Val Lucas of Bowerbox Press recently took time away from her busy studio practice to talk about her passion for woodcuts, letterpress printing, and the history of book arts. A graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art and the current Vice President of the American Printing History Association’s Chesapeake chapter, Val prints on a 1901 Colt’s Armory printing press, which she rescued from a Baltimore basement.
TB: How did you come to letterpress printing?
Val: I came from the fine arts side- during my last semester at MICA, I took a letterpress course. The instant I walked into the shop, full of old machinery and tiny organized cases of type, I knew I was in the right place. I adapted my printmaking techniques to woodcuts, and started on the path I’m on today- printing with traditional methods (hand-set type and woodcut imagery) and newer ideas (polymer plates), and integrating the fine art side of woodcut prints with more accessible greeting cards and small prints.
TB: Handset or polymer?
Val: There’s a use for both! I love the history and the restriction of working with hand-set type, and the immediacy of pulling type out of the case to print a quick job; while polymer is wonderful for designs not suited to lead type or woodcuts.
TB: What is it about woodcuts that attracts you?
Val: I love the process, of carving away a new block to find the image, and the uniqueness of each type of wood- some prints are enhanced by the natural wood grain that shows through from a rough pine plank, while more detailed work benefits from a hard cherry block. There’s such a variety of work that can come out of a simple piece of wood.
TB: How do you respond to people that say that book arts is antiquated and a dead or dying art?
Val: I’m pretty sure there will always be people who are attracted to the printed page. It may become more of a specialized niche, as books meant to be quick access turn to digital, but someone will always want to see an important piece of writing in a physical format. It may become antiquated but that doesn’t mean it will die away completely- look at letterpress as a whole: pushed out of the commercial printing spotlight by offset and now digital printing, it’s enjoying a huge resurgence by a smaller group of people who are interested in the process, the machinery and the history as well as the final product. I think the same thing applies to book arts- there are always people interested in the history of books and book arts, there are things you just can’t do book-wise with a digital copy, and there will always be someone to appreciate the book as a work of art.
Thanks, Val. Excited to see the new woodcuts and flipbook!
Val printing away