FK talks to Alischa from Bespoke about the wonderful world of letterpress and the launch of their latest Illustrators Project which launches today!
Tell us about your letter press business Bespoke Letterpress Boutique?
We are based in Brisbane designing and hand printing couture letterpress invitations, stationery and beautiful paperie. Our range includes wedding invitations, notecards and limited edition prints.
We print on two antique letterpress based from the ground floor of our seaside Queenslander home. Our presses are called Charlie & Herbie. Charlie is the back-bone of our studio – he was built in Cleveland, Ohio back in 1893 and he is a sometimes quite a grumpy old man. But being 116 years old, we don’t really blame him. Herbie is our most recent addition and he is just a baby having been built in 1973 and was one of the last ever letterpress printing presses built. Both presses have been salvaged, restored and bought back to life once again.
To print, we foot pump Charlie via a foot treadle. Its hard work, using your weight to force nearly 1 tonne of metal into action! The press then rotates to open and close. As it opens you hand feed a single piece of paper into the press, the press then closes, you pull a leaver and it makes the impression. As it opens again you quickly remove the gorgeously printed sheet of paper and insert a new sheet – it takes a great deal of concentration and coordination to ensure your fingers dont get left behind, all the while your still pumping away with your foot and pulling levers. We repeat this process for each colour which is printed to produce the final piece. Its hard laborious and slow work, but the results are so spectacular – its worth every moment of the blood, sweat and very sore muscles!!
We are also very particular about the papers we print on. We only print on 100% cotton papers which are tree free, chlorine free and have been made from reclaimed fibers from the cotton industry. We dont believe that beautiful things need to be made at the expense of the environment, and an added bonus they are such the most divine papers, its like a mix of silk, linen and fluffy clouds all combined into one!
What is your background and how did you get started?
I have been a graphic designer for just on 10 years and way back in the early days, I studied Graphic Design through Billy Blue School of Graphic Arts in Sydney, and the National School of Design at Swinburne University in Melbourne. After a long career working as a commercial designer in the international blockbuster film industry, a yearning for a quieter and more beautiful life saw a sea change as we moved to a rumbling old timber queenslander by the sea just north of Brisbane.
With a chance to follow my heart, a dream to create beautiful things and a desire to reinvent a dying craftsmanship saw the beginning little steps to set up my own business and launch Bespoke Letterpress Boutique. And I have never looked back, I love the chance to step back in time, get my hands inky, and create the most gorgeous beautiful vintage inspired designs.
What do you love about running your own business?
Working from home – after what feels a lifetime always having to travel great distances to study and work, it is bliss to just have to walk down a set of stairs and be in the studio. On the downside though, I never leave work and work very late nights 7 days a week! Working from home also means we can spend our days with Ruby our dog in the studio. She has a huge fan party – our business would not be the same without her!
One of the greatest things we have done in our business is to share our journeys and daily adventures in letterpress land on our blog http://bespokepress.blogspot.com – it has been such a great way not only to show the inside workings of a letterpress studio, but also to gain followers and make many designer friends both locally and afar.
What are some of the challenges and things you don’t like?
Dealing with antique machinery is very hard work. They are incredibly difficult and can make life very frustrating. Every day the presses can behave just slightly differently which can effect printing a great deal. You have to be incredibly patient and very much a perfectionist to make a good letterpress artist.
Printing letterpress is also very hard tiring work. Charlie our main press in the studio, is fully hand and foot powered, it takes alot of strength, and results in very sore muscles. Physically its a very demanding career, and certainally not one for the faint hearted. But it really is worth it, Letterpress is truly spectacular and worth every moment of the pain and frustration!
We hand mix each of our own inks – its a process of mixing tiny little percentages of colours and blending to make the colours evolve. You never quite know if the colour is going to be perfect until its fully mixed and its that moment of “oh, oh, oh, ahh, it worked.”
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Everywhere!! Inspiration can surprise you from the littlest unexpected places. I also huge amount of blogs which I visit daily – they cover everything from interiors, design, floristry and weddings. I am very much visual person and inspired by photographs found from online and in my huge collection of magazines.
We tend not to look much at what other letterpress studios are doing, as we would much more prefer to set our own style rather then follow trends.
What do you love about Brisbane and what are your favourite places to go?
I love the sunny weather and sunny people. I love that you can drive into the city without the big city traffic you find in other cities. I love that if you know where to look you can find $1 parking on the side streets in the city. I love that there is a wonderful creative network of designers, bloggers and artists who are all so supportive of each other – Its a beautiful place to live.
We do love to spend an afternoon at Paddington – exploring the amazing Paddington antique centre, stopping next door and visiting our favourite Jeweller – Artisans Gems & Jewels and then heading down the street for cocktails and the most amazing tapas at Lark in Paddington.
One of our other favourite things to do is to actually get out of Brisbane and explore the surrounding villages – up north to Malany, out west to Daybro and down south to Mount Tamborine and everywhere in between. These little towns always have such a creative feel, gorgeously cute cafes and a magnitude of antique shops to explore. I love the small village atmosphere, and you never know, maybe Bespoke will find itself having a cute little storefront in one of these towns one day!
What is the Bespoke Letterpress Illustrators Project?
We know all too well how hard it can be to get your foot in the door as a young designer, so we have launched the Bespoke Letterpress Illustrators Project. We opened the table for illustrators across the world to submit their work. The only rules were they must be emerging illustrators and they must produce a three colour illustration, and my oh my, we were overwelmed by hundreds of entries! This was a chance for young illustrators to get their first big break, to be commissioned, and to have their work crafted on a vintage letterpress – a dream usually way beyond reach for most designers.
We narrowed down the selection to 10 gorgeous illustrations which were lovingly hand printed on archival 110% cotton rag stocks as a limited edition run of 150. We printed these on Charlie our foot treadled and hand fed 1893 letterpress. The prints have just launched and are available via our online store http://bespokepress.bigcartel.com