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 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? firstprint

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.

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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

I've Got A Little Poster Here

Dann and I have been friends for... two decades? So long I can't fully recall how we met. What I do remember are all of the shows we've been to over the years, the scheming about building prints shops, bands, record labels, you name it. The hours at Dons in Rogers Park and Trevi in Lincoln Park. And the thread that's pulled us through all of these years is a simple one: Sweet. Pop. Music. So when Dann came to me in December with the direction to 'make some cool posters', I gave it a shot. Hosting a residency at the Hideout, a veritable Chicago institution, meant a whole lot of type to go with a whole lot of music. The Cooper Black was calling out for a little action, so I set the themes for each night to proof and play with digitally.

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

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

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


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

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

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

form4Registration was tight!

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


Printing in Biblical times...1823

Love for the world of theater and spectacle runs deep in me and as luck would have it, I am married to a stagehand here in our windy city. Brad, otherwise known as Mr. Starshaped, is not only the muscle behind Starshaped but is a member of the Stagehands Local 2 union, which means he is usually found in one of the larger theaters downtown. For the last year he has worked on The Book of Mormon which needs no introduction. What might be less commonly known is that at the end of a long and successful theatrical run, the cast, crew and production staff will often share gifts given in a 'we did this together' spirit of solidarity. This is why our home is overrun with esoteric t-shirts from Kinky Boots, a transistor radio from Jersey Boys and other odds, ends and personal notes from the various productions that have toured Chicago.

Having printed a fantastically fun and vintage-inspired poster for Jersey Boys, we decided there was too much great material in Book of Mormon to let the opportunity pass. After exploring a number of ideas that were riffs off of the current print materials, I thought perhaps we could move in a different direction and mimic the actual book of Mormon. This decision was also fueled by the fact that the studio has some beat up old sign type that closely resembled that of the book.

Tbom3Instead of printing a solid background or otherwise literal image of a book, I created a more textured rectangle out of two layers of wood type, which gave the area a somewhat rustic (and a little pleather-y?) look. This is easily achieved by printing the back side of large wood type, and I used both 30-line and 20-line sorts. You can see how the individual letters are flipped:



This is the final print. I used a dark gray paper, and brought in the gold starburst from materials used to advertise the show. If you're familiar with the songs of the production, then you will get the references to 'crushing it' and 'turning it off'; don't want to explain that and ruin it if you haven't seen it! The dates refer to when the show began and ended. After distributing these to everyone at the theater, the cast and crew passed them around to collect signatures, yearbook-style.



Research led me to an extraordinary article about the original printing of the book of Mormon (letterpress printed, of course), and the potential for it having been a miracle given the short amount of time in which it was produced. Getting these posters done quickly was also something of a miracle, as they were hot off the press a few days before the end. And we don't have any angels sneaking in at night to sort our type!

It is always inspiring to see a show come together in a theatrical space, with so many disparate elements needing to work together. From the teamsters and stagehands that move and setup equipment and sets in a raw space to the crew that runs the same thing over and over for a year or more to the cast that has to bring it for every performance, it's a truly working class form of art. I couldn't be prouder of Mr. Starshaped and his continued passion for the work.