Small but Mighty

There are many great experiences that come hand in hand with participating in an awesome craft show like Show of Hands or the Renegade Craft Fair. One of my favorites is the opportunity to talk directly with shoppers and get instant feedback on the work created in the studio. One of the most common requests we get is for smaller sizes of our most popular large posters (and occasionally large versions of our small prints). This is for myriad reasons that include limited wall space and a cheaper price point.

There were a few prints that I wanted to shrink, while focusing on our more socially relevant pieces, starting with the popular Give Bread print. The original is 14×18″, and the new one is 8×10″ and easy to frame. This series is printed on a 100% recycled white card stock for consistency between the prints.



givebreadsmall1The second print is a tinier take on our It Takes A Village print. You can read about the original one here. I’ve discovered that this is a very popular print for teacher gifts, but we are always asked for a smaller, more convenient size.

TittakessmallI love the various techniques in this print. It’s set up to look like a chalkboard, with wood type and linoleum blocks to create the frame. The green is a linoleum block that’s very heavily printed so that the opaque white type shows up similarly to chalk on top of it.


takesavillage1The trickiest of the three prints is a recreation of Enjoy Your Farmers Market, which was originally printed in 7 colors and is sold out (another reason to tackle this one!). This time, it’s reduced to 4 colors and an abridged collection of typographic ‘fruits’.

Tfarmersmarketsmall2After pulling out the type that seemed appropriate, I did a quick carbon proof on press to see how all of the pieces would work together, and to figure out which type would be which color. Not pretty, but enough to go on!

carbonproofThis is how it broke down to mustard, red, blue and green. There’s a bit of overprinting as well to create new colors.



And while we’re on the subject of reducing prints, last year I created both mini prints and cards of our best selling posters. I didn’t want to print them with another means such as digital, offset or screenprinting, so that they’d be exact replicas of their larger siblings. Instead, I sought the challenge of building them entirely with our tiniest type and ornaments. The first set of prints and cards measure 3.5×5″.

Our Urban Gardening poster has been one of the biggest sellers for the studio for years, and was first choice to be shrunk down to this (note that tiny 4 point type at the bottom!):

murbangardening1Skylines are a familiar subject matter in the studio and this one is no exception. It is created from the back sides of wood type and two little ‘l’s.

Turbangardening5 copy


The greenery is mostly created with lino slugs, or ornamental rules cast on a linotype. The little orange ‘flowers’ need to be spaced accordingly to line up with the green print.


Turbangardening4 copy

Turbangardening1 copy

Another popular print in the studio is Jubilee, which pulls song lyrics from the charming old timey song. This mini print presented a lot of challenges in maintaining the same typographic feel as the poster, given that wood and metal type styles have historically been a bit far apart. But I found a few in our collection that fit the bill!

Tjubilee1 copy



We scored a hit with In The City, pulled from the song by The Jam. For this one I had to find some tiny triangles and little lines.


Tinthecity1 copy

Tinthecity2 copy


I’m thrilled with how all of these prints turned out! Nothing beats a good challenge, and taking an existing design and manipulating it into a different format while working within the parameters of metal and wood type (and occasional linoleum blocks) is just that. All of these prints are available in our etsy shop.

Master Class

By popular demand, this is happening! This will be the inaugural class, and I hope to have more throughout the year. Email for more info!



Tradition and Progress

Way back in 1996, I started working at Fireproof Press, run by John Upchurch and Matt McClintock, known for producing music packaging, posters, business cards and other oddball print pieces, mostly for Chicago-based artists. The third floor workspace, shared with Screwball Press, was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, scattered with press bits and flying sheets of paper. I loved every minute of my time there (almost). Everything was made better with root beer.

