Archive for April, 2009

Letterpress List No. 77: Short-Sheeted

April 30, 2009

Hey, write this down …


Oh, that’s right. You’re at Typecast Press. Nothing to write on.

Hmm. Uh, Shop Boy will find you a sheet of paper. There’s one here … someplace.

There was some over there just the other day — nope. That’s for gift tags, etc. That stuff? Are you kidding? Do you know how much your little deckle-edge scribble would cost? And that other pile is packing for the platen. Leave that where it is. Wait! Don’t touch that. It fell under the press and got oil on the corner. You’ll spread it everywhere.

OK. Here you go.

Yes, Shop Boy knows it’s a paper towel. It’s that or the back of your hand, pal.

Now, take this down …

A pen? What does this look like … a stationery store?


Letterpress List No. 77

Yes, Shop Boy gets a bit frustrated at the lack of note paper within easy reach at the printshop. Mary’s got a system that works for her. Darned if I know what it is. Shop Boy’s nearly messed up a job or two as, being given information over the phone, I grabbed for the top sheet on a pile only to realize just in time that, yes, it was a wedding invitation-to-be. So, while we’re casting about for an unclaimed sheet of paper, how about a little music to search — or wash ink off the back of your hand — by?

Little Red BookTed Nugent (Stationery? Burt Bacharach? This is not the Nuge that Shop Boy knows and loves — even had him write an essay for me in my real job a couple of weeks ago. It was like Beatlemania in my office when he agreed.

True story: I dragged Mary to Ted Nugent’s concert here in Baltimore. We walk in, and the stage is filled with machine guns. And here comes old Ted waving them around. The crowd is rough and ready. And he’s egging them on. The whole concert, Mary insisted we stand by the back door, just in case. We ended up leaving early to go get Mary a soothing cocktail. That man likes his guns. Shop Boy? More a First Amendment guy than a Second Amendment dude. In other words, if you can say it like Ted does, Shop Boy might not agree, but he’ll listen.
— Missing Persons (I used to think as a very young man that this singer, a Playboy bunny, was quite hot. Now, under Mary’s tutelage, I recognize her as fake, airbrushed and shallow. I feel dirty. Thanks a lot.)
Paper Roses
Marie Osmond (Ditto. ;-) )
You’re Speaking My LanguageJuliette and the Licks (Rules. Her and the Nuge … great double bill that would be. Maybe she could borrow his raccoon tail. Ooh.)
Paper PlanesM.I.A. (The Nuge will like this one.)
The Letter the Box Tops (She wrote me a letter … on a paper towel.)
Take a Letter MariaR.B. Greaves (Don’t use the Crane’s!)
Girl Don’t Tell Me (You’ll Write)Beach Boys (Don’t wait by the mailbox, bub.)
Hot for Teacher Van Halen (“I got my pencil… gimme something to write on, man.”)
Original Prankster — the Offspring (The joke’s on you.)
Feelgood Inc. — Gorillaz (Awesome. Can’t write that enough.)
Paper BagFiona Apple (She looks oddly … merry here. Not like her at all.)
Every Day I Write the BookElvis Costello (That’s a lot of sheets, fella. Where’d you find them?)
Kiss My Glock Ted Nugent (And order is restored.)

Helping Hands

April 25, 2009

This teaching gig of Mary’s is going to pay off handsomely.

For Typecast Press interns from here on out, I mean.

Oh, not that it’s been pure hell up until now to serve as an intern for Typecast Press. But you know how it is. You agree to feed and shelter college kids — or keep them off the streets, anyway — in return for their unquestioning servitude. It’s a great chance for them to learn by doing, to watch a master of the craft doing things the right way, to soak up knowledge not available anywhere else at any price. And you get free labor. Awesome deal, right?

Then they show up, all eager and stuff, on the worst possible day of the worst possible week and …

“Oh, um, well, you can, uh, maybe make those thingies over there into a neat pile. Then you can, um … yeah, clean that stuff. It’s sorta dusty. I’ll be done in just an hour … or two, tops.”

You feel lousy about it, and you look a bit incompetent to be honest. But a deadline’s a deadline.

Soon the intern’s antsy for some real work and getting in the way of yours with curiosity, questions and … needs. You could throw up your hands, give in and offer the kid your full attention (deciding you’ll make up for the lost productivity by staying late into the evening).

