Posts in Letterpress
Wayzgoose 2014
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This weekend we participated in the School of Visual Concepts' 13th annual letterpress Wayzgoose! We built a new display and brought our cards out for a day in the sunshine. It was a beautiful day. We met lots of lovely new customers, ate lots of beautiful Top Pot Doughnuts, and saw lots of awesome posters printed with a steamroller.

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Poster by Tether

Paramount Theatre Collaboration
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We've recently had the honor of collaborating on a line of exclusive new products with the historic Paramount Theatre. When STG Presents approached us to collaborate, the answer was a resounding "Yes!" How could we resist such a fun local collaboration?

Seattle Theatre Group is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit arts organization that owns and operates the historic Paramount Theatre, and operates the historic Moore and Neptune theaters in Seattle. Their mission is to make diverse performing arts and education an integral part of our region’s rich cultural identity while keeping these three landmark venues alive and vibrant. Since 1928, Washington residents and visitors have been entertained at Seattle’s magnificent Paramount Theatre. Millions have delighted in The Theatre’s architectural majesty, viewed countless films, and enjoyed thousands of performers from all corners of the globe. We are indeed honored!

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This beautiful art card features a wood engraving by Carl Montford and hand-set vintage lead type. We are so thankful that Carl was willing to work with us on this project! I've been learning wood engraving for some time now, but I'm still a student. Carl is the master! This card was (carefully!) printed on our platen press in the C&Co. studio. It is perfect for sending, gifting and framing. Its A7 size is easy to frame in any standard 5" x 7" frame.

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I'm obsessed with vintage marquee signs, so I proposed this series of marquee-themed cards to STG. There are four marquee cards with messages (Thank You, Happy Birthday, Congrats and Greetings From Seattle), and a boxed set of blank cards that include a red gel pen for filling in your own marquee message! Some special messages are too big for a card, they need a whole marquee sign! (My favorite suggestions: "Congrats on starring in your first broadway show!" or "Will you marry me?" or "You are the best mom in the world for taking me to see a show at the Paramount, seriously.")

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The series was designed by me (Sara) and printed with photopolymer plates in our C&Co. studio. Both the engraving card and the marquee series will be available exclusively at the Paramount starting this broadway season with The Book of Mormon (this week). Go get tickets and take home a letterpress souvenir soon!

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We've been so blown away by our first few local collaborations: Seattle Seed Company, Treehouse Point, and now The Paramount - that we're now actively pursuing more collaborations of a similar nature! Do you own or work for a local company that wants to produce exciting letterpress stationery products? Shoot us an e-mail: hello@constellationco.com.

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C&Co. Paper Dolls!
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It was a dream come true to design and print these custom paper dolls. I was so obsessed with paper dolls as a kid, and I always wanted to be one!

My dear friend and favorite illustrator Amanda Emdin made my dream come true. (And she even made us astronauts!) The illustrations were made into photopolymer plates, letterpress printed, and die cut using our trusty Silhouette Cameo. This limited edition paper doll set was included in each of our National Stationery Show press kits. How better to introduce ourselves than with a set of paper dolls?

Today is the last day of NSS, but I hope these little Brad and Sara dolls will be traveling home with lots of members of the press to help them remember us!

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C&Co. 2014 Lookbook
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Today is the first day of the National Stationery Show! We're in New York meeting amazing people and talking about paper all day long. Sounds great, huh?

To celebrate, here are photos of the long awaited C&Co. Lookbook! It's been such a long process from concept to photo shoots, edits, and finally having the printed piece in hand. I can't explain how happy it makes me to share this slice of life in Seattle with the people we're meeting in NYC. Once we get home, i'll write and share about the show - stay tuned!

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This post is part of an on-going series of features from our C&Co. lookbook. To view the lookbook in its printed form, you can order your own copy on Blurb or view the full digital version on Issuu.

Our First SideTour: Reveal the Art of Antique Letterpress Printing
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Last weekend we hosted our first official tour/workshop through SideTour! SideTour is an online marketplace for experiences that help you explore your city.