John closed Fireproof in the winter of ’98, and I like to think that had he not done so, I’d still be there today. Forced out into the world, I got one press, and then another, and in the summer of ’99, Starshaped Press was born, at least in name. I took over a number of jobs that had been intended for Fireproof, and then began a two-year stint at Columbia College, alongside John in his new position. During that time I grew the business and set up our first studio, about 385 sq ft in the lovely Ravenswood area, where I worked exclusively for two years after leaving Columbia. In the summer of 2003, the studio moved to a bigger, brighter space also in Ravenswood, where the work continues today. Here’s what an average day look like:

studio114To celebrate the 15th year of the studio, I’ve planned a series of prints to showcase some of the fine type in the studio as well as the ideals that have guided the work of Starshaped over the last 15 years. The first print pulls a quote from the Barnhart Brothers & Spindler type specimen book of  1923 and is printed in three colors.

bbspromo4The first layer is printed using the back sides of wood type, allowing the texture of the wood to come through.


bbspromo3The border elements are composed of ornaments from different collections, mostly cast at Skyline Type Foundry.

Tbbspromo9‘Tradition’ and ‘Progress’ were printed with wood type that’s in pretty rough shape. But I wanted to contrast the rustic aspect of this 100-year-old type with some of the newest metal type; ‘typographic art’ is set in Runic, a brand new cast and not used before this project.



Tbbspromo3Where did the time go? These four typefaces (Railroad Gothic, Onyx, Engravers Old English and Stymie Bold) have all come to the studio collection from different sources over the years.


Tbbspromo4Here is a full shot of the final print. I wanted to deconstruct the traditional text-heavy broadside of the late 1800s while maintaining the ‘more is more’ approach to typesetting of that time. I felt this quote was particularly forward thinking, especially given that it appeared in print in 1923.

I am sending the print (along with ones to come this year) to the printers and designers that I admire, and that have championed Starshaped over the last 15 years, as well as folks that have a passing interest in letterpress and typography. There are still many copies left in the studio and I’m happy to send one to anyone that would like to have it! Just email with your info. And thanks for the support. 2014 is going to be a great year in the studio.


A Story of Class

It’s not often these days that we have an opportunity to build an entire stationery identity, so it was a delight when Jeff Story called in need of pieces to represent his new law practice. He loved the simple red and black sans serifs often used to represent the work of poet Kenneth Patchen and sent this image for inspiration:


Here are the three pieces we created, printed on lovely Oxford textured paper from Neenah.


jstoryfullset2Bernhard Gothic is the typeface that played a big role in this design, in various weights. I often refer to this as the ‘house’ typeface at Starshaped, as there is a large run of it in the studio. It was a favorite back at Fireproof Press as well.


The disappointing part of this project was that we were one ‘L’ short of setting Jeffrey’s full name in this particular size. We played around with similar options but none seemed quite right, so we had to bite the bullet and order a magnesium plate. Hopefully we’ll have more of this particular font the next time we’re printing this job! I love this image which shows the mashup of new technology (the plate) and a very old (19th century) set of ornaments. In this photo, the ornament appears to be in pretty rough shape; it actually prints quite well despite its age!


Tjstory1I find really traditional cards printed in the studio to be particularly enjoyable as they blur the lines of the time period in which they were created; these could have been done last month, or 50 years ago. Clean lines are always in style!


It’s beginning to look a lot like…

holiday2013email…the best printing time of the year! I like to think that this year we’ve really put together a wide variety of cards, prints and posters that highlight myriad letterpress techniques available with a great type collection. From new Artistic Prints to patterned cards to kitschy wood type prints, there’s a little something for everyone.

One of my new favorites is this print that we threw together for the open house and then liked so well it got an upgrade to two colors that’s ready to frame:

grandmother3Consider it a gig poster for Grandmother’s House, and a quirky take on the classic holiday song. There are a lot of fun details, including my first use of these great Moore Wood Type ornamental rules and some endearing hearts.

grandmother7The image at the bottom is an old cut that’s been floating around the studio for years. This time around, I made it two colors by adding the light blue linoleum cut. Grandmas everywhere will approve!

grandmother8I love the sweet simplicity of the form:

TgrandmotherAnother print for the holidays is the next in our series of ‘Artistic Prints’, which glorify the techniques and typefaces of the 19th century.

holiday1There are some lovely details in this one, from the type on curves to the details hidden in the ‘marvelous’ typeface. The background is a border that’s stacked to create a texture with a very subtle pattern.


holiday4Another lovely form! ‘Holiday Season’ is set with initial caps, hence the bouncing baselines.

