Monkton, Maryland is nestled between beautiful New England forests and is home to the cozy, barn-turned-printing paradise of Val Lucas of Bowerbox Press. Bright, cheery sunshine lights up the warm wood floors, large type drawers, and gleams on the family of lovingly cared-for printing presses. Val gives us a tour of where her printing projects spring to life and the charms of good, simple living.
FULL OF FUN, BAR(N)-NON
My shop is crammed full of everything you could ever need. I’m working in a small renovated barn; we redid the electric, insulated and put up drywall, and installed a plywood floor and a heating/AC system. There are some fun details from the original build, like vertical wood paneling and a funky distressed door leading upstairs, plus different sized windows. I’m planning to add track lights to complement the huge amounts of natural light during the day. It’s tight, but each press is accessible, even if sometimes it serves as a table surface.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP
It’s a cozy place to work. I feel surrounded and inspired by my tools and equipment. My restored presses are very special, and I have a lot of sentimental equipment that I’ve collected from friends and mentors, including a Golding Pearl that belonged to Mike Denker and a selection of wood type, metal type and ornaments, and paper from Roland Hoover.
320-ish square feet.
PRINTING IN THE OLD LINE STATE
The shop takes up the first floor of a small barn behind my house in Monkton (and was a major selling feature of the property.) Neighborhood features include the chicken coop, garden, and cornfields out the window.
TYPE OF SHOP ENJOYED
This is my personal shop, I do my own artistic production plus some custom printing and bookbinding for clients. Occasionally friends come by to print, but it’s mostly just me.
PRINTING PRESS FAMILY
I mostly work on a Vandercook Universal 1, but have a restored Chandler and Price Old Series, a United States platen, and an in-progress Colts Armory and Pearl, plus an assortment of smaller tabletop presses and a foil stamping press.
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The Vandercook, as I produce most of my print and book work on this press. It’s reliable and easy to set up, and allows me to print large pieces.
GETTING INKY + COLORFUL
I usually use Hanco litho inks, modified with plate oil or transparent base. There’s been a lot of teal blue on press lately.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
I’m lucky to be able to open my windows and doors for nice ventilation, and use an eco-friendly mineral spirits with the automatic wash-up on my Vandy.
I’ve been using a standard height Boxcar base since 2006 or so, on my first press (the big Colt’s Armory) and now use it on the Vandercook for custom work.
OIL OF CHOICE
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
Old t-shirts! A lot come from screenprinting friends so they have fun designs and tests.
Too much to admit to- but some of it will be re-cast into new type!
It’s so secret that even I don’t know what it is yet.
There’s no one way to do a particular project, and each person has their own method- you just need to figure out what works for you.
Right down the highway from Syracuse, New York, is Rochester’s very own Type High Letterpress. At the helm of this cozy, treasure-packed print shop is Tony Zanni. From wood & metal type goodies to presses that shine, Tony gives us a tour of this hidden gem tucked away in upstate New York.
PRESSES AND WOODCUTS AND TYPE, OH MY!
Our shop is located on the second floor of an old candy factory in downtown Rochester, NY called the Hungerford Building. It houses around 40 other artisans of varying crafts. We occupy a 1,200 sq. ft. space that is long and narrow.
At the front of the shop is a small retail area. The rest of the shop is packed to the gills with over 700 cases of wood and metal type, and over 150 galleys of dingbats and cuts. At the back we have our 4 large presses: a Damon & Peets 8×12, Heidelberg Windmill (with factory foil stamping attachment), a Vandercook No. 3 Proof press and a giant Wesel Iron Handpress. We also have a fun collection of small table top presses hiding around the shop as well.
The space in and of itself isn’t really interesting, however, what it’s filled with captures imaginations and inspires creativity. There are all sorts of letterpress goodies to look at. We have originals of Adobe’s Wood Type Ornaments typeface, old wood cuts from various shops around the western NY area, slug cutters, miterers… The Hell Bucket. There’s a lot of stuff to look at if you ever visit.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS
This is going to sound funny but my favorite thing about the shop is that it’s heat included. Our original location was a bit better but boy was it cold in the Upstate winters. The new space… Toasty!