Although SideTour has been active in other cities for some time, they just launched in Seattle last month. We are excited and honored to be one of the first tours offered in our fine city! Our tour/workshop is titled: Reveal the Art of Antique Letterpress Printing. Our very first (and sold out!) tour started with a brief history of printing, from the invention of movable type through the manufacture of our early 1900's iron handpress. After the history lesson, our impressionable students (how punny of me!) rolled up their sleeves and jumped into the world of letterpress to design their own poster with vintage wood type and printer's blocks.

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It was super fun to see what they came up with! The photo above shows one of my favorites: "If it's not awesome, we're not doing it!' Once they'd put the finishing touches on their idea, each participant got the chance to print their design on the iron handpress. I really enjoyed seeing the look of joy on each person's face as they saw their image printed for the first time. That feeling never gets old!

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If you're here in Seattle, we'd love to print with you at a future tour! You can find more details and sign up on our SideTour page.

NYC Recap: Bowne & Co.
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While we were in New York, we visited Bowne & Co. Stationers and Bowne Printers.

Some serious info about Bowne: New York's oldest existing business under the same name, Bowne & Co., Stationers was founded in 1775 by merchant and philanthropist, Robert Bowne. In its current incarnation, Bowne & Co. enchants visitors by enabling them to experience the traditional craft of 19th century letterprinting in a charmingly atmospheric shop true to its historic origins. Advertisements, illustrations, and other materials of the period were researched to recreate the authentic look and feel of a 19th century establishment. See the 19th century letterpresses, buy exquisite cards handprinted in the shop, chat with artist and Bowne printer Robert Warner about his techniques—Bowne & Co. presents visitors with the unique opportunity to step into another era.

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And now some silliness: New York is a magical city in general, but this place is so up my alley it's silly. I can't possibly be serious when talking about Bowne, so I'll let silly reign. I mean, come on... they had a "Baby" version of our Reliance iron handpress! I can't express the amount of squeal that came out of my mouth when I spotted it.

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It's like our Wendy gave birth to a tiny version of itself. I even took an iPhone "selfie" of myself with it, so you can see the scale. I wanted to adopt it and bring it home to love and feed paper and watch grow into a full sized iron handpress.

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Bowne has three iron handpresses in all - which is the most i've ever seen in one place. It was hard not to touch. I suddenly wanted to print all the things.

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So, if you're an enthusiast of letterpress and traditional craft, or an iron handpress fanatic like me... you must visit Bowne. There is an infinite number of places to visit in New York City, but this is one I'd suggest not to miss. I will eventually write the official NYC recap post i've been promising. But it's just so much...we saw so many things, and i'm going to need a little longer to process it. Perhaps i'll need until May...

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Printing Will & Meggie
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I've been printing like a mad woman these past few weeks. I've also been carrying around my camera to capture process for you. (Yes, you!)

Here's a behind the scenes look at the 48 hour whirlwind that was printing Will & Meggie's wedding invites. Since this design required a long skinny image, I jumped in the car and went to West Seattle to borrow Myrtle Alley Press' Vandercook. This press is a beast. It can print up to 18" x 24", and requires about a week of energy to print for a day. (Picture me, sweaty and tired.)

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The plate for printing the first color on the interior. Big big plate!

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I really like pictures of tools.

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The first color, on the page. How pretty is the texture on that banged up feed board?

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Plate for the second color on the interior.

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I like big stacks of paper.

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Back to C&Co. and our Chandler & Price. Time to print the clouds!

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This is a great example of what white ink looks like when printed on colored paper. It's semi-transparent, kind of milky, and looks like clouds. Great for this application, not great for others.

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More beautiful stacks of 50. Repetition is soothing.

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Plate for the invite's front on our C&P.

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First color on the front.

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Here come more clouds!

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These clouds were really fun to print.

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Final steps: Scoring the pieces to fold and sewing machine perforation! The sewing machine isn't a great method for high quantities, but worked great for these 150 invites.

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All done!

What's the deal with impression?
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Naomi, a lovely paper cut artist (seriously, check her stuff out!), commented with a great question on my last post, and I spent some time this morning putting together an answer. It's a question that comes up a lot. I think it might be of interest to more folks, so i'll repeat it here! I've also included some example photos which will hopefully help clarify some of the thoughts. Fellow printers, feel free to comment with your own thoughts - I know it's a topic that everyone has an opinion on, and I'd love to hear yours!

