In my recent travels I had the great fortune to tour three letterpress shops and three museums of printing and typography. I am sure this is only the first of many trips, as well as the beginning of several important long-lasting friendships. First up: highlights from Spain and the Netherlands.
I first encountered Granja Gráfica via Instagram and immediately connected with their work and philosophy. Gaby and Elies gave me a warm welcome to their shop in Gracia, a hipstery artisan neighborhood in Barcelona where the graffiti is as good as the gelato. We fell to press talk, print analysis, and small business shenanigans so quickly and with such ease you’d never guess there was an ocean and a continent and a half between our two shops. And in case the connection wasn’t sweet enough already: granja means farm, echoing the nickname of the shop where I apprenticed, Stern & Faye’s beloved Print Farm.
I ogled la Granja’s wood and metal type collection while Elies fine-tuned a linocut for a menu job and Gaby convinced me my rusty Spanish wasn’t half bad. We talked about what it means to be an artist and run a business, how to market with integrity, communicating and sharing your work vs. simply trying to sell it. Much discussion revolved around social media best practice and the challenges of curating digital space in all its many facets and expectations while fighting to prioritize the reason for it all: the actual work!
Those two hours at Granja Gráfica were some of my best in Barcelona. After a print swap and hearty congrats, we hugged like old friends and I left my fellow printers to the pleasant buzzing and clinking of yellow ink milling in on their Korrex cylinder press.
Thomas Gravemaker is a Dutch printer with bright twinkly eyes and a quick tongue, steeped in European letterpress tradition both old and new. As Amsterdam is a connection hub among major European cities, it follows that the proprietor of its letterpress shop is a nexus for printerly concerns ranging across the continent. Letterpress Amsterdam is housed on the first floor of one of the old canal houses in the city center, just across from the palace plaza. A long narrow shop, it stretches away from the street through centuries of architectural additions and multiple buildings connected by old covered-over courtyards. Old bicycles hang from the ceiling and press equipment mingles with costume attire the further back you go, gradually giving way to shared space with a theater company.
Within ten minutes of entering the shop, it was clear Thomas and I are on the same page where it matters most: typographically and old school training in the craft. Espresso was brewed, shop sign flipped to closed, and we pulled out prints and looked and peered and compared, all the while talking technique, impression, spacing. Thomas was just back from a letterpress conference in Milan and we poured over the portfolio, produced a week prior by printers from all over Europe. We swapped mentor stories, press moving stories, and finally swapped several prints. I left Thomas’ shop with a big grin and instructions for exactly where to go and who to see re: my next letterpress destination in western Germany. I wandered away down the ‘Gentleman’s Canal’ amidst a constant throng of bicycles and a slight breeze off the water, filled with wonder and excitement for future international letterpress connections.