Letterpress Love & The “Tarot of Sorts”
October 11, 2021 Jamey Alea 0 Comments
I’ve been rather quiet online recently, but it’s for a good reason: I’ve spent this summer very heads down working on art! And now I want to tell you about it!!
Back in May, I took a letterpress printing class at the WNY Book Arts Center, which is an amazing art studio in downtown Buffalo that you should definitely check out and support if you ever get the chance. They have an art gallery and an artisan shop on the first floor, and in the basement there’s another, smaller gallery space, as well as all their vintage letterpress equipment. And they have A LOT! They have three vintage Vandercook presses, a couple platen and proof presses, and drawers (and drawers and drawers!!!) of type! Like seriously so much type. I love just being in that room, it’s so full of old things with so much history. (My favorite!)
I fell in love with letterpress immediately. It was… an amazing feeling, actually. The first time I made a print, it just felt right, like this is what I was supposed to be doing. I’ve heard people describe that feeling before—it’s a fairly common sentiment from bladesmiths on Forged in Fire actually, which I love to watch—but I never really understood what they meant until that moment.
Here’s the very first thing I ever printed:
I was so enthused that, before my class was even finished, I applied for an artist’s residency at WNYBAC. They didn’t select me for it, obviously, because I had literally JUST learned this skill and had only ever printed one poster, haha. But they took a bit of a chance on me anyway and offered to gift me 5 days of studio time to practice, start working on my proposed project, and build up my portfolio.
Reader, it was amazing. I loved every second of being in the studio, and it was the first time in a long time that I was able to easily maintain long periods of intense focus on something. There’s something so meditative about setting out all the tiny type.
I made a couple of real world props for my roleplaying characters—a poster for my vampire Owen’s movie theater, and a handbill for a magic show by my stage magic apprentice Rowan and his mentor Alder.
But mainly I worked on the project I had submitted for my artist residency proposal—the Tarot of Sorts. Yes, I want to design and hand print a major arcana using letterpress. (It’s called the Tarot of Sorts because a “sort” is a single piece of moveable type for printing.) It’s an interesting project because I’m limited by what printing block images we have in the studio, so it feels a lot like collage in that I’m going through existing pictures and trying to piece together something that conveys symbolic meaning. I’m also trying out a bunch of experimental ideas for ways to print, like using different presses and printing designs directly over other designs to get different colors and stuff. I’m printing directly onto blank tarot cards so they’ll all match and have the same back and be shuffle-able, but that’s a further limitation as the big Vandercook presses can’t really handle printing on cards that small. It has been interesting and fun trying stuff and seeing how it comes out!
In my 5 Wednesdays in the studio, I’ve finished 3 cards so far—the Moon, Justice and the Hermit. (I also have several others partly done and waiting for me to get back into the studio to finish them.)
And the story ends with a piece of good news! The folks at the studio were totally happy with my work and my enthusiasm, so I am going to be an artist in residence after all!! My 2 month long residency will start on January 18th, and my art will be on display from March 18th to April 23rd. This is VERY exciting, as it gives me plenty of time to finish the entire Major Arcana. My intention is to hand-print about 35 copies of the deck, and then run a Kickstarter to raise the funds to have another run commercially printed. (Due to the extremely time-consuming nature of the project, those hand printed decks are going to be sold at a pretty high price point, so printing additional copies will let me get it into more people’s hands at a much more affordable cost!)
So yeah, that’s what I’ve been working on! I’m finally going to be a tarot creator! I am so pumped about this project and I really hope that other people will like what I’m doing with it too. I have been tweeting about my time in the studio using the hashtag #jameyprints and have gotten some great feedback so far. But if you’re really interested in following the project (especially as I get back into the studio in January), I also launched a Patreon where I intend to post a lot of in-progress updates and behind the scenes stuff about letterpress and how much I love it. I will share some big updates here on my website too, but the Patreon will really document the whole process.
This is a really huge step for me as an artist and I really appreciate the interest and support that I’ve already seen and that I anticipate as I embark on this artistic journey.