Letterpress at Tiliqua Studios


I like to think of myself as a bower bird. I am attracted to certain aesthetics with which I feather my nest. Always on the look out I can never stop.

As a designer I have a similar habit. Continually exploring new avenues of creation, enjoying the process of mastering a technique then moving on to something else leaving a trail of colourful mess in my wake (which interestingly is exactly what my kid now does).

My latest adventure into a new area has been with something that I have had an interested in for many, many years: letterpress.

Now a very fashionable thing, back in my early design days it was a highly specialised area reserved for super nerdy typo-philes with only a few printing presses running commercially. It was expensive to print because it was so incredibly time consuming – as I have since found out first-hand – but the results were always impressive.

For the non-design nerds: letterpress is a form of printing that involves creating a composition using type or a engraving, rolling ink over it then pressing paper on top to create the print. It’s a bit more technical but essentially that’s what it is.

A few years ago my friend and co-author, Felix acquired a FAG (Fournitures pour les Arts Graphiques) proofing press along with many draws of type – including type used for printing Queensland Rail’s timetables in the 1960s! After he settled into his co-op studio Tiliqua I finally got around to hassling him to let me use it.




I had a couple of projects to play with but the main one was new business cards for me.

One thing you need to know about me, is that I like to make my life difficult. Learning new processes and creative outlets? I like to make them as fiddly and tricky as possible, for some unknown reason that’s just my modus operandi. So why make a simple letterpress business card that would involve several hours of painstakingly hand-setting 10pt type, letter by letter, using tweezers in the first place. When I could also hand letter the back of each card with brush script, print the cards with a blind impress AND have colour edges.

Talk about tall order but I did it! And love the outcome and enjoyed the process immensely.





Felix and I played with the press, experimenting with card stock, ink and pagination after I hand set the type. I came up with a super technical way to accomplish blind impressing one line of type: masking tape. And it worked an absolute treat.

We trimmed the cards down with an old guillotine, then I clamped a small stack at a time and once again used a very low-tech method of painting the edges with a Posca paint pen.


All this work was done over a number of days and the was serious effort in all aspects but the outcome was very worth it. With every roll of the press produced slightly different results with ink impress, this along with the cut up script on the back makes each card textural, graphic and unique.


IMG_2180Since I producing these cards I’ve had a number of people express interest in commissioning something of their own – so who knows? Maybe I will return to Tiliqua again and again to collaborate with Felix on many more letterpress projects to come!


An evening at El Dorado * Wedding Invites

The interesting thing about our group of friends is that we are drawn together by a love of a time period. The design, the music, the cars, the clothes of the 50s–60s. I know I have mentioned this before but what I may not have mentioned is that this group of  vintage aficionados is actually a rag-tag crew of misfits, people who come from such diverse backgrounds that had we not been drawn together like moths to a vintage flame, it is entirely possible we would have lived our lives without knowing each other’s fabulous company.

A sad thought indeed.

Our social group contains designers, photographers, singers, sailors, dentists, mechanics, IT nerds, researchers, stylists, performers, sculptures, educators, electricians, retailers, production managers, the list goes on.

Had I not become inspired by Gil Elvgren’s pin up girl artworks and rockabilly music I may never had seen Royal Crown Revue at the Metro in 2001 and may never have met SAH (I say may, because it turned out we were going to the same design school, so we would have probably crossed paths eventually).

Had our friend Robyn never reignited her love of rockabilly music and attended a dance class many years ago, she may never have met Georgio – and their wedding last month may never have happened.

But they did meet and in front of an intimate group of friends and family they declared their love and commitment to one another.

Last year the happy couple asked me to design their wedding stationery. Robyn’s brief was open: simple, stylish, no love hearts or wedding schmultz. Guest should think ‘a night at the Phoenix club Palm Springs’ when they viewed the invite.

So I came up with an elaborate 6 panel, roll fold, long and narrow design. The illustrations were 2 colour but highly intricate and multitoned. It was extravagant and fabulous. Unfortunately it was a little too extravagant as, although my clients R & G where very happy with it, I had a hard time finding the right printing style that would give me the finish I wanted that was also in our budget. I looked at screen printing, letterpress, lithographic and offset press but all of them struggled to fit the constraints of the brief.

So it was Daniel at Posterboy printing that came to my rescue! I had ruled out digital printing from day one as I really wanted the ink to seep into a thick textured stock and digital just sits on the top of a stock and is shiney – no thanks. But Daniel’s wonderful hi res digital printer was able to get a more than acceptable result. He even hooked me up with his paper supplier so I could hand pick the stock – I wanted thicker paper with a soft texture like watercolour paper and we got it!

