Letterpress: Starshaped Press

thursdays mean letterpress, in my world.

each week’s fourth day I make my winding way by foot or brown line L train or–too often running late–car to the bull dog lock building set beside metra traintracks in shabby-glamorous ravenswood industrial corridor.

there inside one of several 1000-ft artist’s studios with great big warehouse windows printer, graphic designer, and proprietress of starshaped press jen farrell makes freshly old-timey magic with a pair of chandler & price standing floor platen presses, a moderately persnickety vandercook universal proof press for large format and linoleum cut work, a metric ton of lead, and an ever-expanding collection of vintage wooden type rescued from shuttered shops and collectors across the states.

within this creative mecca I soak up inspiration in the company of women who very capably make things, run businesses of sane and clearcut vision, and direct their daily work outside the mainstream of chicago’s suited loop.

alongside jen works #1 intern sarah vogel, wizard with lino knives and recipient of an illinois arts grant, who teaches workshops at evanston print and paper shop.

not long ago she brought in a bunch of prints she’d finished for boxing up and shipping off to a gallery show in denver, and I had the opportunity to grab some quick snaps. when I asked sarah about her work, she related to me a kind of mythic narrative about decaying domesticity. the collection is titled “Creep” and is slated for local display in evanston later this fall.

for my own part I’m one of a handful of one-day-a-week learning interns, trading time and manpower for hands-on practice with the gear.

a lot of days there’s only scut work to be had– distributing lead type, tediously tiny some of it, sorting and labeling drawers of recent acquisitions– but, to be honest, there’s a meditative zen to be had in these repetitive manual processes, as, fingers black with lead, I zone out to a background of bollywood musical numbers and ’90’s alternative rock piped from jen’s ipod, muttering names to myself like typographer’s mantras: bernhard gothic, phenix, keynote, agency, elegante

because it’s a concretely physical craft, wherein dings add character and evidence of handwork, letterpress printing necessarily entails this work I slightingly call “scut”–it’s an integral part of the process, perennial and grounding in refrain. occasionally, however, I get the chance to set up and print broadside sample specimens of jen’s wood typefaces and bring bits home with me, hang them up for inspiration until the next thursday comes around.

(this is josephine, a character)

other links:

Starshaped Etsy Shop

Felt & Wire: Inside the studio: Starshaped Press

Chicagoist: Making posters at Starshaped Press

and a video by Chicago Revealed:

Zen of bookbinding– a lesson in process

over the past several weeks I’ve been busy in fits and starts brushing up on bookbinding skills learned and last exercised ages since in iowa.

despite chronic letdown of self expectation (better! faster! more!), I have in practice succeeded in forging some quiet happy progress.

when the horde of anxieties rear their beastly heads, it helps to recall the explicitly articulated initial goal: focus not on product but rather the physical practice itself and manual-reacquaintance with skilled activities within the scope of my own home studio– a step ultimately toward satisfactorily finishing the remaining 15 or so between edition bindings.

persistently I coach my awkward steps against tantrums with geologic pacing and instead calmly emphasize the value of incremental progress, as well as all its interstitial creative project interruptions.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

It’s not often these days that I find myself eagerly awaiting a film’s release– a few too many hype-amplified disappointments over the years. Part of me is in fact hesitant to invest too much emotionally in the expectation of an hour and half’s spectatorship, regardless ultimately of even liking the film or not– but the truth is, I’m hooked here, frankly. I’m barbed and wriggling and gluttonous for the sharpest tang in my gut, and come August 26, by golly, I’ll be hitting the multiplex to take in this summer’s release of Guillermo Del Toro’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

Once upon a time I was a little sister– that is, a-lot-littler younger sibling to a couple of big brothers and one older sister, all of whom I gazed wide-eyed upon as very local celebrities.

The brothers early on marched off long-haired and guitar-playing to boarding school (an institution whose distance was marked indelibly by the elder, a cyclist of some long distance repute, who spent one endless summer vacation riding home across the states, sleeping in ditches en route).

The sister ohso-far-outpaced me in knowledge of grownup things, as evidenced by her flaunting of simultaneous 9th grade boyfriends, the dreamy dueling Dirk and Doug, unseen but imagined during eavesdropped telephone conversations from our parents’ bedroom phone extension (the trick of mute by pressing diagonal buttons gleaned off an elementary schoolmate with her own older sister).

These siblings ultimately served for me as the factotums of fashion, opinion, and an entire scope of worldly reference I could only most laggingly and hazily begin to grasp from five years’ trailing shadow.

My sister of the shiny silky turquoise-and-rust landscape-printed disco shirts with long pointy collars and pearlized buttons halfway-fastened typically ruled the central broadcast medium, a squat, olive-green-screened solid state megalith whose channels switched with an audible ker-thunk and before which I’d sit cross-legged afternoons after school, soaking up episodes of I Love Lucy and Gilligan’s Island. This same sophisticated sister was occasionally left in outright charge in the event of unavailable adult supervision–so it was doubtless under this babysitting regime that in the Halloween month of 1973 my psyche encountered and was forevermore seared by demons in the basement who target a family’s little daughter and drag her to hell in the middle of the night.

