New Year, New Type

Starting a new year with a printed homage to great type is always a good idea. Starshaped scored a great deal of new metal and wood type this year and it’s time it pulled some weight. So this year’s New Year card features type from a few different metal type foundries alongside the snowflakes from our collaboration with Moore Wood Type.

newyear1The idea was to take a standard rectangular form and make it appear as if the snowflakes were swooping in to break it apart. Below is a reversed image (so it’s easy to read) of the main sections of the type form before separating them.

newyearHow about a typographic rundown? ‘Wishing’ is a new cast of Ray Shade by Hill & Dale Type Foundry in West Virginia. ‘You A’ and ‘ew ear’ are Latin Ornate and Tuscan Graille, both from Skyline Type Foundry. ‘Starshaped Press Chicago’ is 6pt Camelot and the N and Y initial caps have yet to be identified. ‘Happy’ is a mortised initial cap with Dakota. The three main borders are from Bixler Letterfoundry, courtesy of Punky Press, coupled with tiny bits and pieces from our collection.

After a quick carbon paper proof of the forms, I scanned them so that I could figure out the best angles and build the rest of the piece digitally. This is the cheat sheet printed out with the placement of the sections and snowflakes. It is marked up to determine the measurements of the angled furniture I needed to cut to square up the sections.

cheatsheetHere you can see the angled furniture that holds the sections in place and keeps them flush with the rest of the form.



cornerformI first pulled a few proofs on the actual paper with the entire form to set up placement and look for any wacky spacing issues. After that was established, I took out all of the second color, leaving just the sections to be printed in burgundy. I marked the spacing with a sharpie so I would remember what I added in place of the type that was there.

burgundyformThe burgundy read well on Wrought Iron, dark gray stock from Neenah’s Environment line. It matched the Paver Red envelopes from French Paper. Printing dark inks on dark papers can always be a bit of a crap shoot but this worked well. Silver is a no-brainer. The registration is pretty tight, and given the angles in play here, that’s impressive.


newyear4Next up were the snowflakes. I trimmed most of mine to be as close to the edge of the design as possible so that they could almost sit on top of each other.

snowflakesFiguring out what ink they’d be printed in was more challenging. My first thought was opaque white so I could test how this would perform on the gray paper. But the white competed with the silver and the type receded, which was definitely not desirable. So I tried transparent white as well as variations on this with differing degrees of silver and black mixed in. The final was a combination of all of these.

testingsnowflakesWhile the snowflakes were set up on press, I used them to print the front of the envelopes as well, where they appear a little darker on burgundy stock. The silver on these is particularly striking. More great initial caps.

newyear5I was very pleased with how the cards turned out, as they hit all of my bases for typography as well as great paper and ink combinations. The challenges of setting this form were also very pleasing and it’s great to see both old and new type functioning on a heightened level. One of the plans for the studio this year is to really highlight some of the gems of the Starshaped collection and use them in similar ways to how they would have been used 100 years ago, but with (hopefully) a modern breath of fresh air.


15 and Counting

It would be hard to believe that Starshaped is celebrating 15 years if it weren’t for the mounds of printing equipment and type I’m surrounded by in the studio every day. And while I don’t often remember where it all came from, I can say that most of it has been incorporated into the flow of work on a daily basis and earns its keep. Below you can see the italicized, angle bodied Bernhard Gothic that made its way to the studio by way of the Platen Press Museum.


Given that it’s been the year of creating ornamental letterforms, I thought I’d try my hand at figures too, hence the ’15’ on both the postcards (below) and posters for the annual open house. Postcards don’t always make it onto the schedule, but this year they did so that they could be included in the swag bags at the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum Wayzgoose.


This is a nice, chunky typographic ’15’ that I was very pleased with. It may be the start of something…


For the poster, I wanted to create a circular seal-like image with a subtle pressure print. The chipboard ’15’ was added to the makeready. I cut a piece of linoleum for the round base; you can see the ghosting of the ink on the linoleum since I printed the red and gold before the final transparent white.


I also made a pretty weak attempt at setting larger type on a curve with this hackneyed piece of plywood. But it worked.

prints10The final poster!


The annual open house has happened since filing for my dba back in 1999; the first few years at the old studio were more of a gathering for friends and family and took place during the day on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. After moving to our current location in 2003, the open house turned into an extremely well attended event on a Saturday night in November. That’s when I started creating posters to advertise; below are the last 11 years worth of prints.


While there is always a bit of type out for every event, this year there was a LOT of type out, both because of so many recent acquisitions as well as just not having the time to get things organized and distributed. So everyone was able to see beautiful new and unused metal and wood type, as well as many forms from recent jobs.

typeoutAll the presses are rolling for the open house, and this is the form that everyone could print this time around. It’s the start of a series of fantastic Chicago quotes that I intend to set with some of the finer wood type in the studio.


