Saturday, December 31, 2016

Letterpress Studio Move, Day 2

This was another big day for my new letterpress studio. The first thing I did was take one step to prepare for the grand finale of the moving process, renting a trailer and hauling BIG stuff. Before I can rent a trailer, I needed a trailer hitch.

[Just got hitched!]

After that was installed, I went off to Ann's studio to move the last few big things. The biggest and most daunting is this guillotine cutter.

[Big cutter on a rickety old table]

I don't know how much it weighs, probably 300-500 pounds because I am completely incapable of lifting it myself. I can lift some heavy things, but this is just too much. I had arrived with lots of supplies to try a variety of complex strategies to move it onto the rolling wooden work table I had brought. It turns out that two guys can't lift it really, but we can slide it. So we slid it onto my table and it was ready to go into the corner and wait until the van was packed before its turn to go.

[Cutter on wheels]

I had brought plywood and 2x4s for moving the cutter, but we used them to build a ramp for the dolly and help us get other heavy stuff into the van.

[Homemade ramp]

Since this was the last trip, we were able to spot everything in the space that belonged to the letterpress studio and not some other interest. This big granite (and gneiss) slab is heavy and perfectly flat to ensure that all of the letters are standing up straight and level before they are locked up and taken to the press.

[Imposing surface]

This adorable little card press was in its original box. I don't know if I'll get to working order, but it will look great in a display of historic printing ephemera.

[Big bonanza printing press]

At last we got everything into the van. Ann said goodbye to her old studio for the last time and I headed home to get it all unloaded before bed.

[Ann and the van]

Thank goodness my friend, Wonder, was available to help. Some of this stuff was just unwieldy, especially the guillotine. But we did it and even took a minute for a photo before going to bed.

 [Me and the little guillotine]

It will be very nice to finish moving so I can set up this new studio. Tomorrow is the BIG stuff. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Lead Type - Studio Move, Day 1

The last couple of days have been a whirlwind! Before I start to tell the story, I want to give a little context. If you just want the story of moving half a ton of lead, skip to the picture of the type cases...

When I posted these pictures on Facebook, a good friend reminded me that just a month ago I had said I would not become one of those crazy lead-collecting letterpress printers. Well, things change. I was already crazy. And now I collect lead type.

Since the middle of November I've been practicing letterpress printing and test marketing lines of merchandise at the Holiday Market in Eugene. It has given me the important experience that I needed in order to see the next steps toward developing a letterpress business. One of the things that happened during this time was that the only company that supplier the polymer plates that I use for my images had a glitch in their supply chain. I had to drop two whole product lines from my production plans because I just could not get the materials to keep printing. This, coupled with the expense of these plates, makes my business fairly fragile. What if this had happened right before a run of lucrative, time-sensitive jobs? You can trust that I will be storing up that polymer product when it becomes available, but I want more resilience than that.

I used my time in Eugene to test all kinds of things related to printing. In an attempt to buffer against polymer shortages without "resorting" to lead, I tried having a friend carve linoleum with a laser. The results were shockingly good, at first. After a few dozen impressions, the linoleum started getting mushy. After a few hundred, the type just broke apart. This is not acceptable. Even at its best, the linoleum type could only render larger type sizes. Clearly, something harder than linoleum would be a much better answer.

There is another fantastic technology which adds weeks of lead time and many dollars to the job - custom metal dies. They solve many of the problems of polymer and lino, but add weeks of time and potentially hundreds of dollars to the cost of a job. There are time when I will use them, but not for quick, less expensive jobs.

[Laser-carved Linoleum vs. Lead]

Then, I started thinking about the big picture. Lead type is very versatile. I could typeset and print a set of business cards in half a day. This brings the cost down to what normal people can afford, and increases the number of customers that I can please. With the decision made, I contacted a woman who had approached me at the Holiday Market about buying her entire letterpress studio. I had initially said no because I wasn't interested in all of that type. When I changed my mind about the type, I called her up and she made me one unbelievable deal with one caveat. I could have the stuff for an incredible price if I would take it ALL.

[Two of the three cases]

[Closeup of the third case]

I quickly agreed. When I arrived and started moving things around, it quickly became clear that I had taken on a HUGE project. Some of these cases only contain 5-10 pounds of lead, but some of them are back-breakingly heavy.

