by Erin Thomas
Although it is fascinating to learn about professional print makers, what they produce, and how they got to where they are, I find it interesting to understand how letterpress and other forms of print making are put into practice by those who do it as a hobby. These individuals have pursued careers in other fields that maybe allow for more substantial salaries capable of supporting families, or careers that simply fulfill a different interest of theirs.
I met Joe Mildenhall at church and came to learn that as a working professional in the education sector, he enjoys print making as a hobby.
“I was introduced to letterpress in high school. It was still an active form of printing for small jobs like business cards, menus, etc. back in the late 1960's. In college I usually took one "fun" class in addition to the required course work. One semester I took a class called industrial communication or something. It provided instruction on several printing techniques including silk screen, rubber stamps, lithograph and letterpress. Later I had a student job at the university press where they were still printing books using lead typesetting and printing equipment. I didn't operate that equipment but did operate other presses so I learned the fundamentals of printing.”
Although he has worked in software development and technology management his entire career, he has found a lot of enjoyment in art and design. He says “[he has] always enjoyed the intersection of mechanical devices and art.” Print making appeals to many who sit in the crosshairs of the more rigid right side of the brain, and the creative, loose left side.
“I dabbled in photography and silk screening so several years later when I saw that letterpress greeting cards, etc. were becoming popular I decided to see what was involved in producing them myself. My initial motivation was the idea of producing our own Christmas cards rather than buying them. I think I have reasonable design and layout skills and our oldest daughter has some really good drawing skills so I thought we could join forces.”
And this was how Joe became more involved in his practice. He started with a small table top press and, through buying and selling four different presses, has settled on his current Chandler and Price Pilot 6"x10" tabletop press. He has printed several Christmas cards and some miscellaneous Thank You and birthday cards.
His style shifts back and forth between vintage and modern styles, but mainly looking for opportunities to use crisp lines that will highlight the letterpress effect.
Where some may find the tedious intricacies of print making, and letter press in particular, to be exhausting, he really enjoys the manual process of layout and printing with letterpress. The physical part of the process gives him more personal satisfaction than running something out of a modern printer. However, Joe is not exempt from the frustration that comes with setting the press and printing—his experience is that “the only part of letterpress printing that can become taxing is when things like inking, roller height and positioning aren't quite dialed in. [He doesn’t] print frequently enough to quickly and easily resolve issues so it takes some trial and error.”
Ultimately, Joe has enjoyed having letterpress as an occasional outlet. He doesn’t have very much time to spend on it, but gets a lot of satisfaction when he does. I think these experiences and this perspective is such for many who practice as a hobby. Creating, in whatever form, grants substantial satisfaction and fulfillment. It is always exciting and interesting to me when I find characters like Joe who understand the importance and beauty of creating, and do so in a way that fits into their careers, lifestyles, and schedules.
Interview conducted personally with Joe Mildenhall