We also set up some of the new tiny snowflakes done with Moore Wood Type so that everyone could print a wintery greeting card.


Prior to the mob scene, my incredible interns all showed up to get things moving. Cathy and Emily came with these amazing new aprons! What a sweet surprise. Now we all look like a force to be reckoned with. Because we are.

apronsLook at Emily go!


Fine ladies representing the School of the Art Institute! Janice, Cathie Ruggie Saunders (an incredible instructor that everyone in letterpress should know), and Cathy. They do letterpress right at SAIC.


Jo also set up a print for the kids to do on her little galley press.


And after printing the kids went bonkers, running around the studio and hall like wild banshees.


It was very humbling to have so many talented folks from the neighborhood come by. Here we have the Favorites, Amber and Tom, snuggling in with Emily ‘anything less than the best is a felony’ Orange Beautiful. A few of my favorite designers.


For all the time we spend in Beans and Bagels, it was wonderful to have Sido and Will come by. Two others that spend a lot of time there are screen printer and illustrator extraordinaire Dan Grzeca and fantastic photographer Jookie Jill.


Also got a visit from my hero Deb of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. They are celebrating 25 years of awesome printmaking and I was thrilled to be a part of this in the form of creating their show posters. These were then turned into wine labels, which Deb brought by. And of course she brought a little treat for our printers devil.



A real treat was having the Upchurch family come out. One of the best times of my life was working at Fireproof Press… all the printing, fun and fellowship without the hassle of running the business! Lori and John have always been family to me, supporting Starshaped throughout the last 15 years.


And of course John showed up with the traditional Fireproof Press offering of root beer.

johnJust a few of the many faces of friends, old and new, that made it through the studio.


Also had a nice visit from Abby Woods, a current Columbia College student, who’s working on a project about… me! Here’s a sneak peek of what she’s up to.


It was both an exhausting and exhilarating evening. I came in Sunday to clean up the fall out and found this guy hanging out by the typecases. I suppose the mess that was left behind was a good sign that the party was a success. I made no little plans when starting the studio 15 years ago and given the support of the community I feel confident the studio has another 15 in front of me.


Good Wood 2014

Every year we look forward to the annual Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum Wayzgoose, which attracts type nerds (i.e., all of our best friends) from around the world. And while the ‘Goose usually only lasts about 3 days, this year, for us, it stretched to a week and spanned the distance between Two Rivers, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois.

A few days prior to heading north, Jo and I set up and printed our pieces for the print swap (more on that later). I was thrilled to work with Moore Wood Type to design a series of snowflakes to be both laser and pantograph cut. Having just received my batch to print with, and knowing that Scott planned to take them to Hamilton to share, I put together this poster to showcase how fantastically well they look and print together. They’ll be available for sale soon.


snowflakes2While I played around with snowflakes, Jo went straight for the stars and put together this great little number:

It was such a treat to have longtime friend and printer David Wolske swing by on Wednesday. I put him to work, we shared some laughs and I got a sneak peek of what he’d be presenting at Hamilton. His work is stunning in its thoughtfulness, exploration and expert technique.

david1Thursday we welcomed Geri and Matt of Virgin Wood Type. Obviously, we had some fun. These folks eat wood type for lunch, so I took them out for pizza before it got ugly. Matt wrote a great post about the ‘Goose that you can read here.

virgininstudioFriday we hit the airport to pick up this guy and head up to Trivers.


Once we made it to Hamilton, Jo immediately sought out her besties, Chelsea and Laura, who made her a very special badge this year, the only one with fancy hand lettering.


New this year is a wall featuring a mashup of Hamilton-related prints from just about everyone. Jo even found her Turtles print from the June 2014 APA Wayzgoose.



To keep a 7-year-old going all weekend I gave Jo my digital camera and unleashed her on the museum. She had a blast documenting everything and took dozens of charmingly blurry photos.



Also new this year is the substantial type wall which proved to be extremely photogenic (it’s like they planned it).


I joined Erin Beckloff, mover and shaker extraordinaire as well as daughter to Scott Moore, in taking some great shots of David Shields and Rich. Wonder what their photos look like.


Later in the evening we heard from the chiefs: Stephanie, Jim and Bill. These three, along with a slew of eager volunteers really knocked it out of the park this year. Screens! Lighting! Backdrops! Sound! All pro.


Their intro was followed by Charles S. Anderson. If you’ve ever ordered paper from French Paper or pretty much just lived in the world, you’re familiar with the work of CSA, so there’s not much I can add!

After the image overload, I got a moment with Nick Sherman to check out the new book published by Tipoteca Italiana about their incredible collection of wood type. Needless to say, one of these came home with me.

nickshermanSaturday’s schedule was too packed to see and experience everything. I sat in on David’s formal presentation to get a chance to see his lovely work again.


