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The Well-Traveled Ampersand

Who doesn’t love a great ampersand, that 27th letter of the alphabet, in all of its varied and interesting forms? The Starshaped collection of metal and wood type includes hundreds of examples of how fantastic this form can be in print.

Ampersand imagery is one of the biggest sellers in the studio and I wanted to go big to create larger versions from the metal ornament collection. Instead of being locked into the rigidity of a standard letterpress form, I could create wood furniture (the pieces used to hold a form together) that was based on existing ampersands. This would allow me to be true to a pre-existing design.

And because that one concept wasn’t enough, I started thinking about how the ampersands could tie into a geographical region or city and somehow represent that location. And thus, this was born:


Before solidifying my idea for The Well-Traveled Ampersand, I built the structure for the first in the series, Frederic Goudy’s Californian, a typeface he designed for the University at Berkeley. I timed this to coordinate with our trip to the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco so I could gauge the response.


Filling in a frame isn’t as challenging as some of the other work in the studio. However, building in a mini set of row houses and hill-climbing trolley was a lesson in holding things in place while squeezing in spacing. This ampersand was ideally suited for the hills of San Francisco for this reason and the result was very pleasing.



The second ampersand was done while teaching at the Wells Book Arts Center in July. It features Victor Hammer’s American Uncial, designed while at Wells College. I love how different this form is from Californian.


Wells College is nestled next to Cayuga Lake, one of the beautiful Finger Lakes of Central New York. While not saturated with people and structures, it does have a fantastic sunset over the lake which informed the imagery in this print.



The third print is near to my heart. Before even casually mentioning what typeface would be used to represent Chicago, folks said ‘it has to be Cooper, right?’ Indeed. Cooper Black is the only typeface meaty enough to carry a substantial skyline of the city I love.



I had an epiphany the night I embarked on this one, realizing that there has to be a way to represent wind for The Windy City. This involved a lot of lead curving and some tricky setting to retain the shape but hint at the sky. It’s almost ridiculous how much is going on in this design.


The fourth ampersand representing the London Underground is fresh off the press!


This form for printing the prospectus will also appear on the final sleeve that houses all of the prints. I arranged the ampersands in order of size to make it look like the tiny airplane was pulling them in banner form.


Here are the details! While each print will be available individually, 50 sets will be packaged in an LP-style sleeve and include a digitally printed colophon showing photos of all of the type forms used to create the ampersands.

pros2The series is available for sale here and individual prints will be listed on our etsy site as they come off the press.

Well Spoken

A while back, Mr. Starshaped shared the story of meeting a Russian man in a coffee shop, downtown Chicago. This man lamented that he hadn’t seen the cafe culture in the city that he longed for: the camaraderie, the discussions, the sharing, excellent coffee. My response was that he was in the wrong part of town, as all of this exists in a tiny, magic corner of Ravenswood, the neighborhood Starshaped calls home.

For years we’ve visited the shop formerly known as Beans & Bagels, situated next to the Montrose Brown Line stop. We’ve witnessed many exciting and positive changes happen during this time, not the least of which included a makeover of both the interior and the menu. And when Will & Sido, the tireless leaders behind the counter, took over as owners, it was time for a name change as well.

I was honored to be asked to contribute a print to commemorate this grand reopening, with the only art direction being to retain the new logo (with its hint of a Cypress tree and nod to Will and Sido’s home state, Louisiana) with the name.


The print was actually planned as 4 colors but became 5. After laying down a light texture of wood as the first layer, I started what would be a 3-color reduction linoleum cut, meaning it would be carved then printed, then carved and printed, then carved and… you get the idea. The first was solid and printed in the same very pale brown as the wood type to give it more depth. There were a few late nights of carving alongside my Wedding Present albums. It’s a good way to work.


The second run of the linoleum cut was a deeper moss green.


I brought in a pop of blue to tie the elements together.


The linoleum cut, carved down to its final color.


