Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Exhibitor Spotlight: Letterpress Printer and Artist Val Lucas of Bowerbox Press

Marty Ittner: What has Bowerbox been up to lately?

Val Lucas: I have been printing a lot of custom wedding invitations this summer, as well as working on new woodcuts for coasters and small prints. I'm planning to begin some small, fun color reduction woodcuts, hopefully in time for the Fair. I've also been restoring an old C&P letterpress and am really excited to get that working again; the new press will probably become my real workhorse press for custom work, leaving the bigger Colt's Armory available for printing big woodcuts. Restoring presses is something I love just as much as actually printing!

Marty: What are some differences you see between the Baltimore and DC letterpress/art communities?

Val: Well, Baltimore is about to get its first community shop, which should draw a lot of printmakers out into the open— I know of several commercial shops in Baltimore but I'm sure that many printers are lurking in the shadows! MICA is offering more letterpress classes, so more people are learning about it. I'm a member of APHA (American Printing History Association) and the Potomac chapter includes printers from the DC area as well as Baltimore, Virginia and even Delaware; but I'm only really familiar with DC through my network of APHA friends, most of whom operate private presses. I have not had a lot of contact with the younger printers in DC—I hear of great things going on at Pyramid but haven't been able to participate. I do hope that both communities continue to grow and find new ways of reaching out to each other.

Marty: I see you created a Edgar Allan Poe poster...did you know Pyramid Atlantic will be putting on "The Big Read" focusing on Poe? Hal Poe will be also speaking at the Book Arts Fair.

Val: I heard that Hal will be there— I am excited to hear him speak. I created the broadside in honor of Poe's 200th birthday, but also because I was itching to carve a really big block. The broadside is the maximum paper size I could fit on the Vandercook and still fit the entire poem in large enough to read!

Marty: What will you be bringing to the Book Arts Fair?

Val: Bowerbox Press will be showing The Raven and Albatross broadsides as well as other woodcuts in the Avecedarium series (alphabet of birds), reduction prints, woodcut cards and also handmade books featuring woodcut covers and glass portholes.

Marty: How did you come up with the name BowerBox?

Val: Bowerbox is a combination of 2 things, bowerbird: my favorite birds, they built elaborate bowers to attract a mate which they decorate with flowers, berries, bits of plastic- each bird is an individual, a collector; and birdbox, an idea for a website name that was taken. Best of both!

Marty: I love your beautiful bird renderings. Are you a bird watcher? What sources to you use?

Val: I'm only a dabbler in bird-watching; I do love watching and scouting for birds whenever I get the chance. I grew up outside of Baltimore near the park, where lots of birds live. I consider myself lucky to have grown up there, and also to have been interested enough to learn the names of the birds (bedtime reading was the Peterson bird guide for awhile.) Most of my images, sadly, come from birds that have hit a window or other structure. I carefully photograph and sketch them, not only to memorialize them but to use as inspiration for my work. It's sad, but it's also much easier to draw a bird that isn't moving. I also have 2 lovebirds at home, and sometimes they show up in my work.

Marty: There has been a letterpress craze for a few years. Do you think the momentum is still there, or has the market become oversaturated?

Val: There is definitely a resurgence in interest, both in printing itself and the letterpress printed product. I think it's great that so many young artists are learning how to print, and more importantly saving all the old equipment from the scrap heap. I do worry a little about the "fad" side of it, as even large corporations are noticing the trend (Starbucks using faux-wood type lettering, Fossil working in Hatch Show Print) but most of my customers are still genuinely impressed by the feel and look of the letterpressed pieces. However, if the fad gets out of control, I just hope to continue working true to my own craft and heart, creating well-printed pieces of art and respecting the tradition, and I'll still be here when everyone moves on to the next thing.

Marty: What's next? What can we look forward to from Bowerbox?

Val: Well, Bowerbox Press is hoping to break into wholesaling cards to stores, and at the same time I'd like to expand what I'm doing with my fine prints. I have done a lot of craft fairs, and while they are great they just take so much effort that I often neglect working on that new print in order to get ready. I'd love to finish up my Avecedarium series, and maybe work on some larger reduction woodcuts. Of course I also plan to continue rescuing and restoring old presses to printing condition.

The Raven, 2009, woodcut and polymer on Arches Cover, 15x21. Photo of Val Lucas courtesy of Stuart Bradley.

Find Val at and and at the Book Arts Fair in November!


  1. Very interesting conversation. I love the Raven woodcut. Will be looking to see more of the bird prints at the fair.

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