Following that was a rousing discussion by Clint Harvey of Design College Australia and The Bacon Factory in Brisbane, Australia. They’re doing amazing work to collect and preserve letterpress equipment Down Under, as well as present it to the next generation of designers.


Clint brought a number of sample prints featuring Australian slang. Then he challenged everyone to decipher them and write their ideas directly on the prints. Did anyone get them right, CH?


Meanwhile, Jo stationed herself with our Isle of Printing buddies from Pie Town (some people call it Nashville) and their Our Town portrait project. Throughout the weekend folks could sit down at a mirror and use clever stamps to create their own likeness which is then documented.


Jo’s Cindy Sherman-esque self portrait.


After an evening banquet of chicken and milk (if you were there, you know), we headed back to the museum for a presentation from Tipoteca about the creation of their museum and the collection it houses. Let’s just say we were all convinced to spend some time on the prosecco farm that serves as guest quarters for visitors to the museum. More of their incredible type porn below.

The last event of the evening (given that this is the censored version of the weekend’s activities), is the annual type quiz hosted by Nick and David. This year, with the addition of the Hamilton Smokestack costume, a volunteer was needed. Guess who jumped in? Jo stood on a chair for an hour and pointed out those that raised their hands to answer the somewhat dubious questions in order to win typographic prizes.

smokestack2Sunday morning brought an impressive display and discussion of artistic watermarks from Greg Walters (is there anything he doesn’t collect!?), as well as the entertaining giveaway of door prizes by Dave Peat. But by far, the most popular event is the print swap. So much good work to share with everyone.

printswap3Here’s Geri of Virgin Wood Type with her beautiful layered wood type prints, as well as the newest typeface set out to tease. Thanks to Virgin, wood type can be everyone’s passion. Looking on is Jason, otherwise known as Genghis Kern, or #thebeerisforscale in social media circles.

printswap2Jo signed just a few of her prints and took them around to share.

joautographMeeting of the wood type minds! Scott and Matt, all business. What secret wood type schemes are they hatching?

moorevirginErin’s print this year was so lovely. Look what you can do with her dad’s beautiful type! And she made me promise to show this photo and not the one of her getting into the whiskey. Like I mentioned, this is a G-rated blog.

erinI took the opportunity to grab a few shots with others wandering around. Selfie with the Morans!

jimjenbillWith David. So love this guy.

jendavid2And this lady! Mary is the killingest lady printer I know. New York attitude with a midwestern accent.

jenmaryJessica Spring… not content to push the boundaries of daredevil printing, she’s now offering Daredevil Furniture for letterpress printers, meaning we can all create fantastically nutty lockups. A lady after my own heart, and the only one to make Hobo look brilliant.

jessicafurnitureJo got a lesson in sign painting from the incomparable John Downer, who is responsible for the sign on the front of the building. What a treat for mom and daughter, as well as everyone that looked on.

johndowner2As promised, here’s Silvio from Tipoteca signing my new book. Many of their stunning prints were on display. Are you ready for the type porn?



tipo3postersIt’s always sad to leave on Sunday, knowing that it might be another year before we see a lot of the people that make this trip so special.


Before checking out we got a stamp on our Letterpress Trail map.


But this year was different! Because of Chicago’s central location, a number of printers were still around to explore the city or have a little downtime before jetting off home. So Monday welcomed the Aussies, Clint and Tahlia, into the studio. Here’s CH groveling at my feet! studiomonday3

Along with Clint and Tahlia, Michael from Clawhammer Press also came for a visit, securing his status as Friend by bringing really nice coffee. We talked letterpress for quite a while before I caught them escaping with type!


studiomonday2Later that evening I was able to organize the swag from Hamilton that Jo and I collected. Talented folks.

swagTuesday night, Rebecca of Rar Rar Press hosted a printer dinner and made stew for everyone. What an incredible group, and no one had to feel bad about talking type and presses all night. It’s the one kind of party where print-themed alcohol shares a place on the table with actual type. And Rebecca’s apartment is a veritable museum of letterpress awesomeness.

rarrarpartyUnbelievably, I convinced new friend Jessie Reich of Punky Press to stay all day Wednesday and work in the studio. Huzzah! She set one of our cityscapes for a series of cards and learned how the platen presses function. We swapped stories, metal & wood type and fist bumps. Here’s to all of our new and old friends that made the ‘Goose (as well as the before and after gatherings) so memorable this year. See ya in 2015. Hopefully before.



15th Annual Open House

openhouseposterIt’s that time of year again, when we ink up the presses, throw open the doors and invite the public to come on in to celebrate our anniversary. This is a special one, as the studio is celebrating its 15th year. Starshaped has seen a lot of ups and downs this year, and I’m looking forward to having a great night of sharing stories, pulling prints from our 15 year history and geeking out on beautiful type. Join us! Kids are most definitely welcome.