I must date to this cinematic event my lingering distaste for cellars. Sent on occasion by my mom to fetch some dinner fixin’ from the basement meat locker, I’d stand at the head of the stairs, switch on the overhead bulb via its stiff punch-button wallplate forged in a manual era, and teeter on the brink of descending those wooden steps so spookily illuminated, bracing myself. Finally, taking a long and fortifying breath, I’d plunge and clatter down, speedwalk across the green-glazed cement-floored laundry room, fumble for the slippery freezer key where it twisted on its hook, fit it into place with many mutters, casting all the while rapid glances toward the webby recesses of furnace gloom, grapple out whatever packet of peas or chops was required, re-lock the thing as fast as trembling digits would allow, and turn and race back up the stairs, convinced a hoard of dark-spawned demons trailed in swift pursuit.

Worse, my childhood bedroom featured a small storage closet beneath the eaves, which, due to some fluke of old house settling or cross-draft, tended to inch open incrementally in the night, however firmly I’d shut the thing at bedtime. Convinced small monsters had architected a secret passageway up from the basement through it, I finally thieved a minuscule padlock from my dad’s workbench and fastened it locked shut, empty and echoing my full panorama of fertile nightmares.

Why in the name of all things salutary, you may well ask, would I wish now to revisit the seed of all these lurking terrors? Some perversity no doubt compels me without rationality toward this newest installment of terror, wrought on the current occasion by a most devious wizard who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone. In point of fact and on closer inspection I notice that Guillermo Del Toro’s film credit leaves out directing, is strictly for writing and producing, so I half expect the result to be some B-grade Katie Holmes goth grotesquerie– but if the possibility of revisiting the root of gripping childhood terror exists, I’m bound for the theater come August and may find there a final resting place for creeping, fabricated specters of a kid’s imagination. Or maybe I’ll only succeed in renewing my age-old fear of basements.

Alleyway wilderness

sometimes it doesn’t seem possible,
and yet it’s more than likely–
in fact it’s the way it is.

I crave a house with big floor-to-ceiling windows I can throw open, built of rough barnwood planks, standing in the middle of a field, in the path of breezes traveling long distance over open ground, scent of clover, scent of long grass roasting and gone to seed under the sun, indian blanketed– but this is my home:

Walking the alleyways afternoons after rain with the <20lb dog, which we talked the landlord into despite a no-dogs policy on the building, snapping photographs of rogue flowers, weeds unscythed, unsprayed thus far into the summer, thistle and wild morning glory, ivy rain-dropleted. I’m crouched, standing on the dog’s leash to keep him from sniffing/digging/eating rat poison and assorted trash, contorted and trying to keep the cameraphone from shaking up my closeup focus, when a suited man seated, bearded, on the train platform says, “What is that, marijuana?”

I jump a bit, look up at him, pausing my finger over the camera shutter, say,”Uh, no– this is deadly nightshade.”

“It’s what?”

“Deadly nightshade.”


“And this is spearmint.”

Snap a few last shots and pull Floyd away down the alley, quickly past the clump where we saw the tiny baby rabbit yesterday, so miniature and wild brown furred, and in the back entrance to the building’s courtyard and up the stairs to our apartment where no one fires suspicious questions across the public way.

Buckets o’ crustaceans

for father’s day we took chris’s mom and pop to a restaurant where the seafood comes in giant galvanized tubs and the wait staff bursts into whooping dance medleys every 20 minutes on the nose– kind of like a tired frat beach party, but dad was happy so all good.

Fat, in its myriad delicious forms

Supper fare not for the faint of heart– quite literally. the sheer cholesterol depicted below is doubtless capable of outright blowing an artery or four. But, crazy delectable summer meal? You betcha.

New York Strip Steaks with Pan-Seared Mushrooms

Dress steaks with olive oil, salt and pepper. Get grill good and hot, then slap ’em on. Chris uses a standard stab meat thermometer to determine doneness.

Brush clean (not with water) mushrooms and slice. Be sure to use a sautee pan large enough to accommodate all the mushrooms without crowding, otherwise they’ll sweat and stew. Add 2-3 T olive oil to pan and heat, then add mushrooms. Let stand without stirring 4-5 minutes to allow a good sear on the downside, then go through and flip them all to do the same on the reverse.

Grilled Asparagus with Cilantro Lime Aioli

Clean and end-stem asparagus. Dress with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay crosswise on hot grill, turning occasionally to sear slightly– remove from heat while still firm.

In a bowl whip together with a fork the yolks of two eggs and juice of a fresh lime. Continue beating while slowly drizzling in a thin stream 3/4 cup olive oil. Stir in fresh chopped (but not bruised) cilantro leaves and salt to taste.

(for the record, what’s shown plated above does not truthfully represent what got consumed at a single sitting– while it made for dramatic photography, when it came time to eat, I actually cut the big beasts in halvsies)

Ravinia with the girls

tammy made it happen: the conjunction of diversely dashing city bodies to converge on a metra train headed north for an evening of 1980’s heyday bands B-52’s and Go-Go’s.

and so we assembled, as women are wont to do laden with far too much food, for a picnic en plein aire surrounded by the reveling ravinia hordes and a steady dancebeat.

the evening was clear and fine with a touch of briskness that banished any evidence of insectlife.

general consensus was less than impressed with bored-looking B-52s :-( and enchanted by a swingy-haired, lilting belinda carlisle.

the tipsy train ride home was priceless.