Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How I Design A Printed Piece

First, a disclaimer – many printers are more skilled at design than I am! Everyone has their own style, too -- often I can pick out pieces by a certain printer. Some printers love borders, others cuts. Some work with color or pattern, others with type alone. Some fill their pieces to the brim, while others print sparely. And each printer prints differently depending on the material and the occasion.

That said, it’s interesting to look at how a printed piece comes together, as least for me. Initially, there’s the idea. What do I want to print? Sounds simple, but it can be hard. I can spend a lot of time trying to find just the right quote, poem, or article.

Once I have an idea, I think about the size and shape of paper that would work best for that project. Sometimes that’s already decided if the piece is part of a cooperative booklet or calendar. Otherwise, the project determines the size and configuration. Flat or folded? Single or multiple pages? Large or small? Horizontal or vertical? At this point everything’s an option.

Next, I look for type and decorative material to express the feeling of the piece. I use our Poco press to proof cuts, border, initials, and lines of type. Everything needs to harmonize, to work together. Ideally the typefaces are from close to the same era, and of a similar weight. Likewise, cuts, border, or initials need to blend in.

I proof the type and cuts, cut up the proofs, and arrange and rearrange elements on paper the size of my piece. No, not right. Try this size of type or this cut instead. More space between this line and that. Maybe the initial needs to be higher. It’s an instinctive, eyeball-it process. I know I’ve got it right when the whole thing looks good to me in plain black.

Once the piece comes together, more decisions need to be made. I choose my paper. And if I’m using color, I decide which colors where. Sometimes that’s simple. Other times I try several different color schemes, rolling out various inks on pieces of glass, making proofs, and cutting them up.

I’m fortunate that throughout this entire process I have access to the advice of another printer -- my husband Bob. Usually one of us takes the lead, then asks the other’s opinion, though sometimes we design a piece together.

It’s hard to come up with guidelines for designing a printed piece because every piece is different. There are basics I tend to follow though. Sometimes I break my own rules, but I follow them most of the time:

1) I try to keep the piece simple, rather than over-ornamenting things.
2) I generally match time period, weight, and style of the type and ornaments – the exception being an eclectic Victorian-style piece with different type on every line.
3) I make sure it looks good in black before adding color.
4) I keep tweaking until I get the look I want.

For me, designing a printed piece is a process of self-expression. Take the exact same idea and no two printers will print it the same way. And to me that’s part of the joy of it!

An example of choosing the quote to suit the typeface: Rustica resembles the handwriting of early scribes close to the time when Marcus Aurelius was emperor.

This memorial for my mother is printed in Murray Hill, her favorite typeface, with a border of flowers and musical notes, two of her favorite things.

A New Year's card using layers of color. My husband and I proofed several different color combinations to find the one we liked best.

One color can be just right for the occasion. This Xmas card uses a variety of old typefaces and borders in the "Victorian clutter" format.

Keeping it simple works, too. Here an interesting typeface (Parsons) takes center stage.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lillian Worley, Printer and Friend

One of the most delightful people I met through my dad’s involvement in letterpress was Lillian Worley. A letterpress printer with a passion for cuts, Lil had a contagious sense of fun. I first met her and her husband Parker, both printers, at the 1964 Munster Indiana Wayzgoose. It was Munster where she taught my sister and me how to spit watermelon seeds as we devoured melon from a nearby produce stand.

A year later at the 1965 Lansing Michigan Wayzgoose, Lillian had printed “Print Pox” signs. Designed to look like a quarantine sign, “Print Pox” was a tongue-in-cheek warning about contagious letterpress addiction. Lil enlisted my sister and me to help her hang signs on the doors of the strip motel where the convention was taking place. Giggling, the three of us sneaked around taping “Print Pox” signs on all rooms where the printers were staying.

Lillian loved cuts, especially large or unusual ones. I remember one Wayzgoose where she bought an enormous cut of the Statue of Liberty. The thing must have been 8x15 inches or larger. Everybody teased Lil that she’d never use it. But she sent a big folded piece through the APA bundle a few months later, decorated with that Statue of Liberty cut.

Lillian often wrote and printed humorous pieces. Below is an example, an honorary “degree” printed for me from the fictitious Deuceace University, and a reference to it in a Christmas card that same year. Notice that the “official seal” is from the Clearfield Wrecking Company!

After my husband and I joined the APA together, Lillian presented us with dress printers' aprons. Bob's looked like a tuxedo, and mine was white satin. The hand printed label on the box said, "A. Frank, Clothier" -- a reference to printing warehouse dealer Al Frank.

In the early 1990s my husband and I visited Lillian and Parker in their Haddonfield, New Jersey home. We had a great time seeing their elegant carpeted press room, and taking an excursion to nearby Cape May. On that trip we hauled home in the back of our yellow AMC Pacer a 7x11 Pearl press they found for us. Despite the care the four of us took loading it, the weight of the press threw the car’s steering off. A torrential rainstorm on the freeway through Philadelphia made driving even harder, but we did get that press home and were grateful to have it.

Lillian was one of the earlier female printers in the Amalgamated Printers Association. At a time when most wives went shopping while the printers talked type, Lil hung out with the printers. She didn’t hesitate to paw through dusty offerings at Al Frank’s warehouse, to bid hard on auction items, or to hunt for bargains at the swap meet. She was an inspiration to me in that way, making it acceptable for me to be a girl and interested in printing.

