Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Printer's Daughter

So how did I get interested in printing? I was lucky enough to catch the printing bug from my dad, a longtime letterpress enthusiast. In both houses where I grew up, the printing press was in the basement directly below my bedroom. Dad was an insomniac, so most Saturday mornings the press was running by 6:00am. I’d sneak downstairs in my pajamas and go, “Whatcha doing, daddy? Can I help?” And he’d let me. As a little girl I put paper slip sheets between his printed pieces as he ran them off. From there I graduated to distributing type, with a diagram of the California Job Case in front of me. Then he taught me how to set type, first ragged right and then justified.

My first printed piece was a fairy tale I wrote when I was eight, called “What You Get Depends On What You Do”. With much help, I set the straight matter in 18 point (big type for little fingers). Dad set the title page and colophon, and did the lockup. Then he hand-turned the flywheel of the 8x12 Chandler and Price while I stood on a stepstool and fed each piece of paper to the press.

Growing up with a printer father meant I had birthday napkins with my name on them; a printed license plate for my blue pedal car; and when I got older, business cards for babysitting. I remember Dad and I printing a poster with antique type and a clipper ship for my history class, and a menu for a Latin club banquet. I liked to set and distribute type, so I was a good helper, or “printer’s devil”(printing apprentice). Plus I learned about design, lockup, and impression through watching Dad print.

One bigger project we did together was an ambitious Christmas card when I was in college. I wrote and set “Green is for Christmas”, and helped with cut choice and layout. Dad’s skill in printing the many multi-color cuts in the booklet was amazing to me. He printed a lot, almost every weekend and some weeknights, so I suppose his abilities grew with practice. As I look now at his earliest printed pieces, I can see his printing evolving. By the time I was learning, printing was second nature to him.

After I got married, my husband Bob caught the printing bug. We acquired our first press, a tabletop Kelsey which was hard to get to print well. The only way to get a decent impression was to pad the platen with Kleenex. We had our share of printing bloopers, including printing a piece on erasable bond typing paper with ink that refused to dry. Dad came to the rescue, offering an ink that would work with our dubious paper choice.

I was lucky enough to grow up with printer’s ink in my blood. Now I share the hobby with a husband who is equally enthusiastic. We’re happy to carry on a family tradition of printing just for fun!

My first printed piece, "What You Get Depends on What You Do".

Latin Club Menu cover. My Latin teacher also taught my father, and was a family friend.

Latin Club menu interior. Don't ask me what all we had: the main course was KFC with side dishes, but this menu made it look elegant.

"Green Is For Christmas": this card included five pages of text and five multicolor cuts.

"Green Is For Christmas" interior: Dad's ability to print in close register is something I admire to this day.


  1. Those are some awesome pieces. I want to see the one you created called What You Get depends on What You Do. Reading your blog makes me want to own a little printing press of my own!

  2. Thank you! It's certainly possible to do some nice printing with a small press and a few well chosen typefaces. Glad to hear that you're so interested in printing -- I think it's a fascinating hobby.