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Color & Ink: A process

Colors are magical. I still remember how beautiful the red, blue, and yellow buttons on my parent’s VCR just seemed like a happy gathering. Always brought a smile to my face. Or the color of a lawn that has just been mowed. It’s green, but with so much more. As a graphic designer, I am very aware of color and how it can be used to create a certain feeling or mood for my audience. As a letterpress printer, I’ve become even more tied to my colors because I am always mixing up my own. True, I can match them to a pantone chip, but to my mind, the color I come up with is always just slightly different. That perhaps I have found a new hue that has never been made EXACTLY to these proportions. That just makes me have a sense of awe and wonderment at the possibility. So as I said, colors, and their many shades, create a mysterious and beautiful world.

Eventually these colors have to be obtained, created, and dispersed into the next part of their life: being part of a bigger vision. While I love mixing colors, seeing that color being printed makes me so completely giddy! But how do we even get to the point of picking up a palette knife and taking a smidge from this can to mix with a dollop from that can? One company has come up with an excellent and artistic way! The Printing Ink Company, along with Vepo Studios has created an in-depth look at how ink arrives at it’s final destination and the intricacies that go into creating such beauty.

So indulge your nerdy design senses!

ROI Rage

For several years I’ve been hearing quite a few acronyms when it comes to metrics, social media, and companies FINALLY starting to see that there really is something to doing metric measuring campaigns. With every new technology, it sometimes takes a little time for people to become comfortable with the idea of it and to honestly figure out how it can fit into what they’re currently doing. I sell muffins…metrics can’t possibly be for me. I sell lawn mowers…no one cares if I have a digital presence. Not true my dear, delusional friends. You too can have a digital presence and make sure your money is being invested in the right type of social media too!

For so long there have been rumors and myths moving through the corporate world that metrics don’t work or they’re limited. And the age old question is always, “What am I actually getting from my monetary investment into social media and digital campaigns? If sales don’t double, really? What is the point.” Here is where the acronym ROI comes in. It stands for Return On Investment. Every company wants to know what their return on investment will be. We’re all about the benjamin’s baby.

But it took the Grandaddy of digital…well digital anything at this point, Adobe to put a smart, well put together ad out there to really ahem, slap people into reality. My favorite part is that Adobe isn’t even worrying about print vs digital and that petty argument these days. They’ve risen above it and simply said, let’s talk metrics. Whatever format you’re approaching metrics from, lets get it straight that it’s a functional and accessible part of business today. It’s a little hard to ignore now, especially when you’re being ahem, slapped in the face with the use of metrics and digital campaigns, whether that is through an app, a QR code or some other measurable, metrics system.

So get in touch with your inner ROI rage and if someone tells you ROI is a myth…just ahem, slap them into a reality check. It’s all about the ROI’s baby.

*Do not attempt this. But feel free to laugh at the idea of doing this in the office.*

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!

A “press worthy” new addition to the family…

I am very happy and proud to announce that I have added a new addition to my family: a absolutely beautiful Sigwalt Press! Affectionately known as Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt (The street he was found on + name of press and since he’s an older fellow, so Sir was added as a form of respect), I purchased him a few weeks ago at a sale in Zion, IL at a Platen Press Museum (pictures to follow in a later blog post!) I had been dancing around the idea of owning my own press for several years now, but the funds were just never there. With a little change of financial luck and steadily putting money away in my savings, I finally did it! With the help and direction of several friends who have already taken the leap into purchasing presses, I headed North to see what I could find and find something I did!

When it comes to table top presses, historically, most people recognize the name Kelsey as a major manufacturer. In truth, there used to be many manufacturers of table top presses, but in the end Kelsey bought out most of the smaller companies. John Sigwalt held out though. Sigwalt migrated to Chicago in the early 1800s at the age of 16. His initial foray into business was with sewing machines, but after the devastating fire of 1871 destroyed his factory he started selling a ticket printing device that he had invented.