I wanted to create a modular type for the title so I wouldn’t have to carve it or find something similar to the logo type. This took a few different arrangements to get right. These are just a few of the carbon paper proofs done while testing out what I set.



The 4th color, before the final blue, was a slight texture of ornaments that included Chicago-style 6-pointed stars. The first plan was to print this the same as the green for the logo but that was too deep to live behind the text and not clash. So it became another run through the press.


It was such a treat to see one of the final prints framed and out the night of the grand re-opening. Everyone that came through the door to enjoy a drink and some cajun-style cooking was invited to sign. Seeing a Starshaped print at the center of this outpouring of support from the community was a humbling moment I will always remember.


When you’re in Ravenswood, go and visit Will, Angela, Sido and the rest of the gang. Get some coffee. Meet a friend. Make some plans to conquer the world or just your tiny corner of it. Whatever your agenda you’ll get solid service with a smile. Tell ’em Starshaped sent you.


The Letterpress Trail 2015 part 1: 80 on 80

I am not particularly well-traveled. I’ve never been out of the country (Toronto doesn’t count when you grow up in Western New York), never had a passport, never studied abroad. This is largely due to lack of means; it was a stretch to move to Chicago for college and every spare penny earned from every part time job fed into my education and, well, maybe some records. And while folks will say ‘there’s always a way’, the fact is, you still need to pay for tickets to get places even if you win a scholarship. That little extra was never available. To further the stationary trend, I started Starshaped at the tender age of 23 which necessitated extreme frugality in order to purchase equipment and establish a fledgling business with no investors or loans (1999? No kickstarter, folks).

And so planning a summer trip with Jo these last two years is my effort to at least see parts of the country I haven’t been to (which is pretty much most of it). When we were accepted into the Renegade Craft Fair in San Francisco it felt like a great opportunity to drive across the country and back, visiting friends and printers along the way. It timed out perfectly to take place before I was scheduled to teach at Wells College so we mapped it out… mostly. Of course the best laid plans have a way of going completely awry and the trip was much more physically and emotionally taxing than planned.

But not to worry, there’s quite literally a Redemption Song at the end of this 3-part saga. Loud, thoughtful, ballsy or introspective music keeps me going on long trips and in life and for this one it was a critical crutch to keep me motivated and, well, awake. You can get our soundtrack here and all forthcoming song references are in italic. Follow along if you like!


Scheduled to leave July 9th, I frantically worked to wrap up jobs, pack and prep for a craft fair. I finished the last job at about 4:30am Thursday, got an hour of sleep, then threw everything along with Jo into the car to hit the road to Iowa. Our first stop was to the Barry Phipps Shop in Iowa City. While not a printer, Barry is a former Coctail (I learned to print from another member of this seminal Chicago band) and he made my custom printing apron which accompanied us on the trip. His studio is part gallery, part workspace, part record shop, part dance party, and it sums up most of Barry’s interests. Outfitted in new t-shirts we took off for stop number 2 in our packed-to-the-rafters 500.





IMG_1211Pure adrenalin pushed me onward and we enjoyed a visit with Caveworks Press, north of Iowa City. Julie has a great space in her garage for a large Vandercook and plenty of type to keep her busy for a while.



IMG_1216Here are a few of Julie’s projects, including broadsides, books and cards.


IMG_1213This print is one of my favorites and lucky me got to take one home.

IMG_1226We rolled out of Caveworks to head directly to Des Moines to spend the night with our pals Tammy and Adam Winn of The Red Door Press. Their entire garage is a print shop, chock full of letterpress awesomeness everywhere you turn. They were printing into the evening in preparation for an event.



IMG_1222The next day we joined Tammy briefly at Domestica, a fabulous boutique, where she set up to print with any customers wandering in. Yes, corn husks were printed, too. It’s Iowa, folks.


IMG_1229This is one of Tammy’s favorite red doors. Now Jo and I see red doors everywhere.

IMG_1230We had a great time in Iowa over the 24 hours we had to look around. I’m glad this state is close to us as there’s so much more to see. We’ll be back.



