We chat with the lovely Alessandra of Typecase Industries about all things print and the day-to-day of running a small business. How she stays on top of everything, I don’t know! From stock levels to paying rent, to design work and printing, she really does it allllll. She reminisces about her ‘dream job’; tells us about how messy the studio gets (and their motto ‘clean hands make clean prints’); and shares the perfect advice – find what you love to do and jump right in.
What are some of your earliest creative memories and what lead you into design?
My earliest creative memories were of always wanting to make and build things as a child with my hands. I would love anything that involved drawing, coloring, cutting, gluing – basically making in all forms. As I got older, I also loved anything that involved problem-solving, like puzzles and games. All of these things are very telling for me now looking back on my development as an artist and designer. Eventually in university while studying fine art, I found printmaking and was instantly in love with the process-driven nature of creating images with different matrices. Every print is an exercise in problem solving, working through whichever process you choose, whether it be screenprinting, letterpress, or anything else, to get the image from your mind to the surface. Design came into play seriously when I went to graduate school to continue traditional printmaking and also study bookbinding, design, and letterpress. I’ve since then honed my design skills in my business where I do all custom design for letterpress printing specifically.
What was your plan for graduating and what actually happened?
When I finished graduate school in 2011, the only plan I’d ever had was to become a professor and teach printmaking. I hadn’t really thought beyond that because it was the only career I’d really been introduced to and experienced through student teaching. Once I was out looking for this dream job.. it just wasn’t there. The very few positions that became available over that first year weren’t what I really wanted, either not printmaking related or somewhere I didn’t really want to move to, and I was really disillusioned about having a career in the arts. I now know this was extremely short-sighted, but it’s hard as a recent grad to go from having an amazing studio and resources at school to hustling to get something you’re not even that excited about. I was working on and off with a museum exhibitions company while I tried to figure out my plan and finally decided to start a letterpress studio with a couple friends. That was the humble beginning of Typecase Industries – to have a place to make the work we wanted and be our own bosses essentially. Little did I know it would grow as much as it has in five years and be a thriving small creative business I now head up.
What does a typical working day include for you right now? A typical working day involves a lot of different things! I usually spend the morning on the computer doing all the ordering, invoicing, scheduling, and accounting necessary to keep the studio going on a daily basis. Running a small business is an ongoing lesson in organization and means I have to stay on top of everything from how much paper we have in stock to sending the rent check every month. Then I usually hop on the press myself and do any printing with my staff to ensure everything is executed smoothly and help troubleshoot any issues that may arise. Then in the afternoon I’ll go back to the computer to do any design work for the clients and give them time to send back any edits, and also have any in-studio meetings. I’m pretty militant about keeping the studio clean and try to never leave a mess at the end of the day if I can help it. In a working print shop, things can get messy and pile up very quick, so the motto of clean hands make clean prints is what we live by. Once a week or so I’ll go through and check the actual press machinery to make sure everything’s in working order and fix things that are acting up. And somewhere in the midst of all of that we have fun trying to think of new poster and card designs for our wholesale products.
Are you involved in any mentoring/teaching/workshops and if so how does it shape your practice? Yes, I’m regularly teaching letterpress through classes and workshops in the studio. It has become a way for me to keep learning and I’ve become a much better (and patient) printer from having to show others the process. Sometimes we have open studio and I set something up quick on the press for people to just come print and chat with me and other times they’re full workshops meant to guide people over a couple hours through the basics of setting some type to print their own design. I really love watching people learn and seeing how excited they are to print something they’ve made. It’s the same instant love for printmaking that I’ve had for so long now and being able to share it makes me really happy to have the studio. Coincidentally, I’ve also been teaching a bit as a printmaking professor for the past couple years when it fits into my schedule. So maybe that dream job wasn’t there before when I wanted it, but now that I’m actually a better printer and designer, I’m able to have opportunities to do what I love and show others.
What role does digital design play in your studio and how do you apply traditional graphic design skills in a digital age? Although I have a studio where the printing process I use is anything but modern, digital design plays a crucial role in just about everything I make. Having the ability to set actual type is very cool and unique, but it’s time-consuming in a way that I can’t sustain in order to produce the client work I’m making. So most of the designs we print are actually digital first. We do all the design and proofing digitally with our clients and then we make plastic photopolymer printing plates from those designs to use in the printing presses. It’s a fascinating mix of old and new technology working together. Knowing the history and background of fonts and type still ties in to design and layout if you know that terms like “leading” and “kerning” for example have real world connections to the actual pieces of lead that go between lines and characters for spacing. Graphic designers especially have a great time coming to the studio and getting away from their computers to see and play with type, which pose different problems to solve when things aren’t just a click away.
What advice would you give students starting out? The most important advice I think I could give is don’t be afraid to try something that might seem impossible. I would have never thought I’d be running a small business now if I didn’t take a risk and just jump in. I knew that it would be a disservice to myself if I at least didn’t try and do my best. Things don’t always work out – I’ve had those experiences too. But more often than not, something can come out of an experience that you wouldn’t have predicted. It can be skills learned, connections made, other jobs coming from that one situation, and I think the personal satisfaction of knowing you took a risk when you could’ve held yourself back is one of the most powerful tools I’ve garnered for myself. For every bad day I have, I can always get back up by reminding myself that at least I’m doing what I love every single day, making things, and not very many people get to say that. So find what you love to do and jump right in – things have a way of falling into place if you focus on being positive and always moving forward towards your goal.