Naomi said: I have questions! I have questions! I’m so fascinated with the letterpress process, thank you for sharing it with us. I don’t know if you have both a manual and electric press, but would you say there are jobs that are more suited for the hand-crank over the electric-powered machine (besides for reason of quantity, of course). There are letterpress studios that make really “pillowy” impressions, and others that look more shallow. I wonder, do you change the impression on the paper for different jobs, or do you set one impression depth and that’s the look you want to be known for?

Here's my answer: We only have manual presses. They are either treadle powered with my feet (platen press), or operated with my hands (iron handpress), with each piece being fed into the press by hand. There are definitely benefits to motorized or more mechanized presses – larger quantities can be printed at a time, and more impression (depth into the paper) can be achieved. But in my opinion, you lose something of the joy & the quality of printing by hand when the machine is doing a lot of the work. The problem solving, measurements, and set-up are done similarly no matter what type of press you’re using, but the actual process of running the job is different. I really love the repetitive, rhythmic work-out that is printing manually, but it’s not for everyone and certainly has its limitations (quantity, needing to be in good health & stamina to print, etc.). I also think that printing manually (treadle vs. motor on a platen press) is much safer. The speed is set by your leg instead of by a motor, and your body inherently works well together. I’m not saying i’ll never have a motorized or mechanized press, but for now I prefer the simpler way.

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Photopolymer printing plates

Impression is a hotly debated issue among printers. Traditionally, impression was considered bad printing. Old school printers would shoot for “kiss” printing with no impression at all. A lot of the reason for this is that lead type is a somewhat soft metal. Too much impression damaged the type, and a printer’s type was their livelihood. As letterpress made its revival & photopolymer was invented, people wanted to show off the print method with heavy impression. Photopolymer can’t be easily damaged by heavy impression, so there were less reasons to avoid it. New school printers love to embrace the inherent qualities of letterpress (impression, inking tendencies, etc.), and I tend to be among them. BUT impression is effected by a few important things I’m always keeping in mind:

Some of difference you’re seeing in impression from shop to shop is caused by the size of the press & the type of the job. Each press has a maximum amount of pressure, and that amount increases with the size of press. My platen press is an 8×12, so it will by nature be capable of less impression than a 10×15 or 11×18. I chose the 8×12 because i’m 5’6″ and around 120lbs. It didn’t make sense to buy a press that would dwarf me. I can do 1,500 impressions on my best day, but I wouldn’t be able to pull off so many on a larger press. It’s also really bad for the press to max out it’s pressure an a daily basis. These presses are 100+ years old, and while cast iron is sturdy, it can be broken. I know my press well, and I have to listen to it. There are days i’d love to get more impression, but I won’t achieve it at the cost of hurting my press.

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Business card with heavy impression on 100% cotton Lettra paper

I can effect impression on my press by adding or subtracting a hard red board or oiled paper called tympan. There is some control of various areas of the print job. The Beth Ann Locke business card above is a good example of that - I added additional impression to the top section, but not the bottom. I don't love the way small typography looks with too much impression - like the type is sinking in a ditch. This is even a bit more impression on the small type (black type on the bottom) than i'm comfortable with, but it's what the client wanted. There is some room for taste in here for sure.

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Kiss impression on recycled chipboard

Impression can also be effected by paper type – a lovely thick cotton paper will easily compress when printed, where something that is compressed already (like recycled chipboard) won’t compress much, and won’t have much impression no matter how hard you hit it.

The pressure of the press is evenly distributed across what you’re printing, so the job size also makes a big difference. I can get a lot more impression on a business card than I can on a large piece.

Impression is also affected by the design. Some designs have enclosed areas (like the counter on letterforms) that will buckle & break (looks like the paper is tearing). That’s something I can’t stand to hand off to a client. It’s just bad printing!

I keep those things in mind every time I print a job, and have to weigh what’s possible, what’s practical and what the client wants. So there you have it! Thanks for asking, Naomi! I hope it was helpful.

