19 08, 2016

Save the Last Stack for Me

By | August 19th, 2016|News|

It is most often the case with a letterpress printing project that the lion’s share of the work goes into setting everything up. Working with the client to get clean files, cutting paper, mixing ink and making the press ready all take up a great deal of time.

The actual printing of the work, that is the feeding of paper into the press, usually goes relatively quickly.

So it always strikes me as a bit odd, especially with wedding invitation work, that people will go around and around trying to decide if they want 150 invitations or 165. I understand that, as brides and grooms, they are not aware of the arc of the processes involved in the printing their wedding invitation sets. And I also know that many companies that print invitations increase the costs to their clients by a surprising amount for every 10 or 20 additional invitations ordered.

As far as I am concerned, here at the Nomadic Press, the difference, in terms of time, between the printing of 150 and 200 invitations is minimal. A little extra cost for more paper to be sure, but beyond that, most of the work has already been done.

So I have always thought it wise to order 20 percent more than the guest list suggests are needed. After all, one never knows what friend of your mother’s aunt may suddenly be deemed an important guest of honor or how many invitations are to fall prey to a spilled apple martini during the invitation mailing party hosted by your future sister in law.

And one never knows what other uses those extra invitations may be put to.

As instanced by the story behind the song “Save the Last Dance for Me” recorded by The Drifters in 1960. Ben King’s absolutely beautiful lead vocals on that song were made possible because of a stack of extra wedding invitations printed for the author of that song, Jerome Felder, AKA Doc Pomus.

Because of a childhood bout of polio, Doc Pomus used crutches to get around and was, therefore, unable to dance with his bride, Willi Burke, at the reception following their wedding. Not wanting her to miss out on the dancing, he encouraged her to go ahead out on the floor and to dance with others in celebration of the event.

Years later, Doc Pomus was doing some songwriting on the backs of some sheets of paper that just happened to be close to hand. Those sheets: a stack of leftover wedding invitations from his own wedding. Which reminded him of the dance and inspired him to write “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

Go ahead, take a couple minutes to listen to the song (click here) and then order a few extra invitations. They may come in handy, one way or another.

12 08, 2016

Small Run Letterpress Shop

By | August 12th, 2016|News|

The Nomadic Press has always been open to the printing of small runs. In some instances, such as with honorary diplomas and degrees, the printing of just one copy is the extent of the project.

In this case, small run means something completely different. These business cards are a smaller version of the standard Nomadic Press business cards and measure .5 inches by .875 inches. They are printed in three colors over one color and involve some pretty close registration.

All in all, things worked out very well. The film for the job was generated by a Twin Cities company, Smart Set, which is the go-to expert for film and file prep for The Nomadic Press. The minute detail of the card art held up nicely in the film and then I repaired to the dark underbelly of The Nomadic Press to make some polymer plates.

As is evidenced here, the plates held the detail. Set up and made ready in two C&P hand-fed platen presses, it was off to the races. The print run was 1,300 pieces which, because of size, was die cut rather than trimmed on the guillotine cutter.

In the end it became a more expensive card to produce than expected, because I now need to give out jewelers’ loupes along with each card.

5 08, 2016

Leaving a Lasting Impression

By | August 5th, 2016|News|

One of the nice things about being a printer (as opposed to being a painter or a sculptor, for example) is that I have, almost always, been able to save a few copies of each piece that I have produced.

Over the 23+ years that I have been letterpress printing I have had the pleasure of completing more than 1,700 works for clients or myself. Some of these were one or two color jobs while others were books with many pages or block prints in a dozen colors or more.

As you can imagine, the stacks of sheets have turned into stacks of boxes which in turn became rows of cabinets containing examples of Nomadic Press work dating back to the most crudely printed pieces of the early days of the shop.

As I was wading through the annual reshuffling of completed-job-samples, a member of the acquisitions board of the Minnesota Historical Society contacted me and expressed interest in their becoming the holder of the archives of The Nomadic Press.