As for fun things / prized possessions, there’s a couple. First would have to be my Vandercook, Izzy. Yeah, I named her Isabelle or Izzy for short. I found her thanks to Shelly at French Press. I asked Shelly to visit this estate sale (because I couldn’t attend) and had her look for Vandy’s. She called and said there was a Vandy in the garage, mostly complete. I said great, put me on the phone with the seller, offered $500 sight unseen. They said yes and I picked it up two days later. I honestly think this was the last $500 Vandercook to be had and this was back in 2009.
This past summer I acquired another nifty item: a Lufkin 6 ft. tape measure with inches and Pica rules on it. Maybe not super practical, but pretty cool.
One more super cool thing I have is an original plate of the very first Photographic image printed in a magazine. It is “A Scene in Shantytown, New York” that appeared in the March 4, 1880 issue of New York Daily Graphic – the first halftone photograph ever printed by a newspaper. Yes, we have a pretty cool collection.
I jokingly refer to my shop as the “train car”. It’s about 15′ wide by 65′ long and has 3 windows in the back and a double door up front. With any luck we’ll be moving down the hall later this year a space that is 1500 square feet. I’m not looking forward to moving all this again.
PRINTING IN THE EMPIRE STATE
We are in the Hungerford Building. surrounded by many other creative artists. On the first Friday and second Saturday of every month we host events. We are the northern border of an area called the Neighborhood of the Arts. About 3 blocks away are the Memorial Art Gallery, Anderson Alley Arts building, plus a host of other galleries & public art pieces.
TYPE OF SHOP
Type High is a commercial letterpress print shop specializing in hand set typography and design for letterpress printing. Obviously, I use Boxcar Press for our plates when the need arises. We teach letterpress workshops in our space, how to set type properly and print an edition. In addition, I also teach a semester long letterpress design class for the Rochester Institute of Technology.
The long list of things currently in the shop from largest to smallest…
Wesel Iron Handpress
Sheet 18×24 printable 16×22
Vandercook No. 3 Proof press
Sheet 14×20 Printable 13.5ish x 18.5ish
Heidelberg Windmill 10 x 13 with Foil
Damon & Peets 8 x12
Nolan Proof press 12 x 18 galley proof press
Showcard Press 14 x 20ish
Old style Pilot Press 7 x10
Sigwalt 2×3 toy press
Challenge 26.5″ cutter
MOST VALUABLE TOOL
The most valuable tool in my shop is my line gauge, Pica Stick, ruler… whatever you want to call it. My favorite one is a Gaebel 612H-12 with inches, Picas, Points and millimeters. Not only is it great for measuring and drawing straight lines, but it’s also great for opening ink cans, cutting open packages, getting things out from under the press. Not to mention, slicing pizza, and cutting cookie cake on those special occasions.
My favorite inks are from the old cans we pull out of shops that we buy out. The older the ink, the better the coverage. Plus it’s usually free and we’re saving it from going to the landfill. When we have to buy new stuff, it’s usually Van Son due to ease of ordering with our local supplier.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE
Don’t tell anyone, I order California Type Wash. It’s an older solvent, that’s probably not as good for the environment as some of the newer stuff but it’s by far the best i’ve ever used. It cleans quick, dries fast, and will take 100 years of ink off in only a few wipes. I like to challenge myself when cleaning up the Vandercook to do it only using one or 2 rags at the most.
For most jobs I need plates for, I use the Boxcar Base and polymer plates. My base is beat up, but it still does the trick. To be honest, I hate printing with polymer plates. It’s been my experience that the ink does not carry well, and they can be finicky at times with the amount of ink on the roller and the roller height. Since we go in between hand-set type and plates, it is challenging at times for make-ready.
