When scouring the greeting card aisle at any CVS or Target, you’ll come upon row after row of cookie-cutter designs, tired sentiments, and way too many puns. These sorts of cards almost feel antithetical to the ethos of greeting cards, which is one of personalized thoughtfulness, care, and love. If you’re as disenchanted by this Hallmark monotony as I am, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to the whimsical world of Lucky Horse Press.
Lucky Horse Press is a letterpress and risograph print studio in New Jersey that’s single-handedly owned and operated by printer Michele Lee. Her line of greeting cards is as charming and fun as it is meticulously crafted, given the unique limitations of the letterpress printing process.
Letterpress is an antique form of relief printing that was pioneered in the 1400s, making it one of the oldest printing methods in existence. It creates a physical imprint of ink into paper, which produces a textured finished product with a tactile quality that’s sorely lacking in modern-day digital printing.
Lee fell in love with letterpress printing after college, when she lived in Brooklyn. She took advantage of the many letterpress resources the borough has to offer, honing her craft at The Arm studio and The Center For Book Arts. “I chose greeting cards because it was an excuse to keep letterpress printing,” she tells me of launching her own greeting card line.
A breakthrough for Lucky Horse Press came when Lee attended her first National Stationery Show in New York after another printer, Emily Johnson of Hartland Brooklyn, insisted she do so. “I literally had no idea what that was,” says Lee. “Emily said, ‘If you want to get into the card-making business, that’s where you should go.’ I did my first trade show after that. That’s when I realized, Okay, this is great. I can just keep printing letterpress cards!”
Lee runs Lucky Horse Press out of her garage, which houses a risograph printer and a Heidelberg Windmill Press from the early 20th century. “That’s where I do all of the design work too,” she says. “Everything happens in the studio— the packaging and fulfilling orders, and all of the inventories— it’s all in the garage.” While her studio might be quaint, the world of Lee’s creations is vast and lavish, filled with sunny depictions of animals and food in bright color palettes.
“Color comes first,” Lee tells me of her aesthetic. “Color really inspires most of everything else. Color rules over everything, and then the imagery comes afterward.” Ideas for Lee’s designs often originate from her interest in using a specific hue. “I once wanted to use a bright orange color, so I was like, Okay, creamsicle! Let’s just do a creamsicle card!”
For an artist so beholden to color, it’s interesting that Lee uses a printing style that is partly defined by its limitations when it comes to color. Each color on a letterpress print requires its own separate run through the press, and the process requires extreme precision. This forces printers like Lee to get creative with their techniques. For example, she relies heavily on half-tones in her printing to get the most out of each color run on the press.
Lee asks herself, What can I do with the least amount of color runs? “I wanted to add more tones per ink to make the most out of those limited amount of increments,” she says. “That’s why I started using halftones and color overlays. The limitations pushed me to experiment. Currently, I’m trying things with glow-in-the-dark inks for a future project. I’m just always asking, What can I do within the limitations that we have with antique printing?”
Lee tells me that her jolly designs and brightly colored worldview were heavily influenced by growing up with a family who owned a deli. “I was always surrounded by food; we had a lot of candy,” she recalls. “I’d look at the packaging, and there was a lot of anthropomorphism.” Lee gets her ideas from anything happy and colorful in her day-to-day life. “I released a mushroom card inspired by my yard. There were these mushrooms that grew because we had a lot of rain. And I thought, That’s really nice. Let’s do something with that.”
“The summertime inspires me too because it’s so colorful,” she continues. “That’s why my cards are so summery. You’re in a different mindset: flowers are in bloom, you’re at the beach, and even things in the supermarket like produce are all fresh and new. There’s just much more color. Just taking a trip to the supermarket to get groceries is inspiring to me.”
I had to ask: where does the name Lucky Horse Press originate?
“I wanted to create things with happy vibes and good sentiments, and I remembered this story my dad used to tell me all the time growing up,” Lee obliges. “He used to go to Yonkers to bet on horses and make some extra cash. His name’s Phil, and he once bet on a horse named Philip’s Daughter, and the horse won. He won a bunch of money, which he used to buy bedroom furniture for my brother and me. He said, ‘It was your spirit that made the horse win.’ I always thought that was such a sweet story, and I felt like if I could bring that type of happiness or good feelings to someone through a card, that would be my goal.”