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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!