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.

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

The 2014 Letterpress Trail, part one

This summer we decided to hit the road and see how many letterpress shops we could visit in a week. Thanks to our friends at Firecracker Press, we have a handy Letterpress Trail map, which is an attractive way to keep track of our stops. jocarWe drove down through Indianapolis to Nashville to visit our friend Celene at Hatch Show Print, one of the oldest letterpress shops in the country. It is now housed in an incredible new venue as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and includes a gallery and retail space as well as the actual shop.

hatch11Jo and Celene messed around with some of the large wood cuts for historic posters.

hatch13Check out the beautiful space. Hundreds of cases of types, a handful of presses and a whole lot of gumption (can you say 600 posters a year?)



hatch18I took most of our photos at the end of the day so you don't get the buzz of a working shop, but it was indeed humming! Jim Sherradin was still around, working on oversized pieces for the gallery.




hatch20This is an amazing wall of wood type that measures over 20 line, or approximately 3.5".

hatch4Jo got to hold this large wood type J, as well as hang with the shop cats, Huey and Maow.


hatch16We had a fantastic time exploring Hatch, not to mention enjoying the tasty pulled pork that was on deck after the shop closed. Can't wait to visit again.

hatch14Our next stop in Nashville before heading out was to Isle of Printing. We're big fans because they are fellow Press Bikers, with a mobile station on wheels as part of their Our Town project. Check it out!

This giant press was used for a project we got to see on the outside of the building. Do you see something vaguely pie shaped?

isle1They have a large shop with tons of space for printing as well as exploring their numerous public art projects that are taking over Nashville.

isle2And here are the pie shaped prints, pasted on the wall outside! One might think Jo coordinated her outfit for this shot with Bryce, the leader of the gang.

isle4After our stay in Tennessee we headed up to Cincinnati to visit Steam Whistle Letterpress, friends we made while at the National Stationery Show. Brian has a fantastic shop in the Over The Rhine area of the city, and makes some lovely, vintage-inspired prints and cards with metal type, wood and hand carved cuts, all things we can get behind.





steam4We took the opportunity to pick up some great cards and talk shop. Brian's awesome business cards fold into actual steam whistles, and he paused a moment to show Jo how it worked. How's that for branding!

steam2Another friend we made at the Stationery Show was Maya from Visual Lingual. She is one half of the team that makes seed bombs, little portable gardens you can plant anywhere! We picked up a few sacks and can't wait to get them started. You can find their work all over Cincinnati as well as nationwide.

visual1And luckily for us, Maya pointed us to the American Sign Museum, a glorified warehouse full of signage from around the country that has been rescued from the dump and obscurity. This is a must stop for anyone interested in Americana, neon, sign painting and letterforms.

sign3We'll be back soon with Part Two of our Letterpress Trail, which picks up in Columbus!

The APA Goose 2014

It's always a treat to drive up to Hamilton for a visit, especially when it involves seeing our print and type friends from the Amalgamated Printers Association, a group I've been a part of for 10+ years. After cutting school early, Jo and I hit the road. If this shot doesn't ring a bell, maybe this image from a favorite album will hint at our inspiration. Our little fiat is well traveled. hamiltonorbustAfter checking in (and yes, Jo gets a pretty special badge), we found our friend Scott from Moore Wood Type already at it, cutting type and doing demos for onlookers. He also brought a lot of his patterns for people to see so they could learn about the process of pantograph cut wood type.



patterns2Love these star patterns. You can see the 6 pointed Chicago style star (which Scott named 'Jo's star') down in the corner.

patterns3We found our friend Jason of Genghis Kern trying his hand at the pantograph.

jasonpantographAnother workshop about wood engraving was also going on, and everyone there carved into blocks that were ultimately cut as letters for Wayzgoose 2014.

woodengravingFriday I finally got the opportunity to teach a workshop with a longtime friend and talented printer, Jessica Spring of Springtide Press. We worked with our class on two projects: the first was to contribute a page to a meander book and the second was to print type as pattern to then cut and weave. Jessica led the way on the book, setting up the form on press and then demonstrating how to cut and fold the single sheet into a book.


ws2Here are a few of the serious ladies pulling type for the print and paper weaving.

