2012: Feb 8

My set of letterpress cookie cutters were pulled into rotation this morning. Using the sugar cookie recipe on the box (swapping out items for non-allergenic items, of course), I didn't quite get to the entire alphabet. But I did manage to stamp out the elements to spell out our names.


There's irony here. I've spent my entire career working in print media. And while the modern (you might call it dying) era of print is far removed from the days of metal type and hand-cranked presses — I mean, my relationship with it is through a computer screen, fercryinoutloud — it's still, you know, the same basic concept. Ink and paper and reproduction and all that. Mr. New Media, on the other hand, has spent his entire career parsing out lines of code designed to erradicate my entire line of work. And somehow it was at his work that he came across a back-breaking boxful of headline-sized Helvetica bits and an ancient beast of a proof press sitting in a forgotton corner next to the garage. And he knew enough to call me down to haul it away, with the proper permissions, of course. Because what were their plans for it? Sell it off as scrap metal, to be smelted down for, I don't know, computer parts or something. I guess that's not ironic at all.


Nearly a year after schlepping all that leaden type back to Seattle, I have yet to finish the task of sorting out all the letters into their appropriate cubbies. Once every few weeks I dig into the their double-bagged temporary residence and alphebetize a handful and then vigorously scrub off with the most potent of soaps and hot waters the heavy metal soot that stains the ridges of my fingerprints. And I stop to marvel at the utter perfection of ligatures.


Y? Because we're still working on Valentines, of course. I'd started with the intention of completely eradicating all trace of the berry red paint from the type (maybe brushing it ocd-style with an old toothbrush), because it seems so demeaning for something so stolid as timeworn metal type to be stained with something so petty as craft-store fabric paint. But, y'know, juxtaposition and all. I kinda like it.



When it comes to Mr. New Media, there is no place for subtlely laid hints at what I'd like for birthdays or Christmases or anniversaries or Leif Erikson day. Had I earlier adopted the beat-him-over-the-head-with-my-short-list-of-needs-complete-with-potential-sources-and-pricepoints approach, I could have avoided receiving the bubble wrap (that's right, just bubble wrap gussied up with some giftwrap), or extracted a decent marriage proposal out of him. So, no dog-eared catalogs or "Gee, honey, I could sure get more meat into this stew if I had the Le Creuset Enameled Cast-Iron 11-3/4-Inch Skillet with Iron Handle in Caribbean" at our house. Also, no leaving it up to him to actually remember those important dates. Around here it's the shock and awe, early and often approach. I start hitting him three to four months ahead of time, and don't let up until an appropriately sized box is shipped to my door.

Last year, I announced that if he didn't come through with a Gocco, things would not be very pleasant for him around here. And what happened? On my birthday, I opened a primly wrapped Gocco. See? Tell him precisely what to get, and ye shall receive. 

This year was a bit trickier. I've had letterpress on the brain lately. My design work has always been for offset/web presses. And, yes, there is an art to it, and the result is rather nice sometimes. It certainly hits the instant gratification button. But when was the last time you kept a magazine or newspaper because you really liked the way it played on your fingers, how worthy it felt? They're just kind of disposable, right? When you get used to designing for newspaper and magazine, you start adopting a bit of a disposable mindset, too. If this concept doesn't hit, well, it'll only be for this issue. But here, right now, that's not what I'm into. Letterpress has bite. It says "Here is an idea worth pounding into paper, worth stamping out the hot metal (or, you know, polymer plates) for." 

Of course, a nice old-school press, even a more compact one, is still going to be rather large and heavy and pricey and I don't actually know how to operate one. Yet. And with four fumbling little kid hands and a backlog of projects to work on, who has the time to pick up new crafts? So, yeah, there was a little bit of wishy-washyness when it came time to direct Mr. New Media's gift-giving. I think I muttered something like "Gee, Honey, I sure am intrigued by the idea of letterpress, especially those old-school ones," and then directed him to my Major E-tailer Wishlist. But that Mr. New Media is pretty crafty himself, and a few weeks before my birthday, a very hefty, clangy little box arrived. The mailman was compelled to conjecture that it must be gold.


Five pounds of metal type. Hundreds of little characters in various typefaces and sizes. Just thinking about them gets me giddy, but now that they've been neatly (some might say anal-retentively) alphabetized in my newly acquired letterpress drawer along with bits and pieces of sewing gear and trinkets and things The Boy picks out of the dirt… I don't know. It feels like everything's coming together? Sure. It's a nice mesh of things. Fun and pretty and not entirely practical, but serving a little bit of purpose nonetheless. Perfect.