The Daily Heller: Printers of the World, Unite! Redux

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Leslie Evans is a printmaker and illustrator with a letterpress studio, Sea Dog Press, in Watertown, MA. Recently she found my 2020 post “Wood Type Printers of the World, Unite!” and sent me some samples of a poster series she created that year “to deal with my frustration with the Trump administration and encourage people to get out and vote.” She printed a poster a month and then had them reproduced as postcards to be used in voter drives.

Labor Day is right around the corner and a critical election is on the way. The 2022 midterm votes are essential to preserving democracy, and the campaigners are poised to run the last propaganda lap. So, this is the last chance for printers to unite for the good of all. Use it or lose it. Remember that every impression makes a statement.

I asked Evans to tell us about the origins of her press and her contribution to the political conversation.

Leslie, tell me about your private press. When did it launch, and why?
I have always loved to draw, a preoccupation/obsession that led me to Rhode Island School of Design for college. I majored in printmaking, although the medium I eventually favored, relief printmaking, wasn’t an official part of the program at that time. I did take an elective typography course where I was introduced to letterpress printing on the Vandercook proof press, used mainly for proofing type and paste-up. On my own initiative I also printed woodcuts and film society posters on the press. After graduation I was pleased to find employment as a designer and printer of silkscreen posters advertising concerts, films and theater presentations at the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College. That was a fantastic experience, and it also afforded me the opportunity, after I left the job, to study with Ray Nash at his Summer Book Arts workshop at his farm in Vermont (the very type of course I would have loved to take at RISD). The monthlong workshop combined lessons in the history of the book from Nash’s extensive library in the mornings, as well as hands-on printing in the barn press room in the afternoons. It was an experience that clinched my decision to one day have my own letterpress studio.

How did you start, and with which typefaces and presses?
I began my letterpress equipment search in earnest after being laid off as an art director in a Boston design studio during the recession in the early ’80s. I was lucky to be looking for equipment when many letterpress shops were closing, so everything was affordable. My Vandercook was previously used for proofing in a Linotype shop and a steal at $350. (They run $10,000+ today.) My main press is a Vandercook 4 proof press. The largest-sized poster I can print on the press is 13″ x 19″. I recently acquired a Poco 2 press so that I can print larger posters, 18″ x 25″. However, it does require hand-inking. I would love to have a self-inking larger Vandercook, but can’t fit one in my current space. I do also have several small proofing presses, including an Adana quarto.

My house typeface is Bembo. I have an eclectic variety of metal and wood types, ornaments and cuts. I had not expected to expand my wood type collection much, as wood type has become very expensive. But I recently luckily happened upon a reasonably priced collection of wood type that I am looking forward to incorporating into my posters. I had been frustrated in the past at not having a large enough press to fully utilize the large wood type fonts, but short, to-the-point political messages are an excellent use for them.

Where does the name Sea Dog Press derive from?
I finally came upon a name for the press when I got my first Labrador mix in 1991, Morgan Ddu, which is “Black Morgan” in Welsh. Her nickname, Morgi, literally means “seadog” in Welsh, but is actually the name for a dogfish in Wales. I developed a Labrador Alphabet based on her many poses.

At what point did you begin doing political messaging?
My first political printing was a bumper sticker/poster for the 2008 Obama campaign. The 2020 poster project was a cathartic and very enjoyable experience for me where I felt I was at least doing something to affect change, small as it may be. As you say in your blog, having the press and type, I might as well make good use of it. I offer my prints, posters and cards on my website Square shop, Etsy shop and at various fairs I attend. Part of the proceeds from the sales go to targeted political campaigns. To broaden the reach of the 2020 posters I decided to have them reproduced as postcards. They sold fairly well.

I did get some negative feedback from the Biden/Harris postcard from a person in Arkansas, who thought I had sent him the card (because my press name was on the back). It was part of a 1,500 postcard campaign from a local Arkansas Democratic committee. He told me he had burned the card, and after a brief back and forth I let him know that we could agree to disagree on the subject, and I never heard from him again. When printing out-of-state posters I usually leave my press name and city off, as I expect Southerners, Texans and Westerners don’t want to be lectured by an “East Coast liberal” (although I was born in Pittsburgh, and grew up in Michigan).

Aesthetically speaking, do you maintain a personal style?
I don’t think of myself having a particular style. I do like to make various typefaces work in a pleasing, legible puzzle of shapes and images. So many letterpress posters are just simple, straightforward block letters, which can be effective, but I just like playing around with the type more. I do appreciate when people understand the work that goes into arranging and printing the posters (usually other printers or graphic designers).

You’ve started on the 2022 election. Are you revving up for 2024?
I have done one poster for the upcoming midterm elections, Keep Congress Blue, and plan to print more in the upcoming weeks—mainly with the emphasis of just getting people out to vote, like what I tried to get across with my “not voting” posters previously.