Posts tagged Letterpress
Molly's First Year at C&Co
Trying my hand at working with Heidi. She’s temperamental sometimes, but she’s a great coworker when it comes to getting the job done. Here, I’m printing some of our snarky, honest notepads, likely for the first time ever.        Below, you can see one of the first cards I had a hand in creating around the time when I first started in 2018.

Trying my hand at working with Heidi. She’s temperamental sometimes, but she’s a great coworker when it comes to getting the job done. Here, I’m printing some of our snarky, honest notepads, likely for the first time ever.

Below, you can see one of the first cards I had a hand in creating around the time when I first started in 2018.


Hello friends,

Your friendly neighborhood printer here. It’s officially been a year since I responded to Sara’s “help wanted” post on Instagram (The wonders of social media, am I right?) and I, like Michelle, have been thinking a lot about everything I’ve learned in the past 12 months. 

I’ve obviously grown a lot as a printer - I tackled and conquered Heidi (our feisty Heidelberg windmill and the “baby” of our three presses), I’ve had the opportunity to design a couple cards for the shop, and have enjoyed perfecting the card making process from start to finish (Literally, from taking the parent sheets of paper out of the box to packaging them to send to all of you.). But, I think being a part of this team has taught me something much more valuable, because what I’ve taken away most out of the last year is the importance of connecting with people. 

Constellation & Co is built on making connections. It has made a business of keeping snail mail and the sentimental, written word alive because Sara values the connection that it drives and the ties that it has the power to make and keep. Snail mail is not the only way we connect, though. I look at snail mail as just a space keeper for whatever you’re interested in that connects you to other people. Insert your hobby here, and that’s where you’re going to find your people. For me and this job, and for me and Sara, the connection was letterpress printing. 

I was one point of connection away from never seeing Sara’s post and never getting this job. Although the letterpress community is small, I hadn’t been a member of it for very long and I hadn’t yet discovered Constellation & Co. I had, however, just been in New York at a Book Arts summer camp of sorts and had made several great friends there, one of whom followed Sara on Instagram. She saw the post, knew I lived near Seattle, and tagged me. The rest is history. I couldn’t type an email to Sara fast enough, with a resume and short note about myself (all while trying to sound cool and totally not desperate). But, I was desperate. Not only for a job - which, I totally was - but desperate for a connection. A connection with someone who spoke the language of letterpress, someone I could learn from, and an environment I could grow in and continue to connect with fellow lovers of 100-year-old printing presses. 

That’s all any of us really want, right? As I print in front of a giant window, I am able to do a lot of people watching. My favorite scenario to watch play out are the people that wander upon the shop by mistake, but do a double take as they catch a glimpse of the presses through the window and immediately make a quick dash for the door. I can tell they’re coming right for me. I can tell they’re a printer, or that they took letterpress printing in high school or college, or that their dad had a print shop in their basement. We have an instant connection, and for a few minutes we are speaking the same language. 

I’m grateful for the friends and opportunities that this job and this past year has given me and I’m more excited then ever to see what the next one will bring. 


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.


Seattle Made Week 2015

September means it's time for Seattle Made Week!

September 19-26, 2015

Join in on a week-long celebration of all things Seattle Made. Hundreds of producers, manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, and grocers across the city will be showcasing for the public the huge variety of products made right here in Seattle, and helping tell the story of why making things in Seattle is so important.

We are hosting two "Meet a Maker" events at our retail shop!

Oh So Antsy
Sunday, September 20th from 12 pm - 3 pm
Sterling silver state and country jewelry, hand cut in Seattle.
Sweet Anthem Perfumes
Friday, September 25th from 4 pm - 7 pm
A collection of artisan perfumes, meticulously formulated and bottled by hand in Seattle.

Come see us and meet the makers!
1900 W. Nickerson St., Suite 101, Seattle, WA 98119

We are also participating in the Letterpress Marketplace at Wayzgoose!

