Made to Love Magic

I can probably trace my fascination with magic hour, the first hour of sunrise and last before sunset, back to George Lucas’ commentary about the urgency of shooting scenes of American Graffiti at these times of day. Living in the city doesn’t prevent one from experiencing the soft and radiant light that occurs at this time, whether you’re on the beach of Lake Michigan or in the alley behind Starshaped, as I often am. This Spring, magic hour has come at the conclusion of a 12 hour day, at the break before starting a second shift, or at the end of an all-nighter. In all cases I am physically and most likely emotionally exhausted, pondering how to cope with what follows this stretch of work (usually parenting or housekeeping and seldom sleep). Standing in my alley and seeing the baby blues mixed with copper golds, reflecting on the buildings surrounding mine gives me a momentary sense of calm and clarity. This moment is something I’ve wanted to capture in print.

magic1cropWith type and ornament, not imagery, my strong suit, I stalled, as no single typeface in the studio seemed right for the two words making an appearance on an otherwise graphic print. Maybe creating some type of geometric blackletter would provide me with the next challenging set of letterforms. This seemed like it might be appropriate for capturing… something, in the print that I couldn’t quite nail down. So I started with the type and settled on lowercase as it was more appropriate for the size and, well, easier. I found a digital version that was relatively straightforward and started drawing over it, making changes to suit the geometry of metal type.

firstsketchThen I narrowed down the sizes of potential ornaments to something I could find in the studio. The ‘i’ does not have a dot here as I planned to reflect the shape of it off of the ‘h’. You’ll see why.

graphpapersketchI compiled ornaments and rules that felt like a good fit, knowing that I would need to miter the edges off of many sorts to make it happen.

firstsketch2I was concerned that my hand drawing wasn’t true to ornament dimensions (can someone please make graph paper that’s measured in picas!?), so I drew it on the computer, with each box and triangle representing the true size of the ornaments. This allowed me to put together an accurate cut list of rules, including the correct miters and quantities.


cutlistAfter collecting everything necessary I printed out a wrong reading guide on which to build. Slowly. But surely.



layout3And then, there it was. Kerning issues waiting to be corrected.

layoutfinalThis is a large portion of the shavings I mitered off of the rules and triangle ornaments to make them fit together. These scraps go back to the Platen Press Museum to be melted down and saved for future typecasting.

metalshavingsAnd then… how will the type play with the rest of the print? I pulled series of ornaments that fit my ideas of sky and started to build arcs. My handy rule bender saw a lot of action, creating leads and slugs that would shapes these curves.

layingoutskyThe final form is attractive, mixing standard square and rectangular furniture alongside custom made angled pieces. This photo was taken after pulling a hand inked proof in copper gold on navy paper.




typecloseupThe first black and white proof looked great but I felt strongly that something was missing. I walked away from it for three weeks to stew. But I was still stuck, so I did what I do every time this happens. I ran to ‘my’ Sarah, former Starshaped Girl Friday, for another opinion and a life line. Together we brainstormed a linoleum cut with subtle nods to the ornaments in play but in a more abstract way. How I miss her in the studio.

printedproofThis drawing, done on top of the black and white proof, was the final inked version I did before transferring it to linoleum. linodrawling

linocutI first printed the brightest colors as a split fountain that began with copper gold and faded up to pale blue.

fullcoloronpressFollowing that I printed a slightly tinted transparent white for the linoleum, which has a varnish-like look. It’s just enough to give depth to the print while not competing with the more delicate ornamentation. You can see in the detail the mirroring of larger, linoleum versions of the tinier elements.

magic4I have stared at this blackletter. Probably for hours. Assembling this has been the hardest typographic work I’ve ever done and it’s still so far from perfect. The miters aren’t all spot on. Some rules are very beaten but were all I had. Printing was a challenge and it’s not the finest I’ve ever done. None of these things bother me; if anything I’m glad that I used very geometric border pieces to give a bit of rigidity to what has somehow still retained a sense of ‘hand’ to it. I don’t design type so my insecurities did what they always do and sought Rich for help. ‘The C and O are taller by a pica… should I trim the tops down?’ No… it’s perfectly imperfect this way. ‘Should I add a shadow to the type, printed in the transparent run, as I initially intended?’ No, don’t mess with the type; it stands alone. He’s always right.


magic6The easiest part was setting the bottom credit. Just a simple, straight up line of type. And you can see here how the first row of curved ornaments balance between the dot of the ‘i’ and the top of the ‘h’. Not perfect, but close.

magic7As I write this, I’m still uncertain about the final print. Sure, it provided me with all of the challenges I enjoy within my craft. The colors did exactly what I wanted them to do. The final piece is attractive to look at. But did it capture the sense of time I wanted to freeze? I don’t know, but I am weepy when looking at it and think this reaction is a gut one stemming from the subconscious feelings I encounter at actual magic hour. The understanding that despite whatever lengthy shift has just concluded, I spent it doing something that feeds my drive and is chased with a moment of comfort, knowing this sky is there to guide me through the next 12 hours, whatever they bring.


Print is available for purchase here. And thanks.

The Baby’s Fed and the Tunes Are Pure

My parenting philosophy is summed up in this question: How do I raise my daughter to be an independent, confident member of society, who is fulfilled by a sense of accomplishment through good work and overcoming challenges?


The reality of continuing Starshaped after having a child hit pretty hard when Josephine was born. Birth and the subsequent year was the most physically and emotionally destructive of my life. Physical limitations resulting from a poor birthing experience meant hardship for the studio, borrowing money from our personal finances and very little printing. Emotional distress led to insecurity about the type of work I could produce and the larger existential questions about WHY I would do it at all.
In the midst of this I received the gift of Sarah, the first person to work in the studio on a regular basis besides myself and who made herself indispensable immediately by not only working so hard but by listening. She brought in Marnie and for a moment in time we were an unstoppable force of nature. These ladies stuck around a few years, making my transition back to printing bearable.


