TypeCon 2015: Denver Letterpress Tour

Guest post by Allie McRae

Man, what a weekend it was at TypeCon! I was thoroughly impressed at the vast amounts of intelligence I was surrounded by, and yet how approachable and willing everyone was to meet new people and share their passions. Of all the speakers and activities I participated in, the Denver Letterpress Tour was by far the highlight of my weekend. On Friday evening, after a full day of lectures on topics ranging from the inner workings of Adobe’s type team to the endless possibilities of OpenType features, I was ready to get out of my chair and get my hands in some ink.

The evening started out with 35 of us conference attendees parading up the steps, single file, into an overhauled, matte black school bus that has rightfully earned the title of a Party Bus. With two long benches down each side, a flat screen tv on the back wall, and the bass thumping, we made our way to our first of four destinations—Now It’s Up To You Publications, a backyard letterpress studio belonging to Tom Parson. Tom and his family graciously let us crowd into their yard and admire a staggering amount of letterpress equipment and ephemera that Tom has printed over the years—including some of his own poetry—along with a handful of working presses. With only 25 minutes at each of our stops, we hustled to get our posters printed with our first run; at each stop we were going to add onto our poster until we had a complete print at the end of the evening.

Next up, we swung by Foils + Dies / Vintage Pressworks, to visit Rob Barnes and his stellar team. Foils + Dies is a luxuriously spacious studio with great, stately presses and enough enthusiasm to keep you entertained for hours. In contrast to Tom’s individual operation, Foils + Dies is set up to handle large orders and get them in and out in no time. There’s a bright future for Foils + Dies as they prepare for a move to Rob’s ranch just west of Denver, where an entirely new home (with lake views!) is being built for the presses. With our second colour of our print successfully checked off, we headed out once again to our awaiting Party Bus.

Our third stop was to the cleverly named Genghis Kern Letterpress & Design studio. Jason Wedekind was one of the speakers at TypeCon that morning so we were already aware of his incredible collection of double-sided letterpress blocks that he had on display at his studio. (My fellow correspondent Almenia Candis will be sharing a post about Jason’s passion for finding these rare, double-sided letterforms because they are truly superb specimens.) We grabbed a local Colorado beer and completed our third colour and round of printing. With enough space and time at this stop, we were able to pull our own prints this time, with some helpful guidance from Jason and his team.

And finally, our last stop on the Party Bus was to MATTER, a bustling, full-service design studio with a print shop on the ground floor. As this was our last stop on the letterpress tour, the Party Bus dropped us off here for a more leisurely stay. The walls of the industrial studio were covered in graphic inspiration and Rick Griffith, the head honcho of MATTER, wasted no time in sharing his complex ideas about creativity and MATTER’s design process. For the last time we wound our way through the line to complete our prints. A few of us that stayed a while longer were able to print a bonus round and have Marvin Gaye’s head permanently debossed onto the top of our design. Personally, I think Marvin’s smiling face is what truly made the different elements of the poster come together.

Besides my love of letterpress—the inevitable grime under my fingernails, the smell of ink, the unavoidable ink smudge, the sound of the whirring press—the other 30-some-odd people adventurous enough to climb onto that Party Bus made for the best company. I’m so glad I had the chance to visit some of the quality, local print studios around Denver and to be squished so tightly in that bus that I was bound to make new type-nerd friends.