Metal Type Class is Back!

We’re pleased to offer two Master Metal Type Classes this Fall! This is a great opportunity to learn a bit about the history of metal type as well as get your hands dirty with it, as we’ll be making a project as part of the class. Choose one of these Saturdays and contact us asap as space is limited!



An Alphabet of Sorts

Back in the Spring, I put together this little print for the Legion Paper Scavenger Hunt at the National Stationery Show (you can read all about that here), and never had the heart to put away the M form. That sparked the challenging idea to create an entire ornamental alphabet that could potentially be turned into stationery and more.

metaltype1So I started in random order to develop other letterforms. Most measure about 21 picas high (about 3.5″) with varying widths based on individual letters. I sketched rough layouts for each letter, with some being considerably easier than other. The L is unique in that I specifically used many of our ornaments originally designed for the Lanston Type Company.

lOnce I got into the flow, the letters practically designed themselves.

hdAnd then suddenly there were 26 letters, comfortably living on 3 galleys.

typeforms3I wanted to include an ampersand because they are perennially popular and it would serve my ideas for the end result of the project. But this form proved to be quite difficult; it looked as miserable as this image while I walked away from it for a bit to revisit ampersand designs that might better inform the outcome.

ampersandfailAfter a break, this is what came together. Getting all of the angles was pretty killer but the final form was solid. It even includes a tiny ‘and’ catchword.

ampersandOccasionally taking a break from the typesetting, I started printing the actual folded note cards. These didn’t necessarily go in order, but the first three did. They are all printed in silver on Stonehenge cotton paper, and include 100% recycled kraft envelopes.

abcAnd here the M, slightly updated, makes another appearance.

McardA few of the details…such lovely ornaments.


RdetailThe stationery is sold in sets of 6 by the letter, so you can pick your favorite. Great for gifts, too! And of course there’s the ampersand if you just can decide.

compiledstationeryIt struck me that the forms themselves were really beautiful and that they could perhaps be used for another purpose. So after printing each run, I left a little silver ink on them and grabbed the camera. I digitally cleaned up the images to adjust the contrast to best show the ornaments and then flipped the images so they could be read by all.


QThen I had these printed digitally as postcards on thick, recycled card stock.


EpostcardAnd they’re fun to play with! Sold individually, it’s easy to mix and match and spell whatever you like. Or, of course, send them as postcards.

yo3We also had some fun punching holes in them to make banners. Here are the adorable and lovely Will and Sido from Ravenswood’s own Beans and Bagels.

willsidoBeautiful box sets all ready to go. These are available on our etsy site now.

cardspackagedAnd if you’re interested, we can sell letters individually so you can use the actual printed cards as a display. Given that Mr. Starshaped and I will be celebrating our tenth anniversary this week, I put together this grouping for him. See the importance of that ampersand?


Just Add Color. And Linoleum.

Within most letterpress shops you will find both small and large collections of what’s affectionately coined ‘job shop gothic’. These basic sans serif faces pull a lot of weight and often see quite a bit more action than the most decorative, fanciful wood type faces because of their versatility. At Starshaped, we have a ton of great examples of gothic type, ranging from the worn but well made Hamilton variety, to the less-than-perfect mid-century styles made for basic sign presses.

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to dress up these gothics, and have had some success with past greeting cards. Looking at the run of condensed 15-line type in the studio, I started sketching ideas for adding a layer of ornamentation or texture. Here are the four final cards.

finalcompiledsmallMy first step was to proof the actual type that would be the base layer. These are basic carbon paper proofs of the type, with notes about leading for future reference and reprints. Down and dirty, carbon proofs are an easy way to get a glimpse into how the type looks without spending the time of inking up the press.

proof1After that, I laid a thin sheet of marker paper on top of the proofs to start sketching ideas on how to add something to the type. I looked at a lot of Deco-era type treatments for inspiration.

proof2For ‘Thanks’, I played off of little spotlights in the bottom corner of each letter and how they would look projected upwards.

proof4Each image was then flipped and carved in linoleum. I like to work this way instead of having a printing plate made, as it hones my carving skills and gives the final image an imperfect look. This is perfect for these cards, as I wanted all of the layers to have texture and quirkiness.