After a bit of negotiation, the Minnesota Historical Society now holds a copy of (almost) every piece ever produced here at The Nomadic Press. At some point, all these works will be cataloged and will give future generations a peek at a small segment of the early decades of the Minnesota letterpress revival.

I have to say I am pleased by, and proud of, this recognition of my years of work. And I want to thank all the people whom I have had the pleasure of working with during those years for bringing to me such beautiful graphic design.

And I look forward to sending the Minnesota Historical Society much more examples of interesting letterpress printing in the years to come.

So, to those of you who have ever hired me to do some printing, we are now history. (Though that isn’t to say that we can’t work together again.)

29 07, 2016

Brick and Mortar

By | July 29th, 2016|News|

When I was in second grade and was first learning to write, I violated all the rules of the solid line, dashed line, solid line format that we were asked to follow while practicing our letters. I opted instead for letterforms that, in retrospect, had much more in common with art deco display faces than they did with the samples we were given to emulate.

The long ascenders and small, geometric bowls of my early handwriting marked me with both rebellion and regression. Looking backward (and out of the box) is a perspective which I have found comfort in over the years. Combined with my love of letterforms, this worldview in retrograde has left me in the comfortable position of being a letterpress printer.

I had my first exposure to letterpress printing in high school and learned a bit more after graduation on a solid oak lever press. Then, after a stint at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, I started my work in earnest working for Coffee House Press at Minnesota Center for Book Arts when they first opened (25 years ago).

In 1987 I started The Nomadic Press. Working out of a basement (and a garage) worked fine for a while, but when my friend (and wife) Emily and I wanted to start a family something needed to change. After looking for over a year, we found a building on the West Side in St. Paul which suited our needs.

The brick building we found was built in 1914, and it sits on a large lot with a nice big yard. Trees offer shade, and the upstairs apartment provided a comfortable home in which to start our family.

Oh, and the print shop fit nicely on the main floor.

We now have two kids and own a house about a mile away from The Nomadic Press. Emily’s business (Aldrich Design) now operates out of the upstairs of the print shop.

At this point, you may ask why I am telling you all this. Well, the reason for this rambling history of letterpress printing and friendship is to share some exciting news.

This last week we made the final mortgage payment on the building that houses The Nomadic Press. We now own it free and clear. And we owe a lot of thanks for all the help and support we have received over the years from our families and our friends. As well as all of you who have seen fit to hire us now and again. Thanks.

As my grandfather said, it’s ours, now we can kick it. Brick, mortar and all.

And I say, kick it letterpress.

22 07, 2016

A Spark from Hot Type

By | July 22nd, 2016|News|

Hot type is a retronym. When metal type was the only game in town, it was just called type, but as more and different means of transferring ink to paper came into being a qualifier needed to be retroactively added. Hot type. Type that was once molten. Type that was once hot.

Foundry type, linotype, monotype are all forms of type that have been cast from molten metal. They are little pieces of sculpture carefully cast according to the strictly monitored vision of an artist.

Eric Gill (who’s art probably sits, in a derivative form, on your computer right now) was a sculptor. He worked in multiple mediums. He worked in stone, on a large scale,  and cut beautiful life-like pieces from inanimate rock. He also used the same sorts of reductive processes when he engraved sensuous images of passionate lovers into boxwood and maple. And those images he printed alongside his type.

His type, too, is sculpture. Cut to size from steel punches and then struck into brass matrixes, Gill’s letterforms were cast in the millions. Like the human figure, we know what a letter should look like, and we can recognize a lovely figure when we see it. Gill’s type forms have stood the tests of time and, even more than Michelangelo’s David, are visited daily by multitudes.

Eric Gill once said that “letters are things not pictures of things” and, like his other sculptures, his letter forms are things. They are beautiful things. They are sexy things.

In their original form, they are hot.

So perhaps hot type is not such a retronym after all.

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