I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It’s like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
full of moonlight.
Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.–"Breakage" by Mary Oliver
For the 2 1/2 years that I have been lucky enough to call Campbell Raw Press my full time endeavor, I’ve worked out of our living room, using my Golding Official No. 4 tabletop letterpress to print 99% of the greeting cards, business cards, and other small pieces I design and make. When I need to print larger pieces, like wedding invitation sets, I use The Arm in Williamsburg, a fantastic common use letterpress studio.
All of my bookbinding work is done on a 3′ x 5′ table in the corner of our living room with basic tools and minimal equipment. My toolbox of thread, needles, knives, awls, bone folders, pencils, and beeswax sits next to stacks of book covers in various stages of completion, boxes stuffed with printed cards that need to be scored and/or packaged, a large box of invitation samples, not to mention the glue, tape, jars of pens, stacks of books whose endpapers are drying, and finished books that need to be photographed.
And that doesn’t even include what’s under the table…or the toddler who stands on the toolbox next to my table and helps me rearrange those piles 47 times a day.
Needless to say, I’m working within some pretty tight confines with a business that continues to grow quite steadily day by day. It’s close, happy quarters, but we’re bursting at the seams. Something’s gotta give.
This past week, we had an opportunity to rent the empty main floor storefront in the building we’ve lived in for about 5 years. In addition to being the most convenient studio location ever, the space has a backyard and about 900 square feet of finished indoor space. For a family of 3 living in a sub-400 square foot apartment, the only appropriate response is to drool.
So, we got to work. We measured, we ran numbers, I inquired about the availability of various equipment, and learned about dimensions, logistics, weight, and safety. There was lots of interest from fellow printers in setting up a small co-op letterpress studio, which seemed like just the right path for our burgeoning little business – a great way to get me the setup I needed to work more efficiently, and also ensure that I wouldn’t work in isolation.
After a great deal of research (and getting lots of help from all kinds of wonderful fellow printers), it became clear that the best way to set up a shared studio was with cylinder presses which are relatively easy to use and understand and are safe, though scarce these days. When that fact surfaced, it was time to make some even more precise measurements and see whether it was feasible.
To make a long story short: even the smallest cylinder press would not fit through the front door of the potential space. Sure, the front plate glass window could be removed if we needed to get things in, but we’re talking about a building we don’t own ourselves and on which we would not have a long term lease. It would be careless to spend so much money, time, and energy to move huge pieces of equipment.
It was disappointing to learn that this wasn’t the space for us but I have to tell you that it was also a relief. When the right opportunity comes along, I have to believe we’ll know it and be ready for it and we’ll make something amazing happen. In some ways, I wish that time were now, but I think we have a little more to learn and grow before that’s a reality.
For now, it’s back to the living room grind, back to my basic and busy setup, living the dream day to day with Charlotte at my side and pushing the bounds of what we can do with what we have. It doesn’t feel glamorous, but it’s an awfully happy little set up. If you can ignore the daily bout of utter chaos around 3:30 or 4 when there are toys, books, paper, and scraps strewn around the entire apartment, it’s really pretty calm and wonderful. We’ll be ready for real chaos in the not so distant future, and that’s when we’ll make the next leap.
All of this potential for instant change right now reminded me once again that we *do*, in fact, have a great thing going. We’ve grown what we have quite organically, and that’s just what we want. Sure, big breaks are great, but legacies are built with careful, steady, hard work and a commitment to the things we believe in.
Thanks for supporting that sort of organic growth and our personal approach to work. This dream of a sustainable, profitable, creative, small family business is taking shape because of all the people who support us and work together in small ways to lay a foundation. Soon enough, it’ll be a living, breathing, visible building of its own and we’ll be ready for it.
Please stick with us. There’s so much more to come!