TholidayIf you’ve got your gifts and you’re ready to wrap, our classic wood type wrapping paper is available, as are these new tags hot of the press. There are cityscape tags, as well as manicules (printer’s fists) and stars, all printed in bright colors on diecut kraft card stock. They’re strung up with butcher string, and ready to go.



manicule2And though it’s not specifically for the holidays, I also finished another Artistic Print recently that’s near to my heart. Inspired by the comment of an elderly individual that lived through the Great Depression:

money1And it’s so true. I wanted the ornate type and ornamentation to resemble that found on paper money. The ‘everything’ type is actually designed to function as monogram type, but was just the tall and skinny thing needed here.

money2Love the shadow on that scroll type, as well as the slight bit of wood texture in the dollar sign. It’s a perfect gift for your sweetie.

money4And like all of our Artistic Prints, there’s an image of the type form included with every one.

TeverythingGift wrapping can be one of the most fun parts of gift giving, unless it isn’t. If that’s how you feel, we can gladly wrap our prints, posters, cards, etc. for you and ship them direct to the receiver, along with a little tag and note. Just let us know when you purchase something from the shop and we’ll handle the rest.

As always, thanks for supporting letterpress at its finest! We source all of our paper in the midwest and continue to use type that has existed for decades, if not centuries, making us one of the most eco-friendly American printers around. And if buying local is your thing and you live in Chicago, be sure to stop by and see us at the Renegade Holiday Craft Fair, December 7th and 8th. The selection of beautifully handmade goods at the Fair will surely mean that you can finish your holiday shopping in one weekend.


Mecca of the North

Of all the wonderful things that Fall brings, one of the most endearing is the annual gathering of printers and type enthusiasts that flock to the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. I’ve written about the museum here many times, and it was a treat to attend our second Wayzgoose there. The museum has had one hell of year, having to move from their location in the original Hamilton building to a new spot overlooking Lake Michigan. And they’ve done it up in style, with this classy sign painted with the humbling talent of John Downer.

hamiltonoutsideLet’s face it. The best thing about getting to Hamilton is the folks we meet. This is the only time during the year that I get to see some of the printers and type enthusiasts I admire from around the world, as well as meet new, up-and-coming craftspeople. One of those I greatly admire is Tracy Honn, from Silver Buckle Press in Madison, who provided this year’s incredible poster:

hamiltonposterMore on that later. After first arriving at Hamilton, we had a lovely dinner with old and new friends. One of the old friends was Scott Moore of Moore Wood Type, along with new friend Phil Moorhouse, all the way from Australia. Here they are enjoying dessert and sketching details of wood type production.

scottphilFriday was workshop day, and I taught Mastering Metal and Wood Type Composition, hoping to help the attendees improve their game with typesetting, really look at spacing issues and work with various typefaces in one piece. The museum’s new space is incredible, and a better fit for the direction in which they want to go. There are distinct areas set up as ‘classrooms’, and this was our area, outfitted with a number of sign presses and a substantial run of wood and metal type:


workshopspace2Here are a few of the happy printers and prints from the day. The first print immortalizes one of the statements I made while introducing the concepts we’d be covering in the workshop.



workshop9Talented and all around great guy, Brad Vetter, helped out in the morning. Here he is assisting with hand burnishing some of the peskier type from Arlene’s form.

workshop1Clint and Tahlia made the trek all the way from Australia so they could use this giant quoin key.

clinttahliaAmy took on a simple form in the afternoon and it was very successful. She nitpicked the justification for some time and the result really paid off.


workshop6Which one is a ‘P’ and which is a ‘d’? We printed a handful before catching it!

workshop4A print that takes my ‘establish a visual hierarchy’ rule to heart:


Saturday was lecture day! This time around, I was speaking about Documenting Type Forms in the studio. Here’s one of the three enthusiastic groups that sat in on the discussion. Notice anyone intimidating in this crowd? Yep, I was sweating.