[A "light" type case]

[Ornaments are heavy!]

There are so many amazing things to discover that I think I'll be exploring these cases for years before I really understand what I've inherited.

[Calendar font]

She had previously moved these cases several times in the past, most notably from Texas to Oregon. She highly recommended wrapping each case separately so that bumps in the road don't cause letters to jump from one slot to another. (NIGHTMARE!) Her husband and I did exactly as she said and it took several hours.

[Wrapping one of 72 cases.]

(My sinewy forearms in that photo give a little idea of how much work it was to lift and manipulate these cases, one at a time, all afternoon.)

[Most of the cases are ready to go.]

In the end, though, we had stacks and stacks of cases, ready to go.

[Into the van!]

We plotted and strategized how to get everything into the van and very stable while keeping it at the lowest possible center of gravity.

[All packed!]

And, that was the first trip. There is still another trip scheduled for Friday to get the cabinet top, two more cases of lead spacing material, a table-mounted lead saw, and, by means yet to be determined, a massive paper cutter.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Letterpress Fundraiser

Help me buy an antique letterpress and bring hand printmaking to Wolf Creek!

After years of production weaving, I'm ready to move on to another hand craft. For the last year, I've studied many different types of printmaking, traveling as far as Nebraska in search of the best teachers. The skills I've learned are immense, but two techniques have stood out from the rest - woodblock carving and letterpress printing. After a deep search, I actually found a spectacular letterpress from the turn of the 20th century, recently restored to museum quality. I've paid a deposit and just need to come up with the rest of the money to buy it and move it to a rented studio space in my home town of Wolf Creek, Oregon.

On Solstice night, the longest night of the year, I spent the night in a rented printmaking studio in Eugene using a letterpress from 1870 to produce a special line of cards to help me get this amazing press.

Here are a couple of photos of the press that I'm trying to pay for...

[Operator's view]

[Spectator's view]

And here are the two items that I have listed on Etsy to try to raise the funds...


Please feel free to spread the word far and wide. I would love to have this press paid off and moved to Wolf Creek in the next couple of weeks.

And finally, for those wondering, "What the heck is letterpress?" Here's a video of my first day on the rented letterpress. My new press is about twice the size of this one, but still totally powered by the treadle.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Status Update: Change of Gears!

[The Press]

It's been a long time since I updated this blog. I've been ridiculously busy running the weaving business while taking tons of printmaking classes and practicing to integrate each new technique as thoroughly as I can.

I have a simple goal in all of this - to learn to support myself as a printmaker.

I can't believe that it was only six weeks ago now that I took a class on solarplate with Barbara Mason. Unlike any of the other techniques I've studied, this one lit me on fire! As soon as I realized that I could use these plates in the letterpress, a light bulb came on. I could make lots of quality work quickly and sell it inexpensively. My letterpress work would finally fit into the genre of work that sells on Etsy, enabling a whole new income stream. And, finally, it opens the door to taking up any income slack with contract work. I could beat the bushes and find work printing business cards, invitations, restaurant coasters and the like if it takes longer than I expected to develop the fine art printing business.

I immediately hired a letterpress printmaker, Kristin Walker, for some private instruction on the machine itself. After my time with her, I was good enough to start putting in my hours on the press. I really learn at my best and fastest by making every mistake in rapid succession.

This month is a perfect time to learn in this way. I'm selling at the Eugene Holiday Market through December. This puts me in Eugene where I can print every week on a borrowed press in the Whiteaker Printmakers studio space. It also lets me test market the new products as soon as they are dry. The feedback that I get guides my work in the days immediately following the customer interactions.

Here is what I've done so far...

[Week 1, photo-based cards]

[Week 2, more photo-based cards]

In the first two weeks, I was using cheap, thin paper to pull as many prints as I could and gain any sort of control over the press. I printed onto the press bed, double printed on some of them, smeared machine oil and fingerprints everywhere, used too little ink and too much ink and generally made a lot of messy cards. They are mostly all sold at $1 each, including an envelope. Yes, it's too cheap and they're almost gone as a result.

[Week 3, processing and drawing instead of photos]

After a couple of weeks, I switched to a heavier and more expensive card stock. I took way more time with the images, and got ink in far fewer places where it didn't belong. Many of these are sold, too.

