane Press

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.

Letterpress work samples from Nane Press

PRESS HISTORY A Vandercook Universal I. Her name is Phyllis, and she’s a great press.

The Vandercook press at Nane 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.

Letterpress wedding invitation samples from Nane Press

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.

In the Printing Vein at Nane Press

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).Jennie Putvin of Nane Press with her beautiful letterpress printed cards and invitation sets. 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.

Jennie Putvin of Nane Press inside her wonderful pressshop on a Vandercook.

Hitting the Mark With Ted Ollier

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.

Ted Ollier at Bow & Arrow Studio on the Harvard Campus

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.

Ted Ollier at Bow & Arrow Studio on the Harvard Campus

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.

Packages of type at Bow & Arrow Studio on the Harvard Campus

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.

Ted Ollier's letterpress printing samples

Ted Ollier's letterpress printing samples, plus lead type at the Bow & Arrow Studio

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.

Bow & Arrow Studio on the Harvard Campus

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.

Classes at the Bow & Arrow Studio on the Harvard Campus

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.

Lead type

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.

Huge round of thanks to Ted for letting us get a sneek peek at both the Bow & Arrow Press and Mindhue Studio!

Let’s see that printed: letterpress posters for Hobofest

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Our thanks to ADKSC.org and Blueseed Studios for letting us see their project!

Printing Is Alive At Press 65

When you tour the sunny and smooth streets of Oakland, California, one spot in particular pops out at you in the fresh and thriving neighborhood: the hidden gem that is Press 65. Tucked away in the impeccably shabby-chic home of the husband-and-wife team, Paola Hurtado, the letterpress printing maven of the creative husband-and-wife duo, sat down with us to blur the lines between design and the art of letterpress.

Paola and Marlon Hurtado of Press 65.

IMPRESSIVE PRINTS I was born in Curitiba, Parana, in the south of Brazil. I moved to the States with my family when I was seven and have lived in various parts of California since. While in high school, I discovered my passion for art; and during my senior year I decided that if I passed the AP Studio Art Portfolio Review, I would take it as a sign that I should apply to art school.

With a passing score, I applied to the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and began studying Fine Art. In 2010 I married a painter/photographer, Marlon of MH6 Photography, and in 2011 we founded Press 65, a husband-and-wife custom design and letterpress studio.

Expertly printed letterpress piece from Press 65.

ARTISTIC CALLING When I started at AAU, I declared Fine Art Painting as my major, assuming this was the logical course for me. However, during my first painting class, the instructor constantly told me I was “rendering” instead of “painting”! This was a huge contrast with my Intro to Printmaking class, during which I found my artistic calling. Once I changed my Fine Art emphasis from Painting to Printmaking, I was introduced to letterpress by Megan Adie of Aviary Press. Megan was my first and only letterpress instructor, as I took her class 4 times!

Gorgeous letterpress wedding piece from Press 65.

CALIFORNIA CREATIVE Six months ago, Marlon and I moved out of San Francisco and into great Hoover/Foster neighborhood of Oakland, California, where we now run Press 65 out of our bright, shabby chic home. In the Press 65 space you’ll find what inspires us and what makes us smile: vintage books, mini succulents, Brazilian instruments, a His Master’s Voice gramophone, and our two adorable cats, Cezanne and Michelle Pfeiffer.

PRINTING MENTORS Megan Adie of Aviary Press will always hold the role of being the first person to teach me the art of letterpress printing. Currently, however, I look to the lovely Macy Chadwick of In Cahoots Press for inspiration, motivation, and mentoring. With a beautiful personality, as well as gorgeous letterpress and artist’s books that speak to my inner person, Macy plays a part in my drive to continue printing. I admire Macy more than she knows.

DESIGNED FOR PRINT For my prints and artist’s books, I design in the sense that I create compositions and book structures. However, I often tell people that I am an artist, not a graphic designer, because for me there is a clear distinction between art and design. With the bulk of Press 65’s business being wedding invitations, though, I am forced to blur the lines a bit and play the part of co-designer, along with my husband. At the end of the day, though, printing – with its complexities, difficulties, and ultimate beauty – will always be my favorite part of the job.

