You arrive at your mailbox to find a beautiful, oversized, soft-cotton envelope adorned with your address in calligraphy and an array of vintage stamps.
Carefully, you turn the envelope over and run your fingers over the crisp wax seal, perfectly positioned over the point of the envelope’s deep-v.
When you run your finger along the inside seam of the envelope, the flap gently unhinges, and you slide out a stack of thick, textured paper.
One piece, two pieces, three….all nestled atop each other in perfect Russian-doll fashion. You use your pointer finger to observe the deep, luxurious impression that the text makes on the paper.
The invitation’s lines are clean and the design is classic. You flip it over to the back and notice the subtle mark the impressed text has made through the paper.
This kind of mail is not your everyday-junk variety. No, this is different.
This is letterpress.
And to me, it’s always been enchanting. From the moment I first held a letterpressed object in my hands, I was convinced I wanted to go and do likewise.
Behind the Pretty
Soon, as my learning process began and the years progressed, I became deeply entrenched in the underbelly of the pretty. While the end product is breathtaking, tidy, and uniform, the printing process can be messy, frustrating, and extremely time-consuming.
There is a story behind the pretty.
I recently discovered a new insider podcast for printers called The Letterpress Digest. I devoured several of the first episodes in just a few weeks, feeling like I’d finally found a respite with my people.
You see, printing has a rich history, and printers who are worth their salt don’t ignore it. They find themselves an old pressman and do what they can to absorb every bit of wisdom from him that they can. Printers are crazy people who catch the bug and then strangely find themselves operating engine lifts and moving thousand-pound pieces of metal across the country and into their homes and studios.
We’re a strange group of people who handle lead-type and live to tell about it, who have machinists on speed dial, and who actually relax at the smell of ink and solvents.
Printing is a dirty job. Our machines are often a century-old. When one part squeaks or scrapes, we know just who to message, call, email for help. We know that Paul Moxon is the Vandercook king, and Paul Aken is his C & P equivalent.
We bow to the continuing legacy of Hatch Show Print and we collectively mourn the loss of Yeehaw Industries.
We all have our crazy stories of how we scratched and clawed our way into cooperative art studios before we had our own presses.
We are scrappy, industrious, resilient, and brave enough to believe in and fight for a centuries-old art form.
From My Garage to Your Mailbox
If you step into my garage studio at any time, you may not be impressed. My huge hunks of metal are draped with old bed sheets when they’re not in use to keep them from acquiring dust and rust.
There are stacks of paper scraps here and there, large Tupperware containers housing cans of ink in every color of the rainbow. My printers apron hangs in the corner, covered in smudges and streaks.
The stacks that leave this place may lead you to believe their creation happens in an all-white lab. While it is a process of precision, it also runs on oil.
Listening to the Letterpress Digest reminds me just why I love this trade. It’s the marriage of gritty and gorgeous.
Every pretty thing has a story, and I’m so thankful to be in the good company so many other storytellers.