Mr. Starshaped and I have almost always had opposite work schedules, which proved to be ideal for the first few years of Jo’s life. I could work during the day until 4 and he left for work right after. Obviously this created strains on our own relationship so we scheduled many ‘ARE we in this together?‘ meetings. We decided we were.
At two and a half Jo started school at Chicago Montessori which we quickly discovered to be completely in line with our thoughts on child rearing; she thrives there still today. I credit the layout and materials in her classrooms with aiding in her transition to being at Starshaped more often. She has developed a deep respect for beautiful, useful materials and takes pride in the work she does there.


When Jo was little, I had to strategically plan meetings and vendor phone calls around when she was napping, as hearing a baby immediately diminished my stature to many. ‘Another mom with a cute little side business’ was something I often heard; soul crushing, given that Starshaped existed for 7 years before she born. It was very hard to hear Mr. Starshaped conduct production meetings via phone and get asked about spending time with his daughter. ‘That’s so great’ was what he heard. The double standard of parents committing time to their children is still very strong, and the number of articles on ‘cool dads’ is something I will save for a personal rant.
This is largely why I hid family life from business as much as possible. Why I missed opportunities in the print world. Why I didn’t attend many letterpress events and conferences. My assumption was that adults would not be interested in having a child around. While we occasionally got out to galleries, Jo’s first big show was one the Hamilton Wood Type Museum staged for me in 2012. I was excessively flattered that Jim Moran called and asked me to do this as I felt like I had been far off the radar since becoming a mother. This also led to my near-confidence in registering for the Wayzgoose that same year. As the tiniest person there Jo held her own, signing prints she helped to design, while we occasionally escaped to more kid-friendly locales (ask me about children’s museums in Wisconsin).



Jo started coming to the studio more out of necessity, not choice. So we built a small area to house materials for her to work with while there. This has morphed through the years to accommodate her mental growth and rarely looks like this; I cleaned it up for this feature over at Apartment Therapy. Usually it is a mess of what some might call creative expression and what I call a heartbreaking lack of order. Not pictured are the times I need either silence or a break from art directing tiny projects in which Jo enjoys a few movies on the computer. I struggle to not beat myself up about this.


In 2011 we purchased a Madsen cargo bike. I don’t have any agenda for traveling this way; it was simply the easiest way to get around with a child while needing to carry things. We have used it nearly every day since, from getting to school to grocery shopping. I have endured countless comments from drivers about what a terrible mother I am for doing this. It stings, but I try to remember people are afraid of what’s not quickly recognizable while keeping my senses alert on the road. Also, Mr. Starshaped does not have this happen to him.
A year later we converted the bike into the Press Bike because I sought a fun activity to do with children that would appeal to Jo. At first we used a tiny Sigwalt press but this proved to be unwieldy while producing minuscule prints. With a little suggestion from Paul we made our own simple galley press and now have two. They utilize a rolling pin for impression and are a huge hit with kids and adults.





I’d like to say that Jo is 100% on board with this. She is not. At Printer’s Ball in 2014 she was hot, pitched a fit and ran off to seek others to talk to. I told her we would split our payment 3 ways (studio, me, Jo) if she helped out. This is our arrangement for all Press Bike events that pay us to attend. I did not pay her for this event in an effort to make a point, which made her cry and me feel awful, on top of it being unbearably hot that day. Not every day is a win.


Another big challenge is how to maintain our presence in the community via money making shows and fairs. With Mr. Starshaped working most weekends, Jo is often stuck at the shows for long periods of time unless I can play the scheduling game for play dates and breaks. Babysitting costs are profit killers for weekend shows and we don’t always have family in town to help. One way I’ve dealt with this is to let her make a print she can sell to other vendor friends, an activity she shares with screen printers Ella and CoCo. At $3 each, she usually makes about $80, all of which she can keep and spend at the fair if she chooses. This gives her focus as she carefully studies everything that’s available before making her choices. She also interacts with other small businesses and makers and is developing a sense of where things come from and how they are made.


Occasionally I have what I think is a great idea to collaborate. This is met with wildly different reactions from Jo. We were asked to contribute to Galerie F’s You Are Beautiful show in 2013 and I thought that given the nature of the show it would be a perfect opportunity to work with my beautiful daughter. She had other ideas. After a while of working on my own sketches she had a change of heart and decided to help, pulling type and placing it in a circular form. And hearts, of course. I added the readable text. She was just tall enough to run the press and helped with half of the edition on fabric. But it was seeing it hang in the gallery that made an impact.



We are regular visitors to Galerie F now as it is a favorite for both of us. For myself, I love that they champion outsider and street art that’s dynamic and representative of our urban environment. For Jo, it’s a great place to hang with the kids whose parents make it possible. If we want a generation of art appreciators, then we need to start on that generation right away.


In the midst of racing between home and school, karate and the studio, we do have blissfully creative moments of sharing or working independently in the same place. I strive to give her helpful critiques about projects while asking for hers in return. In this way, I hope she learns to talk about what she’s trying to create while I demonstrate listening and legitimately caring about her opinions. ‘Don’t tell the parent police’ is something I often jokingly whisper to her when we do what I coined a ‘late night work night’. But some of our best, most creative spurts come at 9pm accompanied by a Nancy Drew audiobook.





Jo often has a response to pieces I’ve printed. Here she has redrawn our stationery (I’ll take the Best Mom Ever, thanks).


She also drew her own versions of the P22 Member Cards I did in 2014, which you can see here. ‘They need hearts!’


But my all time favorite is her Titanic piece, done while I was finishing mine in April 2012 in connection with the 100th anniversary of the sinking. These are the ones I keep. Because let’s be honest, does anyone in the city have room for every charming drawing that comes out of their children?