14th Annual Wayzgoose Letterpress Festival
Saturday, September 19th from 10 am - 4 pm
at the School of Visual Concepts
2300 7th Ave. Suite B, Seattle, WA 98121

SVC's 14th Annual Wayzgoose is returning to its roots: a party by letterpress printers and the people who love them. We'll have a table full of letterpress goodness for your perusal and purchase. Here’s what else you’ll find at this year’s celebration:

Letterpress Marketplace featuring regional printers and their wares
Studio tours of the new SVC letterpress shop
Print a free letterpress keepsake on one of our Vandercook proofing presses
Letterpress swap meet where you buy, sell, or trade equipment, type, and cuts
See the entrant posters from this summer’s Letterpress Steamroller Smackdown
Fun, food, frivolity

Interview: Emily, Spring 2013 Intern

Today is an interview with someone who I consider a "kindred spirit." She was so much fun to have in the studio!

By the way, I swear i'm not bribing these people to say nice things. It's been unexpected and wonderful to hear how much our interns have enjoyed their experiences! This is by far our longest and most thorough interview yet, and I love it because it perfectly encapsulates Emily's personality. I know you'll love her! Here she is, Spring 2013 intern Emily Scott!

Q: What was interning for Constellation like? How did working with letterpress change how you work now?
I absolutely loved interning for Constellation. I not only got to be a part of all sorts of cool projects, but I also learned a ton about the letterpress process: how to mix color, how to set and put away type, how to foil stamp, how to clean the press, the list goes on and on. In addition to getting a chance to work both Josephine and Wendy (don't worry those aren't people) I got to be a part of the design process. I loved getting to work on wedding projects, especially creating mood boards, because then I got to look at cute wedding things on Pinterest to find inspiration. Plus designing things for someone's wedding is just the best thing ever.

My favorite project that I got to be a part of was definitely We Make Seattle. I'm really proud of how everything came out. Sara, Dorothy (the other spring intern), and I got to work together to create some "swag" including a really awesome poster and set of coasters. This fall I went back into the studio a couple of times to help Sara print the posters on the iron handpress, and that was a lot of fun. FUN. That's what interning at Constellation was like...Absolute fun. Design/letterpress things aside, I got to sit in on a client meeting for We Make Seattle to talk about visual direction, and that was a really good experience.

I also got a first-hand look at how a small business like Constellation works - everything from bookkeeping, to working with clients, to understanding the importance of organization. There are so many things that go into running a small business that had never crossed my mind. It was nice to experience them rather than reading about it online or in a book. Designing specifically for letterpress has taught me the importance of simplicity. Successful typography and creative but simple illustrations can definitely take you a long way. Working with letterpress also taught me the importance of patience. There is quite a bit of adjusting that goes into the actual act of printing; you can't just click a button and expect it to come out perfectly. There will be flaws, the ink won't necessarily be even across the page, and there might be a smudge or line here and there, but all of those things add character to each printed piece. The further I move along in my career as a designer, the more I settle into my own style, and working at Constellation definitely helped push me forward in that direction.

Q: Tell us about your favorite part of the studio - the recycling bin.
Words cannot express how much I love that recycling bin. Let me lay it down for you. Ok. So. Sara creates really awesome things, right? (Everybody knows that so we'll just move on.) Well what do you think happens to all of the "oopsies!" the "just a little to the left's," or the "too much impression's" ? Since they are no longer sellable or client-worthy, they get put in the recycling bin, which is basically a danger zone for people like me. I walk into a paper store and can easily drop $30 on a couple pieces of paper (it sounds ridiculous, but if you saw the array of beautiful sheets at some of these places you would understand what I'm talking about). Anyways, I come in to the studio and casually glance at the bin a few times. I feel like Sara always knows I'm eyeing her trash, so sometimes I don't even have to ask to sift through it. Then the real fun begins. I have quite the collection of cards, partially-printed wedding invites, posters, the whole shabang - most of which are now decorating the walls of my room. Some of the scraps were just blank pieces of paper (small, but such great quality) that I use for things like writing encouraging notes to people or making little mini paintings. I'm such a romantic so anything with "The journey is sweeter with you by my side" or "I'm over the moon for you" or basically just any of the You/Me stuff automatically catches my eye. Also, anything with trees. Sara has done a few projects with tree illustrations, so finding one of those in the bin is always a treat. Probably one of my most favorite things from the bin is a map with "You are home to me" printed on it. I also picked up a couple sweet constellation journals. Neither of them were my star sign, but they were just too cool to pass up. I love to write and I've already filled one of them and am currently halfway through the other. In a nutshell. The recycling bin is the best.

