Boulder Lifestyle June 2014

Page 56

Artist's Palette

A Dying Art? Keeping the art of letterpress alive and well in Boulder Article Heather Shoning | Photography Eliza Karlson


rior to the 1930s, anything and everything that was printed, was printed on a letterpress machine. From the ’30s through the ’50s, the offset printing method—an easier way of doing it—took hold and letterpress essentially went away. Since that time, the artform has seen a couple of revivals and today has a strong presence in Boulder thanks to Brad O’Sullivan of Smokeproof Press. O’Sullivan first fell in love with letterpress when he was a grad student at Naropa, which had just opened the Harry Smith Print Shop. He always had a love of words and writing. “I found a way to merge my love of words with an innate desire to make things with my hands,” he says. During his two years at Naropa, O’Sullivan took on several letterpress projects including large format prints, book covers and more. For his thesis, he set an entire 48-page book of poetry by hand. Then he bound the book himself. “Painting and drawing creates a two-dimensional product,” O’Sullivan says. “Letterpress creates a three-dimensional result. It’s sculptural…it creates a shadow that our eye picks up.” 56 Boulder Lifestyle | June 2014

When his graduate program was over, he wanted to continue with letterpress, but didn’t know how or where to get the equipment. He went to work at a commercial paper supplier and learned as much as he could about papers in an effort to build his knowledge in the field. During this time, O’Sullivan gave a lecture on the physicality of language, and afterward was approached by a woman whose family owned a letterpress machine. For only the trip of picking it up, she offered the machine to him for free. Albeit a generous gift and a launching point for a long career, the machine was badly rusted—so much that the parts wouldn’t move—and missing pieces. He was allowed to keep it on the dock at the paper company and would spend his lunch breaks dismantling and repairing the machine. One year after he picked up the machine he had an operable press. With a decent amount of equipment collected, O’Sullivan took a job as the store manager of Two Hands Paperie, and helped the owner build the company’s custom invitation segment. Ten years ago this month, he took the leap to

start his own letterpress business, and it continues to grow today. In his studio, he has three letterpress machines. While he’s printed a huge variety of materials, one of O’Sullivan’s favorite projects is wedding invitations. “I enjoy working with couples to craft something very personal for this special event in their lives,” he says. “I enjoy solving problems…‘how do I get the message out in a unique way?’”


smokeproof press 720.277.6909