It takes a village, indeed, and I am so fortunate to have a strong one in the print community. One of the largest we have is our family that meets at Hamilton. I am humbled and grateful for the cast of characters that welcome Jo and make her feel like part of the group, complete with name tags. We still have challenges while attending the Wayzgoose, including combating boredom, kid-level activities and maintaining manners. It’s a work in progress, but as my brother, the teacher and father says, ‘Kids are basically animals. It’s our job to civilize them’.











2014johndownerWe visited again recently over Spring Break to print and help out. I know, most kids don’t have Hamilton in their top five vacation destinations and would prefer Disney World or at least Wisconsin Dells, but our budget doesn’t allow for that right now. So Jo spent a day of pulling type and printing, which she eventually got into and came up with her own brilliant print, entirely of her own doing. As a friend commented, I WON motherhood that day.


2015springbreak2Traveling has also gotten much easier as Jo has gotten older because she’s invested in the destinations and helps to plan. We went on a week long Letterpress Trail trip in 2014 that was highly successful in terms of seeing a lot of fellow printers AND getting along remarkably well. I think this was the culmination of several smaller trips as well as striking a balance: today the children’s museum, tomorrow Hatch. Swimming in Columbus by day so I can make wood type by night. It’s parenting quid pro quo.

letterpresstrailIncluded in our general travels is a yearly trip to the Genesee Country Village where Mr. Starshaped and I were married. They have a tiny historic print shop in which both of these pictures were taken in different years.


mumford2We visited ‘Uncle Brad’ Vetter and Adrienne Miller at her grad thesis show at Northern Illinois University. I love that Jo is exposed to different styles of printmaking and not just letterpress. It’s fascinating to hear her take on other work and to gain an entirely different perspective, and these two have always valued her opinions and make her feel welcome. This was her favorite piece.

niuWhile enjoying our friends at Hatch Show Print, Jo got to hold a giant J, but mostly played with the cats which are still more interesting to a child than giant letters.

hatch2She operated a hand press at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection over Spring Break 2014 (do you sense a theme that doesn’t involve theme parks? At least there were cousins along for this one).

carycollectionAnd of course goofing off with our good friends Geri and Matt at Virgin Wood Type, also in Rochester, NY. Both parents, these two just get it and entertain Jo with the hell box of wood type so that the adults can talk.

virginmattThe printmaking community of Chicago is a huge part of the village that helps us raise Jo. Here she is printing at the Hamilton benefit we hosted at Columbia College Book and Paper Arts Center. People really gave it up for a tiny blond at a printing press. She was a part of the team of organizers, volunteers and contributors that raised over $8000 in one day to assist the museum with its move. I like to think she learned the value of supporting something greater than oneself but she may have just really enjoyed counting up the money.

2012benefit1Former Starshaped intern Janice teaches classes at Spudnik Press. She also introduced Jo to Korean food and the myriad adorable Asian things to be found at the market. ‘Mom! Can we please get the Pocky!?’

spudnikAnd of course at a Chicago Printers Guild meeting at Baker Prints. She’s part of the next generation of printers within this group and is always happy to entertain the littler ones that sometimes come. Uncle Nick and Auntie Nadine Sonnenzimmer brought her this incredible little zine about printmaking from Honolulu Printmakers where they had recently curated a show.

bakerprintsThis is the future home of Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. Deb has always been a great friend to me both as a printmaker and as a parent. Her philosophy about parenting and curiosity about her own (now grown) children has guided me through many deeper issues that have arisen over the years (Will my child hate me for not going to theme parks? Will she wish she had normal parents with 9-5 jobs? Is it okay she’s an only child?). It’s important to find a person that’s a little farther down the road than oneself and she is the person for me.

cpc1We took advantage of a ‘print jam’ at Anchor Graphics to work with visiting artist Nuria Montiel. Jo was exposed to different cultures through the art of printmaking and conducted herself in a way that I was very proud of. She insisted on learning how to make xerox transfers and was not afraid to try her hand at etching presses.


columbia2Our own studio is a magnet for people I admire and who enjoy Jo’s enthusiasm. Jessica Spring, one of my all time favorite printers and people, spent some time with us one afternoon. They worked together to figure out if we could get this little Dial-A-Letter typewriter working again. Another work in progress.

jessicaspringAnd of course it was a treat to have her in the studio at the same time as my former boss from Fireproof Press, John Upchurch. This is a very full circle photo for me, as Jo was able to enjoy spending time with a person that helped me pave my course in life, and whose parenting style I much admire.

johnupchurchRecently we hosted an event for Uppercase Magazine. Jo ran the Vandercook and showed others how to do so, including little Finley.


This note (with accompanying chocolate) was delivered from Deb at Chicago Printmakers after Jo and a friend hand brayered the final detail on posters we made for their 25th anniversary exhibit.


cpcpostersExposing Jo to the talent and tenacity of women working in the city is very important to me. She currently has very little understanding of what sexism is, and I feel that seeing the great achievements of women first will SHOW instead of TELL her what is ridiculous about it. Below was one of the incredible Ladies Luncheon meet ups hosted by Julie of Letterform. An entire group of ladies in all different design fields, sharing stories of woe and exhilaration in each of their careers.

ladiesluncheonEvery year I host the annual Starshaped Press dinner to thank interns and boosters for another year of making it work. At each dinner, everyone is required to share a major success or accomplishment of the past year along with a goal for the upcoming one. This way, we all keep each other on track and can be supportive when needed. Jo is now old enough to not interrupt but instead contribute; she shared work from her recent school activities. Here she is sitting next to ‘Aunt Sarah’ who saved me when Jo was first born and now has two small boys of her own.

starshapeddinnerThese are a few of the prints that Jo has created in the studio. Sometimes she just plays and sometimes they are more thoughtful. I am always anxious to see what she’ll do next as she begins to understand the studio is full of little treasures waiting to be printed.

joprintsA series of the photos I took of her first printing session in 2010 is now framed at the Platen Press Museum, a place that has been crucial to developing my skill set as a printer. ‘Uncle Paul’ has always been incredibly generous to Jo and is very much another grandparent to her. His wife, Irene, takes Jo when I spend a day at the museum, which Jo looks forward to as it involves baking, making crafts and walks along the creek. Again, it’s a village. One in which you get to choose all of your neighbors.

joatmuseumJo decided to revisit her Hamilton print when we got back from our trip and do a larger run in the studio. So much of this shows the nuances that she’s picked up over the last 8 years, from how she feeds the paper to the gentle return.