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In my opinion, juuuuust the right amount of impression.

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Blind deboss - printing with impression only, no ink.

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Heavy impression, one element printed with transparent white ink for contrast

The Letterpress Printing Process: Sean & Emily
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Hello friends!  I recently had an out-of-town bride ask for photos of the printing process, and I was glad to oblige. So I grabbed my camera and took a photo of each step of the process.

This is a rather detailed look at how we produce our client projects. Feel free to comment with your questions. I'd love to answer them!

1) Design the invitation suite digitally in Adobe Illustrator. (The design process has several more steps, but we'll save that for another day.)

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2) Prepare the finished design as a pdf to send out for photopolymer printing plates to be made at Boxcar Press. This is also when we order the paper, envelopes, etc. that the client has chosen.

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3) When the plates arrive, carefully cut them apart into the appropriate sections.

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4) Rev up the paper cutter (just kidding, it's manual) and cut down the parent sized sheets to the sizes required. This lovely gray paper is Magnani Pescia, an insanely beautiful 100% cotton paper made in Italy.

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5) Mix ink to the client's chosen Pantone colors. (We send out Pantone chips, paper samples and envelope samples to the client for final choices before placing orders.)

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Hello Josephine!

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6) Ink up the press.

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My drawer of printing tools and supplies.

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7) Grab the tape! (This cool trick is something I learned from the great Chandler O'Leary.) Measure the design and place the plate in the appropriate position with tape. Place the sheet of paper with the plate taped to it on the guide pins (the little doo-dads that hold the paper in place), and carefully close the press on the printing plate.

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The plate will be in approximately the right place! Cool, huh?

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8 ) Make the first print.

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9) Measure the margins of the piece, and move the guide pins incrementally until the design is straight, centered, and looks correct.

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10) Print the first color of the run!

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11) Stack those babies! We use a rubber based ink that soaks into the paper, making the pieces able to be stacked right away. This repurposed library cart is my favorite thing.

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12) Clean the press.

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13) Repeat steps 6-12 for the rest of the colors & pieces!

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Measurements & notes

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Back to the tape trick

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First color on the RSVP card

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Stack of "make ready" - the paper used to get the measurements, inking, color, etc. correct before printing the run

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The finished invitation suite! Ta da!

Our Very Own Iron Handpress
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A few weeks ago, we took a road trip to the great white north (Vancouver) and brought home a new member of the Constellation family! Meet Wendy, our Washington-style Reliance iron handpress.

She's from the early 1900's and in beautiful condition. (And possibly the coolest thing that's ever been listed on Craigslist!) Her bed size is 16" x 21" and we are so excited about printing posters in house! We're working on Wendy's inaugural broadside, and will be sure to share it with you soon. Here are some photos of the big move:

The lovely Canadian gentleman who sold us the press

The lovely Canadian gentleman who sold us the press

On the road in Carl's van

On the road in Carl's van

Wendy emerges from the van in our alley

Wendy emerges from the van in our alley

Wendy on the move

Wendy on the move

The strongest guys I know!

The strongest guys I know!

Wendy all back together / Illustrated Diagram from Printing with the Handpress by Lewis M. Allen

Wendy all back together / Illustrated Diagram from Printing with the Handpress by Lewis M. Allen

Our 3rd Anniversary Printing Press
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Last month, Brad and I took a weekend trip to the Olympic Peninsula for our 3rd Anniversary. We had an amazing, restful adventure.

In our opinion, that's the best kind - a little bit of both! We rode the ferry, stayed in a castle, did a cider tasting, made sun prints, ate lots of delicious food, walked on the beach, and did some shopping.

On our return home, we stopped at an antique store in Bremerton before we got back on the ferry. While browsing, we found this little treasure! We don't usually do large anniversary gifts, but instead save our pennies to shop together on our anniversary trips. It's pretty fitting that we'd find and buy a tiny new printing press on our weekend away. It's something we'll always have around to remember our amazing third year!

