Letterpress Printing in Hard Times

Recently we had a little fun with a Bailout business card promotion and we did make a little money with our fun and learned a few things, as well.

This economic crisis we are in, however, is no fun.

It is serious and though one can always use humor to help get through hard times, humor, generally, for small businesses does not pay the rent.

So I’ve been thinking, lately, about letterpress printing, which is not unusual for me, being a printer and loving it the way I do, I do think about it a lot.

I do, in fact, take a great deal of pride in my ability to learn and to begin to master this ancient craft. And the central thing that keeps this learning and mastering process exciting, vibrant and alive for me is that endless quest for perfection, which can never be attained but can always be approached and can be approached closer and closer as one’s knowledge and skills accumulate.

There’s a passion in this process, akin, perhaps to what Joseph Campbell called, “following one’s bliss.”

Now, why am I telling you all this? Because I really want you to know the passion I bring to printing—the love of seeing that crisp, clear type perfectly—well, near perfectly—debossed into the fine art paper. Let me share with you, by way of illustration, a little poem that came to me one day—that’s what poems do with me, they come—while I was printing a birth announcement. I found myself speaking these words. I call the poem Isabel and the printer

Isabel’s tiny hands and feet

have found a permanent place

somewhere, down there in my heart.

I have studied them with such care and intensity,

bringing them to life (again)

with just the right shade of pink,

delicately debossed into the crisp elegance

of the rough textured, heavy, fine art paper—

her chubby little left foot, her slightly crooked right pinky,

and on her right foot, the nerve-like

cluster of creases that caught the light just so,

each time I pulled the print from the press—

studied it for color and coverage and placement,

to get as close to perfect as those little feet and hands

had already gotten.

BD 12/ 21/07

So there you are. That’s what I’m talking about.

Now, the economic crisis does not change my passion, nor does it reduce my desire to reach perfection in printing text or image on either our old Vandercook 4 or our original Heidelberg windmill press.

But it does create a more urgent need for me to share this passion with you so that you might remember when you are watching your own pennies so carefully the true nature of letterpress printing and the true and lasting value to you of having something of your own, created in collaboration and realized with love—something truly beautiful to behold, something printed by us here at The Painted Tongue Studios for you.

– Bill Denham

Printing and Operations



“Isabel and the Printer,” by Bill Denham is a letterpress printed broadside available from Painted Tongue Studios for $35 + tax and shipping.

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