Q: You're graduating soon from SPU, what is your next step?
A college Senior's least favorite question. Apart from hopefully finding a design job upon graduating I am currently hoping to go to grad school to get my Masters in Art Therapy. I'm currently working on applying to a handful of schools and hopefully at least one of them will work out. I studied Art Therapy for my Senior project in High School and spent ample time volunteering with kids during that time, so its kind of funny that after almost four years God has brought me back to Art Therapy and filled my heart with new vision and interest. I am passionate about both design and helping people to use art to communicate what words cannot, and to me it makes the most sense to pursue both. While I am both excited and expectant about what lies ahead, for now I'm just trying to live one day at a time.

Q: What's your favorite place to eat in Seattle (and why)?
This one is easy. Marrakesh. Its a Moroccan restaurant in Belltown and they have THE best food. There also happens to be one in Portland, which is close to where I grew up. Before college, I celebrated most of my birthdays and other special occasions there. Its been my favorite restaurant for years, so naturally I was pretty stoked when I found out there was one in Seattle too. Eating at Marrakesh is about more than just the food too. Walk inside and you enter into a completely different world. You get to sit on pillows on the ground, listen to Moroccan music, eat with your hands, use a towel as a napkin, and help yourself to as much bread as you like. There's even a belly dancer! (sometimes scary; if you don't make eye contact she'll leave you alone). I'm not exactly sure who all is reading this, but if you ever feel like having the best food that you'll ever have in your entire life, here's what you should order: lentil soup, Salads Marrakesh (not your traditional salad... eat it with the bread they give you and your life will never be the same), B'Stilla Royale (its like a giant pastry filled with meat and other goodies), and then any of the Tangines. The Chicken with Apricots one is really good. And then get dessert. Because you get Moroccan mint tea poured from an incredible height and they also sprinkle rose water on your hands. On a side note, Toulouse Petit in Queen Anne has really good eggs benedict. I also just love food so if you ever want suggestions I'd be more than happy to provide guidance.

Q: What's your favorite place to shop in Seattle (and why)?
This is a difficult question. Shop for what? If its groceries: Trader Joes. Paper: De Medici Ming Fine Paper (so dangerous) or Paper Source. Bath/body stuff: Lush. Clothes: if I'm feeling thrifty, Value Village or Buffalo Exchange. Most everything else, Urban OutfittersREI. That's a really good one. I die every time I go in there. (Not really I just love everything in there). And basically anywhere that sells combat boots and pattern pants. I also really like Target because they have everything and its relatively inexpensive.

Thanks Emily!

NYC Recap: Bowne & Co.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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...

Interview: Carl, Wood Engraver & Letterpress Printer

I am SO excited to share this interview with you today! I've known Carl since I moved to Seattle in 2009. He has been hugely supportive of my journey in letterpress printing from early on.

(Check out my story on Go Mighty for more about how Carl has so graciously helped us.) This past year, i've had the absolute pleasure of spending my Friday mornings with Carl (and his sweetie, Babs) at their home in West Seattle. I've loved every minute of my education in wood engraving and our chats about art and life. Today i'm pleased to share my friend with you! He's a master wood engraver, an incredibly resourceful printer and an all around good man. So here it is, my interview with Carl Montford!

