Amy Constable – Saint Gertrude Letterpress

Hi Amy, thanks for taking some time to chat with MLC.

Firstly, as a creative, the number one question we have is, how do you have your coffee?

Strong and full fat. Life is way too short for skinny decafs.

And are you a night owl? Or an early riser?

I’ve always been an early riser. I roll out of bed, get straight on my bike and ride an hour commute to work. I’m here sometimes hours before any of my fellow studio mates start their day!

8-img_49176-img_4904_lrQueen of Spades (The Letterpress Queen can print beautiful textures) – Carla Hackett

Could you tell us a little about yourself and your work?

I’m a letterpress printer, first and foremost. I come from a design background, but these days I print almost entirely on behalf of designers, letterers and illustrators. I work from Little Gold Studios in Brunswick printing digital designs from photopolymer printing plates on printing presses that range from 60 to 120 years old. Most weekends you’ll find me teaching a letterpress class or running my Open Access Studio Program where students come in and print their own projects.

 My commercial work is defined by my commitment to the craft of letterpress. I won’t allow a project to move into other print mediums – like digital, offset or even foil – without a fight. I’ve never been distracted by shiny things.

I’ve been printing for nearly 8 years which, by the training standards set 100 years ago, puts me only just at the end of my apprenticeship.

What led to you in to the world of letterpress? Did you have any formal letterpress education or training?

I worked at an ad agency in print design and was facing the uncomfortable reality of the decline of print. This wasn’t just difficult for me on an employment level, but a very personal level. I’m a book reader and a print lover. I know that the world is changing, but you won’t find me curled up with a Kindle any time soon. To me, something just isn’t true until it’s printed. So I made a decision; move into digital design and play a passive role in the decline of print, or buy a rare printing press and play an active role in its renaissance. Obviously I chose the latter. Seven years and five printing presses later, I’m still going! 

There was no formal training in letterpress available at the time that I began, in fact there were very few people in Australia who did it. But I made friends with just about everyone who did, spent two years on a kind of unofficial apprenticeship in my own garage until my work was at a standard that I was proud of. For the past three years I have been actively trying to encourage and teach new printers through my Letterpress Workshops and Letterpress Facebook Community Group.

Print is no longer about simply communicating but connecting. Letterpress connects with its audience in ways that other print or digital mediums can’t. So if you want to make an impact, letterpress is the way to do it.

2-img_50053-img_5016Queen of Clubs (The Letterpress Queen can print fine lines) – Wanissa Somsuphangsri


We all know the general history of moveable type but could you tell us a little about your press? How did you come to own such a specialised pieces of printing equipment?

I found my first press on eBay – a little Adana desktop printing press – which I taught myself the fundamentals of letterpress on. About 6 months later, I found a 120 year old treadle operated press and that was really the beginning of letterpress as more than a hobby for me. 

Since I’ve become more established, the presses now seem to come to me rather than the other way around. I’m often approached by printers looking to sell or re-home an old press and many of them love the idea of it ‘going to a good home’ so to speak. My studio is now filled with literally tonnes of presses; one desktop press, one manual treadle press, one motorized hand-fed press and two Heidelbergs.

What was the last project you loved working on, and can we see a sample of this project?

I have just worked on my biggest and proudest project to date and my very first piece of self-promotion. The Letterpress Queen is a ‘hand’ of 5 playing cards that illustrate in no uncertain terms what I’m capable of at the press. I’ve gone all out on this, laid down a gauntlet of challenges to really flex my print muscles. I’ve also played Art Director on this project which is new for me. 

I worked in collaboration with The Letterettes on this project, so it’s beautifully hand-lettered and illustrated by the talented ladies Carla Hackett, Eliza Svikulis, Kate Pullen and Wanissa Somsuphangsri.

Can you share with us your worst client experience, how did you deal with it, what did you learn from it?

I still reel from this experience a little. I had a client with whom I had an unusually difficult dynamic. They always wanted something that wasn’t quite right for me or letterpress in general – whether the design was awkward, or the deadline unreasonable, or they insisted on a paper stock that wasn’t ideal – and for some reason I really struggled to say no to them. I messed up three separate jobs because I didn’t just lay down the law and say NOPE. Eventually, I cracked under pressure and ‘sacked’ them which came as a shock to them because I’d always been a bit of a walkover. I felt awful for a while afterwards, but I learned the importance of ‘no’ and the importance of good customer dynamics. Not all customers are right for me, and I can’t make them right for me by saying yes to doomed projects.

14-img_506415-img_5077Queen of Diamonds (The Letterpress Queen has tricks up her sleeve) – Kate Pullen


We all make mistakes, has there been any moments when you have had to deal with a mistake you have made, what was it and how did you learn from it or manage it?

I truly believe that when you make a mistake the first thing you need to do is own it. Don’t negotiate blame or fault, just take responsibility for the part you played in the mistake, no more and no less. Owning an error seems terrifying, but it’s actually really empowering and the minute you face it, the burden begins to lift. From there I work single-mindedly to resolve it, then afterwards pour a stiff drink and forgive myself.

Finally, how can we get more info about letterpress and using your printing services?

You can find me at www.saintgertrude.com.au where you can book a class or get a quote (my husband is very efficient at responding to quotes!). To get a peek at what’s coming off the press on any given day, @saintgertrude on Instagram. 

You can also buy letterpress pieces from my collaborative project with Carla Hackett at www.ladiesofletters.com.au

10-img_4926 11-img_4949Queen of Hearts (The Letterpress Queen can print tight registration) – Eliza Svikulis

 

Melbourne Lettering Club