Press 65's mascot cat, Michelle Pfeiffer, and printed piece.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS In my personal work, design is a very introspective, quiet process that mirrors my introverted personality. I allow concept to inspire form. In Press 65’s commercial work, where Marlon and I share the role of designer, form often comes first, because that’s the way Marlon’s mind works. He is frequently very taken by a grandiose idea, as his imagination holds no bounds; and I tend to come in at a later stage to bring the concept and design back down to earth. It’s really a perfect design duo situation: he has the imagination to think up the big picture and I have the attention to detail to perfect it.

Elegant printed letterpress postcard from Press 65.

FULL TIME FUN Yes and no. I print full-time because I am lucky enough to print part-time for my mentor, Macy Chadwick, while Press 65 is currently run as a side business.

PRINTING FEATS I am incredibly proud to have had the opportunity to show my work in printmaking and book arts at various exhibits, both in the States and internationally. I remember my first purchase prize (into the University of Florida Book Arts Collection) as if it were yesterday; and most recently, I am proud and grateful to have had two of my letterpress artist’s books exhibited during the SGCI 2014 Conference. It is also an honor to have designed and printed wedding invitations for my little sister who is getting married this month.

Printing light grey on a Vandercook at Press 65.

PRESS HISTORY I learned to letterpress print on a Vandercook No. 4, and for that reason Vandercook cylinder presses will always be my equipment of choice. In the past couple years, I have grown more accustomed to the Vandercook Universal 1 than to the Vandercook No. 4, as I appreciate one less metal roller, as well as the efficiency of switching from Trip to Print with a simple tap on the gripper pedal. I’m happy to be on my way to acquiring a Hohner Model D platen.

Tools of the printing trade at Press 65.

BOXCAR’S ROLE Since the start of my letterpress career, Boxcar has been a go-to resource for letterpress. Boxcar has everything a letterpress studio could need; and most recently, Letterpress Commons has been added to the mix as a wonderful way to connect printers all around the country.

SHOP TIPS Always “measure twice, cut once.” Letterpress can be tricky business so it’s important to take your time. I’ve found that sometimes, if something strange is happening on the press and I’ve used all my problem-solving juices in vain, it works perfectly the next morning. So don’t be afraid to step away for a bit and come back to a project later. Also, make sure that you love your space: surround yourself with things that inspire you, and always have your favorite music on. Being in an enjoyable printing space allows you to fully delight in the letterpress process.

WHAT’S NEXT We have lots of exciting little plans for the coming year. One that we’re happy to share is a collaboration between Marlon and me. While we run Press 65 together, we have never joined our personal art forces before. We’re thrilled to start a project involving Marlon’s photography and my letterpress.

Big round of thanks out to Paola & Marlon of Press 65 for letting us take a look around!

Pleasant At Pheasant Press

Sarah Ridgley, of Pheasant Press, weaves letterpress magic: from mixing a dash of UK love with her letterpress obsessed research  to seeing her designs come to life on her presses. We caught up with Sarah at her Arkansas print studio to talk shop and the irresistible smell of ink and pulling the first perfect proof.

Sarah Ridgley of Pheasant Press with her beloved printing press.

PRINTING ON THE PRAIRIE Hi! My name is Sarah and I live in Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’m married to a Texan from Dallas (Kevin) and we have one son, Finnegan. I’ve lived all my life in Arkansas except for one glorious year in London after I graduated college. I love traveling and try to visit the UK and Europe as often as possible.

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT Like a lot of other printers I’ve met, I fell in love with letterpress while researching invitations for my wedding. I became obsessed with it and read everything I could find about printing. I decided the best way to really understand would be to get a press, so I bought one on eBay.  Back then presses were cheap, and I got my Kelsey 5 x7 complete with a cabinet full of type for only $100.  It belonged to a pharmacist and had lots of fun skull & cross-bone ornaments.  I immediately ordered a Boxcar base and my first set of photopolymer plates.

PRINTING IN THE NATURAL STATE I love my print shop! We bought a house at an auction several years ago and the main attraction was the 1600 sq. ft garage. There’s room for our cars, my husband’s workshop, my studio and even a gym.