Q: What attracted you to wood engraving and letterpress printing after your career at Boeing?
I didn’t start wood engraving and letterpress printing until just after I retired from 39 years at Boeing. I started my first ‘Montford Press’ in my garage in Wichita Kansas about 1970 or so. I wanted to further my ‘after hours’ endeavor in something creative, I have often said, I used this activity to maintain my sanity after dealing with supervisors and engineers all day…I like to think it worked.

I was all self taught, both in letterpress printing and wood engraving. However, I fell in with a group of ‘old timers’ there in Wichita that were primarily collectors of letterpress equipment, save for one gentleman by the name of Bill Jackson, he taught graphics at the university and had his own private press in his garage also, except his space was insulated, (temps in that part of the country range from below zero to above 100 degrees). Bill didn’t teach me how to do things, but he inspired me no end. He created lovely books, all hand set type, lino cut illustrated and hand bound his own books, and all printed on an old style 8x12 Chandler and Price platen press.

That inspired me to follow in his footsteps as much as possible. With the help of the local library, (way before the internet), I pursued wood engraving interests, both in examples and ‘how to’ books. I was a ‘closet wood engraver’ for many years, not knowing a single other active wood engraver for many years. After transferring to Seattle in the early 80’s and setting up my ‘Montford Press’ in my own home, (not in an uninsulated garage this time) I started amassing more type, presses and all the associated equipment. I joined the local BAG (Book Arts Guild) and found people of my own likes and interests, probably the main turning point of my artistic career. Shortly after that the internet started becoming popular, and I discovered an international  group of wood engravers, the WEN (Wood Engravers Network), this linked me into a group of artists, both beginners and master engravers, and have been a member ever since. After retiring in July 1995, my interests in all this just exploded, having an additional 8 to 10 hours a day to devote to my passion of engraving and printing. After retiring, my connections with the BAG, WEN and in about 2000 getting linked up with SVC (School of Visual Concepts). I also teach out of my own studio, both in letterpress and engraving.


Q: You've seen many aspiring printers come and go. What is your #1 piece of advice for someone who wants to learn about letterpress?
I meet lots of people interested in letterpress printing via teaching and networking. I have helped many people find presses and type, taught them how to use it all, and watched it fizzle into unused rusting and corroded equipment. This is very disappointing to me after expended that much energy helping them. So, what I now look for in aspiring printers is REALLY being serious about it. Taking lessons first, actually producing something of worth THEN start looking for equipment.

Q: Where do you go for inspiration?
Inspiration, is an internal desire to achieve whatever creates a passion in the heart of an artist. I am lucky, I love nature, animals, birds and people for my inspiration in wood engraving subjects, but for my larger products of broadsides, I have several poets I’m in collaboration with, along with a couple of sister-in-laws that are all great poets, and keep me well supplied in inspiring words and images.

Q: What's your favorite place to shop in Seattle?
Where is my favorite shopping spot?...Dusty Strings in Fremont.

Q: What's your favorite place to eat in Seattle?
Chinooks Restaurant in Ballard

Thanks Carl!

Printing Will & Meggie

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.)


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


I really like pictures of tools.


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


Plate for the second color on the interior.


I like big stacks of paper.


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


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.


More beautiful stacks of 50. Repetition is soothing.


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


First color on the front.


Here come more clouds!


These clouds were really fun to print.


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.


All done!

Wood Engraving Process!

Hello friends! You responded with such enthusiasm to our last process post, I've returned with another. I aim to please! This time, I've documented the wood engraving process from idea to final print.

I started taking wood engraving classes in January of this year, and have completed 8 engravings since then (about one a month). To see some of my journey in learning wood engraving - check those posts out hereherehere, and here. I really didn't expect to fall in love with engraving the way I have. It's so satisfying to create my own printing blocks and see my ideas come to life. I've done all my previous engravings under the watchful eye & expertise of Carl Montford, but this is my first time working solo start to finish here in the studio. I'm excited about how it turned out, and I hope you enjoy this peek into the process!

