Printing Press Day
I had a big printing day yesterday. I hit a personal best with about 1000 cards printed on a heavy, turn-of-the-last-century, treadle operated press. It’s good exercise for me, and I ended up with 600 postcard invitations for my upcoming Open Studio Sale (December 1st and 2nd), plus a bunch of new note cards for the sales. I based this owl on a baby rescued barred owl I got to meet a few years ago on his way to a wildlife rescue group. He was adorable.
Here’s a video of the press running. I love the majestic way it orbits and works so quietly. It’s such a pleasure to use.
My week went rather spectacularly off the rails this past week. I had seen an antique mall out in the further ‘burbs of Memphis voted as the best one in our weekly newspaper’s annual Best of Memphis, and since I happened to be driving past on an unusual errand to that part of the world, I decided to stop in. It’s enormous. The size of a Wal-Mart. And I turned one corner and saw this. I’m always watching out for type in antique shops and flea markets, but I’ve never found any in this quantity before, and the cabinet itself, with its slanted work space, is lovely. In a mad impulse, I bought it and whatever type it contained.
Sadly antique stores tend to sell off letters individually, which makes the remaining type less usable, since you can’t have enough “m”s or whatever is the popular letter when you try to set a poem or a poster or whatever. But with 40 or so drawers of it, there’s still an awful lot left, and my next job will be sorting it and seeing how much and what I have. Some fonts look very intact, some are quite picked over.
After the impulsive purchase, the rest of the week was consumed by logistics (which is why I haven’t been posting any art). It’s heavy enough that the floor needed to be reinforced. I’d reinforced it once for this press some years ago, but more was in order. Fortunately I happened to have a handy and generous house guest, so we both slithered around in fine southern dust in my crawl space for a couple of afternoons dragging cement blocks and large timbers to reinforce the joists under the press room.
Some equally generous neighbors helped me move it and shove over the press to make room for it (harder than moving the actual cabinet, since we removed all the type drawers first).
So that was four good days, and on Sunday I had the amazing good fortune to get to play bass at a gig with the Bluff City Backsliders, a band I’ve loved and followed for years. (For longtime readers of this blog, you’ve seen sketches of them in years past.) That was a total rush, and it was a marvelous way to cap off my week. I couldn’t be more lucky in the life I get to live.
It’s National Poetry Month, and Independent Bookstore Day is coming up this Saturday. I’m celebrating both my creating my first poetry broadside. I saw some in Parnassus Books last month, and I’ve been thinking about them ever since. It’s neat to get to create an image or two to go with a poem and print it along with the poem itself. I love having type to be able to do this. As it happened, I was at a poetry reading at Burke’s Books here in Memphis soon after my Parnassus visit, and one of th owners is also a writer and a poet. He asked if I would be interested in trying my hand at broadsides, so it seemed like the stars lined up. I carved and printed the blocks a week or so ago, but then an out of town trip and a show got me busy, so I didn’t manage the type until today. That was a fast and easy printing, compared to two blocks of different colors that were difficult to get proper coverage on. My press was built for type, which is a very small amount of black and a lot of open white space. My blocks are darker and take a lot more pressure. It was pure pleasure printing the type today. They’ll dry a couple of days, and I’ll have them to Burke’s before the weekend celebration.
Lots and lots of printing
It's nice to get a two for one. I'd like to do several more, so we'll see how many I can do before I leave my printing press for the next few months.
I'm also, very uncharacteristically, doing a little bit of job printing. I'm not in the business of wedding invitations and the like, since I'd rather make my own art, and I don't have all the spacers, and I'm an incredibly slow type setter. My letterpress fairy godmother gave me some spacers, though, and a couple of dear-to-me folks are getting married, so it seemed the thing to do. It's actually lovely to be involved when I care about the people. Makes it special.
Valentine Open Studio Sale
I'm having my annual Valentine Open Studio Sale this coming Sunday on Feb. 4th. It will be from 12-5 at 1780 Autumn Avenue in midtown Memphis. I've got new "Midtown" note cards (that several people have been requesting for a while), bunny prints, watercolors, and some oils on paper of clouds and skies. Please come see me if you're around this weekend, and feel free to invite any friends you think would be interested. I'm working on a new tree print as well and hope to have it ready and dry by then.
I enjoyed running my press again for the first time in several months. I had a commission to print -- an edition of prints for Dixon Gallery and Gardens, but I can't show those yet until they unveil them. It was only 140 or so, and I still had energy and ink, so I decided to get a jump on Christmas presents and run some stationery as well. I always enjoy having something nice to use, and I had a bunch of paper that was a bit too light for postcards, and stationery is the perfect use. These are all solo letters I've either been given or picked up at a huge, marvelous flea market in Paris. I adore the "k" and wish I had a full font of that, but antique dealers routinely break up sets and sell off individual letters. I don't often reward that behavior, but I have occasionally picked up one or two letters. I've also gotten some nice wooden decorations to use with my posters.
I used my iPad (new to me this summer, since I was doing so much work on the road) to record my press in action. It was fun to get a little video. It's a beauty when it's moving, so silently and gracefully.
Running the Press
I ran some new business cards today, using my small cut of the Ceres statue at Dixon Gallery and Gardens, since I'll have a piece in their group show there from now till April. Jude Dippold is visiting and took some video of me running my lovely old Chandler and Price Old Style. You can see the treadle action in the video (and, very authentically, hear the baseball podcast I'm listening to as I work -- I thought he was taking still instead of a video). He nicely waited out a batch of swearing to get a clean one. I was having trouble with lighter than usual paper sticking to the ink and gumming up inside my rollers. My paper supply place went out of business last year, and I haven't found a good replacement yet. So I still look a bit tentative in this clip. I finally got a rhythm going later, but it took me longer than usual to settle in for this run.
Jude also got a couple of photos of me working the day before, typesetting the card and laying out the paper placement in the press. You can see more of his photos (usually landscapes, and quite stunning ones at that) on his tumblr blog. He's got some fun Memphis shots up at the moment from his time here.
Holiday Open Studio Sale
This weekend! You're invited! Bring friends if you like.
I've been busy with shows and making very little art this week, but I still have a lot of new stuff from this fall for the show, as does Melissa, who is always trying new things. I love her new "Onward" plates, to go with my small letterpress banners.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get occasional studio email updates.