lectureThree of those intimidating people are right here. David Shields from Virginia Commonwealth, Paul Brown from Indiana University and Erin Beckloff from Miami University. Too much typographic knowledge for one photo. I’m surprised the camera didn’t pop a spring.

lecture1Erin also brought this energetic crew of Miami students with her, in all their matching t-shirt glory.

lecture2While I was talking and answering questions, Jo was busy in the back printing up a storm! We packed her little homemade press and she created a number of pieces (hand illuminated, of course) for the Sunday print swap.


joprinting2I had the pleasure of meeting Geri from Virgin Wood Type… finally. You know you’re in the right place when a little gem like this ends up in your apron pocket.

virginwoodtypeSunday morning presented one of the more thrilling moments of the weekend. The incomparable Dave Peat brought a large number of items to be given away as door prizes. You can see the crowd here, anticipating his talk about how different type forms can be created and the following giveaway.

davepeatThis entire table was set up with prize items. Books, presses, type, mystery boxes and candy… If these items were ‘throwaway’ to Dave Peat, imagine what his personal collection looks like.


doorprize2Greg Walters, another fine APA member, was on hand, along with Bill Moran and Stephanie Carpenter, to call names for the prizes. It was agreed that this was the best form of The Price Is Right. Come On Down without having to guess at pricing!


doorprize3Our new friend Tammy of Red Door Press from Iowa scored some large wood type.

tammyJudith Poirier also scored some lovely type. And looks who’s looking on… it’s John Risseeuw, an incredible papermaker and printer. I was delighted to meet him back in June at the Phoenix Wayzgoose.

judithpoirierLook who else scored something great! Jo picked out a small card press and couldn’t have been happier. The dolphin was also a ‘prize’, so it was a good morning to be six years old.

jopressFollowing Dave Peat (though it’s hard to do so), was the annual print swap. All participants grabbed a table on which to spread their wares and got an opportunity to talk about print projects, techniques and interesting tidbits related to the craft. Here’s our friend Lorraine with a growing bundle of awesome samples.

printswap2The Miami students had a number of fun things to share, besides just smiles.

printswap1And here’s Andy, the other half of Red Door Press, with some awesome prints and bookmarks to coordinate with his dapper printer’s cap.

andyJo always has a keen eye for art that’s worth investing in, and she didn’t disappoint this time around. Here she is with her first Dafi Kuhne print. And of course, Dafi himself, who led experimental chipboard type workshops on Friday.

jodafiA gratuitous shot for me, it’s Matthew Carter holding one of our type specimen prints. Fuzzy photo? Sure. But you’d shake, too, if a MacArthur Genius was holding something you made.

matthewcarterTwo of my favorite ladies in print, Martha Chiplis (who co-authored this informative book), and Jessica Spring of Springtide Press. Personal heroines.

marthajessicaLoved these little punch out kits for building letterforms!

solidtypeAmos Kennedy Jr. (don’t let the tag fool you) and Rich Kegler take a print break to visit that new-fangled technology.

amosrickMore APA members! Bob Piontkowski and Rick Von Holdt dressed for success on Sunday.

bobrickIt’s always hard to say goodbye and head home. Jo had a great time hanging out with my two helpers for the weekend, Brad Vetter and Dan Elliot. And yes, Richard Zeid photobombed the second image. But we’re sure glad he did.


danjoAnd of course, the brains and heart behind the entire operation, Stephanie and Jim. The pure love for what they do coupled with a breakneck schedule for opening the museum cements the fact that this place is around to stay.

stephjimBy the end of the weekend, this was the Wayzgoose poster.

posterH. A little remnant of the old building, now living in the new. Yet another reminder that the building may change, but the spirit of preservation and good old-fashioned midwestern gumption will guarantee the success of a project, no matter how far fetched it might seem. While I like to think that we’ll be at the museum again before the next Wayzgoose, that may not be the case. But the wait is made easier by the now constant connection to the friends we made while there, and that shared aspiration to become better printers, designers, typographers and teachers will sustain us all. Until next November.


