1,000 Words About: Printing and Me
I recently started a personal project to write 500 words every day. I've been writing about a variety of topics - personal essays, short stories, sports, podcasts, etc. I skipped my writing both days this weekend, so it's 1,000 words today. (Plus I'm terrible at editing myself.) Today's topic is printing related, so I've decided to share it here. My friend Dan suggested I write about how I chose printing as my profession. I've decided to share my letterpress printing timeline. The more I think about printing, the more I realize that I never had a choice in the matter. Printing chose me and wouldn't let go. (Not that I'm complaining.)
June 23, 2007: I walked into an antique store in Arcadia, Florida and saw a tabletop printing press. I didn't have any idea what kind it was, how to use it, or what it was worth. I just knew that I needed it. I paid $100 (way more money than I had to spend at the time), and brought it back to my dorm room. I was in college studying graphic design and spending my summer break as a teacher's assistant for a high school summer program. I worked during the day and spent my evenings cleaning and organizing the lead type that came with my press. I've always loved antiques. As a kid, one of my favorite family activities was browsing antique stores with a particular item in mind. This antique press intersected beautifully with what I was learning in History of Graphic Design. I loved that era's aesthetic, work ethic and machinery. That day in the antique shop was a chance encounter that changed the course of my life.
May 12, 2009: I attended a one day workshop with letterpress printer Paul Moxon. I came in knowing very, very little. I left knowing much more, but most importantly knowing that I must continue to get inky. I was weeks away from college graduation and a cross-country move to Seattle. All of the crisp, clear plans in place for my career were suddenly blurry. What I'd trained four years to do and what my heart was pulling for were growing farther and farther apart.
October 26, 2009: I took a letterpress class at the School of Visual Concepts taught by Chandler O'Leary. I was 1 month into my first post-college job, and it was a comically bad first job. (Well, it's comical now but wasn't at the time.) Getting my hands inky again and seeing my first design come to life on paper... It was all I needed to quit the bad job. (The CEO dropping by my desk to ask me if I was going to go home and commit suicide should have been enough to quit, but I suppose I was young and naive.) I loved my letterpress class. By the end of the 6 weeks I was sending dozens of emails to Seattle area letterpress printers, offering my services as printer's devil, letterpress indentured servant, or anything else I could do to gain more knowledge and keep getting inky.
December 12, 2009: I started my apprenticeship at Myrtle Alley Press. My first tasks were organizing spacing material and leading. I'd quit my job, so I had plenty of time to throw myself into this new part of my life. I remember how exciting every little task felt. I got to be around printing - watching, asking questions, listening, learning. It wasn't long before I was learning to print on the platen press. That year was sort of like my master's program. Except instead of spending time in a classroom, I had inky hands. The act of printing on the platen press was so daunting at first. I was nervous about smashing a hand, felt out of my element and uncoordinated, and my legs ached badly at the end of each day. But the bigger a challenge is in my life, the more determined I am to conquer it. It was only a matter of time before the press and I found a common rhythm. I loved troubleshooting my projects to make the next one better than the last. I loved seeing the prints stack up. I still love that now.
January 10, 2011: It was time to set out on my own, and I'd just signed a lease on my first studio space. On the day before my 24th birthday, I bought my first full size platen press. We moved it that day too. (I've probably got another 1,000 words in me just about moving presses.) I loved letterpress at the time, but buying, moving, and refurbishing this press skyrocketed that love to a whole new level. I was confident about printing on the platen press at Myrtle Alley, but I got to know my press intimately. As the above photo illustrates, this press was in terrible shape. I spent $500 (way more money than I had to spend at the time), and we moved it into my studio. I named her Josephine. I spent countless hours alone with this press scraping off rust, cleaning out gunk, oiling joints, and finding replacement pieces. I had no guarantee that this press would ever print, but I believed in her. I had no guarantee that I could actually make a living with letterpress printing, but I believed in me.
February 27, 2017: Today. In the last 6 years, we've moved Josephine two more times. I've bought and learned how to print on several more presses. We brought a press back over the border. I've passed on a few presses to other printers, including my first little press. Our current print shop is part of a beautiful storefront space, so everyone gets to see letterpress printing in action. I've taught many workshops. I've had the privilege to take on many interns. I've designed and printed so many projects for so many people, including a full catalog of greeting cards for our own wholesale line. I've hired and trained an assistant, who became my replacement when I decided to be a full time mom. So much has changed. And yet...
I'm still printing. When I'm printing, I'm home. I listen to the sound of the press, feel its rhythm. My body works in unison with the press to create something beautiful. My hands and feet are busy with the task at hand, but my mind goes elsewhere. My brain works best when I'm on press. It's a quiet, safe place to work things out. It's productive and physical. I still love it.
Practically, printing is the way I create the things that make me money. But it's so much more than that. Printing found me in a Florida antique store. Printing gave me a dream for the future that was bigger than all the jobs I didn't get. Printing helped me quit a bad job and believe I was worth more. Printing got me out of my comfort zone. Printing gave me a tool to bring my thoughts, ideas, words, and art to life. Printing helped me grow up. Printing is a lifelong challenge to pursue. Printing gave me community, a business, a purpose, a future. And I still have inky hands.