I’m a novelist, printmaker, and book artist. I’m a sucker for language, illustration, and imagination. I love a good story, in any form—and that’s how I ended up making books in so many different ways. My artist books are held in a number of special collections libraries both in the US and internationally, including Duke University, Baylor University, Washington University in St. Louis, the Library of Congress, the International Library of Santiago, The University of Alabama, and the University of Florida, among others. I’ve taught letterpress and creative writing workshops at the Penland School of Crafts, Asheville BookWorks, Wildacres Retreat, the University of Iowa, Duke University’s TIP Program, and others. I’m honored to be a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, where I exhibit regularly.
For more info about my novels (and children’s book) go to this page. To learn more about my artist books and the processes behind my letterpress printing, read on!
About My Work
I am a collector of words, objects, images, and obsessions. Books have always been a source of discovery for me, and have now become my way of exploring intersections: that of our fears and desires, histories and dreams, places that ground us and the people who change us. What felt accurate and true to me ten years ago may not feel that way today, and I imagine what feels true today won’t a few years down the road–that’s the nature of memory, and that’s what intrigues me. My work reflects a preoccupation with mythology, the fragmented nature of memory, and the patterns that emerge in our personal histories and contemporary yearnings. What interests me is how our lives intertwine, and how our memories can become fragmented and then reassembled, sometimes creating more fiction than fact. Born in the South, I couldn’t help being a storyteller–when I learned printing and bookbinding, I was all in. Under the imprint of Firebrand Press, I create books, prints, and ephemera that are letterpress-printed and hand-bound. The materiality of the handmade has always been a driving force behind my work; I love the tactile nature of printing with a vintage press, and love using books as a way to bring words to life. I’ve found a real joy in making paper, and making books from start to finish. My hope is that some of that joy and magic is contagious for readers.
Originally from South Carolina, I was pulled into book-making through storytelling and illustration. I first began letterpress printing in 1998, when I took my first printing class as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis. The letterpress fever was with me for good–and eventually carried me to the MFA program in Book Arts at The University of Alabama. My children’s book, What Do Animals Do on the Weekend?, was first created as a handmade book with linoleum block illustrations. It was later published by Novello Festival Press in 2003. Since then, I’ve experimented with a variety of media, but most of my books are made with woodcuts, linoleum blocks, and photopolymer plates. While I sometimes use a traditional format, I’m also interested in exploring a range of alternative book structures, creating books that have map folds, accordion elements, and moveable parts. I’ve always enjoyed the intimacy of books and the quiet exchanges that happens between a book and its readers. Most of all, I love a narrative that I want to experience again and again–one that invites multiple readings. I hope that readers feel the same about the books I’ve made.
I won’t lie–I draw a lot from my own adventures and experiences when creating these books. I’ve got a quirky sense of humor, so my books tend to have a blend of humor and pathos. (I suppose if I’m going to write about misadventures that made me who I am, I’ve got to laugh at them.) For a peek at what’s happening in my studio (and what antics have inspired me lately), visit my blog page. I’m trying to document more of my undertakings there–adventures in papermaking, binding, and printing. To keep up with the latest news, look for Firebrand Press on Facebook, or sign up to stay on my mailing list. I like to do my part to keep the USPS running, and send some letterpress love through the mail every now and then. So if you like postcards as much as I do, drop me an email and say, “Yeah, I like mail that is art and not bills. Add me to the list.”
I maintain an Etsy shop, and I also do commission work. Commissions include job printing (business cards, birth announcements, invitations), book design and printing, broadsides and posters, plus other works that commemorate your special occasions and happenings. If you’d like to work with me to create something handmade for you or someone you love, email me at firebrandpress[at]gmail[dot]org with your ideas and we’ll discuss how to bring your project to life.
About My Process
For me, letterpress is a magical process. Part of the beauty is that I’m using printing presses that are nearly a century old (give or take, based on the model). I could go on and on about the C&Ps and Vandercooks, but suffice it to say that part of the allure of letterpress is the machines themselves. It’s a laborious process to be sure, but the simplicity and flexibility of these machines is perfect for the kind of work I’m interested in making.
Typesetting is rigorous. It’s a meticulous process that means setting lines of type letter by letter, upside-down. I love the look of metal type, and part of me likes the zen-like process of setting type in a composing stick (at right, Kristen sets type for a poem in my class).
Polymer is a good alternative, if my budget allows for it; but having access to a studio with some beautiful metal typefaces is a delight. Many of my classes include this process—partly because it’s an important historical element to printing, but also because for beginning printers, it’s a good alternative to having photopolymer plates made. Polymer is wondrous but expensive: it’s much more affordable to use and re-use metal type. (Geek bonus: using metal gives you the opportunity to pass on the knowledge of idioms like “Mind your p’s a q’s” and “I’m feeling out of sorts.”)
I’m a lover of relief printing, so presses set up for letterpress make the printing and editioning process easy for me. I can carve wood or linoleum blocks, and when they go into the press, it’s easy to adjust the height of the block in the bed of the press to get the best possible impression—and then replicate it through the course of the edition. It also makes multiple color runs and registration easy.
Above: I start with a drawing, then transfer that image to a block and begin carving. There are usually several rounds of proofing and continued carving until the perfectionist in me subsides and I’m ready for an edition. Bass and birch wood have proven to be excellent for woodcarving—a far cry from the 3/4″ plywood that I used for the Furies series (below).
The above blocks measure 18 inches by 24 inches, which is about the maximum size you can print on a Vandercook SP-20. In theory, plywood is great for carving, but at a certain point the “ply” became a problem for me, creating a low spot in a block that had to be creatively packed to finish the edition.
Do I always work this large? No. I liked the challenge of these large pieces (in their book form, they folded down to a boustrophedon structure that was 6″ square). Part of what I love about books is the intimacy: I like small, quiet objects that you have to really spend some time with to fully understand and appreciate. That’s part of the magic for me—the rereading and rediscovering that comes with multiple looks at such objects. For smaller works, I do enjoy using tabletop presses (see below).
The beauty of these is the simplicity: they do what I need them to do, but with no mechanized parts, they are likely to live as long as we treat them well. Once all of the parts are in place and working properly, it’s hard for these presses to fail. So if anyone has one kicking around in their garage and want to see it go to a new home, shoot me an email, will you? My own studio (aka my living room) is pretty bare-bones. I’m lucky to live close to a studio I can rent when I have big projects, but for the time being, it’s me and my little sign press by the dining table. I continue to fantasize about the garage studio that might one day hold a couple of these presses and some cases of type.
Want to see my works in progress? Check out my blog to keep abreast of the latest news, experiments, success and failures. I’m always sharing photos of works in progress, classes going on, and upcoming events.
New to the letterpress process? Check out this video that shows a linoleum block being carved and printed using a Vandercook #1 in my itty bitty studio.