Atticus the Studio Finch

Atticus the Studio Finch

1) Have an idea & produce an image. As soon as we brought Atticus home, I knew I wanted to do an engraving of him. I pictured it with lots of detail, and his little orange beak & feet being hand colored. Brad and I gave birdley a little photo shoot, and this image surfaced.


2) Plan initial line work. I printed the image out at full page size and emphasized the lines and shading with a Staedtler pen. This is definitely where a lot of the thought & planning starts - where will the lines, shading and solids be? What will I emphasize? What will I change or leave out?

3) Make a xerox. I walked over to our local UPS store, shrunk the image to the size of the block, and paid the $0.09 it costs to make a photocopy nowadays. (This was not exciting, so I didn't take a photo.)


4) Transfer the image onto the block. I use Resingrave blocks by McClain's, because real wood blocks are crazy expensive. I cut the xerox down to the size of the block, but left a half inch or so on either side of the image for taping. (You don't want the image moving around.) Once it was securely attached face down on the block, I applied a few drops of mineral spirits onto the paper. (It makes it cool and transparent.) Then I used my handy dandy transfer tool! It's a weird power tool that will burn the poop out of your hands if you're clumsy like I am. (Who needs feeling in their fingertips?)


It takes some patience and fortitude, but eventually the image transfers permanently from the paper to the block, leaving the paper looking opaque and white again.


5) Tint the block I used some thinned out red printing ink to tint the block, making it easier for me (and you!) to see what's been engraved.


6) Get to work! I started on the whitest parts of the bird, carefully clearing out the pure white sections. Then I worked on the basic texture of the bird's body, starting to get a feel for the types of strokes required to create this image. I was a ballet dancer for a long time before becoming a designer/printer, and this feels a lot like that - each piece requires a different visual style and quality of movement. It's physical and intuitive. And it's risky! I'm carving and chipping away at the block, and it's easy to become overzealous and remove the wrong parts. You really can't put it back. There's no "control z," but that's what I love about handmade work.


7) Work on the background. This background is fairly simple, but required a lot of patience to clear away the white without taking out a bar of the cage too. There are a few strokes I wish I could take back, but I know they'll give it authenticity when all is said and done. I am not a computer. I am still learning. (Sara pep talk #1.)


8 ) Add more detail. The beauty of a subject matter like bird is amount the texture & detail required. I definitely didn't intend to put in every feather, but wanted to give the general appearance of feathers and light/dark shadows.


9) Head for the iron handpress! Once I've finished a first pass on the whole block, I like to see where I'm at by making a proof. And my friend Wendy is the best for proofing wood engravings.


10) Ink the block. I use an oil based printmaking ink from Daniel Smith for wood engravings. It's smooth, thin, and works really well getting solid black prints. Before printing each piece, I also dampen the paper with a spray bottle and dry it off with a blue paper towel. The water softens the paper fibers and allows for more solid printing & deeper impression.


11) Pull a proof and check it out! I hold my breath a bit when I'm about to see a first proof. It's so exciting to see the image come to life on paper for the first time!


12) Establish what to tackle next. The background in a few sections needed to be cleared deeper, the back foot is disappearing on the branch (oops), and birdley's chest & tail could use some improvement. Time to head back to the engraving bench with proof in hand.


13) Back to the block. It's all gray once it's been proofed and cleaned, so it's important to have the proof next to it for reference.


14) Get stressed out and nit-picky. Make tiny changes & proof it a bunch. Just kidding. Sorta. This part is all about figuring out what needs to be done so that I can be happy with it. At this point, I think the top of the head and the mid-section need some additional work.


15) That's better! It's important to know when to call it finished. You can certainly overwork a block. Once you've taken something out, you can't put it back.


15) Finish it up and give it your personal mark! Carl uses an M for Montford. I've chosen a little star.


16) Print the run!


