Featured Artist: Colleen Ellse Letter & Lark Letterpress Studio

13 Oct

You’re Invited!

Take a moment to “virtually” step into the letterpress studio of Letter & Lark at the AS220 Printshop in Providence, Rhode Island. Here you will meet designer and letterpress printer Colleen Ellse, whose love for this classic form of printing is celebrated in each turn of the press.

If you aren’t familiar with the centuries-old craft of letterpress printing, you can watch this very cool video of Colleen in action by Leo F. Bonarrigo.

Letter & Lark offers completely custom pieces for weddings, milestone celebrations, business branding, as well as a letterpress paper goods line of note cards, prints and gift sets. Colleen personally designs and draws by hand all of the illustrations for her letterpress paper products. (She’s also an amazing photographer as you’ll see if you visit her flickr page)

Artwork by Kristin DiVona, Printing by Colleen Ellse

Colleen has a very simple and elegant aesthetic, with a focus on delicate type and line work, with “punches of bold color”. She also works with other designers as in this wedding suite designed by Kristin DiVona. She says, “Whenever I work with clients on custom work, I really focus on making the design process really enjoyable for both of us”.

Artwork by Kristin DiVona, Letterpress by Colleen Ellse

I asked Colleen some questions about her business and her journey as an artist, and I am happy to share her story with you:

What’s your background?

I graduated from the Art Institute of Boston in 2004 with a degree in Graphic Design and worked for a designer for several years.  I love designing on my computer, but also love the tactile experience working with something by hand as an artist. Letterpress is the perfect combination of those two aspects of my work.

How did you learn your art?

After I lost my design job at the start of the recession, I decided on a whim to take a day workshop in letterpress printing.  I loved it so much I took several others, and then it totally snowballed: I accepted an internship, which then lead to a printing position at a letterpress studio.  I studied under several printers for just over two years before I started printing my own work.

What kind of research do you do for your art?

I’m inspired by so much of other creative folk’s work and collect a lot of images for inspiration. Patterns, color palettes, typography, photography – sometimes I’ll see a photo from a catalog or blog where a tiny section has a color grouping that I immediately think could translate into a 2 or 3 ink color letterpress piece.  I read a lot of design & lifestyle blogs as well as make good use of my public library when I need any historical research!  When all else fails, I go for a walk outside… nature always is the best inspiration.

What themes do you pursue?

I love using calligraphy and quirky illustrations in my work, things that show the presence of the hand-made.  I also like fun subject matter like vintage tea cups, British townhouses with ornate, colorful front doors, organic patterns, and lichen (I’ve definitely been happily surprised to find how many fans there are of my Lichen print)!

What is your dream project?

I would love to do some unusual, out-of-the-box wedding invitations with multiple components! Color, fabric, different types of paper – things that set the stage for a wonderful, memorable day. I’m also really interested in doing more collaborations with other artists and seeing how our different ideas could meld together to create a piece I couldn’t have created on my own.

Professionally, what’s your goal?

I’m always asking myself this question!  I currently print out of the AS220 Printshop in Providence and my biggest goal is to find my own press (they don’t make letterpress machines anymore, so it’s a matter of finding an antique one) as well as a studio for 2013.  My home is also my storage and design space, and I really need a creative, physical studio to work in.  I’m also hoping to expand my product lines and offer more note cards, increase the number of stores that carry my work, participate in more interesting craft fairs throughout the year, and my favorite: work on more custom projects with clients.  And as with any new small business owner, I’m eagerly waiting the day when my studio is self sufficient enough for me to hire interns and some part time help!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

My Mom always said, “if you’re gonna do a job, do it right.”  I’m a stickler for type being set and designed just so, and having everything printed straight and perfectly aligned.  Sometimes it take a lot more time to get things accomplished, but I think that thoughtfulness shows in my work and customers and clients appreciate that love and care that goes into the finished pieces.  I also think this quote is relative to how you work with people; whether it’s a bride working on her wedding invitations or a craft fair customer buying a card… I always try to make the experience of people working with me and my studio a wonderful, positive one.

What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

In my professional past, I’ve been a nanny, a hotel front desk person, a hospital secretary, a museum security guard, a telephone reservationist, and a retail sales associate.  I can safely say that I completely 100% love what I do and wouldn’t ever go back to any of those jobs!  I wish our culture would do more to support and encourage artists.  It’s really difficult to sacrifice what you love for a job that’s unfulfilling and doesn’t use you to your full potential, or drains your energy (or sleeping hours!) when you could be developing your creative self.  The world needs more artists!

You can find out more about Colleen and her business, Letter & Lark Custom Letterpress Studio on her website or on Facebook.

Please join us at Festival Fete’s Holiday Market on December 1st and 2nd to see more of Colleen’s work!

Many thanks to our sponsor


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