Those who say print is dead are fools. The same people thought that vinyl had gone the way of the Dodo. But, somehow, you can find USB record players and newly released tracks pressed straight into the grooves on those little black plates of plastic accompanied by a digital download code.
Print is not dead, it has simply changed.
Digital hasn’t killed analog. Instead, they have combined into something grand and new. Someone who has embraced this newfound harmony is Joseph and his company Black Heart Letterpress. He’s taken vintage equipment and new technology to breathe new life into the art of print making.
Amidst an assortment of incredible steampunk-style machinery and a menagerie of wooden and steel letterpress dies, I was able to find out how a design, originally imprinted on a brain, becomes indelibly imprinted on paper.
What made you decide to start designing and printing your own cards and designs?
I’ve been designing things for years, as well as doing “fine art” printmaking. With letterpress, I am specifically drawn to the actual machines (presses, paper cutters, paper drills, etc) as well as the look of the printed materials. I also really like the repetitive nature of manufacturing something.
Can you tell me a little bit about the presses you use to create the prints, cards, and invitations?
We have 3 presses now. Our primary press is a Chandler & Price 10 x 15 New Series press. It was built in 1926 and weighs 1,500 pounds. My first press is a much smaller tabletop Kelsey Excelsior, which we bring out to all the craft shows. I think people really enjoy getting to see it and learn about how it works.
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Where did you get your hands on the awesome vintage equipment?
The Kelsey was my first press, which I found on eBay. I got the big C&P from a cool old printer (Alan Runfeldt) in Frenchtown, NJ. He’s been my Letterpress Yoda for the last couple of years, and we finally convinced him to sell that one to us. We’ve gotten other random bits from all over eBay, craigslist, old print shops, etc.
How did one of the presses make it from a Sears in California into your workshop?
I’m not exactly sure how or why it got to PA from CA. I bought that press (Showcard Model B-Special) and a whole collection of things from someone on Craigslist. Mixed in with all the materials were some notes and documentation that lead me to believe it was working in a Sears in California for some time. And these specific presses are well known to have been used in department stores back in the day.
Can you walk me through a little bit of your design and printing process?
I’ll occasionally create a print using old wood and metal type, but most often I print from custom photopolymer plates. I create a design using Illustrator on my Mac, and then send the file to the folks at Boxcar Press in New York. They create the actual plate used for printing and ship it back to me. Using that modern technology in conjunction with such old technology is another aspect of this that I find really cool and interesting.
What are some of the strangest requests you’ve had for custom prints?
I guess the strangest one was a woman who wanted to have entire books printed. Once I worked up a partial quote of what it would actually cost to accomplish, I never heard from her again.
What drew you to analog printing as opposed to its digital cousin?
I love modern technology. I read all the tech blogs and twitter and as I type these answers on my Mac, my iPad and iPhone are both within arms reach. But when it comes to my own printing and artwork, I just tend to prefer a more timeless aesthetic and method. There’s just something about the quality of a print that was created in a very physical way. Especially with letterpress… there’s an almost violent collision that happens when that giant machine closes to create an impression on the paper. While I’m printing, my hand is inches away from part of a machine that could totally crush it to bits if I’m not paying attention. I get a satisfaction from that that could never happen with digital reproduction.
What’s coming up next for you?
Well we’re always looking for work! But aside from custom work, we’ll be doing lots of craft shows through the Spring and Summer, so that should keep us busy. We’ll be introducing a bunch of new products over the next couple of months also.
If you are in need of anything involving ink and paper, be sure to check out their store. You can also follow Black Heart Letterpress on twitter to keep up to with what’s going on and what color ink is currently slathered lovingly on the press.