The letterpress experiment: A Q&A with Professor Ingrid Ankerson about an uncommon art form

Professor Ankerson in front of her letterpress material. Hannah Choi | Washtenaw Voice

by HANNAH CHOI
Contributor

When you walk through WCC graphic design instructor Ingrid Ankerson’s front door, you may not know exactly what you’re looking at. A giant, dated looking mechanical monstrosity is the centerpiece of her home studio with a smaller, even older looking one just left of the doorway: just what are they, and what’s something so old doing in someone’s home?

The printmaking machinery in Ankerson’s studio. Hannah Choi | Washtenaw Voice

The answer, as Ankerson would explain, is that they’re both letterpress printing machines that she uses to create art rather than print newspapers– a wildly different purpose than the original manufacturer intended. She houses both of them in her studio: a large, sectioned-off room at the very front of her house. In a conversation edited for length and clarity, she talks about her work with the letterpress.

You were a student at the University of Baltimore and taught for a total of 20 years, 10 of them being at WCC– tell me about how long you’ve been working with letterpress.

I learned about letterpress as a student at UoB in 1999, but I didn’t start working with it until around 2016. I used the press at WCC for a while and took some workshops with it.

I heard you took a sabbatical last fall. How was it?

It was amazing! It came at a really good time, around when we were ordered to stay home– so, since I had everything I needed in my studio like paper and paint, I felt like my job that semester was to print. It was very productive and refreshing to take that break from teaching.

Why did you decide to take that sabbatical?

There were two reasons: One was to get the space set up so I could have students come in; the other was for me to print and create a body of work, like a portfolio.

A large collage of Professor Ankerson’s work, all plastered at the front of the Vandercook. Hannah Choi | Washtenaw Voice

You have two letterpress machines in your studio. How often do you use them?

I mostly use the big one, my Vandercook No. 4 Proof Press, and I really only use my small one, my Golding Pearl Platen Press, for business cards and coasters. I only used my big one during my sabbatical.

Do you have any favorite letterpress techniques that you’ve discovered or generally like to use?

During my sabbatical, I discovered a technique where you continually rotate the text and stamp at an angle. Letterpress itself is copying one thing, but my technique involves copying one thing a hundred times. I’m still pretty new to experimenting, so it’s really just seeing what effects I can make with specific print: the letter “t” versus the letter “a”, uppercase letters versus lowercase.

The different letters Professor Ankerson uses for her work. Hannah Choi | Washtenaw Voice

Specific print? What kind of effects can they create?

With the letter “T”, depending on whether it’s uppercase or lowercase, it creates different textures when it overlaps. And, when I use smaller letters, they appear much denser than bigger letters.

What size do you typically print at?

Most of what I did during my sabbatical was at 12 point type, but I’d like to start using 8 point type.

Where has your work been featured?

I had a show at a gallery this past October and I sold my work at the Power of the Press fest in Detroit, which is an arts and crafts vendor fair. I was also featured in the Uppercase Magazine which prints issues four times a year, and I does shows about once or twice a year.

Thank you so much for your time! If someone wanted to purchase one of your finished works, where could they go?

They could find prices and contact me at my website www.ankerson.com. My work is also for sale at www.signalreturnpress.org , and you can buy online and at the physical booth in Detroit.

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