[Week 4 - typography, embossing, and mixing color]

Last week I printed these calendars but the ink wasn't dry enough to cut them down to single pages by market day. It gives me an extra few days to make wooden bases for them. They are intended to stand up on a desk.

[Week 5 - blotter paper embossing, transparent custom color]

This week I printed on blotter paper to make these drink coasters. I am really hoping that the ink is dry by Friday so I can cut them apart, cut rounded corners on them, and package them into sets before the market opens on Saturday.

[Drying racks at the moment]

I also printed replacements for the most popular images on the card rack. I am finally good enough with the press to use luxurious, expensive paper and a custom-mixed warm black ink. I've got a fan on them in the hopes that good air flow and absorbent paper will have them dry in time for market. Fingers crossed!

This coming week I'll be printing replacements for cards that are selling well along with a few new card designs.

If you have ideas for what I should print next, leave me a comment. If you want to get on the schedule for some custom work, I should be doing that starting in late January. Don't forget, my work will be a little rough, but cheap until I gain the skill to produce more consistent, expensive stuff.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Drive To Nebraska

[Still catching up! These pics are from July 22-24th.]

Since March, I've been spending every spare minute preparing for the woodblock printmaking workshop and residency at Constellation Studios. Finally, the day had come to drop everything, pack the van, and head halfway across the country to Lincoln, Nebraska.

Knowing that I was going to be giving up my "normal" life of mountain hikes and swimming in wild rivers and lakes, my friend was able to convince me to take one last hike and swim as I was leaving. He drove out Highway 140 with me toward Nevada and we stopped to hike and swim in Woodpecker Lake. As is often the case out here in the wilds of Oregon, we had the whole place to ourselves. The air was warm, and the water was the perfect type of cold - refreshing but not freezing.

[One Last Swim in Woodpecker Lake]

After that, I took off, driving in an unusual direction for me. As the sun was setting, it was directly behind me.

[Heading East at Sunset]

Since this trip is going to be a long one and the time is short, I'll be driving far into the night while I'm in somewhat familiar terrain. When I get to beautiful and unfamiliar places, I only want to drive in the daytime so I can see the places that I'm passing through.

When I get out on long straight highways, I don't mind stopping in the middle of the road for a minute to take a photo because I can see cars that are 2-3 minutes away in each direction. This sight was so beautiful that I had to stop and take a photo. The moon was slowly rising directly in front of me.

[Moonrise Over My Lane]

Finally, it got to be quite late and I was too tired to press on so I stopped. In the morning Iwas excited to see these mountains illuminated by the sunrise. And they're off! Day 2.

[Sunrise Mountain Panorama]

[Pure White Salt Flats]

In the middle of the day I stopped in for a quick break and a meal with a friend in Salt Lake City. We've known each other for over 20 years, meeting when he moved to Santa Cruz in something like 1994. He moved back to SLC a few years ago so we see each other quite rarely these days. It was nice to stretch my legs and have a quick visit.

[Salt Lake City]

The rest of the very long day was a blur. I knew that I wanted to arrive in Nebraska as quickly as possible so that I could rest up and be ready to sponge up information as thoroughly as I could. I did't really stop to take many pictures, opting instead for one-handed camera operation when there was nobody around me on the road. Sorry about the window reflections.

[Pretty Red Rocks]

[More Pretty Rocks]

At sunset, though, I did have to pull over. I could catch glimpses of a sunset in my rearview mirror and needed to stop and see what I was missing. It was spectacular.

[Big Sky]

Then I slept at another rest area somewhere outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming. There was a giant bust of Lincoln at the rest area, a foreshadowing of the weeks to come...

In the morning I got up and pressed on, driving out of the Rocky Mountains and into the plains. There is one very notable feature of the large expanses of farmland - the skies are HUGE! This means that you can see hundreds of miles in every direction. Living in a very mountainous region, I'm not used to this at all. It also means that the clouds do very strange things. (Or maybe that I can see the strange things that clouds always do...) This is a crooked snapshot of a weird dark V-shaped formation that was flat on the bottom and mottled like a checkerboard. I've never seen anything like it.