OIL OF CHOICE
You’re supposed to oil these things? Honestly, I just use the same oil I use for my race car. If it’s good enough to run at 6000 RPM for an hour in a race car it’s good enough for a press.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG
I’m cheap… I use Scotts Rags in a box… but only the ones from small mom and pops hardware stores, because they are different from the ones at Home Depot.
I just recycled a 91 lb. bucket of pied worn out old metal type. However, there’s still standing forms from shops we cleaned out years ago. Some of the type from those shops may have been sold or dumped at this point but the standing forms are still in our galley storage. There are also 5 drawers of miscellaneous wood type hiding in the shop. I need a few more hours in the day to handle pied type.
I guess the only secret I have is a Sharpie. I have a pretty photographic memory for where my type is, what it is, and to where that random Cap L needs to go. When I take something out to use, I write in Sharpie the cabinet and drawer number on the back of it. Other than that, as long as I put it away I know right where it is. When I don’t, well let’s just say I swear a lot until I find it.
Things I wish I knew from day one: How to price my work for lines of type setting, vs pricing a computer-aided design. And pricing for press time vs make-ready time vs finishing time. That probably needs to evolve for each person. As a one man shop, it’s tough to figure all that out. If anyone has a magic button for that, let me know.
East Haven, Connecticut hugs the shoreline of Long Island Sound and is home to Lourdes Irizarry of Slackline Press. Lourdes’ self-proclaimed printing hideaway has cool tunes playing in the background, a loft nook above the main printing floor, and a treasure of letterpress tools collected over the years. Stepping back from her platen presses, Lourdes gives us a tour of where the printing magic happens, thanks in part to the support she has found in the New England letterpress community.
MINIMALIST PRINTSHOP Our shop is small so I like to keep it light and tidy. It has neutral, recessed lighting throughout and natural light from two windows and a sliding barn door that opens to the outside. The floor is a sturdy but affordable, wood textured linoleum over a leveled cement floor that I don’t have to worry about damaging. We built shelving from old wood we salvaged from the renovation, as well as a 7 ft. workbench with storage for large sheets of paper.
MOST PRIZED POSSESSION My favorite thing about our shop is a small crawl space in the rafters that was converted into a tiny loft for storage. I outfitted it with an old letterpress tray table I made. It’s a great space to hide with my laptop or sketchbook when I need quiet time to design. My prized possession is my first press – a Golding Jobber #6 named Brumhilda.
SHOP SIZE The entire space is approximately 300 sq ft.
CONNECTICUT SPLENDOR Our shop is a half of a detached garage that was drywalled and insulated to be functional throughout the seasons. It’s located behind our tiny cape on the Connecticut shoreline close to New Haven. It’s a short bike ride away from the town beach and town green where the library and farmer’s market is.
TYPE OF SHOP Our garage turned studio is in a residential neighborhood, on the border of a commercial part of town.
PRESS FAMILY I have 3 platen presses – a Golding Jobber #6 8×12, Golding Pearl #11 7×11 and a Sigwalt Nonpareil 6×9 tabletop press.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL It sounds silly, but I can’t live without my pocket ruler, to help center or square artwork while printing.
INK OF CHOICE I print with Van Son rubber-based inks. My favorite is rubine red. It never gets tacky, is easy to mix and looks lovely by itself.
SOLVENT OF CHOICE I find mineral spirits work best for me. Easy Street, which was recommended by someone at Boxcar, is a huge help when switching colors, cleaning up dark ink or if ink has been on the rollers for more than a few hours.
BASE SYSTEM I’ve had the Standard Boxcar Base for the 5 years I’ve been printing. I started with KF95 plates then switched to 94CHFB but I can’t decide if I like one more than the other.
OIL OF CHOICE I use 3-in-1 oil.
PREFERRED CLEAN-UP RAG just use old t-shirts that I collect from anyone getting rid of them!
PIED TYPE I don’t have a lot of metal type but what I do have came nicely sorted, so I don’t think I have any lying around.
