I had the honor of being commissioned for a run of welcome home cards for the Haven of Charlottesville, Virginia. I really wanted to take this opportunity to offer them something besides the standard run of the mill card. If I'm going to be commissioned to do artisanal letterpress cards then they should really be something special! I like to think I succeeded and I hope that the cards bring a bit of delight into the lives of the recipients. What follows is my design process in creating these cards.
Sometimes, I feel like I'm a dinosaur when I see the generations not 5 years behind me utilizing Wacoms and digital tablets solely for sketching. Then I see professional greats still employing good ol' paper and pencil and I don't feel so bad. Part of becoming a "real" artist is developing a confidence in your skills and materials. Being open to new materials and experiences is very much part of the game but refusing to have shame in the process that you're "good at" and the materials that work for you is also very much a part of establishing yourself. I'm looking at you, Eric Powell.
So with that in mind, in order to get a true pure vision of what I want to accomplish, I sit down with my sketch pad. I had done cards as invitations for my senior thesis at the Corcoran ages ago. They featured two side folds so that the card opened out to the viewer on both sides. I thought that that template would be a good concept. The emphasis for the commission was being welcomed into the community and feeling comfort.
I wanted to pull on images of peace and being at ease. I decided to portray a set of double doors opening up to the inside of the card that would read, "Welcome Home!" Many of the neighborhood houses in the old districts of Charlottesville are bungalows and it is common in the south to see older houses with great southern boxwood hedges. The house I grew up in had such boxwoods and birds would always stuff nests in between the space of the pillars and the porch roof. Birds would flutter in and around the boxwoods and cats and dogs would often seek shelter under them in the evening heat. I wanted the doors and porch to look old and softly worn.
With the sketch done, I placed tracing vellum over it and stained it with some markers to get an idea of what the color blocks would look like. I wanted a subtle color block of evening light filtering in over the porch and through the boxwoods.
The challenge of producing something like this is that when the card is closed the images need to line up to look like a whole. The blocks themselves need to be separate so they can be printed at opposing ends of the card paper. I had to slice a linoleum block down the middle and then tape them together while carving and pay attention the whole time to if the blocks jogged out of place in even the slightest.
After the key block image was carved, I put it on the Vandercook and proofed up a few sheets of Denril. Denril is wonderful stuff. The ink does not initially soak into Denril once it is printed and you can use the pressure of the press itself to transfer and image onto another block.
Here it is in progress as the cylinder presses the wet proof onto a clean block. It's like watching magic!
Because Denril is transparent, it's a great tool to have around when doing registration lock ups. Once the ink is dry, the proofs are invaluable this way.
Here are the blocks as they have freshly been printed. My original concept states that there are 5 blocks for this project but if you really get technical about it there are a total of 8 individual blocks.
Here's a photo of the color blocks of the boxwoods getting carved. The key block ink gets washed off before final printing begins.
Well, there comes a time in an artist's/blogger's life when you're working and you have to make a choice. Do I sacrifice art process accuracy or art process documentation? When I began the final process, I realized I would need my absolute full attention the whole time. I had to lay down the camera and put my all into producing the cards accurately. Sorry, I didn't get any shots of the cards as they were being printed but suffice to say it was a complicated and long lock up, inking, and printing.
When I did breathe a sigh of relief that all the printing was done, I needed to then start trimming and folding. I left excess paper around the card to have a little jogging room when lining the front image up. For some of the trimming I could utilize the VABC's guillotine but for the final stages I had to sit down with my utility knife for a more precise cut. There was also much scoring and bone foldering to be done.
By the way, do as I say and not as I do. You'll notice the big cup of tea on the desk. It's not a great idea to have food and beverage around while you're working on paper goods but Mama needed hojicha to get the job done. Hojicha and Genmaicha have kept me afloat more times than I can count.
Here's an image of one of the first ones completed. Yay!
Here's my proud display of 100 Haven cards completed and ready to be delivered!
A final presentation shot of the front.
Open it up for the welcome message inside!
Below is a wonderful video of the card being opened at the Haven: