MALCOLM GLADWELL, IN HIS BOOK, OUTLIER, describes the need to spend 10,000 hours of work at something to get good at it. Between the two of us, we suspect we are about at the 18,000 mark. Looking through the body of work, trying to assess how well you are "getting there," you do with excitement that you get to drop a bunch of not-quite-there work out of view, but then review a whole lot of that-was-close.

Ours is a portfolio that focuses on printing via letterpress and bookmaking and follows our design goal of "S.O.I." 

  • Surprising
    "Hmmm. Letterpress? Wow!"
  • Original
    "Whoa. I've not seen that before." And that needs to come from someone whose work you admire and someone who has seen and thought about a lot of stuff.
  • Inevitable
    Once you've seen the solution, you cannot imagine a better one.

The photo above shows us with our table at the 2017 Manhattan Book Fair sponsored by the Fine Press Book Association. It cuts through the clutter standing there with your S.O.I. in mind, your work exposed against the other bookmakers and letterpress printers who know some stuff and have seen some stuff with their own personal S.O.I., and with the kinds of knowledgeable people who are walking the aisles.


The letterpress process, especially our work, is old-school, often with hand set wood and metal type. When working with clients or printing for others, we often use photopolymer plates, to provide us with more typographic and image control.

We love a surface that begs for a finger to glide over its surface. We love the ditches that Eric Gill's colored type lies in. Here is Gill's quote to clear that sentence up.

TYPOGRAPHY (the reproduction of lettering by means of movable letter types) was originally done by pressing the inked surface or ‘face’ of a letter made of wood or metal against a surface of paper or vellum. The unevenness and hardness of paper, the irregularities of type (both in respect of their printing faces and the dimensions of their ‘bodies’) and the mechanical imperfections of presses and printing methods made the work of early printers notable for corresponding unevennesses, irregularities & mechanical imperfections. To ensure that every letter left its mark more or less completely & evenly, considerable and noticeable impression was made in the paper. The printed letter was a coloured letter at the bottom of a ditch.

--Eric Gill from An Essay on Typography, 1931

We like doing projects that have a sense of permanence to them, where the piece is a keepsake, and its possession makes others feel especially connected.


Step through the door and let your eyes adjust. Take a breath and smell the colors of the ink. Listen to the whispers of the presses.

Feel the heavy industrial smoothness of the cast iron bed and flywheel handles of the paper cutter on your left. Let your fingers tell you that the paper you're touching is made of cotton, made to last. Slide the sheets under the clamp and give the handle a silent spin as you watch the blade glide effortlessly down and rise slowly back to the top.

Glance at the 4-foot curved blade of the board shear as you walk past, eyes focusing on two 6-foot tall cast iron aliens standing silently on tiptoe, side by side. Actually, only one is an alien, an Albion iron hand press made in London in 1928. The larger one hails from New York, an 1868 Washington Hoe #5, weighing about 1,500 pounds. Wrap your hands around their wooden handlebars, give a tug and imagine printing 250 sheets an hour for 10 hours by hand.

Bring your curiosity as you walk over to peek into cabinets holding a thousand cases of antique wood and metal type, plain and fancy borders, little decorative odds and ends called "dingbats," all from the past. Straight ahead is a 3,500-pound whirring-clinking-clanking-sometimes-squirting, Rube-Goldberg-looking, hot-metal-type-casting Intertype C4 linecaster invented in 1886 and built in nearby Baltimore.

To your right, behind you are the favorite workhorses—two Vandercook cylinder presses. Blocky, and not very pretty to look at, but capable of carving the most beautiful deep impression of type you've ever felt in soft paper.

So, what do we see in this.

Why we got interested in letterpress. Typography. Craft. Sponantiety.

Collaboration. The fact that we are willing to rent the equipment.

Power of the press. Like printing protest posters and cards.

Like to find ways to work in ways that are unusual (Waldorf).

Collaboration between the two of us. Spending days together.

Working museum.

Maybe something about the name (Lead Zepplin, Press of Sighs)

Compare to Cypher + Nichols + Design.

Projects we would like to do.

Excited about being part of the story that is woven from the early days through Gutenberg until today.

Like spreading the word.

Like working with younger people.

Workshops for more than 1,350.

Emphasis on creativity.

Study abroad

workshop with alan kitching

teaching computer was getting very tiring

logo (banknote is at bottom)

Lead Graffiti is a letterpress studio that likes working in ways that work with, but don't just replicate past experiences either in concept or in technique. We like taking a normal process and ignoring it. We like hand setting wood and and metal type in curves and locking up on angles. We like taking an idea whose architecture looks like it was done one way, but upon investigation must be done another. We like applying letterpress to projects that when you see them, you would say, I've never seen that before. We also like including others in our work, especially the young where we have done creative letterpress workshops with kids as young as 5 and bookmaking workshops making cased-in books with kids as young as 10. We like non-Lead Graffiti names on colophons.

When we get up in the morning this is the creative path we are searching for.

Surprising. Original. Inevitable.

When Ray was teaching in Visual Communications at the University of Delaware a group of the design faculty spent the better part of one summer talking teaching strategies with Hall of Fame designer, Bob Gill. Over time we developed a teaching strategy we referred to as S.O.I.—good work should be

SURPRISING : The solution should catch the viewer off guard. Like sneaking up behind someone and suddenly tapping them on the shoulder.