KEEPING IT ORGANIZED Clean as you go! Everything in my studio has a home, and if I didn’t put things back in their place I either wouldn’t find them when I need them or I wouldn’t have enough space to work. I think my favorite organizational solution is plastic shoebox size bins to store printed cards. They’re stackable, easy to see what’s inside and keep dust out.
SHOP TIPS I feel like I will always be learning. I did notice very early on, how friendly and eager the letterpress community is to share advice. I think acquiring presses that needed some elbow grease and restoration helped to get to know the ins and outs of my presses. They all have their own unique quirks. It takes time and patience but I think it’s a really valuable way to learn.
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.
Lafayette, Colorado is an award winning small city where Dogs & Stars letterpress shop calls home. This “Best Place for Young Families” and “Top Fifty Best Places to Live” community is an inspirational place for the edification and admiration of letterpress printing. Brian Wood of Dogs & Stars is banking on that to advance his craft in his new workshop. Getting into letterpress has evolved over a ten year period for this graphic designer. His early influence was old letterpress posters with inspiration drawn from wood type.
HUMBLE BEGINNINGS My first press was a Showcard 8×12” sign press. I took over our second bedroom and started a very makeshift shop, continuously adding the needs of a print shop bit-by-bit, eventually resembling a studio of sorts. Once more equipment and type cabinets arrived it was time to take over the next logical area of our home – the garage.
The shop has undergone a recent renovation thanks to the generous Kickstarter community. Before the conversion it was just a basic garage with letterpress stuff in there. It now features reclaimed chicken feeder lights, recessed can lights, solar tubes and four windows for lighting. The garage door remains, so it can be opened up during the warmer months for both natural light and fresh air. A fellow printer once told me to paint the floor to help improve temperature control. So the floor is painted a nice blue-gray using epoxy paint, so it’s durable as well.
THE SIZE AND LOCATION Our house had a 2 car stand alone garage that I have converted into a fully functional 400 square foot letterpress shop. It’s in the back of the yard so it’s tucked away. We live in a historic area of town that is starting to see some really cool shops, breweries and restaurants opening. I’m about 2 blocks from a coffee shop that carries my greeting cards and also hosted a letterpress poster show of mine. The local arts community is very supportive in Old Town Lafayette. There’s an excellent brewery less than 5 blocks away as well. I’m in good company.
THE PRESSES The work horse is a Golding Jobber No. 7 (10×15). I also have 3 sign presses: A Showcard, Nolan and Fremont. And a Golding Pearl that needs parts.
NUMBER OF PRINTERS IN THE SPACE It’s a one-printer show right now. It’s open by appointment only at this point due to location. But I’m happy to host anybody who wants to see what I have going on.
FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE SHOP My prized possession would have to be a toss up between my Golding Jobber No. 7 and the cabinets we had installed. They are impressive and have created an organized workspace for me. The Stik Wood reclaimed wood we installed on one wall is warm and inviting and everyone who visits loves it.
MOST VALUABLE SHOP TOOL I really value my quoin key. Without it, I would not be able to print on my platen press. My base and plate are the 6 x 9 boxcar base and the Jet 94FL plates.
PIED TYPE I do have some pied type floating around my shop, but I let it lay.
FAVORITE INK I use Van Son rubber based inks. My current favorite color is Warm Red. It always seems to cooperate, looks great on the press and prints well.
CLEAN-UP ROUTINE Boy, do I hate cleaning up. I use kerosene with Scott shop towels to clean up the majority of my mess. I use a paint scraper to get up ink on the ink disk and mixing stones.
ORGANIZATION ADVICE I do a good solid clean up after each project so things don’t get too hectic going forward.
PRINTING ADVICE Know your presses and what the limits are. Knowing what you can and can’t do on your specific press from the beginning can be helpful carving out your niche in the letterpress world.
Brian’s work at Dogs & Stars Press will continue to be type-driven and he laments that he was a few decades late on being a lino-type operator instead. Thanks for the insight and look into your creative new workspace.