TthanksAs you can see here, I also printed a background texture, which was simply the back side of 15-line wood type.

thanks3Seemed like ‘Sweet’ should have a candy shop feel, hence the scalloped detail and bubble gum pink.



sweet2‘Sorry’ was a simpler affair, and I opted for a subtle wave in each letter.


sorry2‘Happy’ has twice as much happy, as I worked a squat gothic version into the larger one. I really love the orange on this one.


happy3All of the cards are now available in our etsy shop; each comes with a coin envelope for a slightly vintage feel. If you need a little color, look no further than our jazzed up gothic workhorses.


Printing in the D

Right before the Letterpress Trail took over life, I spent two days at Signal Return, located in Detroit’s Eastern Market, hanging out, printing and enjoying the company in their incredible space. When you see a giant manicule, you know you’re in the right place. And when you understand their mission to create a vibrant printmaking studio that seeks to ‘Teach, Connect, Serve, and Produce’, then that’s even more rewarding.


sr2Their open and airy retail space literally invites people to come in and browse. So many beautiful prints and cards from all over, as well as pretty sweet aprons and shirts. I’m happy to say that Starshaped’s cards and prints are in good company here. Need an awesome gift for someone? This is the place to go, Detroit! Stop on over after you hit the markets on Saturday morning.



sr3They had recently acquired a few new banks of incredible wood and metal type. Here you can see Meg going through it to gauge what was lurking in these cases. I can tell you, there were some real treats there, buried under decades of dirt and dust. And mouse poop. Because all old type comes with complimentary mouse poop.


sr21Here’s Bryan Baker, SR’s printer-in-residence, going through some of his own new type.

sr14And Bryan’s dog Isabelle! I point her out here because she’s an absolute doppelganger of my own dog.

isabelThis is ‘proof press row’, with 3 presses lined up and ready to print. Lynn Avadenka, the artistic director, is at the end, pulling prints of the Detroit type I brought with me.

sr15Joel is moving in for a close up shot!

sr5The beauty of this Vandercook is that it was actually large enough to set all of our ornamental letters in a straight line. So we took advantage of that and printed quite a few new Detroit prints. These are for sale at Signal Return and all of the cash goes directly to them to support their workshops, outreach and all around awesomeness. If you’re in Detroit Friday, September 19th, you can attend their fundraiser, Type-Oh!-Rama, which looks to be a pretty fantastic evening of letterpress activities.


sr20After printing, eating and fraternizing on Friday we went to Shinola for an Art Crank poster show. What an incredibly beautiful place this was. Here’s just a tiny shot of the bike I coveted all night. If anyone wants to donate this to Starshaped, it would see a lot of use.

shinola2Their storefront is virtually a museum, and you can see the posters in the background here. Many of the prints were sold as a benefit for Back Alley Bikes, a cause we can really get behind. The community support and brisk sales of prints was heartening, not to mention the overall enthusiasm for the print community in Detroit.

shinola3After my time at Signal Return on Saturday, I headed over to Kennedy Prints to hang with Amos and see how Detroit was treating him. He has a lot of space for his vast collection of prints, type and presses. Not fully unpacked since moving from Alabama, he’s got plans for a grand and glorious new space.

amos3This is a hand lettered print Amos picked up from a school while in Alabama. Gotta love lead paint!

amos2And a classy ampersand discovered in his wood type collection.

amos7Amos also picked up a few cases of beautifully detailed, hand carved wood cuts with African and African American themes. These came from Italy. What a journey.

amos5And here are a few of the prints Amos sent me home with. He’s doing a lot of fantastic work for the city, as you can see.

amos4Of course I had to go here. It felt like a pilgrimage, and it’s hard to believe I felt my heart flutter when driving by. So modest. And so earth moving at the same time.

hitsvilleIt was such an inspiring 36 hours in the D. Everyone I had the opportunity to work and chat with was filled with the midwestern gumption that makes me proud and assured of the fact that they will succeed with whatever ventures they choose to take on. Go Detroit!