I have my C&P 8 x 12 and a Vandercook 1 along with my little Kelsey. I recently bought a C & P 10 x 15 that’s in pretty bad shape. I can’t wait to get it restored and running. I used to have a Windmill 10 x 15, but it was just too intense for me. I like hand feeding and I never do huge print jobs, so the setup was annoying.  I stumbled across the Windmill at a local bank auction and got it for only $100! Luckily our family business is industrial so I had access to all the equipment (and manpower) needed to move it to my studio. And back out once I decided to sell it.

Letterpress Arkansas love card by Pheasant Press.

PRINTING MENTORS I’m not sure about this question. I can’t remember who printed all the wedding invitations that inspired me to get involved, but I do know that I first saw a letterpress invitation in the Martha Stewart Weddings magazine.

I am completely self taught, but I had a lot of help from people on Briar Press. I started my letterpress research by reading the book “Platen Press Operation” by George Mills. I was pretty startled to learn that he was from Fort Smith and had a print shop here. I think he died right before I started printing, so I never got to meet him. I always wondered what happened to his print shop.

Fine letterpress printed cards by Pheasant Press.

DESIGN + PRINT I am both a designer and printer. It feels funny to call myself a designer since I’ve never had any formal training in design. But I love designing and seeing it come to life on my press.

CREATIVE PROCESS I get inspired all the time, so I keep track of my ideas with Evernote. Then I usually brainstorm with my husband to refine several ideas and see which ones I want to pursue. Next, I start experimenting with fonts and designs until I can get it to look the way that I see it in my head. That’s the most difficult part for me — getting what I have in my head to come out and look good on my screen or paper.

Luxurious letterpress printed pieces by Pheasant Letterpress.

FULL TIME FUN No, printing is more of a hobby for me. It would be fun to be able to spend all my time printing and designing, but I am not pursuing it as a main goal. Once you have to do that much printing, it would just turn into work and wouldn’t be fun anymore. I still get excited about the smell of ink on the press and the first perfect proof, and I don’t want to lose that.

Printing on a Vandercook at Pheasant Press.

PRINTING FEATS After I got my first press, I practiced all the time. I was really proud that I was able to print my sister’s wedding invitations only a year later.

BOXCAR’S ROLE When I first started printing, I ordered all my plates from Boxcar. I love the Boxcar Base and I love the service they provide. I make my own plates now, but I never could have gotten where I am without being able to rely on Boxcar in the beginning.

SHOP TIPS I have experimented with my setup quite a bit and have found that thin lead spacers or pieces of rule work really well as gauge pins. I just tape them onto my top sheet with double stick tape and make small cardboard tongues to help hold the paper in place. The spacers are nice because they are thinner than the polymer plates so they don’t get smashed by my base. They are also very sturdy and give me a good ledge to help align the paper.

I use baby wipes to clean my hands while I am printing, but not on the plates themselves. You can get cheap ones from Aldi that are great. A giant bottle of hand sanitizer also works really well to get the ink off your fingers. I’ve used Burt’s Bees hand salve, but it leaves behind a residue that sometimes gets on the paper.

Father's Day letterpress card printed by Pheasant Press.

WHAT’S NEXT Lately I have been working on trying to create a cohesive style for Pheasant Press. I am usually all over the place with so many different designs that I don’t feel there is any connection in what I do. I have enjoyed trying different things, but I would like to focus on developing my own style. My favorite eras are Victorian and Midcentury modern, so however those can mesh together is where I want to be.

Big rounds of applause out to Laura for letting us get the full scoop on Pheasant Press!

Printing Powers of Presse Dufour

To come full circle as a letterpress printer is a feat that is by no means easy, but it satisfies that creative itch deep down. Karen Dufour, of Presse Dufour, is a printing maven who has connected and entwined progress, adaptability, and design consciousness as showcased in her astounding command over the letterpress art. We sat down with Karen in between ink runs to find that over the years, letterpress will find a way.

Karen DuFour of Presse Dufour prepares a lettepress plate on her Vandercook.

CRESCENT CITY CREATIVE  I am from New Orleans, Louisiana and I have a degree in Visual Art and Graphic Design from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA. I consider myself a very happy wife, mom, and artist. During my career I’ve worked in Hammond and New Orleans, and in London, England for many years. My husband and I eventually settled back here in New Orleans, only to be forced to relocate a few days after Hurricane Katrina. And after seven years in Austin, we’re back home again! Presse Dufour is run within Bayou St. John, one of my favorite neighborhoods in the Crescent City. We are thrilled to be back home and watch the progress our city has made in so many positive ways since the flood.

