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Influx interview-jamie berger- art director/advisor- cranky pressman

November 12, 2009

I’ve been interested in following the re-emergence of the craft movement as people start to shift away from technology to using old machines and making things by hand.

In September, I was fortunate enough to hear Jim Sherraden of Hatch Show Print talk about his letterpress shop in Nashville.

By a strange co-incidence, an art director I used to work with in London, Jamie Beger, is now in Salem, Ohio helping advise his brother’s letterpress business, Cranky Pressman.

I exchanged emails and here’s the interview.

1. What took you into the world of letterpress?

In 1984 my brother Keith bought a old local print shop business in Salem, Ohio, a small town in what had by then already become part of the rustbelt area after many of the heavy industries that were once around shut down in the 1970’s. This was unfortunate timing, because 2 years later in 1986 the first Apple computer was launched and completely changed the graphic design business by the early 90’s.  Printing operations everywhere were hit hard and it was even worse in a little place like Salem.  He struggled but managed to keep the business going somehow.  It was crazy because Apple computers were hugely expensive back then as well.  He paid over $10,000 for his first Mac setup at the time and that was nothing compared to what a modern printing press would have cost him.

I lived in New York and London while all this was happening but would see how difficult things were when visiting.  By the time I moved to Chicago in 1999, he had all but given up on the place.  I had a feeling though that this new internet thing might solve part of his problem with location and actually suggested to him that he get rid of everything he had that even resembled something new, apart from the computer, and focus on producing letterpress printing for the creative industry.  No copiers, no offset printing and no local customers who would be better off at the copy shop down the road.  He ended up selling some of his small offset printing machines to a company that shipped them overseas to developing countries.  Luckily my hunch was right and the rise of computers and the internet not only opened up a new nationwide market for the shop, but I believe also brought on a renewed interest in old traditional crafts.

The old machines were the coolest anyway.  So I am actually an art director who began working pre-digital revolution and more of an antique appraiser and advisor to Keith the real Cranky Pressman.

 2. Why do you believe there’s a resurgence of interest in the old technology?

I think today’s renewed interest in old technology as an escape from the computer and digital din that dominates people’s lives.  It is a modern day equivalent to the Arts and Crafts movement at the end of the 19th Century when artisans turned against the ugliness being churned out by machines of the industrial revolution.  Now old technology seems beautiful, tangible, comforting, often flawed and more human.  It is easier to relate to than a computer.

 3. What are you hoping to do with Cranky Pressman?

We’d like Cranky Pressman to become the creative person’s own little artist’s letterpress studio.  It’s a jobbing print shop that doesn’t sell design work but focuses on helping designers, art directors and agencies produce projects for their clients.  The idea is to build an online community and creative space where customers will find the tools needed to create original work.  Print in general may have some problems but as long as attractive images, along with endless graphic techniques like folding, perforating, die-cutting, embossing and binding can be applied to a piece of paper we believe it will remain a relevant medium.

For those with experience, old fashioned, ink-on-paper printing is pretty straightforward, but it can be alien and daunting for younger creatives only familiar with computers and CMYK.  Cranky Pressman wants to teach people how to use traditional letterpress and binding techniques to make anything they can imagine.  At the same time we also plan to build a range of simple imprintable packages such as business cards, calendars, folded cards, envelopes, booklets, folders, packaging, coasters and other practical formats that are easy to use to create affordable letterpress printed pieces.   These will be displayed and available to order online along with other graphic techniques and options such as various styles of perforation, stitching, cutting and other finishing.  Like an art supply store, we see a range of information, services and materials that put creative possibilities in the hands of the user.

Once the online printery and bindery are well equipped we plan to introduce related products and services based on other old technologies .  The physical shop itself is full of weird old stuff that is actually quite useful if you know what to do with it.  We hope eventually to make the online shop much the same.

Fusing together the old and new may be our biggest challenge.  Right now we don’t have much of a marketing or website development budget to speak of so are basically hand setting everything ourselves using existing frameworks available through online tools and services.  Our online and marketing presence is sort of makeshift and improvised but somehow appropriately similar to actual handcrafted printing work.  It is an exciting way to work but we don’t really know exactly how things will turn out.  We figure with old technology and equipment built to last forever while modern technology becomes cheaper and more available all the time, the two may eventually meet at some happy place in the middle.

Posted by Ed Cotton

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