Arizona ArtBeat: Hazel and Violet Ink


Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" focuses on a centuries-old art form that's being revived in the heart of Phoenix. Producer Shana Fischer and photographer Scot Olson and E.J. Hernandez introduce us to the unique art of letterpress.

Shana Fischer: In an up and coming area of downtown Phoenix, Nancy Hill has set up shop.

Nancy Hill: My business partner and I decided that we would get a small letterpress machine, a tabletop letterpress machine, because we both like typography, we like paper, and we thought it sounded like fun. So I started looking on Craigslist, and instead I found a whole letterpress shop for sale. Which just made so much sense. Since neither one of us had any experience. So we bought it.

Shana Fischer: That dry wit serves Nancy well as she revives an old fashioned art form in a decidedly high-tech world. Nancy has three presses that she uses. But her workhorse is a Chandler in price made in 1922. Letterpress is a type of printing that uses wooden type and rollers to print one page at a time.
Nancy Hill: You assembling the type you want in the format that you want, and you lock it up in a chase, which is a metal frame, you get it all locked up using wood and metal, to make sure it's all tight. You drop it in the press, you ink up the press, the rollers pick up the ink from your disk or cylinder, they roll over the image, whether it's words or an actual image, and it comes together, it's a platen press, it comes together and it prints it on paper.

Shana Fischer: The end result is a raised imprint on the paper. Nancy only uses cotton rag paper as it's ecofriendly and easy to find. But finding the type and the images she uses can be difficult.

Nancy Hill: Well, I look for vintage images and wood type everywhere I can. There's not a lot of that in Arizona, we're kind of too new an estate to have an established -- An old established letterpress community.

Shana Fischer: Nancy's creations range from intricate wedding invitations to simple stationery. Long-time customer and friend Jill Bernstein says the lure of letterpress is a sentimental one.

Jill Bernstein: It reminds me of when I was very young, we lived outside Chicago, we would take the train in to town to go shopping, and the big treat at the end of the day was I got to go to the huge bookstore. And I'd go in and get to buy a book. And I'd pick up the books and the first thing I would do is smell them. And I loved the feel of the paper and the smell of the ink. With letterpress it's that on steroids, because you can also feel the hand and know somebody -- To me print has always been magical, and there's just something -- It's like alchemy. They do this thing and the image shows up and it's beautiful.

Shana Fischer: The letterpress was first imprinted in the 15th century. It's how everything was printed; newspapers, books, until the mid-20th century, when offset printing took its place. Now, printed materials look polished. But for Nancy, it's the imperfections of letterpress that make it so beautiful.

Nancy Hill: Even when I have workshops I have to tell people, it's not going to be perfect every time. There's going to be changes in registration, two colors don't meet at the right spot, changes in impression, first there's a big impression, then there's no impression. And color doesn't come out the same sometimes. So there's a lot of that. And that's what makes it nice. It's handmade. It's one at a time.

Ted Simons: Nancy does offer workshops, or learn to do letterpress yourself. Find out more at the website hazelandvioletink.com.

In a world of ever-evolving technology, one small business in downtown Phoenix celebrates old technology. See how Hazel and Violet Ink uses old letter press machines to produce their unique print work.

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