17) Hand color the beak & feet! Instead of using watercolor (my first thought), I decided to use a Copic marker, because I find them easier to manage.


18) All done! Sort, sign & number the prints and send them out into the world. To take home your own little studio bird (in letterpress form), visit our Etsy store!

What's the deal with impression?

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.


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.


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.


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.


In my opinion, juuuuust the right amount of impression.


Blind deboss - printing with impression only, no ink.


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

The Letterpress Printing Process: Sean & Emily

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.)


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.


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


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.


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.)


Hello Josephine!


6) Ink up the press.


My drawer of printing tools and supplies.


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.


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


8 ) Make the first print.


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


10) Print the first color of the run!


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.


12) Clean the press.


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


Measurements & notes


Back to the tape trick


First color on the RSVP card


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


The finished invitation suite! Ta da!

Wood Engraving Update & We Got a Bird & I Got a Tattoo
A playful baby bear & our entrance at 110 Cherry Street

A playful baby bear & our entrance at 110 Cherry Street

I realized today that I had been doing blog post updates about my wood engraving classes and I left you hanging. Sorry, friends! Life & work get crazy and all bets are off. But I'm still stuck at home with a bad back, so lots of writing is happening.

Here's the tardy update: I've been continuing on with my classes with Carl each Friday, and have finished several new pieces. (They aren't available online anywhere yet - still enjoying doing them for me, and trying to decide how to present the new work. I'll keep you posted on where you can see them all soon!) Having the iron handpress has been amazing for printing my new work - engraving & handpresses are the perfect combination! Brad is seriously the winner at gift giving for this year - these classes have changed so much of how I work and think. It’s been so much fun discovering new methods of problem solving and image making.

A quick, expressive exploration in mark making

A quick, expressive exploration in mark making

I’ve been sneaking away from my computer and other work often to play and practice and create. I've been inspired me to do art work that’s all for me. I love working with my clients (I really really do), but I was an art school kid. I’d forgotten what it felt like to have an idea (inspired by my life, my relationships, my struggles) and DO it. Right then. Just to get it out. I’ve been going to wood engraving & printing on the iron handpress often – as a place to express myself, to experiment, to create. My platen press is a finely tuned piece of machinery for production. But my iron handpress? It’s forgiving, welcoming of trial & error, user friendly. I almost can’t remember what I did before “Wendy” came home.

Atticus the Finch

Atticus the Finch

In other news, we got a studio bird to keep me company! He's a tiny zebra finch, and it's been a joy to hear him singing and flapping and chattering away. He's at home with me right now - I couldn't bear to think about him alone in the studio all week while i'm stuck in my chair. Aaaaand, he'll very likely be my next engraving. Can't you picture it, with his little orange beak & feet hand colored? And a To Kill a Mockingbird quote? Fun to think about. (Especially since i've been stuck in a chair on the laptop all week. Ready to work with my hands again.)

A new kind of ink in my life. (And apparently I'm always drinking coffee.)

A new kind of ink in my life. (And apparently I'm always drinking coffee.)

In other other news, I got a tattoo awhile back. I went to Anchor Tattoo in Ballard, and it was an awesome experience. They were super sweet, even though I was a giddy 26 year old girl in a sundress, getting her first tattoo. I've been talking about getting a tattoo for years, but I never got up the nerve to make an appointment. It took the peer pressure encouragement of friends who already have tattoos (I'm looking at you, Jon & Paige) to get me to finally do it. And i'm so glad I did! I love that I see it while doing all the little everyday things that make up my life. I wanted it to be something that's always present - a reminder of my anchor & my hope. For my thoughts on anchors, take a look at the post I wrote about my first wood engraving.

That's it for today, folks. I've been enjoying writing this week (despite crazy back pain), and will be trying my hardest to keep it up.

Our Very Own Iron Handpress

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

Sure & Steadfast Anchor

Hello friends! I printed my first wood engraving last week, and i'm excited to share it with you!