Before hitting the road on our Letterpress Trail this summer, we designed and printed a charming little cd sleeve for the local gypsy jazz (is there any other kind?!) band, Fumée.

fumee1Obviously they hoped to create something that was indicative of the style of music and built an inspiration board that included references to Erté artwork. I riffed on that and drew this smoke-like image:

Tfumee5Double it up and there you go:

fumee2Conveniently, I had just acquired a set of accent characters so we could actually set the name correctly. Since a plate was required for the artwork, I cut into it to insert the hand set text.


fumee5The back side of the sleeve has a smaller version of the main text, so I used a tinier accent here. These curly ornaments from Skyline Type also came close to matching the art of the front.


fumee4Beautiful Parisian and Bernhard Gothic, two of the studio’s workhorse typefaces.

tfumee3The band found a cd duplicator that offered vinyl-looking disks, which was a perfect fit for this project. If you want to check them out, you can find more info here, or head over to Rogers Park Social every Monday night for the real deal!


The 2014 Letterpress Trail finale!

Well, we’ve come to the end of the road on the Letterpress Trail for this summer, and it ends in Rochester, New York. Hold on to your hats because there’s so much type in this post that it’s a little mind blowing. While Jo was distracted with family, slip n’ slides and ice cream, I headed over to Rochester to visit Amelia at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, part of the library at RIT. Feeling a little homesick for the City That Works, Amelia kindly pulled type specimen books from my fair city, largely from Barnhart Bros. and Spindler.

bbscoversTheir first building was a block from where Mr. Starshaped’s theater (the Shubert) is today.

bbsbuildings4What a treat. What follows are some poor photos (in the interest of preserving bindings) of some of the type I found that I both already have and that which I might die for. We’ll start with what I already have in the studio and was happy to confirm as Chicago-born:



have6I’m missing the bug from this set of ornaments, which is a shame because he’s an attractive little fellow.


have7While I don’t have Lightface Era per se, this was a precursor to Pastel, a typeface that I do have in the studio, and one that was popular for silent film intertitles. Here’s a sample of what we’ve done with it.have5

have9We’ve recently proofed up a bunch of catchphrases in our collection, including many that are here.

have2What follows here is a wish list of things I’d love to have for the studio.


want1Beautiful forms!

want2Pretty sure we could recreate this one with little ornaments.

want3And this is the cream of the crop. Totally speechless over this modular alphabet.

want4What strikes me most about the BB&S specimen books is the writing. Here’s a little sample from various books:



bbstext3Each book has wonderful samples of exactly what you can do with their type. Here are a few inspirational pieces:




inspiration5And here’s one that features a cyma, or tilda-like squiggle that fills the space next to a capital L (thanks, Nick). You can often find these in hand painted signs and occasionally in the stone signage of apartment buildings around Chicago.

inspiration2I also found a great ad for the rule bender we currently have on loan from the Platen Press Museum. This handy tool will bend rules to create curved lines in print. For $20…what a steal!

rulebenderAs if that wasn’t enough type to delve into, Amelia then pulled out just a tiny bit of their collection of Albert Schiller’s work. His ornamental print work makes me want to pack it in. So clever and beautifully printed.



schiller7The magical ampersand machine…

schiller5This is THE press, which is currently being restored.