You could send the intern away with apologies and a promise of a much better work session next time … or the time after that, tops.

Or, you could call the “Intern Whisperer.”

You might know him as Shop Boy.


Shop Boy has had great luck solving the intern dilemmas that arise by the very nature of the arrangement (not unique to the printshop). You’ve got work to do, fast, and boy would it be great to have an extra pair of hands around. Of course, it takes time to train that pair of hands to be helpful, which can be slow and frustrating. You could have done whatever it is that you’re doing in half the time if you hadn’t had to teach somebody else to do it. And you would have gotten it right the first time. Soon, you’re thinking of interns not as a big help but rather as a big pain in the rear end!

It’s OK … it’s OK. I’m here.

Honestly, Shop Boy seems to have a way with interns, hence Mary’s sarcastic new nickname for me. Intimidated, disappointed or perhaps a bit at a loss over the clear impression that you sometimes wish they’d get lost, interns can become oddly timid. Unsure of themselves. Quiet. They’re not like this  among their too cool for art school peers, you can bet.

I don’t know what it is.

Actually, I do know what it is: Mary scares the bejeepers out of them. Scares the heck out of me too sometimes.


Oh, she can be a bit direct, sure. But mostly, it’s just hugely intimidating to try to keep up with Mary, so demanding of herself that you can’t help making yourself nuts, and mess up, trying to live up to her standards.

I stumbled upon one intern (no names) as she stood, hands trembling, and haltingly fed cards into the little C&P. You could cry … really.

So, Shop Boy pats the interns, encourages them, praises them, calms them. As well as the Intern Whisperer, I have been called the Softball Coach, also in a snarky tone.

All right, and before Mary says HEY! — she considers this the most powerful word in our language — Shop Boy will admit that I probably have a little more time to pat, to kid, to cajole, to encourage and to praise.

She’s the brains of the operation, after all.

Me? I’m Shop Boy.

Have I mentioned that all of our interns have been female? Mary will, sharply, as if she’s doing me a favor or something by selecting them. Fine, fine. Shop Boy likes girls. Always has. Sue me. Most of my (sadly, platonic) friends in school were girls. I didn’t trust guys. Still don’t, to tell you the truth. Shop Boy has five sisters — four of them older — who beat plenty of manners into me and taught me, gently (at least at first), that I should put the toilet lid down before leaving the bathroom. And I mostly liked them anyway. So, sure, technically, it has not been an unpleasant development having young women hang around the shop.

It’s funny: Mary always had more guy friends. And so she’s sort of eager to test the dynamic of the male intern. I mean, working with Shop Boy is a dream come true, after all.

But back to the Maryland Institute College of Art class. Hey, once you’ve herded cats — I mean, corralled a bunch of college kids, male and female, for six hours at a time — you learn what makes them tick. And how to keep them (hopefully) engaged and entertained.

And that’s what I mean about this benefiting future interns, including Aron, who starts in May. See, now the interns who show up all eager will find Mary well-prepared and eager as well, ready with all of these interesting projects: lining envelopes with cool papers, designing and printing coasters, doing origami, creating posters from wood type and old copper cuts, you name it.

Which leaves stacking stuff into neat piles and cleaning rusty trays to Shop Boy …

With some guy hanging around having all the fun with Mary.

It won’t be pretty.

Not that I’m bitter … yet.

The Next Chapter

April 16, 2009

There’s a sign outside Typecast Press, a plate actually — copper on wood. We needed something to let folks know we were there, and Shop Boy figured this might be cool. It’s “right reading,” meaning the type would print backwards if pressed into paper. But of course this way you can read it from the hallway, generally a good attribute in a sign. Brayered-on black ink helps the legibility, too.

The Old Printers’ Home …

And Museum of Mostly Useless Antiquities

Well, it’s officially a lot more antique with the now mostly digital camera guy moving out.

Chris Hartlove has a great office at home and wants to save a few bucks. So, he’s begun to pack up his gear. Makes sense. And you know what space hogs Mary and Shop Boy are, even facing a bump in rent. Chris was lucky to last this long. The body wasn’t even cold before we had plans to turn the former darkroom into the platemaking room. And it’ll be awesome having the extra square footage.

