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May 2005 / a day's work :: email this story to a friend

Eleven Questions with ... Eric Woods
By Amanda E. Doyle

1) How on earth did you come to be the runner of a letterpress operation? Did that category come up really high on your ASVAB test in high school?

I really don't remember the ASVAB results but letterpress is a really good fit for my personality. It combines classical graphic design (color, shapes, type) with artistic freedom and allows me to work with my hands and my brain.

2) What kind of equipment do you use? Where did you acquire it? Do you get all geeked up about finding things like cool new letters or something?

detail of a poster by Firecracker Press I use antique printing presses and the kind of equipment you might find in your grandpa's garage. But I also do all my design work on a laptop so I combine old and new technologies. I find the equipment at auctions or through a network of other people who are interested in this stuff. I found my first press close to home in Mexico, Missouri, but have traveled as far as Toronto to get other items. Someone just last week called me a nerd, but she quickly added that she meant it as a compliment.

3) We've noticed a mini-proliferation of cool letterpress produced stuff around town: do you all have a club?

I work closely with the graphic design and art community. They seem to appreciate what I do the most. Letterpress has been making a comeback all over the world for the past ten years or so. I think it's here to stay in one form or another.

4) What's your favorite project you've done to date?

That's hard to say. I enjoy the challenge of new projects and it seems like just about the time I get bored with one, a new one comes along. I'm really excited about the new pieces for next Art Market show at Fort Gondo on May 7th and 8th.

5) Briefly describe the process of letterpress.

Letterpress is where modern printing began around 1450 AD when Gutenberg invented moveable type. My letterpress shop still uses some of the basic methods that he invented, but I have modernized a bit with the use of computer typesetting. Basically I make relief plates with type or imagery on them, add ink to them and press them into paper. The results give a slight indentation into the paper called a deboss. I carve plates from wood or linoleum, and make "digital plates" from magnesium or plastic. The best way to see the process in action is to stop by the shop for a tour.

6) How does your work break down in terms of commercial projects versus fine art work?

I do about 70% commercial work and 30% fine art...although there's normally a good portion of fine art in the commercial work I do. Generally my clients are interested in something that's unique and so I custom-design a lot of what I print for others. I have a good-sized painting commission for a local ad agency due in May.

7) What makes the letterpress product so appealing to viewers/consumers?

Letterpress is very tactile and also very organic. Each print is unique and because of its handmade nature each print is slightly different. I think people are looking for a reconnection to handmade things these days due to the temper of our times.

8) Give us the skinny on this wacky Independent Art fair you've cooked up for Mother's Day.

The Independent Art Market is a small group of local artists that decided to have a show in our own spaces last December. We all create high-quality art items that are affordable and unique. We have a great art community here, and the Art Market gives us the ability to show that side of St. Louis. This time around we are taking the show out of our studios and into Fort Gondo for Mother's Day weekend. It's going to be a show like none other with a few surprises — some naughty, some nice.

9) Worst thing about St. Louis

I think we underestimate ourselves as a community. St. Louis has a rich heritage and it disappoints me when I see us trying to emulate other cities because of a bandwagon mentality. If we aren't innovating as a community we will never be great. I'd like to see St. Louis minds make this town special.

10) Best thing about St. Louis

It's my home. Family and friends.

11) Dream letterpress job — what project would you love to undertake, and for what client?

I'd like to have a retail space someday and sell my own projects from it. I'd like to hire a few smart people to help out around the shop. I'd like to collaborate with friends of mine and design new typefaces that could be made into woodtype. I'd like to find a larger press for billboard-size poster printing. There are a ton a dream jobs on my list and I hope to continue to find ways of making them real.

See more of Eric's work at the Firecracker Press website.

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