If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll be familiar with the amazing illustrator and collective member Patch Miller, who I was really excited to spend a day printing with last month (photo above is his too, the clever monkey).
Patch wanted some business cards that stood out among the competition and showed off his beautiful illustration skills. When we met for a creative brainstorm back in May, and I saw the following stunning bus sketch in his sketchbook I knew it would look incredible when letterpressed!
We emailed back and forth after our brunch, discussing layouts and options and agreed that two sets of cards, with two different designs would help show the breadth of his skill – one of the bus sketch, and one of a children’s illustration called Cosmo (points to those who recognise him from a certain other blog post).
As we were chatting about the possibilities, I suggested we work out a day we were both free so Patch could come along and help print his own cards and learn more about the process. We were both so excited to work together from end to end on a project, but it still took a bit of time to schedule in, what with freelance contracts to work around, holidays and waiting on supplies!
We finally got a date set. The polymer plates had arrived, the cards were cut to size (yes, each card is printed individually), and my bag was stocked with printing fuel (sausage rolls and Jaffa Cakes).
I showed Patch how I set up the press, and he got stuck in mixing his own ink colours. The Cosmo cards would be my first go at two colour business cards, and we started with the grey-blue fill of little Cosmo the Bear.
The blue had to be slightly off centre to create the right offset effect when the black detailing was printed on top. It took a few practice goes but we were finally happy with where the blue was landing on the card, and Patch jumped in to have a go at printing. And he was a natural, of course.
The cards were coming out so beautifully, with that luxurious, strokeable impression, and we were both pretty elated!
We printed 40 blue Cosmos (I wouldn’t normally print such a small run, but more on that later), and then it was time to clean off the whole press and start again for the gorgeous bone-black Patch had mixed for the next layer.
This was where things got complicated.
The joy (and in this case, pain) of letterpress is that no two prints are ever completely alike, meaning the blue wasn’t always in exactly the same place on each card (even if it was only by a fraction of a millimetre). So trying to print the black detail on to the blue Cosmo at exactly the right angle and in exactly the right position (nose on nose, paws on paws, but slightly offset across the body) was pretty tricky as I was working with a moving target.
The black on blue of Patch’s name at the top of the card wasn’t working either, so we chopped the top of the polymer plate off and just went for his name in blue. Which I think worked really well, but did mean his name was less centred than I’d have liked!
After a few failed attempts at lining up the prints and time getting on, I broke the news to Patch that we might have to skip ahead to the bus sketch cards, and I would finish the Cosmo cards another day. He was understandably crestfallen – we’d both gone from feeling so happy to so frustrated – so I said we would try one more card.
And, what do you know? Persistence paid off.
With relief flooding through us, I carefully hurried through the remaining Cosmo cards and we soon had a little army of them smiling up at us. Next, it was on to the bus sketch cards. Thank goodness they were in the same colour!
The textured look of the hair in this illustration transferred remarkably well to letterpress, and the lined face gave the card incredible texture of its own. They were coming out beautifully so Patch stepped in to print a few more while I took a Jaffa Cake break.
Soon we had 40 more pointy noses looking out at us, and we were done! Well, after cleaning the press one more time, and wiping up all the ink. And a few more Jaffa Cakes.
The whole day was an absolute joy (even when it wasn’t). Sharing the process, collaborating from start to finish, and knowing Patch loves his cards all the more for having been so hands on made me really happy (even when it didn’t).
I’ve got a couple more days like this lined up over the Summer, with people coming to help print their own designs, and it’s something I’d like to do a lot more of in future so watch this space!
Also just want to say a big thank you to Patch for being such a fab fellow to work with. He’s run away to China for a year with his lovely wife, and as a little farewell gift I bound him some pocket sketchbooks with Cosmo on the cover.
I shall miss him terribly while he’s gone, BUT we’re already talking about our next collaboration. What’s a few thousand miles between friends after all?
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