I don’t have any great insight about combining parenting and a small business though I am often asked. I could say that we make it up as we go along, but that’s not entirely true either, as some careful planning is in place to pull together the schedules of multiple people, meet deadlines and get some rest. Some days are blissful and we hum along with great records and inspiration. Other days I can’t do anything with her in the studio, go home to sleep when she sleeps and then go back at 11pm when Mr. Starshaped gets home. There’s no balance, just making it work. But we have a great support group and that is probably the most essential piece of the puzzle, coupled with a sense of humor and acceptance that overnight spray for the ink was invented for parents.
This beautiful photo of Jo as the Hamilton Smokestack was taken by Celene Aubry from Hatch Show Print at the last Wayzgoose. Jo attached these clips with her traits on them. More than anything, I want her to grow up retaining all of these things: Butiful, Hevenly, Smart. Perfect.


*props to Sleater Kinney for the title of this post

Metal Type Presses On

Fortune has always favored me in the form of friends that are true go-getters. From the family I found at Fireproof Press, to the Chicago Printer’s Guild and Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, to the talented stream of interns at Starshaped and the new friends I discover at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum Wayzgoose every year, there’s never been a dearth of inspiring artisans and designers in my life. Not the least of these is Erin Beckloff, who reached out years ago looking for a proof of one of our wood typefaces so that her father, Scott Moore, could create a set of patterns to pantograph cut a few replacement characters. We hit it off immediately and I have always been impressed with her enthusiasm for all things design and letterpress. She has never faltered in her quest to understand the craft and the people behind it, so when she mentioned this past Fall that she felt a documentary was in order to showcase the stalwarts of the print community, I knew immediately she was the person to make it happen.
A long while ago, I heard an interview with an actor talking about working with the Coen Brothers on a film and he said, ‘Some people just don’t suck. And when they call you to work on a project, you say YES.’ This is how I’ve always felt about Erin and her projects because she thoughtfully sees them through to a fully realized end. She asked if I could contribute in two ways to help get this off the ground. The first is in the form of a print to be offered as a reward for supporting her Kickstarter campaign.

llmtgray1I have always felt that promoting metal type has been an uphill battle as wood type, in all of its textured, meaty glory takes center stage. Metal type requires more patience and a solid understanding of the medium in order to get stellar results. Starshaped creates most projects with metal type and given our past of printing propaganda, it seemed like time to mix the two. I began by sketching out what would look like a mass of protest posters with slogans altered to be typographic in nature.

firstsketchThen each ‘poster’ started to take form in various sizes with a mash up of different typefaces.

typeformstartI added rules to give dimension to the edges as well as those that would look to be supporting the posters. This is the first good carbon paper proof of the form.




figuresWhen all looked good, I removed the rules as they would be printed in a different color. Here they are sitting on a proof so that I remember what went where.

rulesAfter printing the red I replaced the rules and took the type out.

rules2It never fails that I sense a third color would really ‘bring a print home’. So I took a misprint and labeled the dimensions of each poster so that I could cut linoleum blocks to print over them in a transparent-based ink. This helped them pop from the paper quite a bit, despite the subtle effect.


llmtgray2The prints, offered as part of the fundraising effort, measure 8×10″ and are printed on paper generously provided by Appleton. I also ran a short edition on 11×14″ paper to give the type a bit more breathing room. These will be available eventually; invest in the documentary first!

llmtgreen1The second way I am contributing to this project is in the form of teaching one lucky (or unlucky?) person as much as I possibly can in one day about metal type. In this 12+ hours of grueling type setting, proofing and printing, we’ll discuss the history of metal type, look at how issues were dealt with by previous generations of printers and how to best work in the medium now. Plus, that person will have access to the Starshaped collection and the opportunity to create something special. Are you up for it? Check out the entire campaign and get updates on the facebook page.


Erin is in the middle of this photo, surrounded by students that she has inspired both in design and letterpress. It is incredible to see her grow and overlap both fields while taking the time to teach everything she knows to the next generation of aspiring printers. The fact that Jo and I will both be a part of the final documentary is such an afterthought to the bigger picture of how the craft is recorded and passed on. And pulling in Mark from the Mayfair Workshop, a longtime close friend of both Fireproof and Starshaped, to create the perfect background score brings this project full circle for me. Everything about it feels right. Will Erin be the Alan Lomax of the letterpress world? It’s early to speak to that, but she is well on her way, supported by those of us who understand the importance of retaining and collecting history before it vanishes. Go get ’em, lady.


Wells or Bust!