Saturday, November 15th, 7-10 pm

4636 N. Ravenswood #103 ยท Chicago, Illinois

Join the Club

Back in the early days of my design life, before my typographic attention span was largely limited to 100 year old typefaces, I acquired a lot of digital type. A lot. And no type foundry crossed my screen as much as P22, partly because of my Western New York upbringing and mostly because of the high quality and delightfully quirky nature of the faces themselves. And while I’ve had the pleasure to work with the foundry from time to time, the recent creation of P22 Member Club cards was finally the perfect project to combine the digital and metal forms.

p221My first P22 font was Constructivist, of which these great letters are a part:

p22constructAbsolutely perfect shapes into which our little metal ornaments can be placed. The foundry commissioned the logo sorts from Jim Rimmer, meaning there’s a little new metal type here mixed with our old.

Tp223The subtle base layers of the card were pressure printed with the back side of a piece of wood type; by adding a cut piece of chipboard (or two) to the makeready on the press, the print area varies accordingly. I adjusted the chipboard layers so that just the round areas for the logo would remain mostly white.

pressureprintThe magenta and yellow were mixed with transparent ink so that they’d remain light and would create overlapping colors and even more texture.

p226The main text was printed in process blue, which took on a greenish tint over the pressure printed areas. The space in the bottom of the P was left open so that they could be numbered, which I also did so that the ink matches.


Tp221A small but mighty project, these cards are Starshaped’s little love note to P22. If you’re already a member of the club you’ll get one. If you’re not… what’s wrong with you?!


Alphabets are Go!

It’s a pleasure to announce that the ornamental alphabet I built over the summer will soon get the royal treatment in book form. Co-published with Wells College Press, An Alphabet of Sorts is now available for presale, to be delivered in the Spring. To celebrate this collaboration, here is the Prospectus, which features all of the exciting details of what’s to come.

loprosp6All fitting within a 6×9″ page size, this is one of the tightest and most elaborate forms I’ve built in a while. Given the amount of information that needed to be conveyed in a small space, the type is largely 8 point and under. The previously set ampersand makes another appearance here.

loTprosp1For the title, I set SORTS from 6 point square ornaments and added asterisks in some corners to soften what would normally be a smooth curve. ALPHABET is set in Cleft Gothic, a Chicago-based typeface designed about 120 years ago. I liked that it was small and gothic but had its own bit of ornamentation going on.


loTprosp3The main paragraph was set in 6 point Bernhard Gothic, both Light and Medium, and gives an overview of the forthcoming book. I’m so pleased to have Paul F. Gehl of The Newberry Library on board to write the introductory note to this endeavor!

loprosp7Since I’ll be printing the cover and end papers as well on gloriously red Italian paper, I’ve been experimenting with creating a smaller alphabet unique from the large one that will be featured inside. One idea is to reverse out an alphabet from ornaments on a smaller scale. This would be a nice juxtaposition to the main letters and present a new challenge to designing a set of letterforms.


loTprosp4The bottom of the prospectus contains the nitty gritty details of the book. You may recognize the name of this guy listed here, now comfortably stationed at Wells.






Presales are going strong, and the edition is expected to sell out! I will be finishing the printing by the end of the year so that binding can begin. Books will be delivered around May Day, 2015. I’m happy to send the above Prospectus; just contact me with your address!

Days Like These…

Hard to believe, but it’s nearly time to think about 2015 calendars. For the last few years, we’ve created two different wall versions, and 2015’s are ready to go! The first features a checkerboard pattern made of reversed wood type, along with another pattern created from wood borders.

20151You can see the lovely texture and overlapping effects in this close up. The inks are all translucent enough to show the different layers of print.

201542015 is set in Gothic Round, a typeface we have in limited quantities and that doesn’t often see the light of day. Here it is coupled with the borders.

20152The calendar pages are not letterpress printed (sorry), though they are built from scans of the type in our collection. Printed on text weight paper, there’s room for writing little notes before tearing off the page as the month comes to an end.

20155The second calendar features a Superchunk quote that often pops into my brain when driving the Starshaped Fiat. So it combines both of those things (though the Fiat here is an original 500….someday).

dayslike1The image started as a sketch that was then resized and transferred to linoleum to be cut. This was a tiny one!


fiatlinocutHere you can see it sneaking through the wood type city on its way out of town! This calendar also features tear off months.

dayslike3Both calendars measure 8×18″ and are printed on heavy gray chipboard in four colors. They are currently available in our etsy shop. We printed a limited run of both, so get one while you can… no reprints on these!

Metal Type Class is Back!

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



An Alphabet of Sorts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McardA few of the details…such lovely ornaments.


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

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


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


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

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

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

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


Just Add Color. And Linoleum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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


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



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