IN LOVE WITH LETTERPRESS  I’m a graphic designer by trade. My career has come full circle, really. In college, my first design job was working in a 2-color print shop. I loved burning film, collating, designing and taking in the smell of ink and the sounds of the presses. Over the years, I designed wedding invitations and other paper goods for friends and family. I always loved working with my hands best.

A serendipitous introduction to letterpress happened when I was looking to print our daughter’s birth announcement, which was letterpress printed. I researched the art of letterpress for nearly a year, took a workshop, and found my press. From then on, I’m self-taught, like most other letterpress printers I would imagine.

Presse Dufour letterpress cards and stationery featuring plant life and bridges.

Lettepress cards on a Vandercook.

DOWN ON THE BAYOU  My shop is inside our 110-year-old “shotgun” style Victorian home…in the living room! When you walk through our front door, my press is the first thing you see. I have an amazing drafting desk, which was custom made from reclaimed wood, and a table to mix my ink. It’s very pared down, as I don’t have a lot of room. I love printing from my home though, in the neighborhood which gives me so much inspiration.

PRINTING MENTORS  My first introduction to letterpress was through Bethany with Thistleberry Press, who printed our birth announcements. Meredith with Punch Press runs workshops in Austin, Texas, where I was able to create my first print. There are many printers who have offered me countless advice, like Casey with Inky Lips, and Barbara with Lunada Bay. Thank you so much!

Oh, and recently I was fortunate enough to have Paul Moxon pay a visit to my studio to instruct me on how to keep my press in top shape and how to make a few repairs.

Green Ink and Pantone colors on display at Presse Dufour.Whimsical piles of Valentine's cards created by Presse Dufour.

THE CREATIVE PROCESS I am both a designer & printer, and I find that most of my final designs start out as my first idea. I’ll have an idea, and then have a long think about it over days, weeks, or months. I think about my design ideas almost all day…when I’m walking around the bayou, driving, etc. Once I feel strong enough about the design I move forward. Some designs are hand drawn with ink, and some start out digitally. I prefer to hand draw my designs.

FULL TIME FUN It seems that I run Presse Dufour full time, but realistically it’s a part-time business. My first priority is raising our daughter and making our home a happy place. I’ve managed to balance my day pretty well at this point. Presse Dufour has been official since 2010.

Detailed music sheets letterpressed deftly by Presse Dufour.

LETTERPRESS VIBES  In the short time that I’ve been printing I feel proud to have such positive feedback from my customers. Making my customers happy is most important to me. Whether or not my goods sell, I am most happy during the process of creating artwork, using my hands, or printing on my press. When my goods are selling well, it makes my job even more fun.

PRESS HISTORY The one and only press I have is my 1965 Vandercoook SP15 proof press.

BOXCAR’S ROLE I have used Boxcar exclusively for platemaking. You all make it easy and efficient, and your customer service always exceeds my expectations.

PRINTING FEATS I have a few. I laser print some designs on transparencies to help guide my plates with tight registration and multi-colors. I lay these on top of my base and slip the plates underneath. Also, I discovered that baby wipes clean ink off my inking surface better than any rag. I use them constantly to keep my hands ink-free while printing.

Folded note cards fresh from Presse Dufour.

LETTERPRESS COMMUNITY I’ve been blessed to be a part of a very exciting creative project that I’ve been working on diligently for the past month. I’ve partnered with MESA Production Company, here in New Orleans, to design and sell note cards and limited-edition prints related to 33 VARIATIONS, a 5-time Tony Award Nominated play written by Moisés Kaufman. The story is about a modern-day music scholar driven to solve one of classical music’s enduring riddles – the mystery behind Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. A story about familial love, romantic desire, and artistic obsession, this extraordinary play examines what it means to lose the things that define us, and what we end up gaining in their stead. The play will run here in New Orleans September 11-29 at The Contemporary Arts Center.

My Etsy shop will carry the note cards and prints throughout the month of September and proceeds from those sales will go to benefit The ALS Association Louisiana-Mississippi Chapter and Team Gleason in helping to create a world without ALS!  Details and tickets for 33 VARIATIONS can be found here.

