Hot off the Arizona press!

Jun 07, 2013 // Frank

It took a weekend in Arizona, a goat, a turtle and four vintage hand-crank presses to learn what the phrase, “mind your p’s and q’s” really means.

Last November, we left frosty Calgary behind and flew to sun-drenched Scottsdale, to spend a weekend at Letterpress Central, a tiny studio with an impressive collection of vintage printing presses and endless cases of wood and lead type. Local expert Mike O’Connor took our team of designers (and rookie typesetters) under his wing and taught us the craft of hand setting type, mixing custom ink colours and adding the right amount of torque on the hand-cranked presses.

We chose to visit Scottsdale to milk our award-winning Goat Book for one more year. Using Lauren Tamaki’s goat illustrations as inspiration, we designed a set of six cards and packaged them inside a custom wood type folder – all as a Christmas gift for our clients.

Our first task was to learn how to set type upside down – and backwards! Letters had to be placed and spaced with absolute precision, then flipped and printed. After setting eight point Lubalin with painstaking detail we did a test impression. That’s when we realized – to great laughter – what the saying “mind your p’s and q’s” actually means – as most of our words were backwards and sometimes upside down. Never ones to let complexity keep us from a good result, we discovered that taking a photo on an iPhone app allowed us to simulate what the flip would look like (funny how we can’t seem to shake using digital tools). After hours of hand-setting type we achieved typographic success. Next we were off to master the studio’s vintage Vandercook letterpresses.

As a team, we hand-cranked our designs, while Elliot (the studio’s pet tortoise) buoyed us on. It’s a time-consuming process (600 cards x 2 colours = 1,200 hand-cranked passes through the presses) but the result is timeless with an appealing tactility. The opportunity to build arm muscles, work collaboratively on a creative project and learn a new skill made working the weekend worthwhile.

We’d like to thank Cindy and Gary Iverson, the owners of Letterpress Central, Mike O’Connor and Elliot, for sharing their studio with us for the weekend.


Arizona Letterpress Trip