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The Living Letter Press gets a visit!

Last weekend I took a fantastic trip to The Living Letter Press (see here) in Champaign, IL. This wonderful establishment is owned by John Bonadies (see here), whom I became colleagues with over a year ago and met for the first time on this trip. The Living Letter Press was established after John started a Kickstart project, raising money for the purchase of presses, wood fonts, inks, and every other conceivable item needed to have a running studio. But the twist is that all of this was used for the awesome ipad app called LetterMPress (see here). But what does one do with all of this amazing type and beautifully running presses afterwards? Start inviting people to visit!

After being invited by John, I was elated! I never turn down a chance to go print, talk to interesting people, and make something brand new! Admittedly, I drove by the studio twice before I finally saw their sign. The Living Letter Press shares space with a commercial printing shop which to me was really great to see: The new and the old, side by side, doing what they do best! The irony was not lost on this blogger.

To someone that would LOVE to own a studio such as this, I believe my jaw dropped when I walked in. With four presses running on motors (one Vandercook SP-15, two SP-20s, and a Chandler & Price) and several proof presses and a Kelsey 6 x 9, this studio can really move!

When I looked to my left this printer’s heart leaped in happiness! A whole wall, full of wood type! And not your run of the mill type either. The fonts that are encased in these drawers are from around the world, including ones from Germany, Portugal, and England. Not to mention all the ones from the US. With work lining the walls, showcasing the use of these fonts, anyone would be inspired within minutes! It was all I could do to pay attention to John as he was talking and not run over and embrace the type!

I knew that I only had a limited amount of time in this studio and had to make the most of it. I got printing right away! The previous week I had discussed with John what he had available for printing photopolymer plates. He said that he had a Boxcar base, which is available only from Boxcar Press out of Syracruse, NY. I “grew up” on photopolymer plates that have a metal base that attach to a magnetic base. But a Boxcar base is very different: They can create a photopolymer plate that is clear, flexible, and adhere to the base with a sticky coating that is applied to the back of the plate. They can create traditional plates as well, but this new technology sounded great to try. Color me excited to test these plates out!

That’s exactly what I did! I had decided that I wanted to print myself a business card, making it official that I am completely in love with letterpress printing and will most likely be so for a very long time! With a little bit of help from John, the Boxcar plate was so easy to position and align with the grid that comes standard on the Boxcar base. Even later, after several runs, the plate was easy to remove and reposition slightly. You can see the base locked up in the image below. The first color I printed was a candy pink and it looked yummy enough to eat! Next, chartreuse! Truly a beautiful color!

I worked in the “work and turn” method, where you run the paper through the press, then keeping the printed side up, turn it and feed the paper into the press again. By working in this method I was able to print more than 600 business cards. I didn’t do the math ahead of time…haha But was more than happy with the results! The image below shows the first run (candy pink) done and ready for me to feed the paper through the press for a second time with the chartreuse. Work and turn, work and turn…

Last, but not least, I was able to print my poster! I was able to dive into those beautiful Hamilton Type Cases and look at the handsomely worn fonts, many of which were over 100 years old. ::sigh:: After a little time, my skills of measuring the wooden type in picas and laying the whole poster out quickly came back to me and in the end it was a thing of beauty!

I quickly decided my colors were going to be teal with silver. Very simple and very elegant. Or at least that’s what I hoped! It was a simple poster of only two runs, seeing that this was my last day of printing. It was very nice to print with the wooden type after the crispness of the photopolymer plates. Each letter can hold its own story and and character. I knew that when I found the “AND” I had happened upon something of beauty. She certainly had her own personality. She was willing to work hard, but was a little obstinate in printing in her entirety. In the end it took a little make-ready to get some corners to print, but we came to an agreement. Mutual respect between printer and type. The final imprint looked good!

After two days of printing, roughly 20 hours of print time, I was as happy as a kitten with a saucer of milk! I drove home with a grin on my face that lasted for days. The opportunity that John offered me was amazing! So I have to give a BIG thank you to John for allowing me to come and visit, use his fantastic studio, and create some amazing work! I can’t wait to return and I’m already planning my next project!

You know you’re cool when…

To answer this question, it’s when the thing that you love most is picked up by one of the most major and influential brands in the world: Target. I was perusing Twitter, trying to see if the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum tweeted. While I don’t believe they do, someone had posted a video about wood type and Target. Now I thought perhaps it was just that Target was using a few pieces type in their commercials like the Dodge Ram commercial (see below), but no! It’s so much better than that!

One of my favorite professors, Paul Brown, would always talk about going up to the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum and would actually take a field trip with students there each year. Sadly, I never had enough time to go, but always thought of a trip in the future with wistfulness. He would bring that wonderful prints and he even made a specimen book of decorative borders. It was truly staggering to see so many variations and the sheer artistry that I know each took to create. The Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum, located in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, was originally the Hamilton Type Foundry, once the largest wood type maker in the country, which was founded in 1880.

This video is so great! It speaks of letterpress and the museum itself representing authenticity, being a leader of their craft, and being something fresh, even though it’s been around for a very long time. In many ways Taking an extra step, by describing the museum, Target is really describing their own brand. What a great way of informing your audience but working on a nice conceptual level. Talk about strategy!

While part of me is selfish and doesn’t want to share my love with anyone else that might not understand it, I’m glad that Hamilton is getting the attention it deserves. It should be considered a national heirloom. It represents a large part of America’s visual past, which is not something that should be lost. Perhaps now, thanks to Target, the funds will continue to roll into the museum and it can stay open for future generations, and at least stay open until I can actually make it up there!

Target and Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum

Dodge Ram Letterpress Commercial