After an overwhelming visit to RIT, I made my way to Virgin Wood Type, the second of two wood type makers on our Trail. It was great to see Geri and Matt again; here’s their humble pantograph in the middle of cutting a new font.

virgin4Boxes and boxes of patterns!

virgin5Matt’s Ludlow box.

virgin6So many beautiful ornaments… how do I narrow down choices?

virgin1This is what I left with. These will be in print soon.

virgin3Then Geri and Matt took me over to Rochester’s Book Arts Center in the Genesee Center for the Arts. What a great facility!





roch7If you’re going to explore a wood type collection, is there anyone better to do it with besides Geri? Here are some of her favorites.



roch4Thanks to Virgin for letting me crash yet again and geek out on wood type for an afternoon.

Our last stop on the trip is a sentimental one. Ten years ago Mr. Starshaped and I were married at the Genesee Country Village, a complete historic village that includes a print shop. I try to get Jo there every summer to explore.

gcv1Their quirky prints are everywhere around the village and are a delight to see. They are also available for purchase and if you’re lucky, someone is around the day you visit to show you how the hand press works.

gcv4Maybe Jo wasn’t keen on staying behind to help like I told her she would as their new apprentice. But at least she knows her way around a shop!

gcv5That’s it for our 2014 Letterpress Trail, though it’s certainly not an end to visiting more shops as the year progresses. We’ve got some plans for 2015 already. In the meantime, it’s back to the shop with a ton of new treasures to get on press.


The 2014 Letterpress Trail, part two

The next stop on our Letterpress Trail following Cincinnati was Columbus, home of Moore Wood Type, one of two wood type makers in the US and a great friend to Starshaped. Scott’s humble workshop is mostly in his basement, where he has just the right set up of equipment, tools (some handmade!) and wood for production.

moore12A table full of recently cut type. And a sneak peek of half rounds in the background!

moore11This is Scott’s pantograph, next to a trim saw. You can see a pattern set up here.

moore16A box of patterns for catchphrases.

moore18Scott has also been laser cutting wood type, and here is an experiment with creating a border. After cutting a full sheet of finished, type high maple, he can then trim out the individual borders and ornaments. Working with the laser allows for greater flexibility of sizing, not to mention detail in the smaller sizes. And speed!

moore19These are a few new stars sitting on top of the proof sheets of our Moore collection at Starshaped. I brought them to double check our own stock against the new Moore offerings.

moore14Check out this beautiful block ready to be trimmed and carved. You can see the lovely wood grain, and well as a bit of the sheen from the smoothness of the surface.

moore21These are the cutters for carving the final pieces. You can see the range of sizes to accommodate a variety of type forms and counter spaces.

moore20Happily, I got to cut my first wood type! Scott let me choose what I wanted to do, so I picked this ornamental rule that he hadn’t done yet. I even got to pick the length; the final piece can be cut to any size, which is the beauty of working with a pantograph. Scott has a notebook of configurations for each of his patterns, and also makes notes directly on them so as to remember how to set the pantograph measurements to cut accurate sizes.

moore1The first cut is the more detailed one, and you can see how the outline of the rule is taking place. After this, the cutter is swapped for a larger one to clear the solid areas that are not part of the design.

moore4Look at me go! I’m using the tracing side of the pantograph to outline the pattern.

moore2Here are the final pieces.

moore5Scott made patterns for an Antique Tuscan, a typeface that’s near to my heart and one we’ve had the longest in the studio. Because I’m missing a few letters, we thought it would be fun to make replacement characters. Here’s a box of the patterns ready to be mounted, traced and cut as new wood type.


moore8After much configuration, we were successful and I was able to make a handful of the missing letters needed to complete my set of 12-line type. It is now at home with its 100 year old siblings.

