Pressing Forward …
Welcome to The Workshop. The storefront on Adams Avenue in downtown Scranton is home to a quartet of artistic endeavors: Crow Designs, ScrantonMade, Revival Letterpress and GreenBeing. When you walk through the door, vintage presses and art-lined walls make an immediate impact. The pieces hanging in the window and in the front of the studio are the work of artist Christine Medley and her students. Medley, a graphic designer and printmaker, is the owner of Crow Designs and assistant professor of graphic design at Marywood University in Scranton. In addition to two presses, she has a fantastic collection of wood type and advertising cuts that will be used in summer workshops. The sessions are open to members of the community who will learn the basics of letterpress, the art of printing posters and holiday cards, making customized bar coasters and printing zines (handmade magazines). We recently caught up with Medley where she offered us a tour of The Workshop and introduced us to the world of letterpress. Meet artist Christine Medley …
Tell us about The Workshop.
This was the retail space for GreenBeing. Cristin Powers (owner of GreenBeing) put the shop and ScrantonMade online, but she still has her office here. From the two large presses back is Matt Hiller’s letterpress shop. The area in the front is mine for Crow Designs.
How did Crow Designs get its name?
I had lived in Rockville, Md., next to Rock Creek Park, and crows roosted there. There would be hundreds and they’d fill the sky from November to March. They’d been doing that for hundreds of years. Even though it used to be farmland and it was all developed at this point, they’d still come. It always fascinated me. One winter I was home on a snow day, and I saw a crow in the snow. That contrast was dramatic, so I painted it. The painting was a big hit and it started all this dialogue. People were talking about how smart crows are, and Indian folklore, and I started doing research and doing more crow pieces. There’s so much symbolism.
Let’s talk about the first workshop you have planned: Introduction to Letterpress.
I taught it at Marywood and the kids just loved it. They said, “We want to keep doing this” after the class ended, and other people said they wanted to do it but didn’t want to take a whole class. So I looked for a space for about a year and I found out that Cristin was looking for a third person for The Workshop. We talked and it was a perfect match. My area is an art studio. I’m here for workshops and shows, and my purpose is to get this community art letterpress studio going.
It’s such a contrast to the digital world we live in.
People love to make things by hand. They’re so tired of the computer and they can pick out the wood type, which is from the late 1800s, early 1900s up until the 70s when they stopped using letterpress. This is Johannes Gutenberg moveable type. It’s fun picking out this wood type, feeling it and spelling things — of course it’s all backwards and you have to think in mirror image. When you put it on the paper and you feel that impression, the embossing and you think “I made that.” People get so excited. They love it. And the advertising cuts (old image blocks) are all from the 60s. They’re from schools in the Midwest that my dad bought at an auction. The lead type weighs a ton, and you can see all these funny little (designs) – there’s a whale and a sled and bunnies and Santa. There are so many holiday themes that I thought it would be fun to make cards, too.
The wood type is really beautiful.
People frame them, and they make collages. They turn them into coffee tables and end tables because they are beautiful. The wood is so pretty and it’s got the ink stained in there. It has its own aesthetic that you just like looking at.
Let’s talk about your favorite press – the proof press.
A friend of mine has a letterpress shop in Lancaster with 13 presses, and I took a workshop there. I got inspired and I said “ I want a proof press.” I went on eBay that night and I saw this press for $100 in New Jersey. I bought it and I drove to New Jersey to pick it up. (The seller) helped me load it up and I noticed on the side it said “West Scranton Middle School.” He said, “My friend had some scrap metal so I went and got all these presses.” They were going to junk them and get scrap out of them, but then he thought maybe somebody would want it. On Friday night at the open house (for First Friday), my friend Mary Ellen came over and said, “I remember doing this in school.” I told her where it came from and she said, “I printed on this press when I was in school!” Isn’t that something?
Too funny. You must meet the most interesting people along the way while you’re searching for materials.
Yes, you do meet interesting people just in the letterpress environment. It’s really hot now and it has been for a few years. There are design boutiques in Philly where they have the presses in the basement and design studios upstairs and they specialize in wedding invitations and all that goes with it.
What designs work best on your proof press?
We’ve printed everything from posters to business cards on it. Small runs are best. This is so direct and I think it’s the creative press because you can print one piece and move stuff around and print again — I really like this one.
Has letterpress been updated to a more modern process?
Yes. All type is “type high.” It’s standardized so that no matter where you buy it it’s all the same height. With new letterpress methods, you send in your digital file from Illustrator or Photoshop and there are companies that make it into a polymer plate. Then you put it on a base that’s type high. This way, you can have any image you want.
Who is a good candidate for the summer workshops?
Anyone who likes to make things. You don’t have to be an artist. You just have to like to make things.
— julie imel
The Workshop is located at 334 Adams Ave., Scranton. The Introduction to Letterpress workshop runs June 15 through July 27. Classes are three hours long. A $30 fee includes paper and ink. For a complete schedule of classes, visit www.crowdesigns.wordpress.com/letterpress. To learn more about Crow Designs, visit www.crowdesigns.com.