14 Years and Printing

Setting up Starshaped Press back in 1999, I threw together a small open house for family and friends to come see my limited collection of printing paraphernalia. Fourteen years later, the open house has become a large annual event, where printers and printing aficionados come to eat, print and enjoy good conversation. I’m proud of the community that has built up around the studio and that continues to bolster our efforts to preserve the craft of letterpress printing.

It’s that time of year again when we ink up the presses, clean the floors and stock the studio with sweet treats for everyone to enjoy. And of course there’s a poster to both announce and celebrate the evening:

openhouse1Inspiration for the open house posters comes from a different place every year and gives me a chance to push our type collection into a certain aesthetic. This year I revisited some of the design work done by Vaughn Oliver and v23, the longtime in-house design force behind most of the early 4AD record releases. It’s an understatement to say that this design work changed the course of my creative life and showed me incredible, contemporary typographic work. I wanted to play with some of the type we have that doesn’t see the light of day too often yet evokes the conscious typographic decisions made in v23′s work.

I haven’t had much experience printing brass circles and this was a great opportunity. It’s a bit tricky getting the type inside to stay straight, and buffer around the edges to hold it in the form. Letterspacing ‘th’ around the 14 was also a challenge, as the 4 needed to be mortised so that the ‘h’ could fit closer. Love that band saw.

form5This is one of our more attractive forms of late, hanging out on our imposing stone. The quotation marks come from larger wood type that I trimmed to size to fit comfortably and allow for maximum flexibility of placement.

forminwindowI really didn’t want to carve any specific image for this print, but instead wanted a moody feel with a hint of stars.

openhouse4The best way to achieve this is with a pressure print, which means adding shapes to the makeready of the press and running the paper over them through the press. I used linoleum as the inking medium and trimmed two pieces to the outline I wanted for the poster. The dark copper brown was run first, followed by a strip of yellow printed with the back sides of wood type. It was done as a work-in-turn so that I could get two prints out of each sheet of paper.

linocutsetup2The chipboard stars were then added to the cylinder of the press, under the poster paper. When the paper hits the inked linoleum, the areas where the stars are will hit heavier and will therefore make a stronger impression.

starsetup1Here are the linoleum blocks inked; both light orange and pink were on the press in what’s known as a split fountain. The stars here are not carved in the linoleum; this shows where the paper is hitting the block hardest and picking up the ink for the print.

linocutsetup3All together, this achieved the exact effect I was looking for, coupled with the beautiful type.

openhouse2Real and true letterpress indeed! I’m awed by the successes, epic failures and enthusiasm I’ve met with over the last 14 years and love throwing the doors open for a cozy night of printing with the community. We’d sure love to see you!

Saturday, November 16th

7-10 pm

4636 N. Ravenswood #103


You Are Beautiful

Having a child and a business are two great things that don’t always go great together. When my daughter was born almost seven years ago, the best laid plans to preserve the studio fell into shambles and there were rocky periods of wondering if I could pull off printing and mothering on a daily basis. Fast forward to now and I’m beginning to see the ways that the two disparate identities can come together as one.
Jo has been experimenting with printmaking at the studio, where she can often be found after school and on Saturdays. I’m not always convinced that she takes delight in the process as her attitude can be quite cool, case in point our latest collaboration. We were asked to contribute a piece to the You Are Beautiful exhibition at Galerie F here in Chicago. You are probably familiar with these little stickers, and this show is a celebration of the success of the campaign. All pieces submitted are 12×12″ square and represent various media.

I thought this would be a great collaborative project, and an opportunity to explore printing on fabric, something we’ve been experimenting with this year. I wanted the opportunity to work together on a project that promoted a very basic concept of accepting oneself and recognizing beauty where it exists. Having a daughter is a constant reminder that societal pressures on women and girls to conform to ideals of beauty and behavior has not lessened, and that it begins at a very young age. I constantly strive to expose Jo to women who do marvelous things, from writing books and making art to seeking advanced degrees in science to better the lives of others.