That little machine that eventually grew into larger production was called the Sigwalt Press and came in two different varieties: The Chicago and the Nonpareil. The differences between these presses dealt with the arm location, either at the side or directly in front of it. Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt is a Nonpareil, which later became known as the Sigwalt “Ideal.” I won’t even get into what these presses used to go for, but it will make you cringe at how cheap they were. However, cheap isn’t exactly the adjective I would apply to Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt…haha But it’s completely well-spent money.

Sigwalt Press: Chicago (front lever)

Sigwalt Press: Nonpareil (side arm lever)

The last thing to note is that the Sigwalt Ideal is a platen press. The same concepts of letterpress printing still apply, but I was “raised” on cylinder printing on presses such as a Vandercook. So while I’m definitely part of the letterpress world, I’m foraying into a new area of letterpress printing. To say I’m excited is an understatement, but will have to work for now!

So welcome my Sigwalt Ideal (Sir Wadsworth Sigwalt) into your hearts as I have done and you might just be lucky enough to get a print from him!

Name that font! Go!

Fonts have gone a little crazy. It seems like anyone can take a stab at making their own font these days. Then they put it out there for people to use, over and over again. Then someone takes it and makes a bastardized version with only a small change and it has a whole new name. It’s sometimes very hard to make sense of which font is named what.

Now think about fonts that weren’t even made with a computer in mind. There is no uploading a named font file to your computer that archives the newly arrived font. Nope, all you have is a block of type high wood with a letter lovingly carved out of it. There is no stamp to identity it’s name and you only have one of them. No other letters to compare to find similarities and differences. All is lost, correct? Happily the answer is no! Not all is lost!

There is a wonderful blog called Letterpress Daily that is run by a former educator/friend of mine, David Wolske. I have never met another person so in tune with a letterpress machine and specifically the letter forms used to print on them. Each post he puts a wonderful picture of the wood letter and then the printed version. It makes me grin ear-to-ear every time I see it! This blog not only educates printers, students, and enthusiasts, but gives you an archive to start your own investigating work of finally figuring out what the heck that wood font is called that has been sitting on your shelf for years! I bet if you sent him a picture, he might even know what it is named!

At this rate, you might never get through all of his posts, but then that just means you always have something entertaining and informative to read each day!

To view his website, click here!

Expanding my horizons…

So sometimes you don’t realize how dense you’re being when you’re, well, being dense. I most often live in a world where a graphic designer either does, print, web, or both (the most marketable). But with technology being what it is today, that’s pretty much loosing it’s validity. Graphic designers, more than ever, are starting to add their 2 cents or even 10 cents to projects around the world that would otherwise be “none of our business.” Move over traditional roles: Graphic designer coming through.

My preamble was to introduce my thoughts on video. My friend Laura, a great graphic designer out of Chicago, sent me this link (see below) of a video of lightening striking 3 buildings simultaneously in Chicago. One of the most amazing things I’d seen! So I start looking at this man’s other videos and low and behold! He had just gotten back from HOW in Denver! I knew I recognized him! His name is Craig Shimala. Truly his work is phenomenal. I sat at work and watched all his films. I just couldn’t get enough.

As I was watching I started thinking: A t-shirt designer (He works at Threadless), a graphic designer, and a movie maker. That’s a lot of hats! But it all started to make sense. T-shirt designer and graphic designer, we can easily see the connections. The movie maker part took more pondering, but then it hit me: Graphic design is the organizing of information to best communicate an idea, and at best to communicate an experience. And there was the connection! On a print piece we organize words, colors, fonts, and pictures to create an experience. Isn’t movie making just that? Organizing moving images, shot in certain color palettes and laid out in a sequential order (possibly to music) to create an experience for the audience?

So I see my horizons changing. While I most likely won’t be picking up a camera tomorrow to make a movie, the divisions I once saw between what a designer could/could not do are no longer quite as defined.

Lightning strikes three of the tallest buildings in Chicago at the same time! from Craig Shimala on Vimeo.