DJ Jo’s Musical Interlude: I’m a Cuckoo, Kiss Me Like You Mean It, Mt. Pleasant (Mom, you mean there’s one in Iowa, too?!)

We moved on to Lincoln, Nebraska, to visit Porridge Papers and their glorious retail and papermaking shop. I was smitten.


IMG_1240A rainbow of gorgeous handmade paper.


IMG_1233Paper drying out. It’s a long, tiring process, but the result is so fantastic and I’m thrilled to be working these papers into upcoming projects at Starshaped.

IMG_1234Porridge also offers a Letterpress Bar, where, after a class, you can come and do your own printing. This is the perfect space for small projects, complete with type, tools and inspiration.


IMG_1232The print shop is shared with a bookbinder and his tools.



IMG_1236Huge thanks to Chris for showing us around and graciously hosting us at his home for grilled pizzas and stimulating conversation. As far as Jo was concerned this house had it all: a 7-year-old, a dog, a cat, a turtle, fish.


IMG_1243Right before we left Chicago, I lamented to Will at Beans and Bagels (our other home in the city) that I feared I wouldn’t get a good cappuccino while on the road. He then emailed me a complete list of all the best coffee shops in every city we were scheduled to visit. Now we had a second map to follow that included Cultiva, where you can also get nutella crepes.



You’re a long state, Nebraska, but we made it through. We stopped briefly in Rock Springs, Wyoming, to gas up and steal a glance at its charming features and ‘town that type forgot’ charm. There are a set of historic markers set up to check out so it didn’t feel odd to take photos of its current state; more on this later.





IMG_1251Then it was on to Laramie, our home for the night. We hit the kid jackpot and saw the bright lights that night as it was the last evening of a carnival celebrating the town’s jubilee. I’m not a selfie person, but we really lived it up on those rickety rides.


IMG_1249In Wyoming, the weather seems to change fast. The next frame would show a heavy downpour that dissipated just as quickly.

WYskylineFinally landing in Salt Lake City, a place we both enjoyed immensely, I was able to meet up with longtime printer friend David Wolske just days before he was scheduled to leave town to move back to Indiana (score a big one for the Midwest). I was treated to a private showing of his last series of prints, one of the few things not packed into the Uhaul.


IMG_1256David then took us over to the Red Butte Press at the University, his place of employment for one more day. What. A. Place.



IMG_1259The type collection is very impressive and beautifully organized.









IMG_1270Most of the ornament collection is kept in these hardware shelves and is in the process of being documented. Nice to see interns do the same kind of work in every shop.




IMG_1273Monday we took a non-printing side trip to visit Madsen Cycles, maker of our Press Bike. A well oiled shop of a different sort, it was exciting to see the design and development of these cargo bikes in person.



IMG_1287We stayed with a former Chicagoan while there who accompanied us with her stepchildren. The girls painted their faces right before we left so here you see a kitty-faced Jo explaining to Mr. Madsen her ideas for kid-sized cargo bike.

IMG_1285He wasn’t one to disappoint and whipped out his phone to share secret images of a project in the works. Wait for it, folks.



IMG_1289Salt Lake City is a place we’ll definitely visit again someday. We had a day to unwind and Jo had new friends. I snuck out Monday night for a supportive and stimulating dinner with David and his wife, Lauren, that gave me much needed clarity on this trip. Their insight into following a non-traditional path in letterpress work is spot on and encouraging and David reminded me of where I was in 2003 when we first met. Sometimes you need to go back to your roots for a drink or two.

Grabbing good coffee at the Rose Establishment set us on the run Tuesday morning.


UTskylineAt the urging of David, we were able to sneak in a brief visit to the Black Rock Press at the University of Nevada to meet Inge Bruggeman. The shop is large and offers a lot of typographic treats.


IMG_1296My first Californian sighting, something I was in tune to having just finished a print featuring this ampersand (next image… more on this series to come).





