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Dear George: How Can I Get Started in Letterpress Printing?

by George Graves

Letterpress Q&A | How Can I Get Started in Letterpress? | Smudge InkI faced this exact dilemma when I decided to explore letterpress in 2010. I was a design student at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts hooked on typography and drooling over the design and printing coming out of letterpress shops around the country. But there wasn’t anyone near me. Or was there?

A nearby school, Montserrat College of Art, offered an Intro to Letterpress course which I was able to take during my final semester at Endicott. After graduating, I was introduced to Mike Dacey of Repeat Press in Somerville, Massachusetts who told me about an opportunity at The Mandate Press in Salt Lake City, Utah. After spending a few years in Utah, I eventually returned east and actually ended up working at Repeat for a bit before finding my way here to Smudge Ink.

In short, just start looking. As with a lot of things in life, you will get back only as much as you put in. I didn’t think there was much of an opportunity around me, but I quickly discovered that there were far more resources than I realized. Many small letterpress shops offer workshops as do a lot of the college book arts programs. If you’re interested in letterpress you probably have some luddite leanings, but this is where Google will come in handy as far as finding the workshops closest to you.

Luckily for you (and me) the letterpress community is extremely welcoming. If you find a local shop, but no local workshops, reach out and ask if you could visit. Your local printer most likely knows someone who could be an educational resource for you. Beyond finding a place to physically learn how to print, social media has become an incredible resource for this community. There are Letterpress forums on Facebook and too many printers on Instagram to name. Find someone near you by surfing the #letterpress tag.

As letterpress continues to grow in popularity, it is easy to romanticize what it would be like to trade in the computer for a printing press. I know, I’ve been there. Before applying for any internship opportunities, make the effort to take a workshop or two. If possible, take a full class. Proving that your desire to learn letterpress is great enough to pursue the craft on your own will separate you from the endless ranks of designers who would “just love to get into letterpress.” 

FORUMS

Letterpress | A public Facebook group described as “a gathering of all things letterpress, printing, typography and book arts related.” Members post everything from current projects to equipment for sale and help each other troubleshoot problems as they come up.

Briar Press | Like the Facebook group, Briar Press is “a community of letterpress printers, book artists, and press enthusiasts” dedicated to “the preservation of letterpress-era equipment and the art of fine printing.” This is a great troubleshooting resource and there is a fair amount of equipment posted for sale here too.

Letterpress Commons | Started by Boxcar Press, Letterpress Commons is a “one stop shop” of sorts for all things letterpress. As it’s community driven, there are some categories that are not as robust as others, but there is a great collection of press manuals, instructional articles, and a press directory.

SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT

Boxcar Press | If you are looking to move beyond workshops, Boxcar is a great place to get all of your supplies. They make custom printing plates and they sell just about everything else that you’ll need. Check out their article on how to build the ideal letterpress shop.

Letterpress Things | When you’re ready to track down your first press, be sure to reach out to John Barrett at Letterpress Things in Chicopee, Massachusetts. Whether or not he has what you’re looking for, he’ll be able to point you in the right direction. His shop is a treasure trove, but be sure to check his schedule as he is only open on select Saturdays.

NA Graphics | Another one stop shop, NA Graphics carries everything from A-Z whether it’s instructional materials, equipment, or printing supplies.

CLASSES AND WORKSHOPS

Montserrat College of Art, Beverly, MA (April 5-6, 2017)
Big Wheel Press, Easthampton, MA
Maine Media Workshops, Rockport, ME (April 8-9, 2017)
MASS ART, Boston, MA

FAVORITE PRESSES AND PRINTERS

Aesthetic Union 
Baltimore Print Studios 
Ben Jones 
Big Wheel Press 
Boxcar Press 
Brad Vetter 
David Wolske 
Genghis Kern 
Hammer Press 
Hatch Show Print 
Huckleberry Letterpress Co. 
Mama’s Sauce 
Power & Light Press 
Repeat Press 
Studio on Fire 
Workhorse Printmakers

Do you have any letterpress-related questions for George? Please email him at info[AT]smudgeink.com! 

(photo credit: Studio Nouveau)

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