But of course my effort to read into the project didn’t make for a smooth start. The night we had to get moving on this project, Jo was completely uninspired and had no interest in working with me. I resigned myself to creating a print on my own and pulled out books and sketch paper to get going. Not surprisingly, seeing my thumbnail sketch efforts and fumbling with a compass was just enough to pique the eye of a curious six year old, and Jo quickly started to put together her own ideas. Her sketches involved lots of hearts and circles, which doesn’t make for the easiest type form on press:


sketchI pulled the smaller type and let her find some that would still spell You Are Beautiful even when twisted into other shapes. We could almost create a circle and with the help of a cache of triangular furniture, we got it together.


typeform3We realized that running the fabric through the press 4 times (one in each direction) achieved a true circular shape and produced very interesting effects in the overlapping.


jopress6All of the green runs went first, followed by the main purple color.


See our printer’s devil in action… just tall enough to run the Vandercook.

We printed the muslin at a larger size then tore it down and heat set the print afterwards so that it would be 12″ square. Here’s the final! We’ll be heading to the opening of the show to check out all of the other great pieces that make up the exhibition and to share in the positive message.


Printing in Biblical times…1823

Love for the world of theater and spectacle runs deep in me and as luck would have it, I am married to a stagehand here in our windy city. Brad, otherwise known as Mr. Starshaped, is not only the muscle behind Starshaped but is a member of the Stagehands Local 2 union, which means he is usually found in one of the larger theaters downtown. For the last year he has worked on The Book of Mormon which needs no introduction.

What might be less commonly known is that at the end of a long and successful theatrical run, the cast, crew and production staff will often share gifts given in a ‘we did this together’ spirit of solidarity. This is why our home is overrun with esoteric t-shirts from Kinky Boots, a transistor radio from Jersey Boys and other odds, ends and personal notes from the various productions that have toured Chicago.

Having printed a fantastically fun and vintage-inspired poster for Jersey Boys, we decided there was too much great material in Book of Mormon to let the opportunity pass. After exploring a number of ideas that were riffs off of the current print materials, I thought perhaps we could move in a different direction and mimic the actual book of Mormon. This decision was also fueled by the fact that the studio has some beat up old sign type that closely resembled that of the book.

Tbom3Instead of printing a solid background or otherwise literal image of a book, I created a more textured rectangle out of two layers of wood type, which gave the area a somewhat rustic (and a little pleather-y?) look. This is easily achieved by printing the back side of large wood type, and I used both 30-line and 20-line sorts. You can see how the individual letters are flipped:



This is the final print. I used a dark gray paper, and brought in the gold starburst from materials used to advertise the show. If you’re familiar with the songs of the production, then you will get the references to ‘crushing it’ and ‘turning it off’; don’t want to explain that and ruin it if you haven’t seen it! The dates refer to when the show began and ended. After distributing these to everyone at the theater, the cast and crew passed them around to collect signatures, yearbook-style.



Research led me to an extraordinary article about the original printing of the book of Mormon (letterpress printed, of course), and the potential for it having been a miracle given the short amount of time in which it was produced. Getting these posters done quickly was also something of a miracle, as they were hot off the press a few days before the end. And we don’t have any angels sneaking in at night to sort our type!

It is always inspiring to see a show come together in a theatrical space, with so many disparate elements needing to work together. From the teamsters and stagehands that move and setup equipment and sets in a raw space to the crew that runs the same thing over and over for a year or more to the cast that has to bring it for every performance, it’s a truly working class form of art. I couldn’t be prouder of Mr. Starshaped and his continued passion for the work.

It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like…

…Holiday card season! Sure, it’s not even Halloween, but our presses are running nonstop and we want to make sure you’ve got a chance to place custom orders in time for the holidays.

holiday2013bOrders start at quantities of 25 and run as little as $2 a card for 100+ cards. Letterpress personalization is also available for an additional flat $50 up to 200 cards. Check out our designs to choose from, and contact us (below) for more specific details. We’re always happy to reinvent the wheel, so if you’d like a completely new design catered to you, we can do it. Orders placed by November 4th ship before Thanksgiving.
Just need a handful of cards without any personalization? You can shop our Holiday selection here.


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