Kathryn from Blackbird Letterpress is a seasoned printmaker, stationer, and former teacher! Based in Baton Rouge, Kathryn has grown and built her business in Louisiana since her MFA days and has become known especially for her die cut greeting cards. Today Kathryn is taking us through how she’s grown and transitioned her business throughout the years. Welcome Kathryn! —Megan Soh
From Kathryn: When I finished my MFA in printmaking at LSU in 2003, I bought my first letterpress, a Chandler and Price 8×12. I moved the press into a friend’s house who had a large back room and started printing custom work — business cards, wedding invitations, etc. Before making Blackbird a full-time job, I taught adjunct at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette teaching drawing, 2D & 3D Design, and Art Appreciation. I moved back to Baton Rouge in 2007 with the press and type. In 2009, while keeping overhead low (my printshop moved into my husband’s metal fabrication shop) I decided to put all my energy into Blackbird. This meant expanding from custom and retail online & local markets to the wholesale market and exhibiting at trade shows.
Our printshop is located in mid-city Baton Rouge in what I like to call the “cemetery district” (we are next door to a 19th century cemetery). We moved into a new studio in 2016 and this expanded our space, almost tripling it in size. My husband and I renovated an old office building for about 4 years where we live upstairs and the printshop is downstairs.
We focus mostly on letterpress greeting cards, handmade notebooks, calendars, while also continuing to provide custom letterpress printing from business cards to fine wedding invitations. We print, die cut, bind notebooks, and assemble our products in house.
Many of our cards are die cut shaped cards (like the folded hand-shaped and skull-shaped cards). Our biggest sellers are the animal cards in which most are die cut to hold a gift card, money, note, or photo. We love to design things that move, like our perpetual calendars and volvelle info spinners (National Parks, Brilliant Women).
Most days are full of nonstop packaging, binding notebooks, and printing, with some design or drawing thrown in somewhere. We have a board that keeps track of the list of card reprinting to do, as well as lists of orders to fill. Personally, as the owner/printer/designer/bookkeeper, my biggest struggle is getting it all done. I do all of our accounting, plus much of the printing and designing, so it can be difficult to fit it all in a day. I’m lucky to have a great team that focuses on printing, scoring, order filling, cutting paper, and custom printing and designing.
Most card designs start with pencil and paper, from sketches to the final drawing finished in black ink. The drawing gets scanned into the computer where it is formatted and then compositionally laid out in order for plates to be ordered for printing. As a team we discuss color options, as well as envelope color and packaging options. Plates arrive, paper gets cut, and then the card is on to print.
We have 5 presses in the studio, 8×12 C&P platen press, 10×15 C&P platen press, Vandercook SP15, and 2 10×15 Heidelberg Windmills. Each job or card is printed on the press that will print the design the best. Each press has it’s strengths and we use them accordingly. For example, the Windmills do the die cutting and quantity production printing and the Vandercook will print notebook covers and wedding invitations.
The printed pieces get die cut or trimmed and scored if needed and then move to their inventory place on the shelf until they are packaged and shipped to one of our retailers!
All photos courtesy of Blackbird Letterpress.
Want to be featured in the Behind the Stationery column? Reach out to Megan at megan [at] ohsobeautifulpaper [dot] com for more details.