IMG_1302A whole table of freshly cast Bixler Letterfoundry type!

IMG_1304Jo was enamored of this brass line gauge. Maybe she’s cut from the same cloth as Scott Moore.


IMG_1305I struggled with Nevada. It was my first moment of true homesickness and I had a near-panic attack while listening to Don’t We Always Get There, wondering what the hell we were doing so far away from home. The gravity of the situation really sunk in, especially sitting in the hotel of a casino I hated, but Jo adored (kid midway, need I say more?). Then, following our coffee map, we found these guys pouring Blue Whale Coffee and all was well again. In a tiny place the size of our home office, there were two other Chicagoans there.


IMG_1307Hot chocolate to go along with the obligatory casino t-shirt. That she loves, of course.


NVskylineCalifornia All The Way, indeed. We made it. The two things Jo wanted more than anything on this trip was to see the ocean and to hug a redwood. After our touristy jaunt to the Golden Gate Bridge we started Thursday morning communing with trees.

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IMG_1315The kid managed a 2-mile hike through the forest and loved it. We found a few clearings with tiny stone formations from past visitors and I couldn’t help but giggle over what Julian Cope would make of these.

IMG_1316After scaling redwoods we visited mountains of metal type at M&H.

IMG_1335Hopping in on a tour of the facility and Arion Press, it was great to see Brian again, doing what he does best, from describing the work to checking forms to wrangling a cranky two-color press.




IMG_1324They have a lot of metal type. I don’t know how to describe how overwhelming it is… in cases like this to the substantial hallway full of fonted up, newly cast type. I died a little with the enormity of it.







IMG_1328Brian pulled out some of the special treats to show me and I found more Californian.



IMG_1332Chris explains the casting process.


IMG_1334And with that, here’s some serious porn for Jessie at Punky Press, up and coming type caster. It’s a room loaded down with matrices for casting, all in their tiny, organized boxes.





IMG_1341Jo should really work for P22 Type Foundry because she’s an expert spotter of their type. ‘This must be Mr. Rich’s type case’ she said then walked away.

IMG_1342Finally, we made it to the Renegade Craft Fair at Fort Mason Pavilion. Friday was open only to wholesale buyers and was very low key. We picked up a new account and chatted with many people about our custom capabilities. Mostly I was relieved to tears to see these two: Louisa, one half of Munie Designs (and former Starshaped intern) and Julie, one of half of Letterform and one whole of Nourishing Notes. My people. Hugs!

IMG_1347I felt pretty good about our booth set up this time around, like I finally ‘got’ how to display things in a way that people can see detail up close. Huge thanks to Dan Grzeca for help on this front, and to Matt at Virgin Wood Type for making my card displays.



IMG_1346And we broke out this new sign commissioned from Moore Wood Type.

IMG_1364Friday felt pretty successful and we headed out to an envelope show at the San Francisco Center for the Book. The place was really hoppin’ and everyone could make envelopes while there. If an even remotely crafty project is around, Jo will find it. She made a dozen or more envelopes from their diecut sheets while I poked around at the type.










IMG_1356Louisa and Jeff joined us here as well and made their own envelopes.


We made it to the ocean. Do you remember your first time seeing it? Did it look like this? It was Friday, and I was In Love.

Before heading into Fort Mason Saturday morning for the fair, we made the obligatory stop at this dangerous place. So good. We also spent every morning at The Mill, enjoying Four Barrel coffee which was too good to be true. No pictures of that; the hipper than thou atmosphere would have given us the boot for sure.

