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Naiise Conversations: Fell in Love with Letterpress

Every day at Naiise, we meet and interact with designers, makers and crafters who are passionate about what they do to keep them going. We are always intrigued and inspired with their stories and for this series of Naiise Conversations, we caught up to chat with our letterpress friends and want to share how they fell in love with letterpress. In this series, we talked to The Fingersmith Letterpress, The Gentlemen's Press and Typesettingsg. Read on to discover the wonders and beauty of being a letterpress printer.

Jackie, 25, The Fingersmith Letterpress

Credits: Izabella Chia

Loving all things arts-related since young, Jackie has always been certain of the way her life would go when she was grown up. Following the wise words of her father, she studied business before pursuing the arts full time. Standing where she is now as the founder of The Fingersmith Letterpress, Jackie shares with us on her journey thus far. 

Naiise (N): What were you doing before you started doing letterpress full-time?

Jackie (J): I've always loved arts but my dad always told me to study more about business before I go into arts. So I did that. I knew that I wanted to merge business and art together. After my business studies, I went to LASALLE and I learnt a lot. It's always not about certifications, it's about learning. That is when I realised that when I go to school, I really want to learn something instead of trying to chase papers.

N: How did your interest for letterpress start?

J: It was during one of the lectures when they talked about letterpress. I thought that it sounded like a cool craft. It's really quite interesting because I like to get all hands on. If I was not doing letterpress, I would probably be a carpenter because I really like to do woodwork. I want to know more about using this printing method to make something that I like. 

N: Why did you choose letterpress printing among the other printing methods?

J: There are other printing methods that are hands on too, such as silkscreening and risograph. What appeals to me about letterpress is the machines and the history of it. They are so rich in history yet many people have stopped using them. It's a lost trade!

N: How has your letterpress journey been so far?

J:  It's been neither rough nor smooth. When you run a business, I guess it can't just be going up all the way. There are times when shit happens. When shit happens, it just really... You can lose a lot of money. Once, I quoted a client for an amount and I outsourced the project. But when the products came back, they were un-usable. So I had to source for another printer. When I went to him, he quoted me three times of the previous guy. Obviously, I can't charge my client that kind of money. I ended up using my own money to cover [the expenses]. I was bothered by it. Sometimes, I still get anxiety attacks about how to cover costs but I take it that I was paying to learn from experience. 

N: What's the greatest lesson you've learnt?

J: Always wear gloves! Once when I didn't wear gloves and tried taking my contact lens off with my kerosene-ed hands, my eyes went red. 

N: Any tips for budding letterpress printers?

J: I guess, everyone can operate a letterpress machine. What is more important is your artwork. If you want to be a letterpress printer, you have to understand what kind of printer you want to be. Do you want to just print for people or do you want to create your own works? Just get that right and follow your directions. I knew all along that I want to shift away from just printing wedding invites. I want to do more of my own art pieces. It's tougher but I'm working towards that.


N: What's a typical day at The Fingersmith Letterpress like?

J: Depends. If I have to teach kids, then I will be out teaching kids. If I have stuff to print, then I will be at home printing. My days are not scheduled. I can be printing until 12am but it's not really ideal because I can't really see the colour. I try to do printing in the daytime and production, like flat folding, at night.

N: How's the whole experience working with us been?

J: It's great! You can't really be out marketing yourself when you are making things. I heard this quote before. It goes along the line of "Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark; you know what you are doing but nobody else does." So I can be making all my life but I'm not getting my works out there. What's the point? If I have someone to help me showcase what I can do, that's great. 

Michelle, 25, The Gentlemen's Press

Credits: Fabian Ng

A trip to New York opened Michelle's eyes to the world of letterpress. Choosing to pursue a career out of letterpress over studies, Michelle founded The Gentlemen's Press through impulsive decisions (which turned out to be superb!). 

Naiise (N): What were you doing before you started doing letterpress full-time?

Michelle (M): I was from Temasek Polytechnic's Visual Communication course and I was there for three years, no retain. Phew! Back then in school, I had no idea what letterpress was. After graduation, I went on a graduation trip with a friend to New York. Since we were in New York, we decided to visit some famous design studios there, get some inspiration and think about what we want to do.

N: How did your interest for letterpress start?

M: We took a short letterpress workshop at one of the studios when we were in New York. That was the first time I actually knew what letterpress is. It was a very special workshop because I love illustration and graphics but I never really liked digital stuff. But how do you actually portray your digital works on a different kind of medium? That's when I realised letterpress is really perfect for showcasing your work, unlike digital printing, where you spend 10 hours on work and print it within 10 seconds. Your works deserve so much better.

