The Art of Letterpress: Blue Canoe

Blue Canoe letterpress is a company comprised of a family of lifelong printers and creatives. Honestly, we love and trust Blue Canoe with our most delicate and loved designs. They've brought some of my most favorite passion projects to life. So we got personal with the duo -- Gale and Becca -- about crafting incredible designs, following the footsteps of the family biz, making cards for Atlanta Falcons and overcoming struggles. 

Breathless Paper Co.: Tell us a little bit about what you do and how you got started doing it. 

Gale: My dad was in printing, and in 1960 started a color separation trade business serving the printing industry. I always went to work with my dad, and actually began making plates, and line negatives when I was 8. I learned how to "make" color separations and screen positives when I was 13.  Printing, and it's processes, have been a part of my life a long time. Several years ago, I told Becca that she needed to find someone with a letterpress to reproduce some of her "doodles." When my life had a major "shift" around the same time, it was a natural step for us to start a letterpress business.

BPC: What sort of clients do you typically work with / what kinds of projects do you usually take on? 

Becca: We get to work with a variety of clients, so we are actually quite spoiled in that we never get bored. Our highest traffic would probably be amidst the wedding industry and bespoke stationary. It’s our privilege to not only work with some of the most talented and nationally recognized designers in the southeast, but also to call them friends.

Gale: As Becca says, we are blessed to work with a number of very talented designers.  We have also had the good fortune of working with a few brokers which have given us the opportunity to print some creative pieces for corporate clients. We enjoy trying new things, and printing on unique mediums...and several of our clients have trusted us experimenting a bit...making it possible for us to learn a lot about what can be done with letterpress that is "outside the box." 

BPC: Is there a recent project you've most enjoyed or a specific project that has been your overall favorite? 

Becca: Oh this is hard…we may give you different answers, but personally I would say the truly unique jobs where we get to experiment and bring to life an artist’s “dream." One that stands out for me would have to be when I got to design and print a unique thank you card for an Atlanta Falcon. Printing on wood and being able to create the flame/charred effect with ink was a bit of a thrill.

Gale: As Becca says, this is tough to pick just one!  One that sticks out is a project we did for a client that had several steps which were new to us.  We duplexed a linen fabric to a cotton stock, letterpress printed, diecut & scored (to make a passport holder), and then sewed pockets into the inside front & hold a "Save the Date".  What we made was to be used after the "Save the Date" purpose as passport holders for those attending the destination wedding in Europe.

BPC: How and when did you begin working with Breathless Paper Co.? Tell us a little bit about the projects you've completed for them.

Gale: Jessica contacted us about her idea to letterpress a new project, and using a double thick card stock. These thicker stocks cannot be run through an offset press, nor a digital press.  It was important to Jessica to use one of these thicker stocks, and she really wanted the letterpress deboss effect anyway.  Their idea was the "Tiny Cards: Big Words" suite of cards.  I think the original project was for 40 different cards, printed on 220# Lettra. We have not only enjoyed immensely our opportunity to be a small part of the  Breathless Paper "team", but value the way they work and "do business".  They are EXCEPTIONAL!

BPC: What is the most rewarding part of the job you do? 

Becca: Making a client proud to present something you’ve created on their behalf is quite possibly the greatest reward in this industry. Whether it's a businessman who looks for opportunity to give out his card, or a designer who gets to see her creative thoughts enhanced and appreciated in medium…the ability to encourage self-confidence is an honor.

Gale: It has always been a dream of mine to "be creative" in some any way. So, when a creative person gives me the chance to be a part of their creative process...and they love what we do...that is rewarding.

BPC: When you looked forward at your life many years ago, did you see yourself doing letterpress for a living? 

Becca: Ha! This just makes me laugh! Absolutely not! As a college athlete, biology majoring, doodle hobby-ing young woman, owning and operating a letterpress business with my parents was not even something that I thought I could dream of, let alone see a projection towards.

Gale: For me...this question makes me smile!  I worked for my dad from the time I was 8...through high school when not studying or involved in sports at school...during college on weekends and summers.  Then I went to medical dad had a heart attack in my second year of medical school...I left medical school to run the family business (printing)...did that for 17 dad was killed in an accident...we went out of business in 1997...I went to work for Scientific-Atlanta...then Cisco Systems...they “retired me" in 2013...I was diagnosed with lymphoma..we started Blue Canoe Letterpress.  I guess you could say...I have not had many opportunities to look too far ahead...and when I did, what "I saw" would be changed or redirected by "life." BUT - Printing...putting ink on paper...has always been a dream of mine.  In my dad's business we had a 4-color proof press...and a small harris offset press.  I loved watching those precision machines "do their thing" to rhythm all their own...  I have always wanted to print!  Letterpress is doing that at the most interesting..."tactile level". 

BPC: How did "Blue Canoe Letterpress" get its name? 

Becca: My parents live around a lake and canoeing has always been a favorite pastime. Growing up we've had a couple canoes, but only one that was blue. This blue canoe went down in family history when our friends' car caught fire with the canoe anchored to its roof. Nobody was hurt, so it was a rather hilarious and awkward phone call that had us all remembering the blue canoe in a glowingly glorious death. 

BPC: It seems like the paper goods and letterpress "industry" is growing, especially in the maker and entrepreneur community. What do you think of this growth and how has it been to be a part of it? 

Becca: We love it! Growing up in the printing industry and being a third generation printer, I feel as if people are finally appreciating this art form and nod to history the way that it deserves. It’s such a personal work process, with hand mixing the ink, hand feeding the press, hand wrapping and assessing for quality…that said it’s like a proud parent watching their child get their first raise because a higher-up recognized their worth.

Gale: Becca is so right.  Letterpress has many facets at which we you personally "touch" the work in progress.  There are so many points at which you make decisions and adjustments that effect the final get the chance to be a real part of the creative process.  I think this is one of the reasons for the resurgence of letterpress.  It is not a "cookie cutter"/mass produced, rendering of what a designer has in their head.  Letterpress allows for so many points of personal touch and the making of each piece a little unique.  When you hold in your hands a piece of stationery that has been "letterpressed" it is obvious that it is a piece of custom handiwork...from an old school way of craftsmanship!  This is rare today...and people are growing more and more appreciative of these types of things - the marks of personal touch...reaching for ways to communicate on a more personal level, instead of the "coldness" of online personal media and email...actually seeing the evidence of life in how we communicate, and the medium we use to communicate...

BPC: What is your typical process when it comes to gaining inspiration and planning for a new project / client? What inspires you most? 

Becca: Every card or design is personal. For boo’s blue cards, each card has been designed for my own use. Selfish, right? I carry a moleskin notebook around with notes of sayings or ideas that come from anything during the day. It may be a conversation or a thought. Can’t forget that I also have the hilariously creative friends who will just send me a note with “you should make a card with this…” As far as bespoke stationary or wedding designs, I tend to spend a lot of time with my client getting to know them and their story as an individual and then the design comes naturally. These items are a representation of the individual and as such should be treated with the attention to detail appropriately befitting.

Gale: For me (the UNcreative person, totally dependent on the creativity of others), I yearn for those times that our clients ask us the question, "how could you do this?", or "could you make something like this?"; "what do you think about this, and how could we do it?"...etc.  This really gets the side of me that "yearns to be creative" going...  These are the opportunities for us to really be a unique part of the creative process for the REALLY CREATIVE people.

Screen Shot 2017-05-18 at 8.15.13 PM.png

Blue Canoe has three generations worth of heart and experience. Thanks, to Gale and Becca for their spirit and for being a valued part of some of my favorite projects. 


Breathless Paper Co.