IMG_1362Optimistic! But it wasn’t to be. This was one of the worst shows I have ever done. We were all but assured this was the craft fair version of The Sure Thing and the next best thing to the Chicago fair which we have been a part of for the last 5 years. But just before leaving town I found out Starshaped didn’t make the cut for Renegade Chicago. I was very disappointed and questioned the reasoning but experience in San Francisco leads me to believe this is a blessing in disguise. Most vendors fared very poorly in San Fran and this may point to the fact that the size of the fair was doubled without vendors being aware of it. There were two buildings and 500 sellers (can’t fully say ‘makers’ as there seemed to be a number of fair trade goods as well) which is completely overwhelming for shoppers. Renegade has never been the most vendor-friendly fair which is fine as long as sales are strong (and they always have been exceptionally strong). But Starshaped isn’t looking for ‘exposure’; the studio doesn’t need to use Renegade as a marketing platform the way a new vendor might, one that is able to write off the loss in sales. We just need the sales. So it looks like we’re breaking up with the Renegade gang and will be moving on.

IMG_1363I did manage to get a lot of thank you notes written and Jo made new friends who were also stuck in booths with their parents all weekend. They ran between all of our booths, ate together and schemed, and probably used the free photo booth too much. But hey, it was free, unlike the $3 Diet Coke in a Cup that I got.

IMG_1366And we did get to see our Detroit friends, Arsenal Handicraft, who had the perfect print for the weekend.

IMG_1367One last romp in the ocean and we were on our way to Tahoe for about 8 hours to sleep before the longest part of our trip.


The Letterpress Trail 2015 part two

The Letterpress Trail 2015 part three

The Letterpress Trail 2015 part 2: Bloodier Than Blood

Renegade was devastatingly bad. If we’d had a ‘bad’ Chicago show, we still would have made enough money to cover the bulk of our entire trip. As it stood, we broke even. This meant throwing everything (and Jo) into the car right after the show ended Sunday night and white knuckling it to Lake Tahoe to sleep before moving on. I had to figure out how to move money around to cover the next week, how to make the car function as so little product sold and it was packed (now with sand dollars and crab legs) and how to not sob continuously in front of Jo. We found a Motel 6 at 11pm and I tried to settle into sleeping before Monday’s 12 hour drive. I won’t lie; I felt pretty desperate and angry and trapped on the wrong side of the country.


I left each morning as early as possible so that Jo would fall asleep in her tiny back seat. It made the ride faster for her and gave me a few hours to think and listen to angry songs. The angry songs gave way to acceptance, and by the time Kegler sent Endless Grey Ribbon I mustered the patience and sense of purpose to get through the rest of the morning.


We spent quite a bit of time on 50, grabbing gas wherever we could just to be prepared. That said, our mouse of a car gets extremely good mileage and it was my own paranoia that made me stop every time we saw GASOLINE. This route is the traditional Pony Express route and there are many tiny towns that haven’t aged in 100 years. I don’t have pictures of these; while the worn, hand painted signs and once-stately buildings hold a definite charm, the unfortunate deterioration of an economy to support the humans trying to manage them is not. We soaked up what we could to avoid partaking in ‘ruin porn’.


DJ Jen’s Musical Interlude: Plenty Times, Wide Eyes, Box Elder, Mother of God

When Jo woke in time to enjoy southern Utah (and it was beautiful) she was ready to rock the rest of the afternoon.

DJ Jo’s Musical Interlude: The Party Line, No Cities to Love (this one always makes you feel better, Mom), Nanny Nanny Boo Boo, Stars 4-Ever, Your Cover’s Blown


Right about when we stopped for a break and shot this photo, a rock hit us hard. When we got to Grand Junction we had a cracked iPad, iPhone and now windshield. The Sound of Breaking Glass is very expensive. I had the phone repaired in Denver as it was a lifeline for navigation.

We met up with kind and welcoming Tom Parson who toured us around the Englewood Depot, a former train station he’s turning into what will be a fantastic print and book arts center. While in its early, rough stages, there is a full basement with easy access to what will be garage doors for loading in presses and an upstairs for small presses, a library and workspace.



Then we visited his home and were blown away by his collection of books and everything related to printing.


A slightly trepidatious Jo heads into the garage to check out the print shop. Every square inch of this place is covered, mostly with type.



Tom pulled out a lot of treasures to share.