After that, I started looking for machines. They are usually old and vintage. The thing about these old machines is that prices differ a lot. I saw some really cheap ones and some really expensive ones. When I saw the cheap ones, I was like, "I can afford!". That's when crazy ideas started to generate. 

I was like, okay, if I were to not go to university, why not just put the money into somewhere else? Because in design, you don't really need a certificate; certificates are for parents, mostly. So I did some calculations and then I bought two machines. After getting the machines, I realised I didn't have a space for them. I needed a commercial address to rent a proper space. Then I realised I need to register a company. So that's how everything fell into place. It was a rather impulsive act. 

N: How has your letterpress journey been so far?

M: It has been rewarding and I have learnt to appreciate materials and designs more. Basically, I have learnt more about everything - how to communicate with clients, marketing, accounting, and how to balance your stress. 

At the beginning, it was really quite stressful because I didn't know what to do. Now, I still get stressed out but it's much better than before.

N: What's a typical day at The Gentlemen's Press like?

M: When I get to the office, I will listen to an album first. If I still feel very lazy, I will play some dance music and plan out the day's schedule. I will write down the prints' specifications, prepare my papers, and I will print everything. Once that's done, I'll leave the studio. I usually separate my design work from printing so I do my design work at home, while I meet clients and print at the studio. 

N: What's the greatest lesson you've learnt?

M: Everything must be double-checked! You have to be very cautious in dealing with things, whether people or yourself. It's your own mistake for making any mistakes and you can't blame anyone else for that. You can only blame yourself so I try not to let it happen. 

N: How's the whole experience working with us been?

M: You guys are very fast and efficient. You guys are very xiong ("hardcore" in Hokkien) in pushing my products and I'm very touched by that. 

Yao Yu, 31, Typesettingsg

From an engineer student to a graphic designer, Yao Yu is deeply passionate with the art of letterpress and its rich history. Always educating himself and spreading knowledge to others about letterpress printing, he treasures this lost trade of printing and revives it with Typesettingsg. Find out more about his passion for letterpress.

Naiise (N): What were you doing before you started doing letterpress full-time?

Yao Yu (Y): Actually, I come from an engineering background. I studied about information communication during poly, then I went to Hong Kong University for my computer engineering degree but I didn't complete it. I feel like I don't fit the 8 to 5 routine so I came back and picked up graphic design. I enrolled myself into First Design Media School and in three years, I settled my education. Then, I went to work for a local design house for almost four years and started off as a studio artist. Within half a year, I was pushed to become their studio manager until early this year. We were more focused on signage designs. 

N: How did your interest for letterpress started?

Y: I was working this personal project for a course when I was in RMIT about 3 to 4 years ago. The topic I was working on was "The Revival of the Craft" and letterpress was the subject, so I got on with it. At the same time, a letterpress studio was giving a talk back then by Emily Loke of Paper Tiger Press. She was one of the first to bring letterpress to Singapore. I got to know more about letterpress and got to know of another letterpress studio in Singapore. I went there and did my name card with Michelle from The Gentlemen's Press. Then I got a group of my friends to attend a workshop with her. Subsequently, I helped Michelle in conducting workshops. I got my first letterpress machine after that.  

I started with contemporary letterpress printing first. Slowly, I got to know more about typesetting and read more about letterpress through books and information online. I also corresponded with wforeign letterpress printers and they were very nice to answer my questions and even provided me with references. 

Once I knew more about letterpress typesetting, I started to learn about the tools I needed and began to source for them online. I slowly bought all my machines. I even had to make my own racks to hold my equipment.

N: How has your letterpress journey been so far?

Y: It has been interesting. It's totally different from your normal 8-5 job. I give talks, conduct workshops and print my own stuff. I also find ways to incorporate other printing methods in my works, such as silkscreen. I always think in many perspectives on how to educate and how to survive as a letterpress printer. That is always the key thought on my mind. 

N: What's a typical day at Typesettingsg like?

Y: Letterpress typesetting is a time-consuming process so I have to conceptualise my idea, find out my limitations, then proceed with printing. The printing process usually takes about 4-5 hours for me because time is needed for typesetting and checking colours and alignments. After every 10-20 prints, you have to check for alignment, pressure, ink. So you have to concentrate on printing all the time. If I'm not printing or conducting workshops, I will be working on freelance projects. 

N: What's the greatest lesson you've learnt?

Y: I learn a lot from the interaction and communication with my students. That makes the workshop fun because everyone gets to print what they want that is beautiful too. I have to put in a lot of time to make everything smooth so that the prints will look good.

N: How's the whole experience working with us been?

Y: It is beneficial for us because you guys have a great reach. That helps to spread the words for me. 

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