Making an Impression

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Ali Del Rosso, owner of Painted Letter Press, marries her passion for creativity 
and design with the art of letterpress

By Marina Chetner | Photos by Jody Tiongco

 

A few years ago, Ali Del Rosso fell in 
love—but it wasn’t with her husband; rather, it was with a 20th-century printing machine. “I love Oscar—he’s amazing,” she says of the 1920s Chandler & Price platen press she named before recounting the

Ali Del Rosso prints a project on Oscar, the name she’s given her 1920s Chandler & Price platen press.
Ali Del Rosso prints a project on Oscar, the name she’s given her 1920s Chandler & Price platen press.

story of how the two met. “I went on an adventure with my husband to Napa to meet with an older gentleman who was very nostalgic for print equipment. He had a whole bunch of beautiful presses, and sold me my press,” she says. “I’ve been printing on it ever since.”

There’s a wonderful sense of romance associated with all things handcrafted. Artisans like Ali, nostalgic for a bygone era, are reviving specialized techniques that tap into a slower pace of life. Letterpress is a nuts-and-bolts way of printing that hails to the 15th century, and while the hand-cranking process is hardly glamorous, its elegant, debossed design is what many find so alluring.

“When you run your fingers along the surface of the paper you can actually feel the ridges of the type. It leaves an impression, literally,” Ali explains. While infatuated with this medium, Ali recently created a different kind of masterpiece—what she calls her greatest work of art: a baby girl. And so, understandably, the first-time mom’s latest project is printing dozens of bespoke baby announcements on her platen press.

 

Born Creative

Ali, 38, says she is a practical artist. As a kid, she drew and painted, and was cast several times in the world-renowned Pageant of the Masters. In college, she enrolled in arts, and then switched to education, only to major in humanities with an emphasis on Scandinavian studies before gaining her post-grad in education. Despite her breadth of formal study, something was still missing. “I was exploring all sorts of creative avenues, but I never really found what spoke to me,” she says. Her curiosity piqued when she received her order of letterpress wedding invitations, created by Paper Monkey Press. “After my wedding, I said, ‘I want to do this.’ ”

Ali subsequently plunged into a world of paper and print. It was serendipitous, she says, that the local Irvine Fine Arts Center, where she’d taken calligraphy classes, offered letterpress courses. In addition, she enrolled at the International Printing Museum in Carson, Calif., took private instruction from a printer in San Diego and was lured to Italy and its Museo della Carta e della Filigrana (Museum of Paper and Watermark).

Letterpress combined the best of her worlds: design, writing, craftsmanship and creativity. “Once you get involved, it’s easy to get hooked. I certainly did,” Ali says. She’d finally found her niche. In 2011, Ali started her custom and social stationery company, Painted Letter Press, located out of her home in Bluebird Canyon.

 

Old World Meets Modern

The fusion of digital technology with a centuries-old trade has made letterpress more approachable, yet the labor-intensive process continues to demand a high level of skill and precision.

LBM_47_Artist_Painted Letter Press_By Jody Tiongco-7
Ali says that her designs, which are simple yet a little quirky, are often inspired by Laguna Beach.

The print machines commonly used are either a platen or a proof, like the coveted Vandercook. “It’s amazing how simple the old designs are. They’re iron, massive and cranky, but they still get the job done,” says Ali, referring to her beloved Oscar.

In place of moveable type, Ali designs with the Adobe Illustrator computer program and submits her file to New York-based Boxcar Press, which creates a photopolymer plate. Upon receipt of the plate, she locks it into a chase, or frame, which is inserted into the bed of the press. Once the plate is inked, a sheet of paper is placed on the platen and pressed against the bed to make a print. The initial setup and proofing process takes a considerable amount of time as prints are checked for variations in inking, weight of lines and layout.

“When the proof is satisfactory, printing commences,” she explains. “The press is powered to full speed, the old gears get cranking and the flywheel makes its rotations, causing the press to open and close like a clamshell. Each sheet of fine paper is then hand-fed, and no two pieces are exactly the same.” Ali favors the creamy cotton feel of Crane & Co.’s Lettra paper when creating that pronounced impression. After scoring and folding the prints, they’re sleeved or boxed, and ready to be displayed.

Ali’s designs are simple yet quirky and playful. Inspiration, she says, changes with each sunrise and sunset. “There is certainly no shortage of inspiration in Laguna Beach, between the beauty, the nature, the people and the slice of paradise I call home in Bluebird Canyon,” she says. “But, ultimately, creating a final product that brings joy to another is truly the inspiration for my work.”

She plans to showcase her work at an upcoming Sawdust Art Festival and sell her stationery in local stores. However, it’s the moment of creation that brings the most joy. With baby sitters on call, Ali’s home studio is a retreat. “I love the old machinery, the smell of the print shop … of the oil. I love getting my hands dirty with ink.” It’s where she happily whiles away the hours, creating frame-worthy pieces, with the ever-faithful Oscar humming by her side.

 

GALLERY EVENTS

Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow
Artist Robert Shaw—better known as Sticky—has been a staple at Artists Republic 4 Tomorrow (AR4T). Visit his solo exhibition, “We’re Gonna Miss You,” from June 5-29 for an exclusive look at the unique multilayered works of organized chaos signature to Sticky. (949-988-0603; ar4t.com)

Avran Art + Design
Visit Avran Art + Design on June 5 during First Thursdays Art Walk to experience art from start to finish with a live painting demonstration by John Burrows, who is known for his mastery of vibrant abstract oil paintings. (949-494-0900; avranart.com)

David Terrence Fine Art
Currently on exhibit at this gallery in the Hotel Laguna lobby, “Portfolio of Grise’s Nudes” reveals that while Hendrik Grise’s nudes may be a little erotic and provocative, within the simply drawn lines lies a complex message of self-reflexivity, which involves a writer/artist embedding himself in the story/artwork. Hendrik was known to push the edge of creativity, a style not typically seen in paintings or drawings by other California artists since his death in the early 1980s. (714-878-4583; artinlaguna.com)

ANJAVANHERLE_xilion_rose_high_res.
“Xilion Rose” by Anja Van Herle, at JoAnne Artman Gallery

JoAnne Artman Gallery
The hidden treasures found in the JoAnne Artman Gallery’s back room will take to the front of the house with the introduction of “The Back Room Spring Celebration” exhibition through June 30. The artwork features the complex, high fashion
women painted by Anja Van Herle, as well as Stallman’s canvas-based sculptures, and many more. (949-510-5481; joanneartmangallery.com)

Sandstone Gallery
Throughout June, Sandstone Gallery will feature two distinctly different creators with Howard Hitchcock’s “Landscapes: Real/Imagined” and Lawrence Terry’s “Tattoo.” Hitchcock is known for both his metal sculptures, which explore the human condition and stresses felt in a technological world, and paintings inspired by natural landscapes while Lawrence’s mixed-media series brings together urban art forms with ancient energies of the Pacific Rim and African body adornment. Both exhibitions run through June 30. (949-497-6775; sandstonegallery.com)

Sue Greenwood Fine Art
Already displaying at Sue Greenwood Fine Art, Mark Beck will have a chance to show a solo exhibit at the gallery beginning June 7. His paintings depict life as an American through his focus on landscapes, homes and people he imagines inhabit them while exploring issues such as personal loss, transformation, social change, peace and longing. (949-494-0669; suegreenwoodfineart.com)

Townley Gallery
Eco-artist Shane Townley debuted a new series in April titled “Water Series 1002.” The series—featuring deep, flowing blues dancing across canvases—is on display now. (949-715-1860; townleygallery.com)

 

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