In the end I altered the design to be a 4 panel folded (slightly narrow) DL size, the only thing I couldn’t compromise on was the die-cut on the front of the card. That was non-negotiable and since we couldn’t afford to get a professional knife made up to cut the holes I ended up making my own die-template and hand cutting 100 invites myself.

It was time consuming and laborious but completely worth it. Both R and SAH offered to help but I just couldn’t relinquish the scalpel! Each corner had to be perfect and exact, with no fluffy bits or over cuts. And each line had to be completely straight with no wobbles – yeah I was a bit obsessed and yeah it took a few days to do it all but it was totally worth it!

The concept behind the design was inspired by Palm Springs mid-century modern houses as well as R & G’s newly acquired house. The roof line and windows are cut out on the front of the card, revealing the dusky night sky in the desert. When you open the card the inside presents the house interior behind the roof line, with a hint of a soiree underway.

I included personal touches like the family of Kookaburra’s that live in the trees on R & G’s property. And Mrs Possum made an appearance on the Thank you postcard – gate crashing the party as she does most evenings.

This brief was both creatively challenging and a little overwhelming – an open brief but a very design savvy client. I am really happy with the result (as are the clients) and am glad I pushed myself in this brief. It really helped lift remnants of that ‘baby fog’ that’s been hanging around for far too long. As well as giving me a chance to stretch my illustration legs and chase paper and printers, which is something I don’t get a lot of opportunity to do working with books.

What the Raven saw

This blog has been pretty chock full of baby lately and before it falls down the rabbit hole of ‘mummy blog’ entirely I thought I would break up the 52 week project with something interesting.

Over the last year since coming back from maternity leave I have been hard at work both lecturing in design but also with my freelance book design business. I won two book design awards: Best Designed Children’s Series: Star League 1: Lights, Camera, Action Hero! (internal design and typesetting) & Best Designed Further Education Book: {Graphic Design} Australian Style Manual (cover design – yes the book that I co-authored and art directed won!). And I have sold the rights to my Maria V. Snyder book cover designs to North America, United Kingdom and Spain.

Phew! It’s been a pretty busy year to say the least.

In June last year I received a brief from Random House for the cover of What the Raven saw. Which is a tale about a cranky Raven living in a churchyard and the lives (and unlives) that keep interrupting his peace.

One of the directions I got from the publisher was:
A classic fable for children and adults of all ages but especially readers aged 8 to 12.

After discussing the book and ideas we decided a paper craft/art cover would be amazing for this cover. It would symbolise the multi-levelled story along with giving it a classic, old-world style. Plus while playing around with ideas the illustrator, Tony Flowers, had already created 3D paper ravens that were so completely amazing how could we not use them?

So my task in a sense was to art direct the illustration work. My concept was to create a diorama and then photograph it.

I set to work scribbling thumbnails on any bit of paper I could get my hands on. That’s the funny thing about working part-time with a baby. I didn’t get a lot of time to sit and think it was all boiling away on the go. I even roped my mum in to help, she held the baby as I bounced ideas off her.



Once I was happy with the thumbnails I took to the computer and put together concepts using the low res photos of the illustrator’s paper ravens and found images. These were just to flesh out the concepts and give the publisher and illustrator a better idea of exact look and content I was after.

The publisher chose the middle concept and it went off to Tony the illustrator, who then created each element separately, photographed them and put it together loosely in photoshop.

An early version of the cover with hand drawn typography concept.

After a few more rounds of revisions we finalised the cover. I had rebuilt the illustration using the separate elements provided and we changed the colours around to add depth. Along with refining the typography.

This is the full cover, you can see another one of Tony’s fabulous paper creations also made an appearance — the annoying pigeon.

Happy with this cover the publisher created ARCs (advance reader copies) and sent them out and I went about my merry business. Excited at the thought of seeing this cover on the shelves.

Alas it was not meant to be, the publisher came back with good and bad news. The good news was that the response for this book was amazing, the bad news was the response wasn’t in the intended age range — older readers liked this book. So we needed to change the cover as it was far too young for this new audience.

After an afternoon of sulking I picked myself up and with the direction of the publisher, created the final cover.

And while it has lost some of its whimsical feel it still works for the story and I am very proud of the outcome.

If you’re interested in reading more about the content of this book there is a great review over here by Wendy Noble. The book is released tomorrow in Australia and should be available in all good book stores.


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