Since returning to my roots in sunny Southern California, I’ve been experiencing a bit of reverse culture shock. After 8 years in Charlotte, I had become accustomed to folks wearing shoes and shirts in restaurants, to tea being sweet (not infused with pomegranate) and when someone referred to “The US Open,” they were talking golf or tennis. Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit, ’cause out here, “The US Open” means surf, sand and suntans.
I’ve been quite the jet setter these days! Just got back from the 2011 AIGA Leadership Retreat in Minneapolis, MN on Sunday. It was an absolute blast. In addition to the inspiring sessions at the retreat, I also got to tour a well-known local letterpress company called, Studio on Fire. Conference attendees were given the opportunity to choose from several reputable design shops around town and I was one of the lucky ones to snag a spot at the sold out letterpress studio tour.
What I found so unique about this letterpress studio was the extreme attention to detail and design. Many of SOF’s clients are also designers, so the caliber of work is elevated to a ho-notha-level. And since technique is king at SOF, they also divide the staff into pressmen and designers. Meaning, designers don’t touch the presses and pressmen don’t touch the design work. This allows for each role to be extremely specialized and adds a level of expertise that is very apparent in the quality of the pieces they produce. The employees are passionate about the tactile nature of the medium and strive to create something with rawness and refinement in every project.
When you enter SOF you are immediately bombarded with a barrage of letterpress portfolio examples and men with large beards. Their work adorns two giant walls of galvanized metal, and creates a collage-like gallery of paper, type, texture and color. I think my brain nearly exploded when I first entered the space. I wanted to touch everything.
As the tour progressed, we learned about the history of SOF (which started, btw, over 10 years ago in a basement of cats). We also learned a bit about how the studio operates. They are a modern letterpress studio, so instead of being confined to traditional metal type, they print with polymer plates (which are designed on the computer and then etched into the polymer using an exposure process). With seven letterpresses, and more on the way, they are able to produce a variety sizes, quantities, diecuts, effects and outcomes. There was work that looked like it was screenprinted, painted and even hand drawn. They push the limits of letterpress and their work is unlike any letterpress I’ve ever seen.
If you’re ever in the Minneapolis area, Studio on Fire is a must see.
PS - their vintage beer can collection was amazing too!
Yee-Haw Industries, in downtown Knoxville, is Mecca for any typophile. If you’re into letterpress and wood block printing, this place is a must see. They house a fully functional letterpress art print shop and creative studio in the back, and run a retail shop in the front.
While perusing the poster collections in their boutique, Cory and I struck up a conversation with a friendly employee. Once we explained that we’re designers from out of town, he generously invited us to go behind the counter and tour the letterpress studio. Above are the “decent” photos I was able to capture on my phone’s camera.
I was enamored with the amazing variety of letterpress findings. The tiny collections of stars, lines, zig-zags, and other type-frills made my brain tingle. What was especially mind tickling was all the organization. A place for everything and everything in its place. When you’re dealing with drawers and drawers of type, storage and a filing system are essential. I’m surprised they don’t use the Dewey Decimal System.
Here’s a fun fact: do you know where the terms “uppercase” and “lowercase” come from? When printers set font by hand a letter at a time, they placed the case holding the most frequent forms of the letters on a lower shelf for convenience. They called this box the “lower case.” Capital letters were placed higher in a different box called the “upper case.” Knowledge is power, folks.
Took a trip to Knoxville, TN last weekend. It just so happens to be exactly halfway between Charlotte and Cincinnati, therefore making it the perfect meeting point for two luvas in a LDR. And lucky for me, my luva likes old stuff just as much as I do. So we made it a point to check out as many record stores, antique shops and vintage clothing boutiques as possible. Among our favorites were: Hot Horse, Raven Rarities and Records, Nostalgia and Willow Creek Gallery (which is the subject of this post).
Willow Creek Gallery is an architectural salvage warehouse specializing in European antiques from the 18th century to modern design. Everything is housed in a big ol’, rundown, rail warehouse in the Old City. It is a very unassuming place from the outside, but once you cross the threshold, you enter a gloriously large room with exposed ceilings, dramatic skylights and rows of centuries old furniture. It was absolutely fascinating. I cannot express how perfect the ambiance was. We were Bill and Ted stepping into a bygone era of excellent antiques.
Among my favorite things were the large-scale glass jugs, cabinets with more drawers than a Calvin Klein ad, a beautiful wooden row boat that hung from ceiling rafters, the aisles of occasional chairs and two taxidermy squirrels playing poker.
Definitely worth a look-see if you’re ever in the East Tennessee neck of the woods.
Home is where the ocean is.
Had a great trip back home in Oceanside, Ca last weekend. I took my cousin and good friend along for the ride. It was a SHORT trip for a cross country trek, but we definitely made the most of it.
- Landed in San Diego 11:00am
- Straight to Fashion Valley for the H&M deprived Charlotteans
- Lunched at Rubio's
- Checked into our hotel in Oceanside
- Freshened up, then off to dinner at Norte's in Carlsbad
- Up at 7am - took a long walk on the beach
- Breakfast at "The Breakfast Club Diner"
- Off to the Carlsbad Outlet Mall (for bargain Banana and Nine West)
- Lunch and browsing on Cedros (Solona Beach's Design District)
- Then to the Torrey Pines Glider Port for views of Black's Beach and the coast
- The Salk Institute (by Louis Kahn) for architecture and an impromptu photo shoot
- La Jolla Cove for sunset, sea lions and scenery
- Back to O'side for dinner at Cafe Rosarita's with the folks
- Up at 7am - long walk on the beach and Oside Pier
- Breakfast at Longboarder Cafe
- Leisurely drive through the hills to Temecula (in TWO of my dad's Miatas... don't ask)
- Lunch in Old Town Temecula at Sweet Lumpy's
- Back home for a look through old photo albums chronicling my childhood
- Cocktail hour on the back deck with the bonfire pit
- Grilled out for dinner
- Evening spent laughing and reminiscing
-Back to Charlotte