For The Love of Letterpress
Penn Township couple finds centuries-old printing technique rewarding.
By Courtney H. Diener-Stokes – Reading Eagle correspondent
Penn Township, PA - Janelle and Shane Paisley, Penn Township, were high school sweethearts, graduating from Tulpehocken in 1998. After more than 10 years of dating, they decided to marry in 2004. However, once they were engaged, they had something else to make official prior to their marriage – establishing their first business together.
So they brought Design Revolution Studios to life in 2003.
The full-service marketing firm, where design is the focus, provides print and interactive media to businesses and consumers.
The couple’s individual strengths complement one another in operating their business.
“I can come up with some of the crazy ideas, and he can figure out how to make it all work,” Janelle said with a laugh.
Shane, 29, has a business and marketing background from Penn State and acts as the managing director. Janelle, 30, studied graphic design at the Art Institute of York and is creative director.
A business project in 2008 opened up a whole new world to the Paisleys.
“I was researching a project, and I got really into hand-rendered type,” said Janelle, describing how she started her path to finding out about the technique of letterpress printing.
“For me it seemed like a good way to disconnect between what we do now, which is so high-tech and so computer oriented,” she said.
They found that disconnect to be a nice relief, so about a month after completing the project, the Paisleys drove to Brooklyn, N.Y., to buy an antique letterpress.
“Letterpress is so low-tech – nothing is electric, everything is by hand,” Janelle said of the manual press they bought.
Like an old sewing machine, it runs with a foot treadle.
Manufactured by Chandler & Price, circa 1892, the press’ original home played a part in the Paisleys’ decision to purchase it.
“There was a plate on it with an old Philadelphia printing company – we felt like we were bringing it home,” Shane said.
They learned the press spent most of its life in Philadelphia prior to finding its way to Brooklyn.
After taking a two-day workshop on how to use it, they brought home the 1,200-pound press, which is 5 feet high and 41/2 feet wide, buying it for $1,200.
The press is housed in a small building located behind the Paisleys’ 1924 farmhouse that acts as a print studio, complete with post and beam architecture. Self-described audiophiles, you can hear anything from heavy metal to folksy music playing in their studio.
While they agreed it was a good idea to explore the art of letterpress, initially it was intended to be a hobby, not a business. That all changed once they got it home.
“When we brought it home and experimented with different papers and inks and impression levels, we fell in love with it,” Janelle said.
As a result of this newfound love, Paisley Dog Press was born in 2008. An offshoot of Design Revolution Studios, Paisley Dog Press is an artisanal letterpress print shop offering everything from greeting and occasional cards to coasters, bookmarks, business cards and wedding invitations – all made using the letterpress technique. They offer standard designs as well as custom and semi-custom work.
The Paisleys find there is something very special about an item made using the letterpress technique.
“Each piece is a one of a kind – each piece is an original work of art,” Shane said.
“Its part of what makes it so special,” Janelle said.
Describing the mechanical setup of the press for each design as well as how each color involves taking the paper through the press for another pass on top of constant judging of pressure and ink coverage, it’s apparent it isn’t a technique for one with a short attention span.
“There is nothing fast or easy about it – you really have to love it,” she said of what could be viewed as a tedious process in our high-tech society. With a letterpress, everything is done by hand. In the case of the Paisley’s printing style, it has a deep relief quality that gives it an exceptional texture you can see and feel.
“We wanted to strive to produce the best possible craftsmanship and deliver unique and relevant designs,” Shane said.
You can find Paisley Dog Press’ products at Hello Blue Bird in West Reading. They also have a store on Etsy, a Web site for buying and selling handmade items, which is where the bulk of their sales come from.
“We have shipped products to Russia, Singapore and Britain,” said Janelle, who added most sales are in the U.S.
Art, music and design are the primary factors driving their life. The division between their personal and professional life is often blurred.
“You have to live it – have to be passionate about what you do,” they said of the business they are in.
“Work for us isn’t necessarily so much like work because we have such a good time doing what we’re doing,” Shane said.
Given their outlook on their professional life, it’s not surprising the Paisleys, who define themselves as craftsmen, draw inspiration from what’s around them when coming up with their designs.
“There was a whole family of squirrels living outside the window in our studio,” Janelle said of their very first design they did on press that depicts a squirrel.
A design of the Liberty Bell transpired out of a trip to Philadelphia.
It’s no wonder their two Labrador Retrievers, Karma and Lily, inspired their logo and business name.. They describe their designs as funky, humorous and modern with a little bit of a vintage edge.
“We are using packaging now that is made with a corn-based plastic,” she said.
They learned that basing a business on the letterpress technique is not only a completely viable business opportunity, but also comes with a large share of rewards.
“It’s fun to see something so elegant and beautiful be created at the end of the day by this old greasy funky piece of machinery,” Shane said.
“It’s antique charm you can see and feel,” Janelle said.
Contact Courtney H. Diener-Stokes: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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