Author Archives: sarahmbirkett

Colleen Ellse – The Story of a Letterpress Artist and Designer

Colleen Ellse is a letterpress artist and designer.

She is currently in the process of building her letterpress business. She cannot yet afford her own press or studio, so she prints her handmade cards, prints, and various customized work from the AS220 Printshop in Providence, Rhode Island.

Colleen loves the antique aspect of her work. Through her work, she feels a bond to an older generation of printers. Colleen gives off a kind of nostalgic air for times past and old-fashioned values.

Recently, she found out that her attraction to printing has roots in her own family history. Her great-grandfather was an engraver, and her grandmother used to help him package handmade wedding invitations, much like Ellse now does in her business.

Colleen has a degree in graphic design, but found her true love of letterpress after being laid off during the last recession. Colleen believes that letterpress is the perfect combination of her two personalities – the free-spirited, creative designer, and the meticulous printer.

Colleen finds inspiration in nature, antique imagery, Anthropologie catalogs and the many, many blogs she visits on a daily basis.

November 18, 2011 – At 7 on a sunny morning in the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI, Colleen Ellse prepares herself and the antique Vandercook letterpress printer for a day of holiday gift tag printing. Ellse is a graphic designer by training, but her true passion lies in the antique letterpress process. “I found letterpress in a funny way. I came upon it after I got laid off from my first design job. I took a workshop at a whim and I didn’t realize how much letterpress would come to consume my life!” exclaims Ellse. Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – At the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI, Colleen Ellse, letterpress printer and “boss lady”, as she humorously calls herself, of Lovely Design and Letterpress, begins the process of printing her holiday gift tags by choosing ink colors. Ellse flips through a swatch book of Pantone brand inks, settling on blue and gold for printing. If she were printing custom work for a customer, she would ask for an object of the right colour so that she may match her ink mixture as perfectly as possible. Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – Colleen Ellse, designer, artist, and letterpress printer, prepares the Vandercook press by lightly dabbing the machine’s rollers with ink, at the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI. Although she first mixes the inks on a glass top table, in order to achieve the desired colour she also needs to tweak the mix of inks on the rollers themselves. “At first, it was something that intimidated me, but now I love mixing inks,” says Ellse. “It’s always exciting when you get it right the first time!” Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – At the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI, letterpress printer and artist Colleen Ellse carefully measures a strip of paper that will, in the end, become three separate holiday gift tags. It is meticulous but necessary work – if the measurements are not done right and the plates not aligned properly, the impression will not come down at the right place. “I’ve had a lot of late nights, and people say I over think things. But I think you have to be meticulous to be a printer,” Ellse says. “If you do letterpress, it can never be good enough.” Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – Colleen Ellse, a letterpress artist and graphic designer by training, feeds the Vandercook printing press at the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI. The process of letterpress printing is very time-consuming, as the antique press can only print one paper and one ink colour at a time. “There’s something very methodical about doing something repetitively, consistently,” says Ellse. “But at the same time you can’t zone out.” Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – At the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI, letterpress printer Colleen Ellse pushes and pulls the rollers across the table with the circular motion of the press’s arm, allowing a piece of paper to pass between the press’s big rubber roller and the polymer plate housing the design. The dichotomy between Ellse’s personality and the physicality of the printing process is evident. “I’m such a girly girl in so many respects that it’s really fun to work on a big piece of machinery. I really enjoy it,” Ellse says. Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – At the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI, Colleen Ellse, letterpress printer and artist, uses rulers and a pencil to ensure that her measurements are accurate and that the printing plates are properly aligned. Ellse proclaims that although she is a free-sprited artist with a creative personality, she is also a perfectionist. “Letterpress is the perfect combination of my two personalities,” says Ellse. Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – After finishing her blue holiday gift tags and thoroughly cleaning the antique Vandercook press, Colleen Ellse sets out to print a set of gold tags at the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI. She dabs the gold ink onto the rollers of the Vandercook printing press to get the right saturation. Over inking is just another issue she needs to keep her eye on while she is printing. Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – Colleen Ellse, letterpress artist and designer, uses a guillotine at the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI, to cut the long strips of paper into separate gift tags that she will later package and sell on her website or at various craft fairs during the holidays. Making letterpress gift tags is a long process composed of many steps – from the designing, preparing, printing, and post-printing phases. “This is part of the reason why letterpress is so expensive. It is because it is so time consuming,” says Ellse. What does Colleen do after a long day of printing? ““Relax! Have a glass a wine!” she exclaims. “Maybe some homemade popcorn and dark chocolate too.” Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.

November 18, 2011 – Colleen Ellse is in the process of building her business, Colleen Ellse – Lovely Letterpress And Design. She cannot yet afford her own press or studio, so for now she prints from the AS220 Printshop in Providence, RI. “Every time I come here and print, everything feels so right. I’ve been working really, really hard, and I feel that little by little it is fermenting and things are happening,” says Ellse. “I’m very happy when I print.” Photo by Sarah Mongeau-Birkett.