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