[Weird Clouds in a Very Big Sky]

And then, I arrived in the truly flat farmland of Nebraska. There is so much corn that the locals tell me it's changing the environment. From the highway, you can't really see over it very much. It's tall! So I drove onto an overpass to take a panorama from a vantage point that's higher than the corn.

[Corn on the Horizon]

And then, almost soon as it began, the trip was over. I had arrived in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was looking at the tallest building in town. I am now kicking myself that I didn't see if there are tours of this building. I'd be surprised if you couldn't see the Rockies from the top.

[Nebraska Capitol Building]

So here it is, laid out on the map, three days of travel. The bright dots are places where I stopped to stretch my legs, get gas, or take a picture. As you can see, I didn't really dilly-dally on this trip. I checked into my Airbnb, took a shower, and headed out for a quick bite to eat before crashing hard.

[GPS Track]

Monday, August 22, 2016

Last-minute Residency Prep

[Still catching up! This post is from about July 19th.]

You will notice that the last few posts have been about weaving shows. My life is really quite divided at the moment. I need to spend lots and lots of time learning and practicing printmaking, but at the same time I still need to make a living from weaving for another couple of years. I'm trying to keep the blog about printmaking because that's the new and interesting stuff, but stepping into my real life from time to time is unavoidable.

In preparation for my trip to Nebraska, I decided to learn as much as I could about consistent, repeatable plywood sources. Karen recommends birch plywood because of its consistent but not dominating grain, which should appear in the finished work with the techniques that she teaches. I had been buying it at Home Depot or Lowe's, but found that their supply was inconsistent. The same exact product in their inventory could have very different characteristics like the thickness of the top layer of birch and the hardness of the glue used to hold the layers together. These two attributes make a huge difference in the carvability of the wood. If the top layer is too thin or the glue too brittle, the wood can splinter and make carving almost impossible for a beginner like me.

[Plywood Specialist]

By going to the plywood specialty store in Eugene, I was able to find a source for plywood that is of very high quality and, more importantly, repeatable. If I fall in love with a specific product, it will be the same every time I go there to get it.

Since I wanted to make the most of my time with Karen, I decided to go the extra mile and be sure I had every type of wood that I would want to try. This included making my own 1/4" plywood by gluing together two sheets of 1/8" plywood. It just takes lots of glue, lots of time, lots of pressure, a steady hand, and lots of patience.

[Lots of Glue]

[Lots of Weight]

In the end, it was just hours before my trip across the country when I finished gluing, cutting, and labeling all of the plates that I could possibly ever use in my time there.

[Lots of Printing Plates]

I can't wait to see what these plates can do!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Salem Art Fair: More Art Acquisition

[Another post from last month. This one happened around July 17th. I'm catching up! Just one very full month to go!]

The weekend after Oregon Country Fair I managed to squeak into the Salem Art Fair. They treat us really well, with custom omelets and such, but that's not the focus of this post...

At SGCI in Portland I had briefly met an amazing printmaker named Kelli MacConnell. I then followed her on Instagram (which you can do HERE) and fell in love with her work.

[Kelli MacConnell and her beautiful work]

In my life, there are a few things that are very meaning fun to me and likely to become the focus of my print work for quite some time. These things are trees and mountains. Well, Kelli is also inspired by these same things and doing an amazing job at capturing their essence in her linocut printmaking. I will have to work extra hard to make sure that my work doesn't even try to duplicate the beauty that she is capturing. And while I do this work, I can be inspired by her prints in my studio.

[Kelli's Douglas Fir In My Studio]

I know that it looks dangerous to hang her print uncovered in a messy print studio, but I know that it is not. I cannot afford to frame it yet so I have hung it in a central location that gets no traffic. I just learned this method of hanging from Karen in Nebraska. It uses thumbtacks in the walls and very clean rare earth magnets on the front of the work. As soon as I have a budget for framing or the skills to do it myself, this piece will be ensconced behind glass.

[Naked Gallery Closeup]

[Unhung Print]

I was also lucky enough to acquire another one of her prints, smaller and less iconic than the douglas fir, but absolutely gorgeous and in a style that I can only admire. This one, thankfully, is in a cellophane envelope so I don't have to hold my breath when I get near it. If I continue to collect the work of people whom I admire, soon I'll have an impressive collection!