Hannah Jones is a self taught designer working from her spare room ‘studio’ in London. Whilst designing wedding invitations for a friend last year, Hannah discovered letterpress printing and immediately fell in love. In April this year she launched her Little Red Press Folksy shop and admits she hasn’t looked back. Letterpress printing is a highly skilled traditional craft which requires a tonne of patience and attention to detail but, as Hannah says, “when it works, it produces a unique and tactile product which, to my mind, is beautiful”. She’s not wrong.
Tell us about your work?
I print letterpress cards and stationery. Letterpress is the traditional method of printing by pressing paper onto inked metal or wooden type. Executed well, it produces unique and tactile results that are a million miles from the flat digital printing that we are familiar with. It’s still amazing to me that a few letterpress printed words in a simple font on beautiful, thick cardstock can look absolutely stunning.
Most of my work combines typography with vintage illustrative printing blocks or sometimes my own linocuts and I like to inject a little wit into the work when I can. I print on a vintage table top Adana 8 x 5 press, at present, but I’ve recently acquired a Golding Pearl floor standing platen press which I plan to restore next year.
What’s your favourite piece of work?
That’s a tough one but, at the moment, I’m particularly fond of my crown post cards (above). They are very simple, have a vintage feel that I love and can be used for so many things.
When did it all begin for you?
I don’t have an arts background but have always been ‘arty’ creating cards for friends and family and sketching and doodling compulsively. Working for years in school admin whilst bringing up my twin boys, I always itched to be doing something more creative. My eureka moment came after a friend asked me to do her wedding invitations last year. Whilst trawling the internet for inspiration I came across examples of letterpress wedding stationery, mainly produced in America where the craft has undergone a revival in recent years, and was absolutely blown away! My friend had to make do with individually printed linocut invitations (never again!!) but I had seen the future and found out all I could about letterpress. After finding my (red) Adana press on ebay and attending a workshop at the inspirational Harrington & Squires, I printed my first card and haven’t looked back since.
Tell us about your work space? Favourite place to work?
I am so jealous of the beautiful, white,studio spaces that many of the other featured makers in Frankly have to work in. My ‘work space’ extends to practically every room in the house! My husband complains that there isn’t a flat surface that isn’t taken up with my equipment and work in progress. I usually start my designs on the computer in the study, cut and fold my card on the dining table and print on a table in the spare room using the ironing board as the drying space for the prints as they come off the press! The press is in a big bay window overlooking the street and I love to be able to see what’s going on outside as I work. People look up and are clearly puzzled by what I am doing with this strange looking machine. It can also be a way to drum up business. One man cycling past, did a double take, got off his bike and yelled up at me “Do you do business cards?”
How do you keep your work unique?
It’s very difficult but I find it best to avoid looking at others people’s work as much as possible. It can be really dispiriting to come up with a design that you feel is very original only to find that someone has already had the same idea!
Describe your day as a maker? Are you organised/disciplined?
I wish it wasn’t so but I’m not disciplined at all! I had originally planned to stick to a normal 9 – 5 working day pattern but this has gone out of the window completely and I’m often still packing up orders and sending emails after midnight. My New Year’s resolution will be to GET ORGANISED & PLAN AHEAD!
What three tools could you not live without?
Well, my trusty little red press is my most important tool, of course, temperamental and frustrating though she can be. My next choice is the quoin key that I use to tighten up the quoins that will lock the type in position in the chase. It’s a simple piece of equipment but I only have the one and it always seems to get buried in the mounds of discarded test prints that I inevitably create as I’m printing. I’d be absolutely lost without it. The third tool I’m going to choose is a ruler. Not usually associated with crafts, perhaps, but measuring spaces is probably the single most important thing when setting up for printing.
What gets the creative juices flowing?
Actually, I find that the thing that paralyses me most is having too many ideas. It’s difficult to decide what to do next and I’m often kept awake at night thinking through new designs half of which are forgotten by morning. It’s still very early days for me as a designer and there’s so many new things to try – I can’t wait!
Are you inspired by any artists?
Not so much individual artists, perhaps, but I take a lot of inspiration from the typographic work done for posters and advertising from the 1930s to 1960s. I’m also a big fan of the illustrations to be found in old children’s books. I was a serious book worm as a child (still am) and I have a strong emotional response to the sort of little line illustrations to be found in those books – they take me back to a safer, cosier world.
Amongst contemporary letterpress printers, I have already mentioned Harrington & Squires who produce most of their immaculate work on table top Adana 8 x 5 presses like my own. I’m also a big fan of the work of Zeichen Press in the States – quirky, original and very funny!
How do you know when a piece is done?
You need to have a clear idea of what something will look like before you start printing so this isn’t really a problem for me. Less is always more in my book.
What’s do you love most about being a designer/maker?
There are so many good things (and some negatives as well) but probably the best thing is that I can now spend whole days happily lost in the creative process and still be able to say that I am ‘working’. How lucky am I?
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
I feel that I am very much at the beginning of my letterpress career and I still have huge amounts to learn so, in five years time, I’d like to be able to call myself a designer/printer and not feel like a bit of a fraud when I say it. I would hope to have established the card and stationery business with online sales and commissions to the extent that I can branch out into producing larger print size work. I’m also interested in combining letterpress with other art/craft forms such as collage so that could be taking me in a different direction. Oh and it would be nice, not to mention, essential to be earning a living wage by that time!
What would you say to any makers starting out?
Just do it, of course! I spent years and years talking about wanting to do something creative and never having the bottle to actually get on and do it! I wish I’d done this years ago. On a more practical level, plan ahead and DON”T underprice your work!
Thank you Hannah. You can browse and buy all Hannah’s gorgeous designs in her Folksy shop Little Red Press.