“A printer is only as good as their fonts,” says Kate Askew, owner of Little Rock’s Yella Dog Press.
The Letterpress Print Shop is one of our city’s coolest hidden gems. Utilizing two 1903 Chandler & Price flywheel presses, a 1962 Vandercook #4 Proof Press, two guillotine cutters, and over sixteen cabinets of antique wood and lead type, Yella Dog takes pride in doing things the old-fashioned way.
We visited the print shop last week to learn about letterpress printing, and before we knew it, Askew had put us to work. We talked history, learned some tricks of the trade, and after a brief tutorial we were pulling our very own prints on the Vandercook. A good time was had by all!
We learned that letterpress printing has coined many of the phrases we still use today. Ever been told to "mind your Ps & Qs"? It's believed this figure of speech originated with typesetters, who composed each word of metal type letters, carefully placing them from left-to-right and upside down. But backward-facing letters can be confusing, especially the mirrored ones. And thus the advice to be alert and watch the details.
When the tutorial was complete, we put our new skills to the test on a design inspired by one of our all-time heroes: Willie Nelson. We were excited to take the Vandercook for a spin, but Askew reminded us to be gentle. "A good printer knows how to print without pressing through," she said. Each impression will be slightly varied, making it a unique masterpiece, and a lasting example of early American innovation.