Letterpress Goes for a Hike: The Printed Walk
Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum Wayzgoose festival a couple of weeks ago, I had the delight of sitting across from Lindsay Schmittle of Gingerly Press during a lunch gathering. After bonding over our mutual hatred of tomatoes, Schmittle told me about a major project she’s gearing up for: a solo Appalachian Trail thru-hike (meaning she’ll be tackling the full trail from end to end). Moreover, she’ll be combining her love of hiking with her love of letterpress, and producing a series of 22 prints using found objects on the trail and other inspiration. I asked her to tell us more about the project, which she is currently funding on Kickstarter.
How much hiking background and experience do you have? Have you hiked the Appalachian Trail before? I’ve been hiking my whole life and have always been a tree hugger. I hike about three to four days a week, and for the last two years, those regular hikes have been with a pack weighted with about 30 pounds of sand. I’ve gone on a handful of weekend backpacking trips over the years on parts of the Pennsylvania and Maryland sections of the Appalachian Trail (AT). Last summer, as a personal test for thru-hiking, I completed Vermont’s Long Trail with my brother. It’s a 270-mile trail spanning the length of the state, with the first 100 miles overlapping with the AT. It was a great experience that taught me the importance of lightweight gear and an abundance of food when thru-hiking.
Tell me about your background with letterpress. When did you start printing, and why? I am the sole designer, printer and founder of Gingerly Press, a design studio dedicated to letterpress printing exclusively with metal type, wood type and found textures. I discovered letterpress while getting my BFA in visual communications at the University of Delaware. In a class full of digitally driven students, I often felt the outsider as I stayed true to my roots of creating art with my hands. When I stumbled upon the department’s slightly abandoned letterpress studio my sophomore year, I fell in love. I think it was a combination of the smell of the ink and dust, the fact that I could learn typography with my hands, and the ability to control color. Without a professor to teach me the craft, I took it upon myself to learn. I initially taught myself how to operate the Vandercook from YouTube. Then I took workshops with LeadGraffiti and did an internship with Starshaped Press my senior year. A week after my internship, I purchased my C&P press, five cabinets of type, leading, furniture and more from retiring fine press book printer Henry Morris. The summer after graduation, I worked at Two Paperdolls as their Vandercook printer, honing my skills in print production. Tired of the commute and printing polymer, I decided to work full time building my print business under the Gingerly Press name in my parents’ garage. I have been printing in this garage for the last three years, discovering my letterpress style and how to run a stationery business. I plan to move my studio to Asheville, NC, after the AT and this project’s completion.
Where did the idea of combining hiking and letterpress come in? I’m not sure it came from any one “Aha moment.” It was more of a gradual idea. Hiking became part of my weekly routine at the same time I moved home and started Gingerly Press three years ago. While out on my local trails, I would brainstorm how I could combine my love of nature and traveling by foot with my love of letterpress printing. I knew I wanted to share with the world the little beautiful details I notice in nature in an attempt to bring more awareness to the beauty of our planet and the importance of protecting it. The printing press has become my means of sharing this message. While hiking Vermont’s Long Trail last summer, I decided I wanted to rebrand Gingerly Press to focus more on prints inspired by the outdoors.
Why Kickstart the project? Funds and exposure for the project. The trail costs between $4,000–$6,000 to hike and I knew I couldn’t leave my business for the five-month trek and spend that kind of money without any income for half a year. I also didn’t want my business to go dark for that long of a period. Everyone I talk to and every book I read says that the AT is 1% physical and 99% mental. I knew that my desire to keep my business growing would drive me off the trail if I didn’t incorporate my printing into my trail experience, which is why I came up with the project. Kickstarter is also a great platform to share the project beyond my normal audience, and one of my goals for The Printed Walk is to share the beauty of the trail and the power of nature with as many people as possible.
How’d you come upon the 14,400 amount? I worked with my accountant to lay out a detailed budget for the project. The majority of that amount is paper cost and food for the trail, as I’ll be eating two to three times the amount of an average adult with my metabolism shooting through the roof. The rest is Kickstarter fees, shipping costs for the backer rewards, weekly showers and in-town meals and emergency trail funds.
Can you explain the significance of creating 22 prints? I’ll be designing one print for every 100 miles I hike on this 2,190-mile trail. I wanted the prints to show the journey of the hike through a chronicle, so the viewers can get a real sense of the length of the Appalachian Trail. On the back of each of the 22 art prints will be the context for that 100-mile section, including stats for my daily mileages and an elevation profile. When the 22 prints are flipped over and lined up, you will have the elevation profile for the entire trail.
How will your project differ from past artistic endeavors surrounding the Appalachian Trail? There have been novels, travelogues and photographs of the trail, but the majority of these artistic endeavors recall direct representations of the trail. However, my goal is to create an artistic interpretation of the trail. I will not be printing obvious imagery expected from the AT. Instead, I will be using magical realism, a narrative strategy characterized by the blend of mythical elements in the rational world, to illustrate the surreal moments experienced while on my journey. These enchanted elements will appear in the prints through abstracted and exaggerated landscapes and the use of unexpected color derived from often-overlooked details along the trail. Many people report the trail to be a “green tunnel,” and I want to show that there is more to see on the trail if you just take the time to look around and explore the details.
What is your ultimate goal? There are a handful of goals for the project, but the main one is to increase others’ understanding and appreciation of nature’s power to create seemingly magical moments. The intent is that through my magical depictions of the trail, I influence an increase of respect for our planet and sense of responsibility to protect it. I also hope this project inspires people to slow down and observe the small beauties surrounding them on a daily basis.
Can you tell us about your intent to use found objects in the prints? The idea came from a birch bark scrap I came across while hiking the LT last summer. I carried it flat in my pack for 200 miles to the trail’s end so I could take it home and experiment with its texture in some prints. I like the idea of taking a natural texture and using it for more than just a filler background. Can the bark be more than just bark texture? It could be a cliff edge or a haze of clouds in a landscape or something else. The found textures will push my creativity when designing the prints as well as push my technical skills while printing. I’ve been wanting to use more found textures in my work to take advantage of the capabilities of letterpress printing. Just about anything can be raised to type-high and printed. Some textures print better than others and some provide happy accidents, all aiding in pushing my creative process. I’ll be shipping found textures home when I pass through towns and pick up my food and supply mail drops.
When do you leave, and when do you expect to finish? I plan to leave around the end of March or early April of 2017, depending on weather conditions. I’ll start at Springer Mountain in Georgia and work my way north to Mount Katahdin in Maine in about five months, ending sometime in August.
What are you afraid of most on the trail? I wouldn’t say that I’m afraid of anything on the trail; I am aware of various dangers, but not afraid. If I headed out on my journey in fear, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself. However, I will not be caught hiking blissfully unaware of the potential dangers the trail holds, and yes, I am aware that unfortunately there are additional threats as a female hiker. I still will not be carrying a gun, pepper spray or a taser, as many people have suggested. Trekking poles, a knife and common sense will do just fine.
To answer your question though, I would say ticks. While they may not be the first thing one would guess, my discussions with past AT thru-hikers have proven that ticks are the most common threat. The amount of hikers I met that had Lyme disease at one point on the trail was alarming. Luckily, thru-hikers are very in tune with their bodies and can tell when they’ve got Lyme pretty much immediately. If you treat it quickly, it won’t have lifelong effects and you’ll be back on the trail at your regular pace in five to 10 days.
What are you looking forward to most? The freedom of not having a schedule or answering to anyone else but myself as a solo hiker, giving me time to explore and soak up as much inspiration as possible. I am also looking forward to living out all my food fantasies and making new friends.
Find out more about the project here.