Vandercook letterpress press handle and Presse Dufour printed goodies.

WHAT’S NEXT  I have many designs in the works that express my love of the Gulf South. Watch this space!

A heaping round of thanks out to Karen Dufour for letting us get the skinny on Presse Dufour!

The Triumphs Behind The Victory Special Press

The Victory Special Press is run by Emily Harris: Nebraska born, Boston raised, and Alaskan forever. Her Anchorage-based press finds its creativity from passions that combine paper-making, letterpress, vintage finds, and of course, the incurable itch to create more. We caught up with Emily to catch the secrets behind The Victory Special Press.

The Victory Special Press is a letterpress print shop based in Anchorage, Alaska

NORTH AMERICAN PRINTING TREK The Victory Special Press is based in Anchorage, Alaska. We moved up here in the summer of 2012, and it’s been an amazing experience for me personally and for my design aesthetic.

I’m originally from Nebraska, spent about eight years living in Boston, and lived abroad a couple of times. I’m definitely eclectic and enjoy exploring different places and cultures (hence all the moving around). We came up to Alaska on holiday last winter, totally loved it, and decided we wanted to make Alaska our new home. Within a few months we had crated the presses, packed up the car and headed north. The drive lasted about six weeks, spanning the continent from Boston to Anchorage: about 9,000 miles. We took a circuitous route and visited many friends and family along the way. I also emailed letterpress printers in some of the towns we stopped in, so we got to meet some amazing people and see some cool shops throughout the US and Canada (thanks to all for opening your print shop doors!). It was really great to continue the letterpress dialogue as we traveled. The highlight was meeting Fritz Klinke and finding the original card of sale for my Vandercook 3 (thanks, Fritz!).

FOR THE LOVE OF LETTERPRESS When I was living in Boston, I woke up one morning with a strong desire to make my own paper. I took a really great week-long intensive class, then ended up with a bunch of paper that I wasn’t sure what to do with. A community print shop offered letterpress classes, so I enrolled in a beginners series and printed solely on my handmade paper. The class was so fun; I totally fell in love with letterpress printing. From there I became a member of the print shop and printed on their Vandercook 4, honing my skills. About a year after I began printing, I got my own Vandercook 3 and started up my company!

Victory Special Press is a letterpress shop based in Anchorage Alaska

I still print on my handmade paper from time to time, but for most jobs I stick strictly to commercial papers. However, there’s something very calming about pulling sheets from water, so I’m hoping at some point to have a section of my studio built out for papermaking.

LETTERPRESS IN THE LAST FRONTIER STATE Since we moved not that long ago, the print shop is currently in the garage. I actually quite like it – when the weather is nice I leave the garage door open so I get lots of fresh air, and the occasional curious moose that walks by! It’s also been a great way to meet the neighbors – everyone seems to have a fascination when the presses are running.

Victory Special Press is a letterpress print shop based in Anchorage Alaska

We transformed one of the extra bedrooms in the house into my studio space, so I have plenty of room to spread out. I also like being able to keep finished product far away from the presses – there’s a “clean” room and a “dirty” room.

Victory Special Press is a letterpress shop based in Anchorage Alaska

THE CREATIVE PROCESS I’m both a designer and printer, and have been printing full time for about two years. Because of my Nebraska roots and now living in Alaska, I’m totally fascinated by western, old-timey imagery and images from the Gold Rush in Alaska and the Yukon. I like to flip through books of antique cuts from the 19th century or find vintage photos, postcards, etc. on the internet or at the library. The Anchorage Museum has had some exhibitions recently of etchings from some of the first trappers in Alaska, and photos from the Gold Rush that I spent a lot of time looking at. I use all of that research as inspiration, then sketch ideas out by hand. I then translate the design to the computer by redrawing in Illustrator.

PRINTING FEATS Last year was our first year at the National Stationery Show trade show in New York City. We met some key buyers during the show, and then a large order developed in the weeks after the show, which was during our cross-country trek. We would have to optimize times when we had a WiFi connection (or at least some sort of cell service) so I could read and respond to emails. Because of the store’s deadlines for the holiday season, by the time we got to Anchorage we didn’t have much time to print, package and send off the product. I’m really proud of the fact that, while it was stressful at times, it didn’t stop me from enjoying our trip and experiencing all the beauty our drive had to offer, and that I was able to turn the order around so fast once I got the press uncrated!