What a delight it was to visit with the Moores for two days, sharing stories, cutting type and playing with the dogs. Can’t wait to see them again!


finaltuscanAfter Scott checked the fluids in the Fiat, we hit the road to Pittsburgh to visit Matt Braun of the Outdated Press. He’s got a cozy shop that’s enviable for its tidiness. It’s the perfect collection of unique metal type and impeccably restored Pearl presses (and he’s got one for sale, folks!).



outdated7Here are a few of Matt’s beautiful typefaces.


outdated5This is the next restoration project!

outdated11Here’s a fine example of Matt’s talent with complex forms. Also a project near to his heart; his own newborn’s birth announcement! And what a cutie he is.

outdated13Matt took us downtown to the office of Bearded, his day job. They have a fine way of mixing old and new, as web designers with a stellar letterpress studio all in the same place.

bearded9These are just a few shots of their incredible wood type collection. And you’re in luck, because many of these have been digitized and are available as part of Wood Type Revival.





bearded5Four hours after leaving Pittsburgh, we made it to Buffalo to catch a few hours of sleep before participating in the Western New York Book Arts Center’s annual Book Fest (read about last year’s event here). I was happy to contribute another large linoleum cut for their steamroller printing, which is really a sight to see.

buffalo1Despite the construction, many folks came out to the parking lot to see the steamroller in action. And thanks to the construction, we had a lot of chain link ‘walls’ to fill with beautiful prints on muslin. You can see my ode to The Queen City 3×3′ linoleum cut here.


buffalo6Everyone got into the action and it was great to engage the younger members of the audience in inking up the cuts.

buffalo3Yep, watching a steamroller print is indeed camera-worthy!

buffalo5Check it out for yourself:

And here’s the final result! All of the prints pulled are for sale at WNYBAC, and the proceeds all benefit the Center. buffalo4Sunburned and exhausted, I took a day off before finishing up our Letterpress Trail in Rochester. Given the amount of type seen that day, I’ll be saving those images for their own post! Check back soon.

The 2014 Letterpress Trail, part one

This summer we decided to hit the road and see how many letterpress shops we could visit in a week. Thanks to our friends at Firecracker Press, we have a handy Letterpress Trail map, which is an attractive way to keep track of our stops.

jocarWe drove down through Indianapolis to Nashville to visit our friend Celene at Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest letterpress shops in the country. It is now housed in an incredible new venue as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and includes a gallery and retail space as well as the actual shop.

hatch11Jo and Celene messed around with some of the large wood cuts for historic posters.

hatch13Check out the beautiful space. Hundreds of cases of types, a handful of presses and a whole lot of gumption (can you say 600 posters a year?)



hatch18I took most of our photos at the end of the day so you don’t get the buzz of a working shop, but it was indeed humming! Jim Sherradin was still around, working on oversized pieces for the gallery.




hatch20This is an amazing wall of wood type that measures over 20 line, or approximately 3.5″.

hatch4Jo got to hold this large wood type J, as well as hang with the shop cats, Huey and Maow.


hatch16We had a fantastic time exploring Hatch, not to mention enjoying the tasty pulled pork that was on deck after the shop closed. Can’t wait to visit again.

hatch14Our next stop in Nashville before heading out was to Isle of Printing. We’re big fans because they are fellow Press Bikers, with a mobile station on wheels as part of their Our Town project. Check it out!

This giant press was used for a project we got to see on the outside of the building. Do you see something vaguely pie shaped?

isle1They have a large shop with tons of space for printing as well as exploring their numerous public art projects that are taking over Nashville.

isle2And here are the pie shaped prints, pasted on the wall outside! One might think Jo coordinated her outfit for this shot with Bryce, the leader of the gang.

isle4After our stay in Tennessee we headed up to Cincinnati to visit Steam Whistle Letterpress, friends we made while at the National Stationery Show. Brian has a fantastic shop in the Over The Rhine area of the city, and makes some lovely, vintage-inspired prints and cards with metal type, wood and hand carved cuts, all things we can get behind.





steam4We took the opportunity to pick up some great cards and talk shop. Brian’s awesome business cards fold into actual steam whistles, and he paused a moment to show Jo how it worked. How’s that for branding!

steam2Another friend we made at the Stationery Show was Maya from Visual Lingual. She is one half of the team that makes seed bombs, little portable gardens you can plant anywhere! We picked up a few sacks and can’t wait to get them started. You can find their work all over Cincinnati as well as nationwide.

visual1And luckily for us, Maya pointed us to the American Sign Museum, a glorified warehouse full of signage from around the country that has been rescued from the dump and obscurity. This is a must stop for anyone interested in Americana, neon, sign painting and letterforms.

sign3We’ll be back soon with Part Two of our Letterpress Trail, which picks up in Columbus!

