Yup, that’s right, I packed up my bags and shipped myself over to the United States to spend 3 weeks with two awesome ladies (their new(ish) son and a mother/mother in-law) getting to grips with the art of letterpress on four beautiful letterpress machines and seeing how a successful letterpress company works from day to day.
I had the opportunity to take some time out from my day job and reached out to Ladyfingers Letterpress, who I had done a two day course with in Iceland the previous year, working alongside Reykjavik Letterpress. Would they be up for taking me on, to hover over their shoulders, absorbing as much letterpress goodness as I could? Thank my lucky stars they actually said yes! A Skype call catch-up and a plane ride later I was at Denver airport hitching a lift from Arley-Rose (from the aforementioned Ladyfingers) heading to Colorado Springs where the studio/shop is based.
I stumbled into my Airbnb with the haze of jet lag kicking in (a wonderful little apartment a short walk from downtown) gripping onto the ‘care package’ Arley and Morgan had put together for me, seeing there was coffee and knowing that would make anything that happened the next day a lot easier to handle. That and they had included a coffee bean grinder – not only had they got me ‘good’ coffee but it was in bean form too – these were my kind of ladies, they knew their coffee.
I took the next day to acclimatise, get my bearings and of course, to go to Target to stock up on essentials, before stopping by the shop in the afternoon to say hello to Morgan and Arley to check things out. There is a great mix of things in the shop which doubles as a studio and gallery space. Of course there is plenty of work from Ladyfingers, but also some of their friends who make awesome cards, jewellery (check out The Universe Conspires jewellery), artwork (Peach Press are currently running a show which is definitely worth a look), clothes and other items. One of the best things I found throughout my time in the shop was that by combining a studio space with a retail space you’re privy to direct feedback (good and bad!), even though they aren’t my illustrations, hearing people chuckle out loud or guffaw at something is brilliant motivation.
During my time with Ladyfingers, we would work on a super awesome wedding invite suite for a high profile couple (i’m under an NDA so don’t ask me who!) Headed out into the Garden of the Gods to assist at a photoshoot with the grossly talented Lauren (see her here. FYI she’s also a fiend at a pub quiz and throws a pretty awesome shape or two at an unprompted pavement rave – thanks mop man for the techno jam). I worked with Morgan whilst she printed cards to send out to the wholesale orders coming in, worked on some of my personal projects and kept the store in good supply of greetings cards. I helped out during a Downtown showcase where people could come into the store and print a postcard themselves on the Vandercook press – yup that’s right – I taught others the delights of Letterpressing (see here for proof!).
What I became more aware of over my time at Ladyfingers is that the design part of any job is only a small part of the whole process. Once the initial brainstorming is done and the designs mapped out, the plates for printing then need to be made from a film of the design. Then the press is set up, paper chosen, plates aligned, ink added and away you go. Printing as many as are needed, each colour needing a new run on the press and a new set up to allow for the change of ink. Following up with scoring and trimming the cards to size on a giant (and a tad scary) cutting machine before they are folded up, an envelope added (for greetings cards) and then gentle slid into a plastic holder ready to be picked up by someone who wants to send someone they know a delightful surprise in the mail. There is something immensely satisfying about going through each stage of the process, on the Vandercook press in particular you are cranking each print by hand, everything that you make has come directly from your own effort. I found that the more I watched Arley and Morgan work the more I picked up and the same was true watching the printing presses in action. Whilst they look complicated, they’re actually surprisingly simple in what they do. Once you get the general gist and after watching the paper fly around for a few minutes you can see the pattern of what happens and start to guess what might cause an issue, what the sound the machine just made means and what is likely to follow (normally a piece of paper getting stuck). Understanding the workings of the machines in itself was a huge step forward for me, the problem is you end up wanting on, and they’re rather big and living in London, space is not something you come by easily!
One of the other things that happened on my trip which I hadn’t really given much thought to before I left, was the group of people that I met. The shop and the ladies that run it have become a sort of hub for creative minded people. Colorado Springs, Downtown is going through (or attempting to go through) a resurgence, with the aim to bring in creative minded people and artists into the area to help lift it up. Ladyfingers is leading from the front in terms of representing the artists. Arley and Morgan are super supportive towards the artistic community, providing space for gallery shows, stocking products made by local artists and providing a sounding board on future projects and ideas. It means that within a day, chances are someone is popping into the shop to talk to them, ask for advice or just to hang out and I really enjoyed being around that. Such a diverse group of people, challenges your way of thinking about things, broadens your horizons and pushes you to challenge yourself to try new things. I asked Brie of ‘The Universe Conspires‘ if some of the bracelets she makes that I had seen in the shop could be made in gold and rose gold as that was what I tend to like to wear (it means I can be lazy and don’t have to worry so much about taking them off if i’m worried about getting them wet). She made me the two beautiful bangles you can see in the picture. Something I will treasure, handmade by the lovely lady I met and they will be on my arm to remind me of the trip I took.
There is still so much I have to learn and it’s the sort of thing you learn by doing as much as studying, so my goal is to keep illustrating and lettering when ever I can. Take the opportunity to learn from others, challenge myself to try new styles and look at things from a new perspective. It’s going to be a heck of a journey, but I feel like i’m a few steps further along the path now.
A huge thank you to the Ladyfingers Ladies – Arley Rose and Morgan. You guys rock, you’re fighting the good fight and i’m so grateful you let me come and join you.
Much love x
Snow one day and blue skies the next – 4 seasons all in the one day. Thanks Colorado!