Category Archives: Commentary

Essays that span multiple categories and speak more globally to the nature of who we are and why we’re practicing art, printing, and writing.

Job Description of an Artist

Tonight I asked myself, what is my job description as an Artist? How do I tell if I’m doing a good job? This is what I wrote in response. I’m interested to see what others think too. 

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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.

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The Heidelberg

The Heidelberg

I had one of those weeks

on the Heidelberg—

the kind that can only happen

two or three or more years in,

when one knows a little more of what one’s looking at,

after hours and hours and hours of trial and error,

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First Time Heidelberg User

When I first saw a Heidelberg Windmill operate, all I could think was, “Wow, that’s LOUD.” Whenever the press was turned off, a collective sigh of relief would escape from everyone in the studio. No more whooshing arms or pumping pistons, just sweet quiet. So you can imagine the “crap” that involuntarily echoed in my head when I heard I was to print on this machine. “The scalper”, as I now fondly call it, was to be my next lesson in humility.

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Restoring an Antique Paper Cutter

How wonderful it is to have a sharp paper cutter that cuts paper without chewing or tearing it! We have this antique wood and iron Ingento paper cutter which had served the studio wonderfully for a number of years, but had been set aside, in disrepair for over a year. I offered to take “the baby” to Hida Tool & Hardware in Berkeley for sharpening.

Milford Brown at Hida Tool tested the sharpness (or shall I say, dullness) of the blade by cutting a single sheet of newspaper. Apparently there was a tension issue as well as a sharpness issue. It didn’t even cut or tear the paper. It pushed the paper down along the base edge. Thank goodness, it’s a good old paper cutter with real metal parts that makes it easy to disassemble for repair and maintenance. It took Milford 2 1/2 hours to sharpen, grind, remove rust, file a spring and reassemble. Then, the moment of truth. It cuts a single sheet of newspaper beautifully. What a delight!

If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hida Tool can be found in Berkeley. You can visit their web site at

Mitsuko Baum
Letterpress Apprentice

Developing your Palate for Letterpress

Letterpress printing tends to lure people in with its luxurious papers and textures. Once hooked, it’s much like learning to savor wines, cheeses, or excellent food. Like foods, letterpress appeals to multiplesenses and connoisseurs may enjoy beautiful nuances.

Would you like to be a letterpress connoisseur? There is alot to learn, but here are some of the qualities you might watch for:

Kiss Printing vs. French Kiss Printing

Not so very long ago, it was considered highly unprofessional to stamp the type so firmly into the paper that it made an impression. Instead, careful and meticulously printed works were made on smooth papers with the ink just barely kissing the surface of the paper. Even afterprinting, the page was smooth, yet very crisp, and this crispness was created by a great deal of skill and press work.

Now, many printers and designers enjoy using letterpress to stamp type or image deeply into soft, thick, textured or handmade papers. While printers raised on kiss printing have been horrified by the practice at times,this method has been affectionately coined “French kissing” by those who have accepted its place in contemporary letterpress. Many are drawn to this practice because of the rich, sensual qualities it gives to design and artwork.

Some printers, those in this studio included, enjoy French kissing ;o) but find it unprofessional to have the printing pop through the back of the page. We pack the press to minimize push-through and help clients select papers that will best achieve the effect they’d like.

Bon Appetit!

– Kim Vanderheiden

Isabel and The Printer

This poem was written by Bill, our Head of Production, as he was printing a birth announcement for little Isabel. Her mom is one of our clients.

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, 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.

Bill Denham
December 21. 2007