Letterpress seems like a lost medium or at least not used in applications other than high-end (and mostly boring) wedding invites. However, there seems to be a resurgence, especially among a younger generation. What do you attribute this "return to the handmade?"
Returning to old, hands on methods or styles is certainly something I feel our generation romanticizes about. Some of this may simply be a fad, but I think a lot has to do with our longing for contrast in how we interact with people and materials in our lives. We have amazing tech devices and convenient social tools to reach out to thousands of people. These interactions can be awesome, but they are often very brief and sometimes forgotten. I think we long for something on the complete opposite end of 140 characters. When we work with our hands, or appreciate a tangible item that someone has physically poured their talent and time into, it can be very special. It's something we need no matter what generation we are from.
Tell me how Hoban Press got started? What's the name about?
Hoban Press began out of my desire for letterpress printed business cards of my own. At the time, I was working for myself doing freelance web design, development and print design. I always thought letterpress printing was the pinnacle of print work and started obsessing about having some cards made. After being unable to track down a local letterpress printer, I started freaking out about the process. I spent several months reading through Briar Press and Letpress, two of the strongest letterpress communities on the web. I basically taught myself how to print before I even acquired a press.
I soon was able to track down my first letterpress, a 1500lb, 10x15, Old Style Chandler & Price platen press from 1902. After a dangerous move into my garage, I spent countless hours in my garage learning the trade through trial and error. It can be very tedious work, but it's incredibly rewarding and is the perfect contrast to my day job as a web developer.
The name, Hoban Press was hastily coined after one of my favorite tv characters, Hoban "Wash" Washburn from the late tv series Firefly. Nerdy visitors of my calling cards site, Hoban Cards, may notice a hand full of Firefly references within my calling card templates.
Tell me more about that first letterpress. I imagine it has a story all its own.
My first letterpress I found the basement of a print shop in my home town. When I first decided to start searching for a press, I sent out 30 or 40 emails to print shops from Seattle to Portland inquiry about old print equipment for sale. The only response I received was from a small print shop in my home town - literally 5 blocks from my house.
The owner wasn't exactly sure what they had, but it had been there since they owned the building and probably hadn't been operational in 30 years. It was a bit rusty and mostly filthy. With help from a few close friends, we disassembled it and brought it home. I now own four letterpresses:
- 1902 10x15 Old Style Chandler & Price
- 1911 8x12 Old Style Chandler & Price (the little brother)
- 1970 10x15 Heidelberg Windmill (Have you seen the Will Smith movie 7 pounds?)
What are your favorite types of projects to work on?
It's always fun to see a three or four color job that I've invested hours into come together into the final product. However, my favorite projects are the simple ones. Letterpress printing excels at beautiful typography within simple well designed layouts. This is one reason my passion is my calling cards I print at Hoban Cards. The cards are simple, but stunning and a joy to hold in your hand.
Describe your creative process.
I guess my creative process is rather simple. Sometimes I gather a bit of inspiration from things I like and then I just try and design or create something that would appease me if I were my own customer. I want the finished product to be something I would be happy to pay for and be excited about.
Also, I'm a big fan of designing within constraints. A letterpress printed business card has some pretty serious constraints. Unlike the web, I am working with a fixed sheet of paper and generally working with one or two colors at a time. Unlike full color print work, letterpress printed pieces are relatively simple and centered around typography instead of complex graphics. I love this about the trade and I'm greatly inspired by other designers and printers who pull this off well.
While it looks like you started as a web guy, I notice that your digital site directs me to your print shop. Tell me about your focus on paper vs. digital these days.
Web Design has always been a passion of mine. I currently work as a web developer during the day and I enjoy that very much. However, I'm focusing on doing as little web work apart from my day job as possible. Sitting in a chair for hours on end takes a toll on our bodies and I'm starting to realize that more and more as I get older.
With that said, letterpress printing still requires a good amount of hours in the chair. There are often many fine details to work through when printing a custom job, which requires a lot of email correspondence. Also, all of my letterpress plates are created out of digital files. So, I have my nose in Illustrator quite a bit as well.
At the end of the day, it's great to be able to produce a physical item that people can touch and feel. There is certainly something satisfying about that, which hammering out computer code can't fulfill.
What inspires you?
It's inspiring to see our generation picking up and continuing the trades of the past. Not only for nostalgia, but because the products produced and the experience producing them adds a quality to our lives that can't be found anywhere else.