Thursday, December 9, 2010

Firecracker Press: : Letterpress

Today we are visiting the studio of Firecracker Press, Missouri's only graphic design studio and letterpress printshop, located on historic Cherokee Street in St. Louis.  
The studio/gallery is filled with event posters, band posters, wedding invitations, greeting cards, personalized stationery, home decor. Fall is their busiest season and they are now gearing up for the Spring wedding market. 

The owner, Eric Woods, began Firecracker Press in 2002 after a career in advertising and design. His studio now has four employees and three or four interns each semester. "The skill set to learn the press is teachable," Matty Kleinberg said. Matty is printmaker and shop manager. "Working here is about being a positive person and a hard worker."
Firecracker Press has 300 printers drawers filled with typefaces. 

And they're still collecting.

This antique circus font "w" has beautiful details including multiple serifs (decorative lines coming off the letter).
Here's a view of the shop/storefront from the studio.

And here's a view of the studio from the same place. 
Let's move in a little closer to the press room.
While designs are created on a computer, woodblocks are still carved by hand. The printing method is the same as it was 100 years ago. 

It's the fusion of modern thinking and antique printing technology.
Here is a wood cut of a wedding invitation and a finished printed card.
Ink is mixed by hand on this palette. 
I think the artists at Firecracker Press are brilliant at combining color in unique and stunning ways.
Several of the presses in the studio came from people's homes where they went years without use. Eric and Matty restore them.
This is Eric's first press. From the 1930s, it's no longer used for printing, but it can die cut coasters. It weighs a mere 2000 pounds.
This is the smallest press in the studio. It's portable and can travel for demonstrations at fairs and events.
This press, a Vandercook, is the studio's workhorse. The most used, it's harder to clean, but easier to change. It weighs approximately 1500 pounds.
The type is locked under extreme pressure during printing so the text stays in place. If it was loose at all, text would snap and fly out of the press. Here's the finished product with the type set in the back left corner.
Is this the biggest stapler you've ever seen? Perfect for binding Firecracker Press' one-of-a-kind journals.
This is the largest press, printing posters up to 30"x44". This press has to be hand inked.
Matty holds up a wood cut and a finished poster.
If you look up, you'll see wood cuts of customers past.
And they're an art form all their own - beautiful to display.
These posters form one big poster, advertising an event at St. Louis University.
Recycled goodness? Yes, the coolest ever. When prints aren't in perfect condition they're put on a shelf in the studio. That paper will then get used again in various stages of printing other works (think test sheet). Finally, when it may have three or four different printings on it, the artists will cut this one-of-a-kind paper to make journal covers, paper bows, coasters.  Bows sold out at this year's Cherokee Street Print League Holiday Fair. (There are more now in the shop.)
FCP recently started hosting Saturday poetry readings. Two poets read their poetry while guests listen and watch that same poem being printed on the press. At the end of the reading, each guest receives a print, or broadside, of the poems read, like these below. [The last poetry reading of the year is this Saturday!]
The shop has plenty of kid-pleasing posters too. 
My 10-year-old will love the bacon poster.
So the next time you're downtown, stopping in to Antique Row, or craving authentic Mexican, add Firecracker Press to your list. 

Thank you Matty and Eric! 

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