IMG_1399  IMG_1402


He’s been slowly proofing and cataloging his extensive collection in a few ring bound booklets to keep track of what’s there. He’s excellent at making notes about whatever he can learn of the type, as well as where he found/purchased it.

IMG_1421 IMG_1422 IMG_1423


I am coveting these things:



Then we rode over to visit Jason Wedekind at Genghis Kern, who has just acquired a building he is setting up as a co-working space. This place is right next door.


The print shop is in the back of the new space and is really coming along.



Visiting print shops can get old when you’re eight, but the payoff was worth it; Jason taught Jo how to always win at tic tac toe. I only wish we’d had room to bring some Old Style.



There were a few (and by few I mean hundreds) of records left from the former store next to the co-working space which Jason snagged. No longer lonely LPs, these were headed to good homes, including mine.


From there we went to the home of a former Chicago friend and librarian I had the pleasure to work with a long time ago. It was wonderful to meet little Bea, born about a year after Jo following their move to Denver. Getting a chance to relax, we reminisced over wine and revisited a birth announcement I did for Will. Charles, the older boy on the announcement, celebrated his 15th birthday the day we were there.



Off again to Kansas City, Missouri.


Being welcomed in KCMO with a set of gorgeous Hammerpress prints and cupcakes was a real treat in every sense. We chatted a LOT about the state of running letterpress-based businesses and shared stories. I knew there would be a lot of ornamental eye candy to enjoy here.


IMG_1442Their new retail space is nothing short of stunning.


IMG_1443Matt, Brady and Kate. Unbelievably great to see them all.






IMG_1438Top notch storage system.



IMG_1440The ink drum corps.




From there we headed to Two Tone Press to soak up the talent of these ladies. Their prints and linoleum cutting ability are out of this world. Sometimes, literally.







Huge thanks to Michelle and Angie for welcoming us and sharing their work!

Best Western is Jo’s idea of extreme luxury (in-room jacuzzi and the Disney Channel), so we slept well in KC. The next morning we hit Little Freshie and made our way to St. Louis.


This is the home of Firecracker Press, Central Print and the Alpha Beta Club. We got in early enough to park ourselves there for the day and catch up on computer work. Greeted by the sweet sounds of Sam & Dave, this was the perfect, soul-filled balm for a long drive.

Firecracker sits on one side of the building, Central Print on the other and the Alpha Beta Club in the middle. We set up shop there in the middle to be able to see and enjoy everything that happened around us.













Deep into discussion with Kristina about designing and making zines.


Central Print hosts summer workshops for teens and these prints are the result of one that involved pressure printing.


The CP side also sells cards and prints. It’s a dangerous section to be in.




Our office for the day.


Firecracker initiated the Letterpress Trail map a few years ago (so maybe this traveling around is their fault?). Eric nearly finished ours off as only he would be allowed to, with a giant sticker. You can still get these prints and collect stamps in all the shops you visit.


We left with some real gems.


Huge thanks to this great gang for welcoming us and letting us be a part of the atmosphere for a day.


That night we went to Perennial for a benefit where Jo and Eric’s daughter made some clever cork boards and jewelry.


At First Light we headed out to Columbus. This sign was almost too much. So desperate for Chicago, it was all I could do to turn towards Indianapolis.


But our time in Columbus at the home of Roni and Scott Moore always feels like home. Jo got quality time at the community pool and the impressive zoo while I went at it making wood type under the patient guidance of Scott.


So many patterns, so little time.


Scott has added a laser cutter to his wood type making toolbox and it was fascinating to see it in action, cutting ‘new’ patterns.


Here are the patterns for the snowflakes we collaborated on last Fall, as well as some of the laser cut versions.



I settled on this ornament and set out to make two.


For these we started with the fine cutting before moving to the rough cut. It’s a slow, methodical process that’s very easy to mess up. You have to carefully trace the pattern while the cutting side takes care of business.



Here are the final two. Not bad!


