[Heather Mitchell] The Vandercook 100 is a self-publishing venture by my letterpress studio Just Vandy. I find myself inspired by so many fellow printmakers who share my passion. In The Vandercook 100, I envision a book that will feature these printmakers, the diversity of their printing environments, and most importantly their love for the Vandercook proof press. Read on to find out how you can be among the 100 Vandercook press owners to be featured.
The truth is, I never set out to own a Vandercook proof press. It just sort of happened 10 years ago. As a design student at Otis College of Art and Design, I fell in love with typography and graphic design. I immersed myself in the subtleties and beauty of the letterform. I began scavenging flea markets, collecting wood type and individual carved pieces. It’s funny: I passed by the printmaking studio almost every day, but not once did it occur to me to take a class.
Fresh out of college, I was paying my dues as a junior designer. I learned a tremendous amount about design and became technically proficient. But sitting in front of a computer all day was all consuming. I felt my connection to design slowly fading away.
Around this time I saw an ad for a Vandercook proof press. The International Printing Museum in Carson, Calif., was selling one, and I convinced my husband I had to have it. I wasn’t sure how it worked or why I needed it, but I thought how cool would it be to print stuff. We cleared a space in the garage and the press was delivered. And there it stayed, covered in boxes.
A year later an opportunity arose for me to work at the design studio Ph.D. Under the creative direction of Clive Piercy and Mick Hodgson, I learned how important it is to be passionate about what you do. I too wanted to love my work. I thought if I loved it, it wouldn’t feel like work. So I made the decision to remove the boxes on top of the press and embark on the restoration process. For the next year I spent all of my free time reading press manuals. I felt invigorated and inspired. I had no idea that “Vandy” would bring me back to design.
On Saturday mornings, I was back at Otis, this time in the printmaking class, with a completely new perspective. Today, the letterpress studio I envisioned years ago has become a reality. Each day I am in the studio, I no longer see a garage but a beautiful printing environment.
Last year I became even more curious about my Vandercook proof press. It was turning 100 years old (1909-2009), and I did some research. Currently there are close to 1500 Vandercook presses documented to have survived worldwide. As I’ve talked with other printers over the years, I’ve also noticed that Vandercook press operators develop relationships with their presses. There is something special about the smell of the ink, the unique sounds of each press and the feel of the paper and impression that cannot be duplicated. As a printer, you learn the ins and outs of your press. You are in tune with its sounds and know when a certain clang means more oil or that something may be loose.
Another thing we Vandercook owners have in common is that we cherish an art form that is being lost in today’s mass-produced society. We are all striving to create something that isn’t disposable. We cherish the sense of quality and craft that goes into printmaking. And I’m guessing that on most days we love what we do.
If you are interested in submitting your story and Vandercook proof press for inclusion in The Vandercook 100, you may submit your entry online. The submission deadline is Oct. 1, 2010.
Heather Mitchell is principal and creative director of Just Vandy, a “little press” located in Torrance, Calif. She holds a BFA in Communication Arts from Otis College of Art & Design and was a designer for Baker|Brand Communications and Ph.D. She is on the faculty at The Art Institute of California – Los Angeles and is a member of AIGA.
Photos by Peggy Wong of bluepoolroad.