Joe Venditti and Danielle Bliss of Ulster Park make a point of taking the long route to work. The two Esopus natives who did their time in prestigious art schools such as NYU School of Visual Arts and the Museum School in Boston have, in this era of digital everything, sought out the oldest, most antiquated machinery for the couple’s new business, Wishbone Letterpress.
Letterpress printing is a style of relief printing using moveable plates, engravings or blocks containing a reversed image inked and pressed into paper. The result is a clean, sharp, dimensional and tactile image embedded into the paper. Long used as the primary method of print for books since the days of Johannes Gutenberg, letterpress has been replaced by faster and more efficient print method of lithography in the 1950s. But “Craft” letterpress — employed typically for stationary or cards — is making a revival thanks to the clarity, tactile and overall upscale impression achieved by the time-consuming printing method.
Bliss quickly developed an affinity for letterpress after designing a wedding invitation for her sister-in-law. She had already been involved in both silk-screening and etching, which she printed on her ink jet printer. Bliss said she loved the look of the invitations, but it was missing something: The depth and richness of true letterpress. The couple then took a week-long letterpress class at the Center for the Book Arts in New York, where they realized letterpress was for them. A few private lessons from another printer and another semester later, Bliss and Venditti were hooked. “We really enjoy the process, there is a lot of troubleshooting involved with printing on old machines,” said Bliss. “And a lot of concentration, once you get everything set up, registered perfectly, with the right amount of impression — it’s really satisfying to pull that first print.”
The couple did very little with their newfound skills, due to Bliss’ broadcast career and Venditti’s construction job, until Bliss was laid off and concluded that it was the ideal time to go forward with letterpress printing.
“In the fall we did a couple wedding expos,” said Bliss. “And we would tell people that we hand-print each piece of each wedding invitation on 100-year-old presses. We hand mix all of our ink colors. These people would say, ‘No way!’ They were surprised. Some people couldn’t understand why we would want to print something that way, but in the same breath they think it’s gorgeous. People usually run their fingers over the paper and the embossed areas.”
Slideshow image: Joe Venditti presses on.