In conversation with Tanya Roberts from Snap + Tumble
How did your journey into the world of letterpress begin?
It started the first time I found a letterpress printed card in a stationery store. This card looked completely different from the others. I was intrigued by the texture of the card and how the ink sat in the recesses of the text and image that was pressed into the paper. I had to find out how that card was made and thus began my letterpress journey.
Where does your true passion with the medium lie?
My one true passion with letterpress would have to be the tangible result after much thought, design, process, troubleshooting and time that goes into it. Seeing a design come to life on the press is exciting and rewarding.
Where do you go for inspiration?
If it’s client-driven work, I typically have a starting point based on the specs. Clients might have a theme or colour scheme in mind and that’s usually enough to get going. I’ve been very lucky to work with clients who are happy to leave the design completely in my hands. Often, I’m unexpectedly inspired. For example, I recently came across some vintage wood type and the moment I saw them, I felt I had to print with them. On another occasion, while listening to a new band, some of the lyrics were so moving that I decided to get on the press and handset with metal type the words to part of the song.
How do you work with couples who want wedding invitations? What are your rules of engagement?
Depending on where the couple is, I’ll usually have an informal in-person consultation to get a feel for what they’re looking for. That’s also a good opportunity for the couple to see some samples of the kind of work my presses are equipped to handle and to browse through past and ready-made designs. A meeting isn’t always necessary or possible, though; on a few occasions, I have worked with couples overseas entirely by email! Having said that, I always try to ensure that communication is swift and clear. Wedding invitations need to be delivered on time and so a schedule of how and when things will happen (from design time to production) is helpful. The design phase can take anywhere between 2-3 weeks depending on how broad the initial concept is from the outset. Some couples have a specific vision for their invites while others have a vague idea and are open to something more collaborative. Whatever the case, I like to create a few mock-ups for clients to choose from and a few rounds of revisions would follow until we reach the final artwork.
I don’t have any specific rules of engagement but here are some suggestions to help make the process go smoothly:
Choose a Delegate: one partner should take the lead in communication while keeping the other in the loop. This way there wouldn’t be any confusion about who the designer/stationer should confer with.
Have a Concept: Whether it’s specific or vague, have an idea so that it gives your designer a jumping off point.
Be Decisive and Act Quickly: This will keep your costs low and the momentum going!
Trust Your Designer/Printer: This process should be enjoyable and your designer/printer should be offering not just a product, but a service as well. This doesn’t mean that you should hand over all of the creative control but rather take advantage of your designer’s skill and knowledge.
What has been a wow moment in your process, an “aha” of sorts in your artistic evolution with the letterpress?
Instead of it being a particular moment, I think my work gradually changed the more I became comfortable with the tools I was using. At one point, it was no longer a question of “how do I use a letterpress?” but rather, “what do I want to see this letterpress machine print?” or “what do I want to say with my work?”
You have more than one letterpress. In fact, you have quite a few… why?
Each of my presses serves a different purpose. My first press was the Adana Eight –Five. It was the one on which I learned the basics of letterpress printing. A couple years later, inquiries started to come in for wedding invitations and birth announcements so I decided it was time to get a slightly larger press. The Chandler & Price Pilot is now my primary press for most projects. I came upon my third press, the Showcard Mini, entirely by luck and it has come to be one of my favorites for printing with wood type. It’s also the press that I bring to craft fairs and set up for customers to try their hand at printing. The most recent acquisition is the Morgan Line-O-Scribe. I justified getting this one because it allows me to print as large as 12 x 18”. This is a nice change from the size constraints of my other smaller tabletop press.
Letterpress has an enduring quality to it with its high quality paper and lasting process. How does this effect the design of your work? (All of which look awesome enough to frame by the way!)
The medium doesn’t affect my design as much as the specifics of the occasion for which I’m printing. For example, a client asked me to print an invitation he designed for his one-year old’s first birthday party. And a bride requested a single print of a Khalil Gibran excerpt that she plans to gift to her soon-to-be-husband. Customers want that handmade, enduring quality for their special stationery and keepsakes, but the specifics of the designs vary considerably from project to project.
You must have come across such a variety of people in your workshops. What has been a memorable workshop for you?
There are a few workshops that come to mind. Because I have been running workshops for 6 years, I have come across a number of enthusiasts. Recently, I hosted a workshop for a mother and her teenage daughter. This occasion struck me because it’s not often that I get to see young people at the press. It was also great that both the mom and daughter had a liking for letterpress – to be able to provide an opportunity for them to share that interest was a privilege.
Where do you see going with your craft?
I’m looking to expanding my studio space and even dream of owning a larger press equipped with a flywheel. I sense that I’ll keep on specializing in small-sized stationery in short runs because it’s important to me to focus on the design, printing and client relationships rather than mass production. I’m also interested in collaborative work. I have met so many talented artists within the arts community and hope to combine our interests and craft sometime in the future.
Your blog is amazing, you strike a perfect balance between the personal and the professional. Can you elaborate on this process?
I started my blog in 2007 initially to document my letterpress adventures. For the first couple of years the posts were mainly about my small achievements and struggles surrounding the equipment and related materials. Then as soon as I got the hang of my press and sorted out the finer details with regards to inks, papers, plates and design, the blog started to get some followers and an increase in comments. This told me that people were reading it and were interested in what I was doing. Then slowly, I started to incorporate posts unrelated to letterpress because I was intrigued by other bloggers who not only posted about their craft but about their lives in general. I think that getting to see the person behind the work is interesting. In recent years, the blog has become a showcase of sorts for commissioned pieces and works-in-progress. It’s also a platform that’s been useful in terms of product announcements and launches.
Thank you Tanya Roberts from Snap + Tumble Letterpress for sharing your inspiring process and some of your beautiful creations!