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The press was packed in an ancient looking wood box, like it was sold as a "kit" - with a tiny brayer, a font of type, tweezers, and tiny sheets of paper. I've searched the Briar Press online museum, but can't find exactly which press this one is. It's similar to a few of the small hand inking lever presses, but i'd love to know exactly which company and model it is if anyone knows.

The whole thing is really unusual - the press uses type that isn't the traditional "type high," which makes it pretty impractical in a print shop. This teeny tiny press is even smaller than our little Sigwalt Annabelle - when something is that tiny and cute, how could we resist?

Linoleum isn't just for floors.
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Recently my "picker" parents and lil' sis found these vintage Speedball linoleum tools at an estate sale. There's nothing better than antiques that are unused and still 100% useful!

I chose linoleum cut as the production method for my Cosmic Sans piece. The letterpress printer side of me was excited to use a handmade method for the entirety of my piece. I sketched it out on paper, then onto the linoleum block, and got to carving!

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My letter is M for McNally and also Meteor! I was inspired by traditional engravings of meteor showers like this one. Growing up, I remember many nights laying on a lawn chair in the front yard with my parents, watching the shooting stars. They were such mysterious nights - being little and outside during hours I'd never seen before. I was always half excited and half terrified. Nighttime was magical when I was a child. I think that's why I still love space - it's mysterious and exciting and scary. It's something we can't know completely. I love that.

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Want to see the finished piece? Come to our Cosmic Sans opening! This will be one of 26 never-before-seen space & sci-fi inspired art prints. Each will be sold via silent auction to benefit 826 Seattle, inspiring kids to learn and write.

Photos by Jenny Linquist.

4gency
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We recently had the pleasure of working with Charles from 4gency, a local video game development company. 4gency specializes in espionage-based games for mobile and tablet platforms. With the launch of their first game Node.hack, 4gency needed business cards that live up to "the world of spies and secrets."

We scoured the web for redacted documents in the name of "research," and had a lot of fun doing it. This is undoubtedly our favorite business card job to date. I love how the texture of the paper and printing comes through in the black card, and the stark contrast of colors on the white card. It's eye candy, man. This is one of those jobs that exceeded my expectations. I love when I get the chance to let my printing press do her thing!

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Your objective? Check out 4gency's great new site, and play Node.hack!

Updates: New Stores! Upcoming Events! Etcetera!
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We have been busy bees over here at Constellation & Co. (Hence the blog silence. "Update blog" is on my Teux Deux every day, but it tends to get neglected for other tasks.) But here I am, and here are some highlights.

Visit our new stores! Our card & gift items are available for purchase in several new stores! It's been a great month since we launched our wholesale catalog, and we've enjoyed seeing orders coming in from lovely shops in fun cities.

[McNally Jackson Books, NYC]

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The Curiosity Shoppe, San Francisco

Our friends in Seattle have shopping options in new neighborhoods, and we're excited to make new friends in NYC, San Fran, LA, and Des Moines! (Hooray for friends!) We are honored to be a part of so many great shops. For our full list of options, check out our stores page.

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Attend an event! The Spring & Summer are shaping up to be busy and fun! We love Seattle (and have have some things planned for our local friends this summer - stay tuned), but we're also hitting the road!

Want to shop, chat us up, and get some high fives? Come out to one of the following events near you:

Tacoma! Wayzgoose!: Letterpress and Book Arts Extravaganza King’s Books opens it's doors to the local letterpress and book arts crazies for a day of creative activities, shopping, and steamroller printing! When? Sunday, April 22, 11 am – 4 pm

Portland! Crafty Wonderland: Super Colossal Spring Sale The Oregon Convention Center transforms to become home to over 200 handmade vendors! The event sports free admission, and welcomes all ages. This is our first Crafty Wonderland - we're super excited to be a vendor and we hope to see you there! When? Saturday, May 12th, 11 am – 6 pm

Seattle! Pioneer Square First Thursday Artwalk See us on our home turf! 57 Biscayne (our studio's fabulous home) throws open all it's studio doors to the public! Our studio will be open, presses running, cards & gifts for sale, and refreshments served! Come see where we do what we do, and ask us a hundred million questions! (We'll tell you everything we know.) When? Thursday, June 7th, 5-9 pm