Nothing beats the long haul of March in Chicago like a working vacation in another print shop. Okay, maybe that’s just me, but it was a real treat to spend time in Central New York for a residency at the Wells College Book Arts Center, with stops at some of our favorite places along the way. We packed the car with tools and remaining copies of An Alphabet of Sorts, our contribution to the Goudy 150 keepsake project, prints to share and one kid destined for Grandma’s house.

jowells1The one stop Jo and I made together was at Virgin Wood Type to collect our newest typeface as well as other ornaments I can’t wait to ink up. A visit to Virgin is like waking up Christmas morning, where even the type gets the fancy wrap treatment.

virgin8Here’s Geri proofing up our Gothic Bold thanks to the ease of carbon paper.


virgin9For a small shop it’s terribly impressive what takes place here. The team was very busy, cutting nonstop to stock up for an upcoming trip to SGC.


virgin5Even the hell box is a popular spot for slightly less-than characters with a ton o’ potential.

virgin3No set is complete without stamping!


virgin10Right after we left the pantograph was set to work again, cutting a preliminary set of an exciting new modular typeface. See the patterns below. Can’t WAIT for this one.


virgin6Two of my favorite people, Matt and Geri.

mattjengeriWe brought a clampersand as a gift for Matt, which Jo promptly tested on his thumb. It works!

mattjoThe next day I headed out on my own, stopping for a few hours at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection to both visit and print and put together a little more research on Albert Schiller. Amelia made these great posters!

caryposterAnd here she is, having just set up my Goudy keepsake form to print. Many folks came through to pull a print for themselves, and I couldn’t resist putting one of the prints on Goudy’s press for a photo with the man himself.



goudyI also found a copy of Schiller’s original tribute that served as a model. Here it is next to my reincarnation.

schillertributeI’ve narrowed down the images I captured of Schiller’s work to just the ones I sought as inspiration for what I planned to do once at Wells College, starting with the incomparable Ampersand Machine.





schiller3The Cary Collection is a trove of treasures and it was an honor to get a little behind-the-scenes glimpse into the life of a curator.






cary2After fully saturating myself with inspiration, it was time to head to Wells for the real work of my trip. I love this poster printed at their Book Arts Center, soon to be my home. It’s a little glimpse at the kind of typographical dessert that was waiting for me.

posterAnd here’s another. This is a fraction of the unbelievable type available to work with and I wanted to use it all. It was a delight to discover much of this was originally from the Chicago Type Foundry (read: OLD).


type2The shop is so beautiful and well organized, as you can see. There’s a ton of natural light in this charming old building with it’s large doors and windows and worn hardwood floors.



studioThe only big messes in the place were the ones I made over the course of the week. A little food, a little caffeine, a ton of boxed ornaments.

homebaseAnd if one incredible studio isn’t enough, there’s a second faculty print room as well. Spoiled for choice!

facultyroomOne order of business was to tackle the binding of An Alphabet of Sorts and you can see the beginning of the collating with students here.



book1Seeing them pile up was pretty exciting, as was the addition of little gold stars foil stamped on the spine.



book2Friday evening I gave a warts-and-all lecture about the 15 year history of Starshaped and shared details about collaborating with Wells on the book. What a great way to launch my ‘baby’ into the world. Shout out to Jookie Jill for taking this right-on shot.

jenbookNot able to remove the images of Schiller’s Ampersand Machine from my brain over the last 6 months, I knew I wanted to create a response print that would take advantage of the type collection at Wells, including the different types of ornaments there. Hence my Alphabet Machine plan was hatched. I have a soft spot for big, fat type and was tickled to find this Bodoni in the basement of the Book Arts Center. We just don’t have enough of this at Starshaped.

form8Slowly my machine started to take shape, with made up gears, smokestacks and repositories for type.


setup2LOVE these mortised circles into which I shoved tiny 6 point number arrows.


setup4It got a little tough to keep my bearings with this one, as you can well imagine. Limiting my choices to ornaments that were not organic while fitting my brainstormed buzz words (pipes, valves, shoots, squares, linear, conveyor… you get the idea) was the only way to keep my head screwed on straight in this ‘crack house of ornament’.



form2By late Saturday evening, the entire form was set and on press, ready for a proof.

form1My first move was to pull a carbon paper proof. Not perfect, but enough to get an idea of what the overall print will look like.

proofThe first full proof was pretty great. Regardless of number of colors, I always print the entire form together to make sure everything makes sense before pulling out the separations. The paper is a gloriously rough and recycled gray and I used the same dark gray ink for the machine as in An Alphabet of Sorts.

fullproofThen I pulled out all of the type which would be printed in red. This was very mentally helpful as I could then see just the machine itself.

form7I marked spacing for where all of the letters were so that I’d know how to reinsert them after the first color was done.

form5Here’s just the second color made up of letters only. Apparently this is pretty interesting as I caught both Virgin Wood Type Geri and Rich, director of the Book Arts Center, taking shots of it.


geririchHere’s the sequence for printing, starting with the proof, removal of the second color and then the full version. And of course another excuse to show this wonderfully fat type.

alpha6I decided to add a third run to the print in the form of a very light gray. This was to solidify a few areas as well as add a bit of dimension to the machine.



alpha2The final print is very satisfying. It is now available for purchase here.

alpha1Late nights? I saw a few. But what a great way to spend them.

studio3Throughout the week we hosted a few open studio times as well as helped students with their own printing. It’s wonderful to see how much the equipment is being used and I loved working with a new group of printers.


kyleWe also played hooky one day and visited the Bixler Letterfoundry which was almost too much to bear. Their large shop is split between meticulously maintained casting and printing areas and I spied on both.



bixler12They had two new matrices made for 36 point ornaments so we set those up to cast.

bixler11Here’s one of the first!


bixler9I received a set of both of the new casts, shown here with a new-to-me set received from honorary Starshaped lady, Jessie of Punky Press.


bixler2There was beautiful, ornamental inspiration all over the place.




Luckily we had to create another poster  for an upcoming lecture, which gave me the opportunity to use more of the Bixler’s ornaments. Andrew Steeves’ talk on Ecology, Economy and the Endurance of Printing begged for a layout that would pull these elements together in a self-feeding, circular manner. And so this form was born, tying in natural, organic elements with directional and monetary hints at the same time.

form1The first carbon proof was pretty tight. Students and visitors helped set all of the supporting text with a run of Centaur.

proof1A straightforward, sexy form.

fullformI ran the lighter circle image first as it would be nearly impossible to pull it out to run the text first.



form2Then the main text was inserted back into the form and I deconstructed the circle right on press.


form6The final print was elegant and straightforward and a real departure from the Alphabet Machine.





steeves6I’m so glad I was able to work with two disparate sets of type and ornaments for both prints finished at Wells. Luckily I kept good notes on distribution when all was said and done!


