In the era of digitalization, Sara Froese shares how she mastered the art of letterpress printing. Interviewed by Renee Taillon Provisional RGD.
How did you get into letterpress? Where did your journey start?
I took traditional printmaking in school years ago and got my background in print there, but letterpress wasn’t included in the curriculum. I actually discovered it years later after seeing a musician’s handbill that was letterpress printed. From there it was a real obsessive Google wormhole — once I learned what it was, I fell in deep! I was really lucky to find a press and a bunch of type and equipment from a retired printer which gave me a good start into building my shop.
What’s something you wish you knew when you first embarked on your journey into the world of letterpress printing?
Oh gosh, so many things! The tricky thing about specializing in something most people think is obsolete is that it’s so much harder to find courses or educational resources, especially when I started out 10 or so years ago. I had to do so much reading and there was a ton of trial and error just inking up the press and printing as much as I could. Back in the day, you would apprentice at a print shop and learn from someone in the industry, but letterpress doesn’t exist in the same way now as it did before the digital age. Thankfully it’s becoming more popular, so those resources are growing and becoming more accessible! I’m still learning all the time.
Did you ever think you would get into something so analog? How does this compare to digital print?
I’ve always felt more comfortable creatively while working with my hands, so while I could have never expected letterpress to be the medium, it doesn’t surprise me that I was so drawn to the analog nature of it. It’s funny, until recently it was actually digital design work that felt counterintuitive to me and I would avoid it if I could. With platework (as opposed to typesetting) I was forced to learn and now it’s much more exciting to me. It offers so much more freedom in my work.
As for the actual printing — the letterpress process increases the time, labour and skill involved at least tenfold, but nothing will ever compare to the quality and result you get.
Your colour palettes are always so inspiring and contemporary. Where do you draw inspiration for your colour choices? Do you have a favourite colour palette to work within?
Thank you! My favourites are always changing. Lately I can’t get enough of a light olive green/chartreuse. It’s like it glows when it prints on something and pairs so nicely with so many other colours. As for inspiration, it can really come from anywhere — the internet is a boring answer but there are so many amazing artists and makers I am constantly inspired by and social media only makes that more accessible (and overwhelming!). That said, nature never fails to be inspiring and even a back alley wall with chipping paint can get my colour brain scheming.
What is your favourite and least favourite part of working with a letterpress?
My favourite part is by far the print reveal — no matter how planned the design is or how many things I’ve printed over the years, there’s still a magic in the physical print that brings it to life. I don’t think that will ever get old for me.
My least favourite is definitely clean-up. It takes forever and solvent stinks. There is nothing fun about it!
Do you have a favourite machine to work with? Does it depend on the project?
I’d say my favourite is currently my newest press which I acquired last year. It’s been my dream press for years and I never thought I’d actually be able to find or afford one. It’s more versatile in what it can do, more user-friendly and just fun to operate. It can definitely depend on the project though, yes – different presses are better suited for different kinds of work.
When you aren’t doing custom work, like business cards and wedding invites, how do you like to explore your creative side? What are your favourite types of projects to take on?
When I’ve got the time, I try to approach printing with more play and less expectation or anticipation for what the result might be. Trying new things or experimenting with my medium for the sake of creating has brought about unexpected results that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Outside the studio I’m also a musician which is always a really nice way to take a break from print and be creative in a completely different way.
My favourite projects in the shop are ones that allow me to incorporate illustration in some way — it’s so fun to explore different styles and see how they print.
You’ve cited YouTube and Centre 3 as great resources for getting started with letterpress, do you have any other resources you have used?
Lots of reading online — there are some helpful forums and communities that have popped up over the years and are always growing (eg. Briar Press, Facebook groups, Ladies of Letterpress). The pandemic has made virtual learning much more accessible. There’s a great community based in Seattle (Partners in Print) that coordinates an amazing series of online workshops. All that being said, the best place to learn will always be on the press.
We always end in something fun! If you had to watch one movie for the rest of your life what would it be and why?
Is it weird that this is actually the hardest question for me (haha)? I don’t think I have an all-time favourite, but I could probably watch Fantastic Mr. Fox forever. I’ve loved Roald Dahl and that book since I was a kid and the stop motion animation always blows my mind.