Letterpress printing, to a certain extent, feels as Nashville as hot chicken, thanks in part to the historic Hatch Show Print, whose designs have set the mood for many a musical moment in Music City. (Who among us doesn't have a Hatch print commemorating a beloved Ryman night?)
Hatch played a big role in the growth of Inglewood's Sawtooth Printhouse -- co-leader Nieves Uhl designed and printed there for five years, before teaming with partner Christopher Cheney to develop Sawtooth, and adding a new voice to the letterpress/printmaking chorus in Nashville.
Sawtooth's work mixes historical vibes and modern cool, with creative imagery, high-quality lettering and bold color. That so many couples choose Sawtooth to design their wedding visuals speaks to the team's aesthetic skills -- trusting artists with a day you'll remember the rest of your days is something of a serious thumbs up.
Nieves and Christopher have also been devoting time to carrying the letterpress tradition forward in Nashville, teaming with East Nashvile-launched The Skillery and hosting printing classes at the Sawtooth shop. The next class, set for January 11, is already sold out (a waitlist is available) but the Sawtooth team has made sharing their skills a fairly regular part of their trade, so good chance you can expect more. Meantime, Eastsiders can pick up Sawtooth prints in the neighborhood at PULP (729 Porter Road) or snag the team for all manner of custom work.
Ahead of their next class, we asked Nieves for a little Sawtooth history, and a peek into the future.
The East Nashvillian: How did you guys get drawn to letterpress and screenprinting, initially?
Nieves Uhl: "I went to school for graphic design, but always felt more comfortable working by hand instead of on a computer. What I love about traditional letterpress is that I can go through the whole design process without computers at all.
"Chris is more the screen printing guy. He also went to school for design and hated it. He's a great painter and illustrator, so he likes to be able to take his ink drawings and translate them directly into multi-color screen prints."
Are you overall more attracted to more traditional printing methods, over modern/digital printing, or do you tend to make use of both?
"Occasionally, we will use computers for scanning or printing out illustrations we are going to carve or have plates made of, but otherwise we both only work by hand.
"This is something I think is lacking in a lot of graphic design programs. It is so important for designers (or anyone with a computer!) to experience the use of moveable type, and actually see and touch a physical object that is only represented on a keyboard in the digital world. Seeing how a pile of wood and metal letters can turn into a finished poster is a really cool thing. Also, we're using antique equipment that is older than my parents or grandparents. We are tapping into the history of so many typesetters and printers that used this same type and machines, and making something that fits well in the modern world. That is incredible."
Is it harder to push your own unique aesthetic through, if you work within a well-defined tradition like letterpress?
"Working in the confines of traditional letterpress actually makes one think harder about how to have your own aesthetic come through. We each have a different design style, and we both illustrate and carve new blocks for our collection all the time. Through that we are able to add our own personal feel to everything we do."
You've taught letterpress classes with The Skillery a number of times now -- have you found that folks are able to pick up the process/get creative with it pretty well inside a single workshop?
"This January class will be our fourth with the Skillery. They are about seven hours long. We give the basic rundown of the process, have the participants throw out ideas, share how we'd go about it and then throw them into it.
"We are always there to guide, whether it's to advise something more simple or to help find a way to make a unique idea come to life. Every one who has been to one of our classes has left with a working knowledge of the letterpress process, beginning to end, and having completed an edition of prints. We've had great reviews and have had requests for more advanced classes in the future. So we'll have to see about that."