It's the end of July, and for me this month conjures up feelings of patriotism and pride (as well as beaches, BBQs, and watermelon!). There's no better time of year to express our dedication to American makers. In honor of our manufacturing partnerships, I'm posting a mini-series featuring three interviews with some of our local manufacturers and artisans - the people that help make what we make possible!
I hope you enjoy this first interview with Dan Wood, owner of letterpress printing firm DWRI Letterpress.
Q: When was the business established?
A: I first started printing letterpress for other people (invitations, artists books, etc) in 1994 as Garbaszawa Press, after graduating from RISD and working as a commercial offset press operator on the side. I re-established the business in 2002 as DWRI Letterpress to focus solely on letterpress printing for other artists, designers, and fellow businesses all in need of fine letterpress printing.
Q: Tell us your story - what inspired you to go into this line of work and how did you get started?
A: As an artist, I have always been drawn to the idea of multiples, and more accessible works of art. Studying printmaking and then working as a press operator for close to 10 years allowed me to really appreciate the nuances and beauty of a really finely printed object. Letterpress, as opposed to flat offset printing, allowed me to push the fine printing approach into three dimensions and create work that builds on this centuries old technique that has contributed, and still has so much to contribute, to the social good and our shared culture.
Q: Why Rhode Island? And how has Rhode Island influenced your business/work?
A: I have been in Rhode Island for much of my life, and appreciate its industrial history, as well as the appreciation of craft and well made objects which have been a part of our shared culture here for generations. It is a small and supportive community for artists, and I am proud to know and work with so many insanely talented people here. It is truly a state of small businesses and individuals working with and helping each other.
Q: What materials do you work with?
A: Machines, paper, and ink - the trifecta! For paper, we are lucky to work with amazing paper mills from around the world, as well as local businesses such as Paper Connection International which imports handmade paper directly from family run and smaller handmade paper co-ops primarily in Japan, but from other small papermaking workshops in Nepal, China, and Korea as well. We design and print from a collection of 19th and early to mid-twentieth century wood and metal type, and cast type from our collection of original type matrices on the Linotype and Ludlow. We can also work from digital files and which we will convert to Polymer plates on a photopolymer platemaker, and then print on the same presses with the same effect as the hand-set type.
Q: What's your favorite material to work with/why?
A: As much as I appreciate fine letterpress printing in general as a goal, I have a special fondness working with the Linotype, a typecasting machine with three thousand moving parts designed in the 1880’s. To be able to use this machine and process, which was designed for such a particular purpose, and use it to create contemporary work and find solutions and designs one could not think of in any other way, is truly a gift - and I can not wait to see what kinds of things we can do with other artists and designers using this equipment.
Q: What are the most interesting projects that have come through your doors?
A: We recently did 3 sets of wallpaper, and are waiting on a 4th, with Providence printmaker Andrew Raftery, representing the four seasons. Originally designed to be background material for his engraved transfer-ware ceramic plates, they have now become complex and complete enough that he is exhibiting the wallpaper on its own. The designs are traditionally cut using a razor blade into rubylith, and we make the polymer plates from those original rubyliths, separate them into four to seven custom overlaying colors, and print on our automatic fed cylinder press in editions of one thousand sheets. It has been a perfect example of creating contemporary work using these age old processes in a new way.
Q: What's your favorite part of what you do?
A: To see clean sheets of pristine paper come in to the chaos of the shop, through machines covered in grease at high speed, with ink only exactly where it should be, and end up going out the door to plaster the city, grace somebody walls, or be used in a very utilitarian commercial way with their own lives and impact is a probably my favorite part of this whole thing.
Q: How do you approach projects with new clients (what is your process)?
A: Every project is truly custom. There are designers familiar with the process with whom we work everyday, sending us complete designs ready to print. There are others who know nothing of the letterpress printing process and possibilities, so we spend a lot of our time educating people and helping them to find the best possible solution to their project. Visiting the shop is often an essential element to that process, so that our customers can understand what we do, what works well, and discover how this process can be put to the best use for a particular project. We generally start with a quick meeting to get on the same page, put a direction in place, and go from there!