06 Nov Press Agents
Sam Olson sits in a room surrounded by the past. Flanking her are two hulking, cast-iron machines from the turn of the nineteenth century. They have foot pedals, large rollers, big iron wheels and look like something straight out of a museum. Olson’s business, Teenee Mi Design & Letterpress, utilizes traditional-style printing equipment to produce modern-day art. She explains why the technique appeals to her: “You’re bringing back this old craft. It’s all hand done and you still have to pay attention to the machine,” she says. “And what I make from it is new.”
Her letterpress craft is a form of relief printing using a manual press. In the early days of creating books and newspapers, the process of layout and design began with type that had to be set into a machine. Printers composed movable type into the bed of a press and transferred ink to create an impression on the paper. Though the form fell out of style in favor of more efficient, easier processes, letterpress artistry endures as a way to achieve greater visual definition in such mediums as stationary, cards and even coasters.
“There is something yummy about it that’s tactile,” Olson says. A graphic designer by trade, she first got into letterpress design in 2004. Her best friend was getting married and Olson’s wedding gift was designing the invitations. Curious about the old-world craft, Olson attended the San Francisco Printer’s Fair and sought advice from experienced printers. She purchased a small tabletop press and educated herself before diving in.
As the years progressed, Olson honed her skill and purchased larger equipment. In 2014, while living and working in Bend, Olson acquired a vintage 1905 Chandler & Price printer. A pedal operates the old-fashioned mechanism that prints and die-cuts cards. With this machine, in her current workspace on Bend’s eastside, Olson began taking on custom print jobs for local businesses. Shortly thereafter, she added a 1904 Golding press to her collection. The Golding has a large base, is motorized, and can print on 8 ½ x 11-inch sheets of paper. Both of Olson’s current machines weigh an intimidating 1,100 pounds.
The Teenee Mi studio solely focuses on custom work for clients. “I want to help small businesses come up with something different that will help them stand out more,” she says of the promotional cards and coasters she makes. Her goal is to collaborate with local companies on branding and uniquely printed items that represent their individual identities.
Teenee Mi studios is not the only letterpress operation in town. Another artisan making use of this old-world printing form is Susan Porteous of Green Bird Press. A native of Yorkshire, England, and a new transplant to Bend, Porteous works out of Scott Street’s Workhouse artist community. Her letterpress products are hand-printed on a small 6 x 10-inch Kelsey machine. With this tabletop press, which utilizes a combination of handset type and magnesium plates produced from digital files, she creates cards, recipe dividers, gift tags and the occasional print.
Porteous’ designs are clean and simple, yet have a bit of whimsy as well. For example, Green Bird’s coasters are printed on heavyweight stock with brightly colored ink in a variety of designs from sci-fi (Star Wars) to video games (Pac-Man), from modern furniture (Eames chairs) to drinking (beer glasses).
Porteous was introduced to the printing form during a high school art class, and recalls, “I fell in love with the process because it’s so calm and methodical.” She best likes the attention to detail required to create the work by hand. Customers can find her printed gifts at Workhouse, Etsy and various local shops.
Just playing with the transition. Sweet Pea Cole, yet another Bend-based artist, knows a bit about attention to detail as well. “My head wraps around the layers and the color separation and thinking backwards,” says the owner of Green Line Press, a screen-printing business offering classes and print parties to the community.
Screen printing is an art form involving pressing layers of ink through a stenciled screen. Cole, originally introduced to the process in high school, explains that her method requires her to first design an image on paper, digitize it on the computer, and then transfer it to clear film. In the darkroom, she puts photosensitive emulsion onto the screen, exposes it to UV light and processes it. Each color and layer is achieved by creating a separate screen. Gradually, ink is added in stages. The result is a layered look.
With contemporary prints and pops of color, Cole’s work appears on all kinds of mediums ranging from paper cards to pencil pouches and journals. Her goal is to share her passion for the art form with members of the community. Green Line offers workshops that introduce people to the possibilities of screen printing. Happy customers walk away with uniquely printed fabrics and prints they construct themselves.
What does Cole tell people who are intimidated about trying screen printing for the first time? “Not everyone is an artist, but everyone is creative. When you tap into your creativity, it’s how you solve problems and find inspiration.”