A repetitive, cha-ching-humm-clunk, fills the air as I step foot into the creative space of Greg Mitchell. This print shop, located on the Sharpridge property just up the hill from the Fayettechill Headquarters, is just one of the property’s many ways to reconnect with a simpler time past. The hypnotic sounds comes from none other than a spin-start printing press that dates back to 1923.
“I just like to give it a head start,” says Greg as he whirls the press’ wheel and gets the machine churning.
Greg Mitchell is owner of local hand-printing company, I Am Here Cards. A retired cartographer, he found printmaking in 2015 as a way to apply his long-time love of map drawing in a less technology based fashion.
“Back when I was in college and taking mapping classes,” he remembers, “it was pre-computer and we were using exacto knives and mapping pens-- and I loved that part of it.” Greg recognizes the radical shift that technology has had on the world as it is today. “So, now, hand printing is destined to be a niche market,” he says.
He utilizes the Sharpridge Print Shop several times a week to craft wedding invites, business cards, coffee bags, and now-- all of Fayettechill’s posters, postcards, and canvas bags.
“So I draw all the maps, in fact this is the first one I did,” he says as he points to the Fayetteville, AR map that Fayettechill recently commissioned him to do postcards of.
When Greg started his journey as a printmaker he was in need of a studio.
“I just started asking around and was wanting to get a press. Everyone was saying, well have you talked to Frank Sharp?” Frank is the longtime resident of Sharpridge and owner of the historic Ozark Mountain Smokehouse. “Frank ran the Smokehouse for ump-teen years & they did all their own printing… menus and coupons, order sheets, and time sheets for all his employees. At the beginning, I’m sure Frank did all the printing himself, but later he had a printer who worked for him," says Greg.
The print shop tells a story of the past. Greg walks me through the history of printmaking. “Letterpress originally was done with lead type.” He picks up a nearly microscopic 10pt “t” from one of the antique wooden cases. “You can imagine, you’re writing a book or setting a newspaper, and one by one you assemble these in rows. Very tedious, you can imagine."
He explains the origins of uppercase and lowercase. “Yeah, one of the stories I love," he says, "is in the old days they’d take the capital letters and they’d put them up here,” he points to the top ‘case.’ “Then they’d take the small letters and put them down here. So that became the uppercase and this became the lowercase.”
Greg continues the tour, showing me the evolution of type, how individual letter setting transformed into “slugs” that could be made at the local newspaper and used to print a single slogan or phrase at a time. He picks up an antique slug that reads “Ozark Mountain Smokehouse.” Eventually, pictures or drawings were also made into lead casts.
“How it works now,” Greg explains, “is you take a scan of your image and send it away and you get this plastic plate made-- they’re called polymer plates. They’re basically like a rubber stamp but really, really tough.” The polymer plate he shows me is the one he’s using to print the Fayetteville map postcard that will be included in Fayettechill’s new Heritage Print collection. I’m informed that the polymer plate, once secured on top of a metal plate, must meet the standard “type high,” exactly .918 inches.
Greg turns his attention back to the project at hand and spreads dark red ink onto the printing press’ giant circular “ink plate,” then whirls the machine to start. As he waits for the ink to spread evenly across the plate, he explains that each part of a print must be done separately-- the front, the back, and each additional color done over a series of days so that each layer can dry entirely.
Greg meticulously lines his paper up to a “chase,” essentially a tiny metal frame that he uses as a guide for finding the sweet spot that will perfectly cast the red ink into the hollow typeface. The process is one for a perfectionist. Greg prints a handful of cards before he finds the perfect alignment. From here forth, the process is fast. Greg remains present and in rhythm with the non-stop machine, removing freshly printed cards and replacing them with a new card every five or so seconds.
“I really love the actual printing part,” Greg states. “I love these machine, they’re so satisfying, I love the big iron and the fact that I’m using this machine that was built 95 years ago.”
To shop your own hand-printed poster or postcard, please visit Greg's full collection, the Heritage Collection, on our website. And keep an eye out for more custom designs-- from here forth Fayettechill will be solely using Greg’s hand-printing for our prints, posters, & cards, taking digital printing out of the equation.