One of the world’s oldest forms of printing still looking swell.
TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOU – WHERE ARE YOU BASED AND WHERE ARE YOU FROM ORIGINALLY?
I’m based in Southern California – my studio is in Hawthorne, I live in Manhattan Beach.
I’m originally from Atlanta, Georgia. I moved to LA quickly after college – promised myself I’d make it at least two years – and it’s been 10. I’m so over the moon in love with California.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE TRADITIONAL ART OF LETTERPRESS FOR OUR READERS?
Letterpress is one of the oldest types of printing. It’s where type or a plate is inked by rollers and the design is literally pressed into the paper. Each piece of paper is individually fed into the press, and only one color can be processed at a time. It’s a painstakingly laborious but beautiful process.
WAS LETTERPRESS SOMETHING YOU’D ALWAYS WANTED TO DO OR DID YOU FALL INTO IT BY ACCIDENT?
I never specifically wanted to do letterpress, but I did always find it fulfilling to make pretty things. I found a piece of letterpress stationery once and had no idea what it was – it was just so tactile and beautiful. Once I identified that it was letterpress, I set out to find a studio with classes. I didn’t intend to start a career by taking that lesson – but I immediately fell in love with it… and here I am.
BRITT ROHR’S IN LOVE WITH CALIFORNIA: THE COLOURS OF THE OCEAN, THE VIBRANT SUNSETS AND A VERY OLD TRADITION CALLED LETTERPRESS. WE UNCOVER THE PASSION BEHIND HER PAPER OBSESSION, AS WELL AS TOP TIPS FOR VISITING LA.
WHERE DID THE NAME SWELL PRESS COME FROM – KEEN SURFER BY ANY CHANCE?
I wish I could surf, and take credit for the name, but neither are true. Four years ago I was having a hard time picking a name for my little hobby, and at the time I was running my business out of our garage in Manhattan Beach. Manhattan Beach is an adorable surfing town – so my husband thought to name it Swell Press, as in an ocean swell. I spend a lot of time explaining to people
that no, it’s not swell like ‘Gee, that’s swell’. It’s swell because I’m so inspired by the ocean we’re lucky enough to live next to.
THE LETTERPRESS PROCESS INVOLVES A LOT OF DIFFERENT SKILLS FROM CREATING THE INITIAL DESIGN THOUGH TO MIXING INKS, PRINTING AND CUTTING… WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PART?
Oh boy. I love the design phase – my favorite is when a client lets me go wild without a ton of instruction – I find that’s when I do my best work. But still until this day, very few things beat feeling the paper get that deep impression from the press.
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR DESIGNS AND VERY RECOGNIZABLE STYLE?
My mind is always buzzing at capacity because I find inspiration everywhere. Most obvious would be the beach – the blues and the greens of the oceans, the vibrancy of the sunsets.
DO YOU OFTEN COLLABORATE WITH PHOTOGRAPHERS AND CALLIGRAPHERS OR DO YOU LOOK AFTER THAT SIDE OF THINGS YOURSELF?
I collaborate with a bunch of super talented calligraphers, most I’m still pinching myself that I get to work with. When I work with calligraphers, typically I’ll send them the words I need written, with a rough idea of
style and layout, and let them do their magic. I then take their beautiful work and import it into my designs.
DO YOU HAVE ANOTHER MEDIUM YOU’D LIKE TO EXPERIMENT WITH IN THE FUTURE, OR IS PAPER ‘IT’ FOR YOU?
I want to experiment with everything, it’s exhausting. I have printed on leather before, and I loved it. It takes a very particular type of leather to accept the impression from the press. I’ll try to print on anything I can… I recently played around with duplicating a marble texture and that was a ton of fun.
I’ve also experimented with vinyl and screen printing on acrylic, which was a ton of fun. I’ve also designed for laser cut acrylic, which was awesome.
TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOUR STUDIO AND CREATIVE WORKSHOPS?
The studio is an open space in both layout and potential. There’s a decent amount of room to play around with mediums or projects. Square footage is hard to come by in this part of town, so I feel so lucky that I get to have enough space for almost anything I want to do. We’ve got three vintage printing presses, two giant paper cutters, and a variety of non-letterpress art materials as well – different kinds of paints, craft materials… and we’re still growing more. We might add another press and a screen printer soon.
WHAT’S YOUR ‘MUST DO’ FOR ANYONE VISITING LA AND TOP TRAVEL TIP?
Oh my gosh – there is SO much to do in LA, it’s overwhelming!
Here’s my idea of a perfect day in SoCal. Have breakfast at Manhattan Beach Post in downtown Manhattan Beach (the bacon cheddar biscuits are a must). Drive up the Pacific Coast Highway to Malibu towards the beautiful Temescal Canyon hike. After the hike, drink a well deserved beer and eat delicious fish tacos at Dukes in Malibu. Grab some strawberries from the truck parked off PCH and watch the surfers off the beach. Maybe rent a paddlebaord and give SUPing a shot. Right before sunset, head to Main Street in Venice, walking along the string light lined streets, popping in at boutiques and maybe a restaurant for a cocktail… now that’s a day I’d love to have.
A travel tip would be to ask locals for advice, and don’t focus too much on the Hollywood / Walk of Stars tourist traps. The geography of California is so beautiful, the oceans, the hills, the sunsets – that’s where this state will captivate your heart.