Monday, November 4, 2013

Christmas Cards Rolling off the Press!!

The past ten days have been AMAZING ones for me in the studio. I have been able to work every day on my new Christmas Card projects. Each one of my greeting cards is created by hand, from beginning to end. The type is set by hand and printed with letterpress technology. I have been on press daily, using both my Vandercool 01 proof press given to me by John Kristensen at Firefly Press in Boston and my Challenge Gordon Press, given to me by Morris Danleywich shortly after we arrived in Deep River. I am so very blessed with the amazing equipment, tools, and supplies that have come to me in my studio!

I must emphasize here that I am not a "fine letterpress printer" as my dear friend John Kristensen of Firefly Press or Michael Babcock of Interrobang. Rather, I use my letterpress printing equipment as part of a printmaking process to help me design and produce multiples of creative images that are pleasing to my soul. Not every image is exactly alike and each has their own personality, even multiples within a set.

The very first part of this effort was setting up the Challenge Gordon with lead type and my imprint image, a mid twentieth century relief metalcut, depicting a candle, vines, and a lovely stack of books. Many people do not realize that each piece of type is individually set, and must be locked in place with metal pieces called "furniture" which hold it all together as the press is run.

On the left the chase in the Challenge Gordon, locked up with Ducks Imprint, on the right, the imprint.

Once I was set up, I cut around 1000 pieces of card stock to various sizes I wanted to use for my greeting cards, then I began to print. I spent one entire day printing over 750 card backs with my imprint above, preparing to fill the fronts of the cards with any variety of images for this upcoming Christmas season. When making cards, I use a variety of techniques, including printing on marbled paper, hand-made paper, pieces of birch bark, and cloth, for the images that are attached to the front of the blank note card. All of my cards are blank inside because I believe we each should write a personal greeting to the person we are sending the card to, instead of relying on a pre-printed message.

Once each of the cards have received the Ducks in a Row Press imprint, they are left on the paper rack to dry for two days. I then score each of the cards by hand and separate them into stacks of 50 for final attention for covers, inserts, envelopes and bags or boxes.

For some of the cards I used linoleum blocks, cut with an image, or wood relief blocks. The images to be printed in both instances are raised from the surface of the block, "type high", so that the rollers on the platen press or the impression roller on the proof press can press the paper against the inked surface to create the image.

Woodcut set of 6 cards/envelopes, woodcut blocks, single woodcut cards printed on my handmade paper.

I have been very excited about result of the woodcuts printed on my hand made paper created in the past year. I made birch bark paper and cotton paper during workshops I led this past year. The dimensional image that results from the relief block biting into the lovely thick paper is wonderful to see and touch. It will be hard for me to let these be sold!

Hamilton wood type poster type greeting cards
Other cards are produced using wood type, in the style of Letterpress Posters from early in the twentieth century.

I choose to arrange the wood type for these sets of Christmas cards in a rectangular fashion, with no word spacing. The design emphasizes the angular nature of the Hamilton wood type.

Some of these cards were imprinted on hand marbled paper made this Summer at our Cottage Studio. The marbling was done on velour surfaced paper, which gives the type a softer surface for the impression.

Each of the cards have a lovely textural quality from inking on wood. The swirling of the marbling in the velour paper shows through the prints, a transparent quality that is reflective of my view that the distance between this world and the next is very thin.

Simpler Christmas Cards

I have also printed a number of simpler sets of cards, black on white, that utilize a very early twentieth century metalcut I purchased at The Museum of Printing in North Andover, MA.

These are smaller cards, and the imprint cut I use was not pleasing on the back. I have added a few more of the mono-type ornament ducks that John Kristensen gave to me when we lived in Cambridge.

Woodcut and linocut prints on gold surfaced paper.
When living in Cambridge I was also gifted with an amazing treasure trove of hand stamped papers, other special finish papers and bookboard from a lovely woman who was closing up her studio. One of these papers, a gold finished paper, was exceptionally fun to use for my greeting cards.

Creating a linocut for a nativity scene was a challenge for me. My design was first printed in reverse on a piece of paper. Next I placed the image over a piece of carbon paper which helped to trace the image onto the linoleum block. Next I cut out all the places I did not want to print, leaving a relief or raised image that would print. I worked diligently not to over-ink the press as I was looking for the gold to shimmer through the image of the family.  These cards were printed on the Challenge Gordon press.

The woodcut images (smaller cards to the left) were printed on the Vandercook 01 proof press. I was able to apply ink more individually here, and received the same shimmer through the print with an overall darker impression.

Creating and printing these lovely Christmas cards has been so inspiring. As I print and assemble the final cards, I think often about the stories they will hold when people write to friends and families using them. I well remember the wonder of receiving Christmas cards and letters (before the internet and the ease of inexpensive long distance calls) from far flung relatives and friends as a small child in Iowa.

My mother would save most of the cards until Christmas Eve, unopened in a black metal sleigh basket she had on the mantle above the fireplace. Mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, my father would be out splitting wood, often with light snow falling, that he would use to lay the fire for our afternoon of cards.  My mother would make home-made hot chocolate on the stove, and fill a platter with cookies.

When the fire was lit, we would gather round Mom on the sofa with our mugs steaming (topped with marshmallows from Marcuci's!) and listen while she read us letters from her sisters and friends from afar, warmed by the crackling fire in front of us. Often there would be pictures to pass around.  Mostly I remember the cards-many were hand made creations that only folks who lived through the Depression and saved rubber bands could make. I still have many of them today and cherish how they feel in my hand. Each card told a story to us about the lives of the sender in a very personal way.

I think this is why I so love to make greeting cards and note cards. Our world today is going so very fast, and communication is instantaneous. Even though our families are spread across nations and the world, we can see them in an instant through Skype and other services, or hear their voices over the telephone should we wish.  I wonder what we sacrifice, however, by not taking the time to write a personal letter to someone, or a card, to let them know how we are and that we are thinking of them, and holding them dear.

My heart soars like a hawk when I think about the joy I have had creating these Christmas Cards and hope that people will use them to send messages of love, hope, and joy to family and friends this Christmas season. When I remember the joy of my early childhood Christmas, sharing the personal cards from friends and family, I can hear the lilt in my mother's voice as she read to my sister and me, and feel the warmth of the fire on my face and the sweetness of the chocolate on my lips.

And I know that all will be well, and all will be well, with the grace and wisdom of God our Mother, all will be well.


Ducks in a Row Press Greeting and Note Cards are available at Valley Artisans' Co-op Gallery  in Deep River, Ontario.  Nancy will also be selling them at the Kinburn Community Craft Fair, November 9, 2013 and at Artisans@the Archives in Ottawa, November 23-24, 2013.