But it’s still sad, of course. Chris gave us our start when we were desperate for a place to store our first thousand-plus-pound press, and basically sealed his fate. Shop Boy will long remember those first crazy days in Chris’ space — now all ours. You know, those days in which we bought the cabinets and machinery and lead and ink and paper that slowly began to crowd Chris out.

That’s life, right? The Fox Building will very likely outlive Mary and me. Typecast Press will one day be torn asunder.

I say this as, in the third room of our studio, Kyle Van Horn of the Maryland Institute College of Art has dumped about a 1,500-pound Vandercook needing some serious TLC on us. Hey, he’s hoping to get his own space, but he needed a place to store it in the meantime. How could we say no, having been there?

Kyle, if you’re reading this, don’t get any smart ideas.


By the way, this is Shop Boy’s 152nd post. Haven’t read them all? Please do so now. We’ll wait.

OK, now that we’re all up to speed …

Priceless prose, huh? (And, yes, by that I do mean FREE.)

Why does 152 matter? Only because I figured my last post would be, well, my last one. Real life has been a bit, um, needy these past few months, hasn’t it? I’m not going to whine. That’s not my style. (Yes it is, Shop Boy.) But I’ve had to slow the pace of posting just a bit. And this week, I really wondered if that was that.

If readership stats are any indication, though, you”re OK with a little less of me.

Then, every time I think this fun exercise is over, something else strikes me as interesting, odd or, ahem, funny. And I’m right back at it again. With no end in sight.

Sorry about that.

Oh, and thanks.

Patron Saints of Letterpress

April 9, 2009

As a huge supporter of anything that helps bring more beer into the world, Shop Boy was torn.

See, a brewery had been planning a relocation to a new municipality, which was thrilled — until the townfolk got a load of what the beermeisters would be contributing to the local sewage stream.

And nearly soiled themselves.

Enter Tom Beal, engineer, inventor, brother-in-law of Mary and, to Tom’s apparent dismay, previously described by Shop Boy as “a lumberjack of a man.” I meant it as a compliment, of course, seeing as how he could crush me like a bug.

Tom will one day help save the world from cholera if people will just listen to him. Of course, that means another earful of effluent about Bob Dylan‘s brilliance — um, OK. But when Tom’s the guy you’re counting on to build the waste receptical where new types of bacteria will eat beer-making wastes and save the local ecosystem, chill. Have a brew. He’ll get it done.

He’s also very responsible for the smooth operation of several of Typecast Press’ machines and was a large part of the reason Perry Tymeson, one of Mary’s favorite letterpress dudes, agreed to give up most of a weekend in Jersey City (Shhhhh! Don’t be rude–it’s got some killer kielbasi) to guide the refurbishing of a Vandercook No. 4, idle for nearly 30 dark, moist years, to proper operating condition.

Perry, a master printer, press fixer and a super nice guy, it turns out (where does Mary find these dudes — should Shop Boy worry about a pink slip?), had stopped by the shop during a previous visit to Baltimore and spotted Tom’s handiwork.

The term “friction drive” mean anything to you? (Oh, behave!)

It will. Perry Tymeson will soon see to that.

Heck, we knew it was cool, but little did Shop Boy know how potentially revolutionary Tom’s system was for the letterpress world. But if Perry hadn’t seen it before, that’s good enough for me. I did know that Typecast Press would’ve been sunk without it.

Anyway, Tom was sacrificing a weekend of brewery bilge blasting to once again enter the letterpress vortex. He and Perry would help Shop Boy — OK, mostly Shop Boy would help them — restore the No. 4 so long abandoned to cold, a leaky roof and mouse poop in an Arlington, Va., backyard printshop. Look, for every Vandercook expert and every brilliant machinist, you need the one guy on his hands and knees who reaches his arm into — oh, geez, eww, what is that? — and cleans the non-business end of the press.

Well, it took hours and hours of hard labor. But when Mary walked in and described the No. 4 as “bling,” we knew we were close to done. Oh, the chassis is a sight, despite Shop Boy’s best efforts at clearing the peeled paint and rust. But the press bed and the brass parts? Gleaming.

As for the friction drive? Shop Boy ain’t giving up the goods on this one. We’ll let Perry do the evangelizing on Tom’s system once he’s ready to help save his world from unnecessarily idle presses.

