Questionable Press makes letterpress goods in Lancaster, Ohio. We interviewed owner, Sarah Brown, about her background and her craft. Meet Questionable Press at our 2017 Ohio Explored Holiday Maker Mart on December 3rd!
Tell us about your local business.
Questionable Press is me, printer and artist Sarah Brown, and about two tons of vintage letterpress printing equipment. I live in Lancaster, Ohio and run my business out of my house. Letterpress is the old method of printing paper. Its not fast and efficient, but its re-gained recognition for its high quality printing. Most shops combine this antiquated technology with newer processes so they can use computer generated images, but that’s just not my style.
I stick it old school and use the original hand set type that I combine with hand carved images. Many of these images are wood engravings, which is a traditional letterpress image making process, and enables me to create very detailed lines. Though I have a minor in Art, I mostly learned letterpress on my own. Its been a long learning process, but I’ve really come to love it. I’ve built my work around my personal interests combined with the capabilities of the machine and my chosen processes.
The machine is built to run long runs of small things. I like making affordable, everyday art that is accessible, gender neutral, and can brighten up any home. The outcome of the combination of all these aspects is my weirdo whim-wham. Its everyday objects made with high end, traditional printing processes.
What drew you to your craft?
Questionable Press had a very serendipitous beginning. I was working on a farm outside Washington DC, and a woman I met at the farmer’s market who decided I needed to own one of her small presses. I bought it and lugged it around with me for a few years (it weights about 100lbs). I finally decided to look for a few drawers of letterpress type, and started asking around. I stopped in a newspaper in the small town of Phillipi, West Virginia, and found the remains of their letterpress print shop, complete with a big, one ton letterpress machine, 60 cases of type, and all the rest. They were about to take it to the scrap yard, so I decided to buy it. I was a complete letterpress novice, but I’ve taken my time, learned the trade, and fallen in love with it.
What is your favorite thing you have ever made?
Oh golly, its hard to choose a favorite. I’m very excited about my kits. The first iteration were a series of paper mask kits, but now I’ve moved on to smaller sculptural paper kits that are printed from my wood engravings, then die cut and scored so they’re ready to push out of the paper and fold.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A teacher, a river guide, a river, a cat, a witch, an artist. I think I’m getting pretty close.
What is your creative process?
My selected method of printing has lots of limitations. Each drawer of type is called a case, and each case is a specific size and font. In addition, I hand carve all the images, and each color is a separate block and run through the press. I usually start with an idea and the determined size of paper that I need to use. Then I set up and proof type until I find the one that I like the most. After that, I draw the image, transfer it to a block with carbon paper, and then either carve or engrave the block to create the main image. Then, if I’m making an image with more than one color, I have to transfer the original image to another block and carve out what I want to save. Does that all make sense? It’s a lengthly process, but it’s one of the things I love the most about letterpress. After all the prep work is done, I set up the piece and print it one color at a time.
What advice would you give yourself 10 years ago?
Don’t lift such heavy things, read “Just Kids” by Patti Smith earlier, and don’t stop creating.
Why is it important to support local artists & makers?
By supporting local makers and artist, you are making a conscience decision to spend your money in a way that will make a positive shift in our economy. You are funneling money back into your community by supporting people who are sticking their necks out and taking a chance. Plus, your purchases will each have a little story and they are waaayy sweeter than anything you’d buy at a box store.
Why do you love doing what you do?
There are so many levels to this answer. I love what I do because it is hands on and involves a big complicated machine that whirls and breaths. Because everything is printed, it has to be backwards, like a stamp, and the constant turning my brain has to perform to create pieces keeps my mind busy. I love making little jokes and scheming new projects, and I love connecting with people over everyday items that are made special by my handiwork.
What advice do you have for other women who want to start their own businesses?
Make friends, not enemies, we’re all in this together. Reach out to others when you need advice. Stay positive, and don’t let people tell you how your machines/ processes/ businesses have to run. Define your own meaning of success.
What is your favorite thing about Exploring Ohio?
I’m a West Virginia native, but I’ve lived in this state for about four years. I love learning about new places, people, and special events in my region and new adopted state. Ohio is so much bigger than West Virginia, so it seems like I still have so much to learn!
Meet Questionable Press at our Ohio Explored Holiday Maker Mart!