Meet Jen, the force behind Starshaped Press in Chicago! Starshaped is all type--both metal and wood--all the time, and their work shows a love of typography and the craft of letterpress that's almost unmatched. They also share a fondness for my most beloved press, the C&P 10x15. See more photographs of their work and shop here.
How did you become a printer?
While attending college for graphic design, I greatly admired the music
packaging that was coming out of Fireproof Press here in Chicago.
Luckily, I managed to get a job there, where I learned the basics of
running presses, setting type, dealing with clients and the trials of
running a business. When Fireproof decided to pack it in, I had just
finished school, and set up my own press to take on much of their work. I
am still in touch with the Fireproof folks; it was a life-changing
place to be and I often feel nostalgic about the creative environment
that was there, and the types of work we did. This was before the advent
of photopolymer plates, so we really delved into the possibilities of
working with metal and wood type for commercial work.
What was your first press?
While still at Fireproof, I got a 3x5 Sigwalt from one of the printers
(mostly because of its awesome cuteness), and then a 6x9 Sigwalt, that
we still occasionally use for proofing small bits of type. After that
came the 8x12 C+P and the Vandercook SP-15. When we moved into our
current spot, where we've been for 7 years, we got a 10x15 C+P, which is
our most utilized press.
What do you make?
At Starshaped, I'll print whatever comes our way, as long as we can
design it in-house and use our type and ornaments collection. We've
never done photopolymer and only use mag plates when necessary. Our work
seems seasonal... we do many wedding invites in the Spring and early
Summer, and then the work turns to band posters and business cards. The
holidays bring greeting cards and baby announcements (guess we know what
everyone does late Winter/early Spring!). We'll do some oddball or
interesting jobs inbetween everything when we can, like broadsides and
book covers, and we sneak in fun personal projects when possible.
What do you like best about your work or physical shop?
The best thing about my job is creating great projects and knowing I did
it with metal and wood type and ornaments. I love that a design is
never done, even when we go to the press. I've often had to call clients
to tell them we need to adjust for reasons unknown going into the
process, and then having those changes make the piece even better than
planned. I love the way type prints, and that I feel like I'm passing on
the artisanal craft of working with type. I know that continually
learning about how type works has made me a better designer, and that
the type is teaching me more and more all the time.
My studio is my darling, and second home. It's chock full of the last 12
years of my life, including work I've done, work by other printmakers I
admire, and all of our equipment, books and 400+ fonts of type. Most of
the shelving materials and desks were crafted by my husband, whose
undying support and elbow grease has made the space the functioning
studio it is.
What do you find challenging about being a printer?
My biggest challenge right now is explaining why our work is different
than letterpress work done with polymer; when I started printing, we did
few wedding invitations and impression wasn't a selling point. Because I
have to be very careful about impression so as not to damage type (and
some of ours is over 100 years old), I like to work with clients that
appreciate this aspect of the process. I also find it difficult to price
work, since typesetting is so labor intensive. We've done many things
to organize our type collection and streamline the process, but we're
still setting each and every letter at the end of the day, and often
into the night.
Who or what inspires you the most?
My biggest inspiration at the moment is the women that seem to be
showing up to work in the studio. When I started out, it was just me,
and that was great. Now I find that my work improves when I'm surrounded
by other talented ladies, and we've made a point to meet once a week,
as much as we can. See also:
I'm also still nostalgic and in love with the work of Bruce Licher of
Independent Project Press. He's a bit elusive, but worth investigating!
Do you have a printing or business tip that you can't live without?
I've found that it's important to be able to say No to jobs, to clearly
state what you're capable of doing, and to have really kick ass customer
service. We often deal with folks that don't have an opportunity more
than once or twice in their lives to plan a major event/concert/etc.,
and it's important that they feel excited to work with you and part with
more money than if they'd gone to Kinkos.
It's also very important to take care of your machinery and feel at
peace with it. If a press is crying for oil, listen! Everything has to
work in your space, and you need to listen to what your equipment needs.Thoughts (random or otherwise!) on the future of letterpress?
10-15 years ago letterpress was at a pretty low point, and could only go
up. Up it went! I think the future for letterpress work is strong,
though there will probably be some flux. I'm hesitant to address the
newer versions of letterpress with plate-only printing; I'm concerned
that some of the hand craftsmanship will be lost, and that much of the
plate work will begin to look the same without a deep understanding of
the process and how it ties into the craft of typography, design and
overall quality. We had a number of clients come to us this year because
they specifically wanted to take advantage of the old timey process,
and get something that didn't look remotely digital. I hope that's a new