And Tom? As he headed back to wife Melissa and the beer gig — he’s basically designing the holding tank where the bacteria will do their thing — Shop Boy told him once again what an amazing guy he is and how miraculous the eventual yeast-away machine would be.

Tom modestly demurred, commenting: “If I were a brewer I wouldn’t want yeast-eating bacteria anywhere near my beer.”

And he laughed an odd laugh.

Not to worry. Tom’s on it. Which can only mean one thing:

That’s more beer for us.

Letterpress List No. 76: Peeks and Valleys

April 3, 2009

Kids are so sweet.

I mean, why was Shop Boy even worried about having 16 Maryland Institute College of Art students over to Typecast Press for a class on clamshell presses? Sixteen attentive, excited minds eager for a change from the usual printing experience on the Vandercook presses that are MICA’s strong suit. And Shop Boy had drawn responsibility for the big C&P, the 12×18, my main squeeze.

The color? Intense black.

Sweet. No mixing. Let’s roll!

So, anyway, you know how with these polymer plates you really can’t tell what the finished product will look like until you ink it up? Here’s what the very first impression from the very first student in my group looked like:


Naked woman trussed up like a turkey. Another in a  chef’s hat holding a ladle.

Shop Boy (in his most professorial tone): “Ahem, well. That, um, what do you think of the impression? Shall we, uh, hit it twice … er, I mean, shall we allow the press to complete two full rotations before we pull, uh, remove the coaster?”

Young woman: “Yeah, twice. That’ll look even better!”

The others nodded in agreement. It was going to be a long night.

Mary had invited the 16 students and Georgia Deal — the chair of the printmaking department at the Corcoran Art Gallery in Washington  (no pressure, Shop Boy) — to get a feel for how letterpress printing works on machines built for mass production. Rather than pull one or several perfect proofs, this was about creating a stack of 60 great coasters, square or round.

Kyle Van Horn of MICA, Mary and Shop Boy would split the group by chosen ink color: red, black  and yellow/brown.  Mixing colors isn’t my strength. Basic black? Even Shop Boy can handle that.

So we got through the rest of the night fairly uneventfully. Shop Boy guided six students (plus Georgia) through the process. They are a creative bunch, and they waited more patiently than you’d expect of college students. (One exception: Mary about had a riot on her hands when she merely suggested we wait a bit before ordering pizza.)

And the porno?

Fine, fine. Artists like to push the envelope … or the coaster. So, whatever. We’re all adults here. And it was her coaster … like to see her serve Mom a cup of tea on that baby, though.

We got out of there very late, yes.

But to Shop Boy’s relief, not in Vice Squad handcuffs.


Letterpress List No. 76

How about an hour’s worth of music to create — or simply appreciate the human form — by? Most of these tunes should be available in the usual places. Goofy or great videos are from YouTube.

Pornograffitti Extreme (That image will stay with me a while.)
Pour Some Sugar on Me
Def Leppard (And turn me after 30 minutes at 350 degrees.)
Rebel Girl —
Bikini Kill (OK, I get it. Gender statement … right?)
Back to BlackAmy Winehouse (Intense. Like the singer’s poor soul.)
Suddenly I SeeKT Tunstall (As for the seven coasters Shop Boy helped them print, there was the aforementioned, um, dinner scene …)
Without MeEminem (A bit of self-promotion …)
Season of the WitchDonovan (A reflection on the Salem Witch Trials — the coaster features the image of the doomed fellow who, when being crushed to death with heavy stones, uttered the immortal phrase “More weight” …)
Running on Empty Jackson Browne (A play on the glass-half-full or empty idea …)
Mexican Wrestler Jill Sobule (A sumo! OK, that’s a reach …)
Nike a Go Go
the Misfits (And a little manipulation of an iconic image — the skull — from punk rock.)
Air Force Ones Nelly (Sounds nice. Make it twice.)
Shock MeKiss (Pushing the envelope of good taste.)
Kiss Off Violent Femmes (Did I happen to mention I was impressed?)
Monkey WrenchFoo Fighters (OK, so the impression on the smaller C&P was too strong for the final coaster of the night. The image looked great, but the coasters were full of cracks. You know what that means: a midnight platen adjustment. Somebody go get Shop Boy!)
Naked Pictures (of Your Mother) Electric Six (Says it all.)