Seeing Stars and Moons

Occasionally there’s a collection of ornaments sitting in the studio just begging to be put to use. This is the case with our hundreds of stars and little moons faces. So it was time they saw more action in the form of new cards.

compile1Starting with stars (for obvious reasons), I built this form, hoping that it would be relatively, ahem, starshaped. After a bit of tweaking with different sized stars, it came together:

TstarI wanted to explore pressure printing as a way to round out the card and add another color. So I cut out the star (and ultimately the moon) from a piece of chipboard that was taped to the initial carbon proof of the form. The solid background could then be placed in the makeready on press to alter how both a piece of linoleum and wood would print on top of it.

pressureprintsThe background was printed first with the linoleum block, and then with a same-sized piece of wood type (the back side of the type). These were both done in the same color, so as to add texture without overwhelming the design. They printed more heavily where there was extra cardboard, leaving a ghosted star image inside. Then the burgundy stars were printed.



2star2After all that, the thought of a reversal of the pressure print came to mind. So instead of printing the solid background, I put the chipboard star down in its place so that only the star printed with a bit of ‘noise’ around the edges. I did this after printing the stars, so it made the burgundy a little darker.


star4Now that you’ve enjoyed these stars, go watch this.

Time for moons! These guys got the same treatment as the stars, but in a round moon shape. Love the lined details on the tiny ones.

TmoonsThe background is printed in a slightly different blue, but with the same linoleum-then-wood process.



2moon4Then I did the reverse as well which gives the moon a different look with fuzziness around the edges.

moon2You can see a process shot here with the 2-hit version at the bottom and the linoleum-only shot at the top. Everyone loves wood grain, right?


moon3Both the moon and star cards are available individually and in sets on our etsy site right now. The perfect little blank greeting for everyday correspondence.

Maria, Dan, Butterflies

We’re pretty lucky to have had some great clients looking for wedding invitations. This Spring I met Maria and Dan, fellow Ravenswood dwellers and fans of working with local sources for their wedding planning. Maria definitely wanted to include floral images and liked our 19th century inspired collection. Here’s the final invitation:

mariadan4This was the perfect project to work in a new cast of Arboret, courtesy of Skyline Type Foundry. This lovely set includes both 12 and 24 pt of floral type as well as ornaments that can be set in endless configurations to make the type look like it is part of an arbor. And while I didn’t use any of the type (apart from two characters, including the ampersand), the ornaments created plenty of ways to add floral elements to the invitations.

arboretornamentsHere is the lockup for the green and gold at the top of the invite. Both are set together to make sure they will line up appropriately, and then each color is swapped out for spacing when the other color is ready to print. Worked into the Arboret ornamentation are a few actual 19th century pieces from our collection (the flowers and right side stems).

Tmariadan1Here is the Arboret ampersand, printed with the rest of the main text. Maria and Dan’s names included 100 year old initial caps, mortised to include a 20th century typeface.

mariadan8Here are a few more of the ornaments at the bottom of the invitation. Their website was printed in green so as to be a little less prominent than the important text.

Tmariadan2This is the second character worked into the reply card text. A great shot of all of the elements coming together.

mariadan6Maria’s family does a lot of work for butterfly conservation, and she was hoping to work this into the invitation. No problem, thanks to Skyline and a recent cast of this little guy:

mariadan7He also makes an appearance on the envelopes, which were a shimmery gold to tie into the gold ornaments on the invitation. It’s remarkable that such detail holds up with metal type, much more so than digital type converted to plates for printing. And we’re lucky to have an opportunity to work these historic typefaces into our everyday projects.




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