Then I moved on to the manicules as I don’t have any large sets. The patterns can be used to create any size you desire with adjustments on the pantograph. I opted for a set that is 30 picas long (about 5 inches).


I started with the rough cut on these as you can see on the top piece. The bottom shows the addition of the finer cut, but not the hand finishing that needs to happen to complete the job. Did I mention this is *really* a process?


I made two sets so I could share one with Matt at Virgin as well as sneaking in some sunsets.


We hit a huge and scary pothole on the way into Columbus that severely damaged a front tire and we needed to replace both. Of all the places for this to happen, Columbus was the best possible location. I was grateful for Scott’s ‘dad mode’ kicking in as he found a location that could replace the tires immediately. We had to be in Buffalo the next day so our window was small. Scott and Roni are the most gracious hosts and staying with them is always a comforting pleasure. But it was time to move on again. We found a much needed Car Wash on the way to New York and we were off for the last leg Jo and I would share together.

The Letterpress Trail 2015 part one

The Letterpress Trail 2015 part three

The Letterpress Trail 2015 part 3: Redemption

We made great time getting from Columbus to Buffalo and I safely deposited Jo at my parents’ home before leaving shortly after to get to Wells Book Arts Center. I wasn’t in the best frame of mind for embarking on a week of teaching. It was hot and I was tweaked, rednecks with confederate flags were everywhere (don’t know where to start with this, New York) and I had to find a happy place in which to shift from traveling with an eight year old to successfully communicating with a group of adults I’d see all week. Me and Tsunami worked out a lot of issues on the way to the Finger Lakes.

The Summer Institute is a unique opportunity at Wells. Over the course of three weeks instructors in all mediums related to book arts descend upon the place to impart knowledge and high fives, cementing Wells in a place of prominence in many fields. It’s an honor to have been included in the line up this year.

Look at this place. It’s beautiful and it’s full of everything you need to do anything at all related to book arts. My last trip there was so incredibly productive and blissed out that trying to recreate that experience and its sweet pop soundtrack like Right Here seemed like it could be a futile exercise akin to Pet Sematary. Maybe that’s a little extreme.


Because then I met the rest of the students that I didn’t already know and it became apparent that this group was really special. All seven had experience printing before which was a real novelty and allowed us to move pretty quickly. The first project was to create a pattern that could work as 1- or 2-color. These were exceptionally ambitious and the results were almost unbelievable. It bode well for the rest of the week, which was good since I missed Tuesday morning dealing with kidney stones. This was when Mr. Starshaped texted ‘stop saying it can’t get any worse.’



We had 24/7 access to the studio and I can vouch for activity between at least 8am-midnight every day. It was a luxury to work until we all fell over with a group of people that constantly pushed the envelope of what was possible with the ornamental collection at hand. It is a stunning and vast collection which definitely aided in speed of production.


My first project was to set a type specimen for newly acquired German type. It’s 14 point Didot which is fancy speak for ‘pain in the ass 15 point type’. Thankfully it came with its own spacing.


The second student project was to create a letterform out of ornaments. Why do one when you can do two? Most found ways to print their forms in multiple ways or created more than one character. Too bad there wasn’t any grading as this group would seriously have earned extra credit. It was completely inspiring to work in the same shop with them and it snapped me out of some of the frustrations I held going into the week, compounded by being in the middle of nowhere and carrying a torch for the Windy City.

DJ Jen’s Musical Interlude of Chicago sound: Typesetting Jets, Albini-produced Carolyn, Four Corners





I took a little time to show a few advanced skills like setting type on curves, mitering rule and using a rule curver, much of which students worked into their projects.


I started work on my own project, the second in an upcoming series I’m calling the Well-Traveled Ampersand. This seeks to combine ampersands with the geographic region they were design in/for. Victor Hammer, founder of the Wells College Press, designed this Uncial while at Wells. I added the idyllic Cayuga Lake scene. A handful were left at Wells and included the American Uncial title, set in said typeface.