ORIGINAL : The solution shouldn't have the sense that you've seen it somewhere before. And when you've seen as much as we've seen that isn't particularly east to push things you've seen out of the way.

INEVITABLE : Finally, when you see the solution there should be the feeling, "Of course." The solution should be so obvious as you cannot imagine anyone else not getting the idea. But remember. Surprising. Original. First.

Most days we still get up in the morning to follow this plan. Exactly.

It is worth mentioning that we had a well-awarded, 4-decade career in standard graphic and advertising design that gave us a solid stepping off point to start something new when we first started down the letterpress path in 2002.

Look around. See how you think we've done so far.

Building a solid foundation made of
concrete, first-hand experiences

We won't argue the throw-caution-to-the-wind excitement of just jumping in the deep end of the pool and figuring it out yourself. Historically, it is the way many of us have worked much of the time. But...

While letterpress is pretty basic in its process—put ink on a raised surface and push a piece of paper against it—just getting the ink to stick to the paper versus getting the ink on paper in a way to satisfy a client or a consumer looking at a couple hundred other options, is a bit more complicated. Seventy years ago you could expect to spend a 7-year apprenticeship learning how to do those things right.

We aren't arguing for a 7-year commitment, but we do think learning from someone who has seen some things is a pretty good way to get things started quickly and set on a solid foundation.

Almost any letterpress equipment is old and except for a few reconstructionists they are not being produced any more so it is critical that you maintain the equipment to a reasonable level.

Know the rules, then you can break them intelligently.

At Lead Graffiti, we like fighting against and breaking the rules. Consequently, it is often nice to know the rule you are breaking. And the fact that others aren't doing it might mean that there is a reason not to do it versus it is an original idea that no one has thought of before. If you like peanut butter, it just might be better to understand how a mousetrap works before you lick it.

Just saying.

Knowing how versus having fun doing it

One of the innovative elements that Lead Graffiti has brought into its workshops is the ability to include a much larger number of people into the process. The workshops offer great ways for a class to work together, building some bonds while collaborating. Design students can walk out after one day with a finished portfolio piece that most designers wouldn't believe. We also are connected to the Library of Congress and Special Collections at the University of Delaware who maintain complete collections of the results of our creative letterpress workshops, demonstrating to students that

Also, this equipment is old, from a time when people worked with their hands a lot. Subtle differences can occur when you are working with metal type, worn down over a hundred years and tens of thousands of impressions. Wood type is wood and dries out, absorbs water, warps, and dings when you drop it. If you are reasonably smart, you can figure out ways to make corrections. But maybe some experienced advice can tell you a way to get better results or a way that will work in half the time.

Soft packing vs hard packing. Mylar vs. Kimlon. Oil-based vs. rubber-based vs. soy-based inks. PMS color vs. out-of-the-can color. We could add to this list for a couple of days.

We feel like a Farmer's Insurance add, but we can say "We know a few things because we've seen a few things. We started our involvement with letterpress late in life when we knew a lot about design, creative strategy, branding, and a boatload of technical data. We stumbled onto letterpress in London. 

We offer three types of workshops.

Creative Letterpress

Creative letterpress which a focus on helping someone deal only with the fun part of the process, such as responding to type as object, rotating an M so it could also be a 3 or and E or a W. There are creative things you can do with type, but when you are working from a keyboard the bottom is almost always the bottom. The letters on each side of a letter are all the same typeface. Rotating things isn't hard, but generally i isn't done. Strangely, letterpress can be an extremely spontaneous experience, providing an incredibly clear look at the "shapes" of letterforms versus the letter as part of our language.

Creative letterpress workshops include

  • Meander book is a 14-page, hard cover book, printed in 2 colors, and bound without gluing or sewing
  • H.N. Werkman offers a way to see type as shape that makes a great early experience for students studying typography
  • Typographic broadside offers a 3- to 4-hour workshop to give participants a quick intro to hand composition with metal type and also bring a visual tone to the words

Technical letterpress

For those of you that think you would be interested in letterpress but want to do good work that important people will look at and be impressed, you need to learn to do it well. The technical workshops let you dig into the "how things work" level of letterpress. Many times a change in the impression of 0.002" is the difference between a letter hardly printing at all and printing quite well. These offer great ways to bring a hand crafted quality back into your work that can be lost a bit on the computer. You seldom feel the need for a Command-P.

  • Letterpress 101 offers the basics of hand composition with wood and metal type while printing on a tabletop platen press.
  • Vandercook is main production press at Lead Graffiti, allowing deep impression and very accurate registration
  • Floor-model platens have long been the workhorses of the small letterpress shop
  • Iron hand presses offers the chance to stand back about 2 centuries and maybe 5 and a half.

Technical letterpress workshops give you the opportunity to rent equipment for your own projects. If you are doing them with a client, you can even bring the client in to watch or help. We won't tell.


Ray often talked in his design classes that about the differences in being an information designer, where you worry most about visual hierarchy, and propaganda design, where you worry about changing how people think about it. He also talked about being a content person (information design) and an envelope person who worries about how to wrap the content. We like wrapping it up and bookmaking give us some great hand skills to add an element to the finish of a project that can push it up a notch or two.

  • One day, one book produces a cased-in hardback book from beginning to end
  • Coptic stitch is a great way to design a book with an exposed spine showing the stitching, often in creative styles
  • Clamshell boxes are an architectural way to house a book or items in an imaginative and structural way.
  • Pastepaper offers a way for an adult to drive back to being a 4-year old