BOXCAR’S ROLE Boxcar has helped in a myriad of ways: as a resource for supplies when I got my first press, tips and tricks from the blog, an easy-to-use base with a grid that makes registration much easier. But perhaps most importantly, Boxcar doesn’t care where I live.

When I moved to Alaska, I had to change a lot of my suppliers because the shipping charges were more than the cost of the product. Boxcar has a flat rate for shipping their plates and it’s allowed me to continue to have high quality plates that my product depends on, while not breaking my business’s bank.

Victory Special Press is a letterpress shop based in Anchorage Alaska

SHOP TIPS Don’t forget to keep a playful mind when printing. Since I’m somewhat self-taught, I often think, “What would happen if I do this?” And I try it. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but sometimes it does work, and it can make the print even better than I expected.

Victory Special Press is a letterpress print shop based in Anchorage, Alaska

WHAT’S NEXT We’ll be going back for our second year at the National Stationery Show in New York this May. If you’re there, swing by Booth #2262 and say hi!

Big round of thanks out to Emily Harris, the clever letterpress printer behind The Victory Special Press!

Let the Show Begin: A Look at Sideshow Press

The warmth of the South Carolina sun follows us in as we enter Virginia Gregg’s brightly lit printing space, Sideshow Press, located just a stone’s throw away from historic Charleston. Virginia greets us with a smile that lasts from the moment we start the fabulous tour on through the curious conversation threading from her Great Dane, Lulu, organization advice, and of course her gorgeous letterpress work!

THE PRESSES We have 3 presses total:  a 12 x 18” C&P, Vandercook No. 4, and a 10 x 15” Heidelberg Windmill

SIZE OF PRINT SHOP 700 square feet

THE LOCATION Located in historic downtown Charleston, our small shop is just around the corner from King Street. You can find us nestled in a small alley off Cannon Street. You can’t miss our bright yellow doors. Our space is crisp and clean, with great natural light…and paper everywhere!

FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP The sound of presses running [is out favorite thing]. Besides the presses, we have lots of found objects we’ve gathered from our grandmother’s attics, antique stores and travels abroad.  They serve as inspiration for designs, techniques or texture. Our ceilings are about 14 ft. high so we never feel cramped or crowded. It’s nice to have that extra air around us filled with natural light. It’s pretty calming and inspiring!

NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN SPACE Just the three of us! And sometimes Lulu, a 130lb Great Dane that comes to hang out every now and then.

MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL The line board we use to measure straightness. Can’t live without it!

FAVORITE INK We use VanSon rubber-based inks mostly. Currently we are using a lot of grays since they go with everything. That way the little pops of color really stand out!

SOLVENT OF CHOICE We use odorless mineral spirits for wash ups. On the Vandercook, we’ll run make ready sheets between the roller system to extract as much ink as possible before wash up.  And we let the press do some of the work for us by adding wash while its still rolling.  When the rollers stop rolling, you can start to clean.

BASE AND PLATE OF CHOICE We switched to the Boxcar base format and photopolymer plating about 3 years ago and haven’t looked back. We found it to be much more accurate, provides better impression quality and the polymer plates are so easy to store, reuse and cut and rearrange as needed.  One time we had a funny typo, with the phrase “to the mooon and back”, we’ll that’s an easy fix with a little poly-type surgery and we were back in business.

OIL OF CHOICE  Durofilm R&O 150

WHAT TYPE OF RAGS DO YOU CLEAN UP YOUR PRESSES WITH We use the boxed Scott Shop Rags for press wash ups.

FLOORING MATERIAL Our floors are concrete, painted gray. Of course!

FLOOR PLAN TIPS Keep it organized!

PIED TYPE We don’t really have/use much in the way of pied type.  We have a little hanging around.

ORGANIZATION ADVICE We use lots of storage boxes and shelves to maximize our small space. Since our ceilings are so tall, we just keep going up instead of out.

PRINTING ADVICE When setting up, make one adjustment at a time.  When having a problem, mechanical or while printing, start by looking at the simplest thing first and move up from there.

Big round of thanks to Sideshow Press for giving us a tour of their space today!