Hello, and happy Friday! Its back to the Creative Q&As this week, and I was lucky enough to chat to wonderful Vicki, who is the talent, brains and printer behind ‘Porch Press’.
Using the traditional relief printing technique, letterpress, Vicki creates charming prints and greetings cards featuring witty phrases, much loved song lyrics and silly words.
JANEY: So Vicki, please introduce yourself!
VICKI: I’m Vicki Munro, I live in the brewery town of Tadcaster in North Yorkshire. By day I work as an art director and creative director at a marketing agency in Leeds, working on big global sports brands, coming up with ideas and directing photo and film shoots with athletes and models. But by night, weekends and every other Friday off, I’m a printmaker. I focus on letterpress printing and dabble in screen printing.
J: So where did the name ‘Porch Press’ come from?
V: I moved to my current house 5 years ago, but prior to that I lived in a little terrace house with a porch where I had a small printing press that I used to linoprint with. That’s where the name Porch Press came from. My presses are now in my attic but Attic Press doesn’t have the same ring to it!
J: I love that!
When did you first develop your skills in letterpress and print making?
V: I trained as a graphic designer so came up through an art college background, but was never exposed to printmaking at all at college. It wasn’t until I started working that I discovered a night class in printmaking at a local art college in York, so I signed up. This concentrated on linoprinting, etching, mono printing – no letterpress or screen printing. But I got hooked to the smell of printing ink and the excitement of pulling paper from a plate and revealing an image. That’s when I bought my first little press and started linoprinting at home.
While working as a designer I spent a lot of time at a local commercial printers and got to know the owners quite well. They knew of my interest in printmaking and one day gave me a box full of old wooden letterpress type. Odds and ends but it was a box full of beauty. I didn’t even consider printing with them, I just loved them for their tactile quality, the style of the fonts. A few blocks became ornaments in my home, but largely it all stayed in a box for the next 10 years or more.
Then I decided to try and sell it to a letterpress printer that I met at a print fair. But as I didn’t have a full alphabet she wasn’t interested. She asked why I didn’t use it and I confessed that I didn’t know how to. So a long conversation later, I came home with a lot more knowledge about what equipment I needed, what kind of inks and how to pull a print from my little lino press at home. That’s when the obsession began. The purchasing of more type and more, bigger printing presses. I also joined West Yorkshire Print Workshop, and then a small workshop in Leeds where I was then introduced to screenprinting. I love that process too but as I can letterpress print at home, this is my preferred discipline.
J: I have to agree – from the small amount of printing experience I have myself, that thrill of the big reveal makes the whole process mega worth it! And I am SO glad you weren’t able to sell the type, because look what you were capable of!
Why is letterpress a technique that you have stuck with? Is it important to you to stay true to the traditional, handmade element of this craft?
V: What I love about letterpress is firstly the wood type. It’s been around for so long, has an history that you can read in the scratches and dents. As a designer I can design perfect looking things all day and print them digitally, but letterpress is more random and accidental and gives you that unpredictable result.
Setting type takes time. I have limited amounts of furniture (the bits of wood you need to add spaces and leading and to lock your type into its chase on the press), so it takes me a bit of figuring out. There’s a bit of problem solving involved and I soon get lost in the process and in the moment. It’s slow, the opposite of my day job, so I find it really relaxing and calming. It’s a real stress reliever.
J: How lovely to have something slow and so without pressure to come home to! And that unpredictable element of letterpress is definitely what give it that character.
For the wording in your pieces, where does your inspiration tend to come from?
V: My inspiration comes from things I hear friends or family say, lyrics in my favourite songs, words in books I read or just my own feelings and thoughts at the time. Sometimes it’s just a word that makes me smile. Hullaballoo is a recent favourite! Because I have to create headlines for advertising campaigns at work, I find myself crafting my own phrases too, especially for my greeting cards.
J: Oh ‘hullabaloo’ is such a happy word isn’t it?!
Please can you talk us through your design process, from the initial idea, to the finished product?
V: I have words and phrases scribbled on pieces of paper everywhere or in notes on my phone and then when I get really excited about one of them I set about printing it. Often in my pyjamas on a Sunday morning with a mug of tea and BBC Radio 6 on. The first job is to decide what type I am going to use. Do I have enough letters to even do it? What size paper is the next question, which is determined by the size of the font I’ve picked. And then what colour ink. I set about arranging the type in its chase and locking it up with furniture and quoins on the press. Often I don’t have enough letters to do the print in one go so I have to think about printing maybe a line at a time, or leaving a gap for an E for instance and then adding it on a second pass through the press.
I use Hawthorn Relief inks and a roller. Applying ink to the type directly, placing paper on the top and then a few sheets of newsprint on top before I pull the roller over it to apply the pressure. Adjusting the newsprint packing determines how the print turns out. If it prints a bit light I add more. I repeat this for every print. So my print runs are quite small. And the hand inking process makes every print totally unique.
I upgraded from my little lino press to a flatbed press with a heavy roller about 9 years ago now. It can print up to A3. It’s totally analogue, no power and no registration clips so it’s all very much a hand-eye process. Lot’s of measurements to make sure you can register colours and line that missing E up perfectly. It’s really time consuming and frustrating when things don’t line up but I have just this year discovered some little tape-on registration pins that have honestly changed my life and reduced mistakes and waste. I wish I’d discovered these 9 years ago!!
J: It is crazy how much difference little pieces of magic equipment make isn’t it!?
I can see that you have a lovely mix of monochrome and more colourful palettes in your products. If you had to choose, which do you prefer?
V: I love printing just with black ink on white paper. It has that traditional letterpress look that is reminiscent of past-times, but I have more recently been enjoying printing onto coloured papers which make things feel a bit more contemporary. Sometimes a phrase needs a bit more energy or fun adding to it so then I will use coloured inks. But then, if it’s a print I want to sell, colour gets a bit subjective. Will customers like that colour? Will it go with their deco when it’s up on a wall? So I’m always conscious of that, and it’s a question I will ask when I get a commission.
J: As your products are all about the witty wording: what are your favourite wise words to live by?
V: If I had to choose my favourite wise words to live by, it would be ‘Be Brave’. I’ve never been brave, but as I grow older I am trying to be. Do more things outside of my comfort zone.
I certainly had to ‘Be Brave’ to do my first print fair. I felt a bit of imposter syndrome among so many really experienced printmakers, and was worried my work wasn’t good enough. But I’ve gradually found my confidence, a lot of new friends and customers who come back for more.
J: Amazing, sometimes imposter syndrome rears its head and it is hard to push it back down, but I’m happy to hear you are winning! Are you taking part in any more events soon that we should keep an eye out for?
V: The pandemic has obviously put a hold to print fairs, but I have really enjoyed being part of an online fair: Super Seconds Saturday, set up by a fellow Leeds Print Workshop member. I’ve met, virtually, a whole new set of friends who have inspired me during lockdown. I’m looking forward to the next Super Seconds Saturday in October.
J: Tell me about it, October can’t come quick enough! (Hey, I spoke to lovely Sophie, the creator of Super Second’s Saturday, back in April – read the feature here!)
J: Vicki, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions – please finish by telling us where we can keep up to date, and buy your wonderful work!
You heard the lady – go and check out her wares!
Thanks for reading this week – next Friday I’ve got another exciting Creative Q&A lined up for you, so please do pop back!
I hope you have a fab week, and that it is full of sunshine and sparkly things!