Let us introduce you to a long time French Paper enthusiast, Patrick Barber. Barber highlights his career in the print. From working within the music scene to finding immense enjoyment in working with vintage presses. Barber shares tidbits of his adventures throughout his time in the print world.
Expressing Music through the Art of Printmaking:
I’ve been printing on French papers for 25 years. Printers in Seattle back in the 1990s, Lance Thingmaker, Windward Press, Girlie Press, and BSK, introduced me to the wonders of French Paper.
I began specifying French Paper as a poster designer and small, record-label owner in Seattle. An offset printer named Lance Thingmaker introduced me to French and was really enthusiastic about printing on their papers. We used French paper for posters for clubs around Seattle like Moe and the Showbox and for posters and music packaging for Summershine Records.
I learned letterpress printing in 2020, from Lee Marchalonis, who was at the time the master printer at Signal-Return in Detroit. I had been designing and setting type for 30 years, but this was my first experience with movable type and physical typesetting.
Working with physical type, and creating work on these vintage presses, is gratifying in a way that is hard for me to explain—imagine if you learned to play acoustic guitar using a computer simulator. And then you made music with your digital guitar for 30 years. And then someone handed you a real acoustic guitar to make music with. I was hooked.
Working with the limitations of metal type and my own printing skills has made me appreciate and honor all the printers I had worked with over the years, in a way I never could before.
When I started printing my own work in Detroit, French Paper was everywhere at Signal-Return. And the company is located nearby in Niles, MI. Honestly, now that I remember it, I never thought to use anything other than the occasional BFK or Arches sheet. French is what people print on at Signal-Return, and I was most pleased to become one of them.
I love the physical integrity of French papers and the enthusiastic approach to color. Another way of saying that is that it’s amazing to have such an established company like French Papers making things that come from a fearless leap to joy and exuberance. Or at least they appear to come from that.
The Artist Community being the Root of Inspiration:
My inspiration is the community of art workers who came before me, who used their talents and raised their voices in the service of social justice. I mean writers, teachers, artists, musicians, and my gosh, the poets.
As a book designer, a typographer, and a printer, my job is to give visual shape to the voices of others. My job is to get out of the way of the message. When I am shaping the stories of others, my work should be invisible. Only the stories should show.
And that calling of mine— to make words and stories accessible without showing my own voice—is my deepest inspiration when I am making work that is in my own voice. Inspiration, and source of sheer terror!
Using French Paper on a Press:
In the fall of 2022, I began a series that I think of as the Wood Type Variations. I wanted to experiment with type, layering, and color, in an intuitive and flowing way. I also wanted to gain more familiarity with the Chandler and Price platen press at the shop; previously I’d mostly used cylinder presses.
I conceived a series of short pithy phrases, set mostly in wood type, and printed on small “mini prints” of about 9” x 6”. At the time I was doing work at the Mancos Common Press in Mancos, Colorado. The press provides a variety of papers for printers to purchase for our use, and almost all the paper is from French. So, I was able to choose my paper intuitively as well. So far, I’ve made five different pieces, all in different colors and one in a whole rainbow of colors.
The 12x19” You Have Not Converted poster (French Manila Yellow Kraft) is my most popular print. My initial run is nearly sold out, and it was just accepted into The Contemporary Print, an exhibition in Austin and Santa Fe this spring, juried by Detroit artist Rashaun Rucker. I printed this poster on French Cement Green 80# cover. I'm currently printing a "second edition" on Cement Green 100# cover. The typestyle on this poster inspired the vibe of my Wood Type Variations, as well as the branding for Impeller Press.
Want to see more of Patrick? Check out his other platforms
Online Shop: Impellerpress.com
Design portfolio: Patrickbarber.design