I can’t imagine where I’d be today without Lillian Worley. I was a serious child, and she taught me how to laugh. She was a role model for me as a printer, and an absolute joy to know. Anyone who ever met her would never forget her. How lucky I was to have known her for so many years!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dad Buys the Duluth Shop

Ever the bargain hunter for type and cuts, my father Gary Hantke had an opportunity to add substantially to his print shop in 1970. He’d heard of a commercial printing plant liquidating in Duluth, Minnesota. Sherman Printing Company, located on a steep hill above the Lake Superior waterfront, was stuffed with printing machinery of all sorts, as well as tons of type. My dad was given his pick of anything in the shop for a relatively low price.

Dad got the largest rental truck available, and he and my mother headed for Duluth. I was in college at the time and had exams, so was unable to come. But I got to hear about the bounty of the Duluth shop, the wealth of material my parents found in it, and some of the treasures they had to leave behind.

At this point my father wasn’t looking for more presses or machinery. He might have been, but his basement print shop was already jammed. Dad was a master at cramming printing gear into limited space, but clearly something had to come out of our basement if something new went in. Besides, my mother laid down the law. Always tolerant of my father’s printing acquisitions, she only asked for space for her washer, dryer, and canned goods cabinet. None of these could be replaced by yet another press or cutter. So in the interest of peace in the family, Dad agreed to limit himself to type, cuts, and borders at Sherman Printing.

He found plenty of those. The place was brimming with type cabinets, galley racks, and rule cases. Piles of galleys with standing forms lurked in the corners. My mother went through those while Dad perused the rest. Happily after attending numerous printer’s gatherings, Mom could pick out the good stuff. Under galleys of dull business forms she found wonderful old type and cuts, which she hauled to the truck to add to Dad’s growing stash.

The day went by quickly, and the truck filled fast. Finally with darkness falling and the truck overloaded, Mom and Dad had to call it quits. Praying the brakes would work on the plunge down the hill, they headed back to La Crosse with their load of printing loot. For years Dad speculated on what they might have left behind. But what a haul!

On the unloading end, I got to help carry Dad’s new letterpress treasures into the print shop and the garage. The overflow ended up (temporarily) in my grandfather’s garage nearby. Over the next couple of years, Dad sorted and organized, amalgamating the Duluth type into his shop alongside the large collection he’d acquired earlier from A.A. Liesenfeld. By the time he was done, Dad had over 1000 fonts of type, plus a huge cut and border collection.

Though my husband and I have made our own acquisitions over the years, the combined Liesenfeld shop and Sherman Printing Company form the core of our print shop today. And we are thoroughly enjoying it!

Stacks of type from Sherman Printing Company line the walls of Dad's print shop as the material from Duluth gets sorted.

The combined logos of A.A. Liesenfeld and Sherman Printing Company, the largest contributors to our letterpress shop.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Printer's Knickknacks

Normally I’m not a fan of knickknacks that sit on a shelf and gather dust. But printer’s knickknacks are an entirely different thing. My husband and I have a small collection of whatnot items in our print shop that help to make the shop our own. True, they do gather dust, but....

Benjamin Franklin, that much admired printer and founding father, has a prominent place in our printing knickknack collection. We have a small bust of him, and a Ben Franklin “action figure” holding a kite with a key. We would rather have Ben holding a composing stick, but oh well. He has a miniature type case, but the compartments aren’t the right size – too even. To compensate we display “action figure Ben” next to a miniature common press which my dad got as a souvenir from the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. Close by is a picture of my husband with Ben Franklin’s original press – the press was featured in an exhibit on Franklin at the museum where Bob works.

On the same shelf are pieces of type with jets that we cast; a Babcock Press paperweight; a miniature printing office, the “Liberty Falls Daily News”; Wayzgoose souvenirs, buttons, badges, and a typewriter ball; and in a small box, an 8 point piece of type with the entire Lord’s Prayer on it. This “Lord’s Prayer on a piece of type” was a promotional giveaway from American Type Founders, a huge American type founding firm. The words are actually legible under a strong magnifying glass.

Not to be forgotten are the pictures. We have a framed shot of my father Gary Hantke at the 1984 Wayzgoose in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Dad was in his glory there, having finally lured the Amalgamated Printers Association convention to our hometown. Wearing his APA cap and a shirt with reproductions from the MacKellar, Smiths, and Jordan specimen book, he beams out at us. Next to the picture of Dad, there’s a picture of my husband and myself at the 1994 Wayne, Michigan Wayzgoose, and a little trophy labeled “Famous Printer”, which of course we have to display.

Probably my favorite printer’s knickknack is one sewn by my mother and embellished by my dad: a printer’s doll, Cabbage Patch style. During the height of the Cabbage Patch craze, my parents produced 2 or 3 of these “printer’s dolls” for sale at a Wayzgoose. My mom sewed and stuffed the doll to look like a stocky guy with questionable fashion taste, adding checked pants, a polyester shirt, a visor and a printer’s apron. My dad created a miniature composing stick and line gauge for the doll, and printed “I Like to Print” on the apron. Needless to say, we are not parting with this particular knickknack soon.

Most of the stuff in our print shop is highly functional. But our printer’s knickknacks add a unique touch, showing who we are and where we’ve been. Personally, I couldn’t do without them!

One more knickknack, actually functional but too small to use much -- a miniature press. The platen on this one is 2 1/2 by 4 inches.