I found the most boring press in the world, too! All you do is push a button and there’s literally time to have a dance party in between prints. No thanks, automatic Vandercook.


First prints, looking good.


Student work continued to collect as the week went by and my help was barely required. I cannot believe the results of the third and final project that involved creating a structure or something architectural. Some were real buildings, some imagined, some were made up cities, one was Boston. The variety and detail surpassed all expectations. I have not had a chance to photograph and document them all yet but am so honored to have come home with a set of everything.


A few sexy details from student type forms.


The print shop looked like this all week… piles of spacing and ornaments and tools and limitless possibilities. Hopes, dreams, aspirations.


Friday night was a showing of all student work produced throughout the week and my class represented well. We even grabbed pedestals so we could show off the type forms used to create many of the prints. This was definitely a highlight.



We had an (un)welcome visitor one night and student Marie took it upon herself to set and print this little ‘yearbook’. Everything about it makes me happy and it will always have a special place in my heart. I was in Love with WBAC again.


By about 11am Saturday morning the Center was deserted and I had the place to myself. I wanted to create my own architectural print and threw together this love note to Morgan Hall. Every day I came from my quarters to enter the Book Arts Wants You door. There isn’t a lot of 6 point type at Wells but I did my best.





Sunday morning was my last on campus, and I had a lovely post mortem breakfast with Rich Kegler, director of the Center. It has been a year since we first discussed turning my ornamental alphabet into a book and set off a strong partnership between Wells and Starshaped built on mutual respect and a desire to see each succeed with whatever the future tosses our way. Starshaped has had a very rocky year and I have been very close to selling out the studio in recent months. Sometimes the universe sends the right friend to talk you through it, one that inherently knows your own ideas for your work better than you do. Rich has been that person for a long time and his ‘you HAVE to keep fighting; Starshaped is YOU’ is the fuel I needed to develop a new plan of attack. Former record store nerds always recognize other former record store nerds and I was gifted this mix tape, the early 80s version of the 90s peanut butter and jelly sandwich in terms of cementing friendship.


There’s no rest for the wicked, though, and I headed over to meet good friend and Wells grad Jessie at the Cracker Factory. This place has real potential as a thriving letterpress studio and Jessie is working hard to whip it into shape. Everything needs scrubbed and organized so we got right to it, moving type around and cleaning the wood type, of which there is a LOT.









Mindless but methodical and important work was just what I needed. We hit it hard for hours, listened to great music, giggled about secrets and generally enjoyed each others company the whole day. I also found a few exciting metal ornaments that I’d love to work with. Looks like I’ll be back.







After a break with family, Jo and I popped by a perennial favorite, the Western New York Book Arts Center. It was bustling with a teen workshop so we didn’t stay long. The plan was to print there but plans changed and it was time to head back to Chicago. I can’t pretend to be sad about this. I missed my city, the environment, my sweet house, my studio, good cappuccino and Mr. Starshaped. It was time.

DJ Jen’s Bringing-It-Home Musical Finale: Almost With You, Stormy Weather, Star Shaped, A Million Miles, Going Home



Here’s our completed Letterpress Trail map! It only took a year. I’m proud of this and our adventures as we’ve gotten to see some incredible shops and meet some even more fantastic people. The letterpress community is so supportive and open to sharing and embracing all types of people and skill sets. A huge thanks to everyone listed here and to those that went out of their way to make us feel at home during some dark moments of exhaustive travel. And a giant hug for the best traveling companion anyone could ever ask for. Jo barely complained, was open to every experience, respected the people and places we met and overall had a great time. She steadied me when at my worst and reminded me that everything was okay. Her random, absurd questions that peppered our conversations (i.e., ‘can you scare an insect to death?’) took me out of myself and I laughed. She is my heart walking around outside of my body.

Spanning the entire country is not in the cards for next summer. Maybe the East Coast? Give me ten months to stew on it first.


Letterpress Trail 2015 part one

Letterpress Trail 2015 part two


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.





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