While there are a lot of photos here, I feel that this post is not a well-rounded one. I was fighting a cold when I descended on Wells and didn’t take photos of its charming structures or Cayuga Lake. I don’t have images of all of the work done with students or the friends that came for my lecture. I don’t even have as many shots as I’d like to document the collection itself, though this trip is the first of what will be many. If you want to check it out for yourself, don’t miss the Summer Institute program, a veritable feast for everyone interested in book arts, typography and printing.

I do, however, have more fond memories of my visit than I can recount. Like seeing this face that Jenna, the Victor Hammer Fellow, pulled in Rich’s direction every day to keep him in line.

richjennaAnd having a ‘Holy Hell!’ moment while collecting type specimens for my prints.

typetodistribute2And seeing these classy ladies over the press every day, reminding me of the legacy of the Center.

wellsladiesAnd this. Because that’s how I felt every day I got to work there. Can’t wait to get back.




Tribute to a Tribute: Goudy at 150

It was an honor to be asked to contribute to the keepsake exchange celebrating the sesquicentennial of the birth of Frederic W. Goudy, organized by RITs Cary Graphic Arts Collection.

callforkeepsakesLast summer, while visiting the Cary Collection (which you can read about here), I was introduced to the work of Albert Schiller and was immediately enthralled with the detailed and incredible use of metal type ornaments to create ‘type pictures’. One of my favorites was a relatively simple one-color form done as tribute to Fred Goudy. Given that the keepsakes would be collected by the fine folks at the Cary Collection I felt I should attempt to recreate this piece for my offering. Here is the form when first assembled.

Tgoudy1Below is the first carbon proof of the form; not fancy but enough to know approximately how it would look in print. Behind is my photocopy of the Schiller piece. Not an exact copy, given that Schiller and I clearly had different sorts to work with, I wanted it to merely reference the original work.

carbonproofI first printed the full form, knowing that I’d eventually like to print it in two colors.

proofThe first color was a cheery mustard-yellow. I placed solid pieces behind where the side and top star-like ornaments would be overprinted.

Tgoudy2Here’s the last print to come off the press with the second blue color. You can see how overprinting the blue on yellow altered the color of those particular ornaments. I left the lovely Cloister initials with no color behind them so they would pop.



goudy2The type was set in Deepdene and Camelot, both Goudy-designed typefaces.


goudy3I joked when putting together this form that Schiller must not have liked Goudy much as it felt like one of the easiest he, and subsequently I, had done. Then I discovered that the devil was in the printing; it was one of the hardest pieces I have printed. This is mostly because of a few key elements: the ornaments are set very solid and must be perfected planed (flush to the base they rest on), the ‘doorways’ required mitered rules that are very small and difficult to master and the registration was impossibly tight. Now I know that Schiller loved Goudy and I still have a long way to go to come close to the brilliance of his work.


The White City

It’s no secret that I love Chicago. And one of the many events I love about it is the annual Printers Row Book Fair (sure, it’s called the Lit Fest now, but that doesn’t sound as nice, does it?). Last June, Jo and I found some real treasures, including these souvenir booklets for the Chicago World’s Fair Columbian Exposition in 1893, with lovely hand drawn illustrations of the various buildings constructed for the Fair. These were printed in Germany and were clearly either based on preliminary drafts of what would be coined The White City or descriptions of the structures as some of the illustrations are not correct, nor is there mention of the Ferris Wheel, a new-to-the-world invention but relative latecomer to the Fair. The Field Museum also presented an exhibit of some of their treasures from the Fair and that was where I picked up the other book shown here, Spectacle in the White City.




research3These buildings were screaming out to be recreated in metal type form! It’s rare that this is the case, but my biggest concern was finding a paper that would allow for the exploration of printing them in white ink and I did. More on that later.

The first step was to figure out the structure and scope of the print given the sheer size of the Fair. I set the parameters so that the print would be at home with our Urbs in Horto homage to Chicago’s city seal. Then I grabbed a dark sheet of paper and sketched out the basic layout.

setupThe hard part was determining what structures to include, but I think the final choices were wise ones. More on these choices in the photos to follow. Slowly and painfully, I pulled ornaments that might resemble elements of the buildings.


setup2As the buildings started to take form, I moved on to the gardens and water features.

setup4I read that Daniel Burnham kept a sign above his desk that said RUSH while laboring to make the Fair happen in a breathtakingly short period of time. I left out wood type to this effect to keep me on task. I also wanted to use the little ‘kissing kids’ ornament in the water area as it was used on the Urbs in Horto print and was also produced in Chicago at the time of the actual Fair.

setup5Mr. Starshaped felt the Ferris Wheel lacked something so I had to think on it a bit more. Setting circular forms is hard enough.

setup3The labels for the buildings were set in tiny 6 point Engravers Roman, a particularly old and beaten up version. They are set to resemble little ribbons with great end caps.

IMG_5810Here’s the first final form! Looks great in photos, but print is another beast.

Twhitecity1Details of the form follow here. The Administration building is one of the first you would have seen if you took the train to the Fair. I loved its stately manner and tried to work in little angel faces to represent the many symbolic sculptures that graced the façade.



admin4Machinery was also an appealing building for its church-like steeples and large skylights. Plus… I like machinery.



machinery4Manufactures and Liberal Arts had to be included as the largest building of the Fair. The sheer size must have been a sight to behold. This building looks better in 2-color so there are more images to come.



manufactures2The Palace of Fine Arts was a must, given that this is the only building that still stands today in the form of the Museum of Science and Industry (Have you been there? The U-505 tour is worth the price of admission alone).


palace3The Transportation Building was designed by Adler and Sullivan and included an incredible ‘golden door’. The challenge here was to find tiny ornaments that most represented the style of work for which Sullivan is known.



transportation3I added circles to the Ferris Wheel to represent individual carriages. The scale of this print prevented a more elaborate solution so let’s just say there might be a bigger Ferris Wheel print to come in the future.

ferriswheel3Last but not least, the title. I kept the format of the Urbs in Horto print, complete with ‘pin’ ornaments.