To see my progress getting to this point, check out these previous blog posts: Week One and Week Two. I finished the project off by printing it on Magnani's Pescia, along with some lovely 30 pt. Century Nova Italic lead type. (And now it's about to get real honest up in here - consider yourself warned encouraged to proceed.)


My career so far has been a major learning experience (starting a small business at 23 means you're figuring it out as you go along), and this project was a really clear reminder that I need to give myself some patience as I'm learning. I made a lot of mistakes while engraving this piece. There's no way to put something back once you've slipped and carved it out. But looking at it now, I can see what I learned with each mistake - and though I was tempted to photoshop out the imperfections, they're part of the process and I want to remember the lessons learned.

It was really refreshing to work on a creative project that isn't "work." Don't get me wrong, I LOVE that my job allows me to be creative all the time - but deadlines, bills, and the general pace of life can make even the best project feel like work. It's so easy for me to feel like i'm being tossed around on the waves. There really isn't a manual for how to grow a business, lead a team, and have a healthy body & marriage all at once. It's hard, and I often find myself feeling like i'm floating out to sea.


I tend to come back around to the same questions over and over. How do I stand firm in the middle of this crazy life? What hope and purpose do I have in this uncertain world? It often feels like too much, too hard, too scary, too exhausting.

A few months ago, the pastor at our church gave a sermon on that really stuck with me. In the midst of my busy, uncertain life, I've held these verses of Scripture close to my heart.

For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 6:13-20)

Pastor Tim said it this way:

"The Hebrews writer is telling us that the world is like water spiritually. It’s always moving, changing, and insecure, so we need an anchor for our soul. We can attempt to anchor our soul in the things of the world, such as human relationships, health, family, and career, but ultimately those are always changing, moving, and insecure. We need an anchor that goes through the water and provides the safety, security, and stability we need in the drifting and storms.

Thank God he sent Jesus to be the anchor we all need that provides what nothing else can. I don’t know what life will bring my way...but I do know I have an anchor for my soul, who is Jesus Christ, who is my trust, security, and hope."

When I feel like i'm adrift, I can stand firm in the strong encouragement and hope that is before me, that I have a perfect Father who has chosen me, pursued me, healed me, saved me, and made my broken heart whole. He is unchanging, and I am never alone.

This little piece of artwork is a reminder for me of all of those things - and I would love to share an anchor with you, as a gift. If you'd like me to send you one, or even if you'd just like to talk, you can e-mail me: (sara AT

Happy Vday 2013!

Happy Valentine's Day, friends! We've sent out lots and lots of You & Me prints this year, and I hope each and every one of you enjoy the words of love your sweetie picked out for you! Just in time for Vday shopping, we launched several new options on our Etsy store:

[New You & Me prints on Crane's 100% Cotton Lettra paper, both in Black InkRed Ink]


New You & Me prints on 100% Recycled Kraft Paper in Bold Red Ink

Didn't get one ordered in time? Never fear! Our friends over at Klondike Penny's have the full collection available for purchase and will be open today from 12:30 - 9 pm!


Sealed with Love Forever Stamps (By Graphic designer Louise Fili, Art director Derry Noyes, & Illustrator Jessica Hische)

Also just in time for Vday, the United States Postal Service launched these lovely new stamps! I've been really impressed with the ole' USPS lately. This year's new stamps are really wonderful. But with the recent announcement about no mail service on Saturday, I've been laying awake at night thinking about a world without stamps. A world where everything is shipped with a bar code. It's not a world i'm excited about, but likely a world I'll live to see. What's a love letter without the perfect stamp? Cue Sara's inevitable hoarding of USPS ephemera...

New Blogaway: (Blog giveaway!) What's your favorite new stamp? OR  What thoughtful thing did your sweetie do for Vday? The author of my favorite comment today will receive: Option 1) a bundle of our blank letterpress postcards and a selection of fun stamps! OR Option 2) Their choice of 1 item from our You & Me Series!