Features Industry Profiles

October 13, 2011 •
Kseniya Thomas

Like many letterpressers, Kseniya Thomas runs a shop, Thomas-Printers, in Carlyle, Pa., where she prints both her own work as well as that of other designers. She also recently launched Thomas-Printers Invitations, which licenses designs from select designers, then prints and sells them. “A lot of people don’t understand that you can design and have someone else do it, not that I am the Kinko’s of letterpress,” she laughed.

Unlike many letterpressers, Thomas teamed up with Jessica White, of Heroes & Criminals Press in Asheville, N.C., to found Ladies of Letterpress (LOLP), a trade organization for letterpress printers and lovers of print of all kinds. “This is a community where you can read about our adventures in commercial, fine press and zine printing, learn from other printers, share resources and get inspiration for your own business and work,” their website described. “Our mission is to promote the art and craft of letterpress printing and to encourage the voice and vision of women printers.”

Anyone (including men) is welcome to join, and as of June 18, there were 1,113 members from all over the world. Stationery Trends caught up with Thomas to learn more about her background and future plans.

Kseniya Thomas

Inspirations
ST: Your website reads, “Letterpress and love are often said in the same breath.” Can you share your first letterpress experiences?

KT: After graduating from college, I had a fellowship to study and work in Germany for a year. A friend and I went to Mainz one weekend, where the Gutenberg Museum has a working letterpress print shop. I wrote and asked if they accepted interns, and they did, so I moved to Mainz.

I worked there for six months, and learned how to set type and print from guys who had spent their whole lives in print shops before offset printing edged them out. It was great: The shop has hundreds of lead typefaces, and I could print whatever I wanted.

I had no idea at the time that I had found my calling; even after I returned to the U.S., and realized that letterpress was happening here, I still only knew the basics of the history of printing and the craft of letterpress – and I knew nothing about running a small business! But those six months at the Gutenberg Museum really did change my life. I worked various jobs before I bought my first press through a letterpress listserv. I’ve been printing steadily ever since.

ST: What was the goal behind LOLP?
KT: (Jessica and I) wanted a place where new printers could get information and ask questions, all the while meeting other printers and feeling part of a community. We also really wanted to convince all the new people getting presses and starting out that they were printers, and wanted them to really feel invested in the history and importance of what they were doing.

ST: So often it seems as though the spirit of competition usurps camaraderie. How does your group bypass it?
KT: We really work hard to foster a community that helps each other, shares information and resources and is friendly. The fact is there is plenty of work for everyone, and everyone benefits from a collegial, supportive atmosphere. I really feel strongly that we need to all strive to be the best, most skilled, most knowledgeable printers we can be in order to keep letterpress printing going strong for many years to come.

ST: Can you share a little bit about the LOLP conference, held Aug. 5-7 in Asheville, N.C.?
KT: Ladies of Letterpress Conference 2011: Art +Industry is the only modern-day conference devoted to letterpress printing. Full Circle Press owner Judith Berliner, with 30 years of experience in the printing industry and a lifetime of experience in letterpress printing, presented the keynote. The conference focused on topics important to the letterpress community: how to run a letterpress printing business, using letterpress printing as a teaching tool in academic settings, setting up and running a community print shop and using our skills as a aid for social change. Along with panel presentations, attendees were treated to printing-related demonstrations held in the state-of-the-art facilities at Asheville BookWorks and a fabulous fair of work by select members and sponsors.

The Big Picture
ST: Can you describe a typical day?
I get up around 7 every day, and like a fairly leisurely morning of coffee, newspaper, toast and dog-walking. Then I’m off to the shop, where the day is spent emailing and talking with clients, cutting paper, waging a losing battle against stacks of paper (which seems to come from nowhere and form dangerous, tippy piles), printing and a host of other pre-press, post-press, finishing, ordering and other small-business owner stuff. Every day is different and yet comfortably similar; I know what to do, how to do it and, usually, how long it’s going to take.

ST: What advice would you give to new invitation designers?
KT: You can never know too much about production, and learning as much as you can about how your designs will print makes everyone’s job so much easier. I’d rather answer a hundred questions before the job goes to press than have the outcome not match the designer’s expectations.

ST: What consumer, lifestyle or industry trends do you find interesting?
KT: I find it interesting that, in the midst of all the globalizing and interconnectivity taking place now, we’re really in the midst of a handmade resurgence. Not just with people taking up crafts for themselves, but also with people taking in interest in local food and local craftspeople. It’s a really interesting time to be a printer, since, on the one hand, I wouldn’t be in business without the Internet, but on the other hand, the hands-on part of my job has barely changed in 500 years.

ST: Where would you like to be in five years?
KT: I’d like to still be printing, maybe in a bigger shop and a few more hands to help.

ST: What other stationery designers or companies do you admire and why?
KT: I admire the work of Chandler O’Leary of Anagram Press and Jessica Spring of Springtide Press so much, especially their Dead Feminist broadside series. Their work is meticulous, delicate, beautiful and technically perfect too. Kathryn Hunter of Blackbird Letterpress’ work is great and triumphantly local (she’s in Baton Rouge, La.), and Jen Farrell of Starshaped Press’ work shows a love of typography and the craft of letterpress that’s almost unmatched.

ST: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Stationery Trends readers?
I want to thank all lovers of stationery for making what I and other letterpress printers do possible – we couldn’t be printers without your support! With over a thousand ladies printing and the readers of Stationery Trends’ encouragement, I know we can keep letterpress going for at least another generation of people – men and women – who like to make things with their hands.

direction of the line

Direction of the Line: Any day can find Kseniya Thomas working on a range of projects designed by both herself and other designers; shown here is a CD cover, Sangeet invitation and wedding invitation.

Kseniya at a Glance
Q. If you could travel through time and space and land anywhere you desire, where and when would it be?
A. I would love to see the United States in the ’20s or ’30s – before highways, when most downtowns were still full of shops.

Q. How would you define your signature style?
A. I don’t know if I have a signature style, but I love bright colors and beautiful typography. When I was working with the designers who contributed work for our wedding line, Thomas-Printers Invitations, I encouraged them to pick bolder color palates and to let their designs be as type-driven as they wanted, and the result was some great-looking, fun-to-print invitations that can’t be found anywhere else.

Q. What’s new for 2011?
A. We debuted seven new invitation designs at last May’s National Stationery Show: two from raven+crow studio, three from designer Mollie Wilkie and two from designer Anita Soos. Their invitations are great additions to the line, and really fill it in where it needed filling.

Q. What one design or product from your 2011 releases do you think is really going to be hot?
A. It’s always hard to tell. I love Mollie’s vintage-inspired pieces and color choices, and raven+crow’s Thicket of Roses design. Carrie Ruby’s Headline suite continues to be a popular choice with clients.

Q. Obviously any aesthetic is going to change over time. Which piece do you feel reflects the direction of your line?
A. I’m constantly trying to fill it out and provide something for every taste: modern, vintage, whimsical, classic … so the new suites I add will be unique in their own way but will compliment the other pieces in the line as well.

Q. Do you have a personal favorite?
A. I love all my children equally!

Q. If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead?
A. I think I would restore old homes. I love the craftsmanship that went into houses of 100 years ago, and all the details. I’ll just have to settle for owning one someday.



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