TwhitecitytypeBefore any ink touches the press I pull a series of carbon paper proofs for general placement and to get a quick glimpse of what I’m up against. Many small tweaks were made at this point.

carbonproofsOnce I was happy with the overall look I set up the first color and pulled a full proof before breaking down the form for different colors. I marked up a few changes on this as you can see, as well as left a few notes for myself going into the next colors.

fullproof2The forms are pretty, inked in white.







WferriswheelYou can see here that much of the spacing is colored with Sharpie to indicate where I put it in place of the other ornaments I pulled out. This is what passes for color separations in old school letterpress.

WfullwhiteThe second color was a subtle hit of transparent white which has the look of a varnish on the paper. I wanted to use this to make the negative spaces of the buildings recede. Not an exciting form, but here you can see a few of the solutions to create solid areas of ink.


Trans1Kissing kids!

water1The water elements underwent the most drastic changes. I initially thought it would be set pretty solid between the buildings but then loosened it up over subsequent proofs and made it more organic. You can see the ‘ghosts’ of the buildings and gardens in this crazy form.

water2The final print! It measures 14×18″ and is printed in 4 colors. It’s a bit tough to photograph because of the subtle colors and texture of the paper. I worked with Neenah’s Wrought Iron from their Environment line and it was the perfect paper; a dark enough gray to show white but light enough for darker colors, and it has little recycled inclusions that give it just a bit of the rough and tumble feel of Chicago itself. The final edition size is 125 prints.










whitecitytitleChicago will always be my first true love and its rich history, warts and all, will continue to provide ample resource material for print inspiration. The White City is officially the hardest print I have ever set and the lessons learned both about my typesetting ability and the history of the city will no doubt guide all future projects at Starshaped. Huge thanks to all of the fine folks that supported the midwestern gumption behind this project through kind words, sales and Chicago-style chop-bustin’. And much like the Fair itself, this is what the remains looked like:

buildingsongalleyThe print is available for sale here while the edition lasts. This one won’t be reprinted, folks.

I’ve Got A Little Poster Here

Dann and I have been friends for… two decades? So long I can’t fully recall how we met. What I do remember are all of the shows we’ve been to over the years, the scheming about building prints shops, bands, record labels, you name it. The hours at Dons in Rogers Park and Trevi in Lincoln Park. And the thread that’s pulled us through all of these years is a simple one: Sweet. Pop. Music.

So when Dann came to me in December with the direction to ‘make some cool posters’, I gave it a shot. Hosting a residency at the Hideout, a veritable Chicago institution, meant a whole lot of type to go with a whole lot of music. The Cooper Black was calling out for a little action, so I set the themes for each night to proof and play with digitally.

form5After scanning them into a ‘fake out’ file, I could then figure out how all of the rest of the type would fall into place for the design I had in mind. This is the computer print next to the first printed proof; I can line up both together to check for spacing and alignment.

setup3I wanted to create the effect of an old 45 label with shapes reverberating out of the center. I drew what these would look like on a transparency then used it to confirm the text would fall within the proper areas.

setup2I set all of the type at once to make sure the placement was correct and then labeled what blocks would be what color (green and blue).


form3A brass circle for the center, coupled with a wood circle ornament from Moore Wood Type.

form2This is the full form, inked for the proof. It’s a sexy amount of type!

form1I cut linoleum for the shapes and printed them last given the highly transparent ink. It’s a very subtle split fountain that is yellow in the center and orange on the outsides.

form4Registration was tight!

poster2Here’s the final poster. The shows were intimate, entertaining and stacked with some of the best talents in Chicago. No doubt you’ll witness another collaboration before long. Check Dann out here, or scroll down here to listen to his interview on WBEZ. Or damnit, just go see him play… you won’t be disappointed.


Typeforce Class of 2015

If you work in design and typography in Chicago then chances are you’re already familiar with Typeforce, the annual celebration of typographic work hosted by Firebelly Design.


I pitched the idea of taking old prints and cutting them up in a way that they could be reconfigured to resemble large scale versions of the metal printers’ ornaments that we work with in the studio on a daily basis. Then a new kind of cityscape could emerge on a vastly different platform.

After finding out the project was accepted, I started to cut down prints to piece them together and see if patterns would emerge. Indeed they did! Then I knew I could focus each ‘building’ around a specific color theme and that prints could be organized accordingly.

ornaments1Printer’s Devil Jo was very helpful creating patterns with the ‘ornaments’ and double checking we had as many as we needed.

johelpingI couldn’t resist taking the cut up and taped together pieces and putting them into a type case. Here’s most of our city along with a handy little paper cutter and the rough 1″ scale schematic I put together for reference.

ornaments2Once the pieces were cut, taped and trimmed the buildings practically assembled themselves.


buildings1A few days prior to the install I pinned everything in the hallway to see if there would be any pitfalls. Apart from minimal tweaking it worked fine and I got a greater sense of how the colors would play together.

buildings3Here’s a snippet of some of the interesting patterns that emerged once everything was assembled.

ornamentcloseupsSomething needed to fill up the sky a bit, so a typographic wind blew into the studio. Type prints were cut up in thin strips to differentiate from the square format of the building ornaments and were then glued to a backing sheet.


wind2Last but not least, a few trees and CTA train, without which Chicago would be incomplete.

traintreesWe mounted the trees onto wood and trimmed the edges in paint. These cuties were laid out and ready to be mounted on the wall during the install.

setup1The train rested on a magic track covered in Virgin Wood Type calendar font from the handful of leftover 2014 calendar sets we had laying around.