ws7Here's our good friend Erin of Inky Winke trying her hand at a little opaque white ink.

ws5Our prints were a bit wet, but we were able to trim them down to start weaving together. This creates an entirely new kind of print that can be trimmed to a smaller, square size, functioning as a piece of art in its own right.

ws1Mary Alice used a few different sheets of paper for her prints (and some attendees swapped with each other), and ended up with a very patriotic weave.

ws6Rich from P22 (and also responsible for spearheading the digitization of Hamilton's type for the HWTF) was there, showcasing his latest project. Borrowing the Cloister Initial matrices from RIT's Cary Collection, he worked with Greg Walters in Ohio to cast whopping 120 point versions of the beautiful initials. Bringing a set to Hamilton to share, he also printed a broadside with all of them; you can see a snippet of it below with the S and P we came home with.


cloisterFriday night, Greg Walters (who cast the above initials) gave a talk about foreign type specimen books and brought a large selection from his personal collection. Below are just a few shots of the pages I found incredibly inspiring, including these magnificent brass rules printed in multiple colors.

spec1Greg mentioned many trends, including the predominance of art nouveau faces, which all but escaped American type founders. There were also many thick and heavy, multi-color patterns and borders.



spec5After the conference, I realized I didn't get any full shots of the group. Luckily, an APA group photo is always taken, and hopefully we'll see that soon. There's been a sea change in the APA. Can you guess what it is?

husbandcalledBefore checking out for the weekend, we got a little sneak peek at Tom Walker's incredible series of baseball-inspired pennant prints. Incredible and detailed work, with a hand built box to boot.

tomwalkerAs always, we had a great weekend in Two Rivers, and look forward to November when we're back again. And next year the APA Goose will be in Chicago, and it'll be incredible so mark your calendars.

Matching type nerds!


The Hamilton Wayzgoose 2012

This weekend we attended the annual Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum's Wayzgoose, or printers gathering. It was an unbelievable experience chock full of some of the greatest printers, designers, bookbinders and enthusiasts from around the world. While Chicago has always had a supportive printmaking community, much of it revolves around screenprinting, which leaves us letterpress folks a bit off to the side. The wayzgoose presented the opportunity to be completely in our element, talking about the intricacies of metal and wood type as opposed to screens and rubylith!

Many of our old friends were in attendance, including these two: Celene, recently transplanted from Chicago to Nashville to work at Hatch Show Print (many alumni of Hatch were in attendance), and Rich of P22/WNYBAC fame.

Rebecca from Rar Rar Press right here in Chicago (showing her killer new pennants):

And Erin of Inky Winke alongside Dave Peat, a man with one of the most incredible collections of type I've ever seen in print:

Sunday morning we had the privilege to hear about the Globe Collection that Hamilton now houses. This was a job shop located in Chicago (with sister shops in Baltimore and St. Louis), that created some of the hardest working posters in show business. The last was a real treat to see, as it was printed for a carnival 5 minutes away from where I grew up.

Here's Erin demonstrating what happens when your husband is out of the country... you cozy up to a vintage halftone image of Marvin Gaye!

The event also featured a print swap which was a fantastic way to see what everyone's been up to this year. We took our new self promotional packs and open house posters (more on those later this week...), and Printers Devil Jo took our collaborative Family Canning posters. The man with the camera is none other than Scott from Moore Wood Type, one of the few folks in the country creating new wood type.

Amos Kennedy Jr. was there to get folks on press, and lots of esoteric prints were floating around everywhere...

As the youngest participant, Jo met a lot of new friends, including Bill Moran, the Artistic Director at Hamilton. Here they are discussing the Press Bike and how they could create a stationary bike that prints stationery at the museum. She also autographed prints during the swap and got a picture with Brad Vetter, her new favorite printer.

What a whirlwind of a weekend, and an honor to be involved with so much talent and creativity in one room. Hoping that inspiration translates into some new awesomeness in the Starshaped studio. And on a slightly downer note, Hamilton's future isn't clear; the building in which the museum is housed is now empty and for sale, and they will most likely need to move in the Spring. Please help them out... spread the word, donate time or money, do what you can. This is an American treasure that needs to survive.

And in conclusion, would any trip to Wisconsin be complete without this?

Thanks to all the entertaining Packers fans in our hotel!