setup5Our wall appears to float above the floor, as you can see, but that didn’t stop the trees from looking right at home.

setup7This is about the best shot I could get during the install, and as it turns out the best of the weekend as it was too crowded at the opening to get a better one. Off to the side you can see the table we used for people to be able to create their own cityscapes  from our leftover scraps.

setup4My install partner, Matt and I went for falafel wraps when we finished. Major score!

falafelOpening night always features a treat of 3D typography in the windows.

outsidesignThis is me!

papercitytitleThe evening started in a serene manner and the paper crafting definitely appealed to the younger set. As time wore on, the table became increasingly chaotic, with paper, glue and mixed drinks taking over as the adults rushed to get in on the action. Who knew little paper scraps could be so much fun?




papercities5Here are just a few of the projects that were left behind. Well done, type nerds!

papercitiesMatt had to show everyone up with his minimalist approach.

mattminimalismSo many talented faces in the crowd, including our own lady of Starshaped, Megan, alongside Matt. Also ‘uncle’ Brad Vetter and Adrienne Miller.

powercouplesThree fine printmakers from NIU, including Danielle in the middle, former Starshaped lady and Typeforce artist.

niuJeff took to the interactive wall, as did many.

jeffMy absolute favorite moment of the evening was watching Frances and Julie, two incredible type talents, lose their minds over An Alphabet of Sorts. So glad I had it on hand to show off to just the right people.

juliefrancesDid I mention it was crowded?


crowded2Poor Julie tried to take a nice picture and got the treatment from Adrienne.

julieadrienneThere were many gems from the show and I attempted to get a few shots of them here. My sincere apologies for not having all of the images credited, but it was exceptionally difficult to read a lot of the labels and get decent pictures given the crowd and lighting. You can get a little more info at this site.



work2Danielle’s work:











work14Yep. I’ve totally got this. If only I had gotten to eat one of these words before everyone else beat me to it.

You can get info about the closing reception on February 26th here. I hope you get a chance to check it out in person and to experience all of these clever explorations in typography.

An Alphabet in Print

If you’ve followed along with Starshaped’s typographic adventures over the last six months, then you already know about An Alphabet of Sorts, my forthcoming book with Wells College Press. As of this weekend, the book is completely printed and is headed to Wells for binding! I thought I’d share some shots of the printing process and a sneak peek of both the cover and the interior pages. But first, a few images of some of the glorious type forms. The ‘I’ is one of my favorites as it includes some of the very first ornaments I acquired.



EcloseupIn this section of the ‘N’ you can see the beautiful, angled sorts, pieced together to create a diagonal shape. These were made in Chicago by Barnhart Bros. & Spindler.

NI call this catchword the tattoo of the ampersand, as it sits right in the middle and is the only discernible word included in the alphabet.



CThis was the first galley of letters to go on press. The ‘G’ is locked and ready. I brushed many of them with a little oil and wiped them down well to remove old ink and any dirt that might affect the print quality.

formsonpressThe ‘L’ is the only themed letter in the set; it is entirely made up of ornaments from the Lanston Type Company.


OcloseupFirst on deck were the end papers for the book. These reversed letters, along with patterned ornaments were printed with red ink on Red Tartan stock from Gruppo Cordenons.


aaos3I liked the idea of the mirrored type above, so it carries through to the covers as well. And it was fun to set ‘SORTS’ twice… right reading and wrong reading!

aaosform1The covers are printed in red, gold and pewter. I couldn’t be happier with how these turned out, even though it’s tough to photograph this lovely red paper.


aaos2One of the treats in the book is the inclusion of two vellum pages with digitally printed images of the type forms. Here’s a peek at the A that will sit right on top of the printed ‘A’ page.

vellumoverlayMy elaborate organizational system involved a piece of masking tape on the drying shelf. The book is made up of 4 signatures, each with 4 folded sheets. I labeled what was on each of the 4 and checked them when they were printed. I did not go in any order, but instead printed whatever letter was next to slide off the galleys.

sigsonshelfTypesetting the intro note by Paul F. Gehl at The Newberry Library was a challenge; it’s a lot of tiny 6 and 8 point type with 1 point of leading. Luckily, it printed well. It’s an honor to have Paul as part of this project.

intronoteThe last to print was the colophon, appropriately enough.

colophonI assembled and trimmed one set of pages to confirm that all of the imposition was correct. Thankfully it was. ‘F’ starts the second signature.


titlepageI’m anxious to see all of the pieces come together in their final form. I’ll be putting together another blog post about the binding when that starts, along with images of the completed book. The edition is already over half sold, so don’t miss out!

A Wild Rose

Every so often we get to pour a lot of effort into creating a single, special print, and it’s usually commissioned as a gift from one spouse to another. In November I was approached for a project like this, using a poem that was read at the couple’s wedding. The wife wanted something blocky, bold and straightforward with a little bit of ornamentation and ample white space. This is the result of the collaboration:

kathy1Here’s a close up of the 12×18″ print, done in 3 colors on soft white cotton paper. It’s a nice mix of both metal and wood type that, while slightly beaten up and rustic, mostly keeps to a straightforward sans serif diet.

kathy2The is the type in the final lock up. We usually set up the entire print if possible then pull a proof. If everything is spaced accordingly and looks well together, then we can go in and separate individual colors and print just one at a time.

kathytypeformSome of the wood type for this piece is pretty rough, as noted in the uneven and speckled forms. The catchword ‘THE’ is new, however, and is one of Moore Wood Type‘s laser cut pieces.

kathy3The print features two-color ornaments from the Keystone Type Foundry known as ‘wild rose’ ornaments. It’s not every day that named ornaments tie in directly to the words being printing, but they sure did here. These are beautiful in their detail and include two different sized sorts, making it easier to fit them into any line length. I’m certain this charming print was a touching Christmas gift.



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