There are certain life events, such as a wedding or the birth of a child, that demand more trumpeting than an email, e-vite or Facebook post. And while sending a store bought card is nice, the custom cards designed by ColorQuarry letterpress artist Amanda McCorkle serve not just as announcements but as lasting keepsakes of life’s most memorable occasions.
A RISD graduate, Amanda settled in Providence after finishing school and worked in a variety of graphic design jobs, dabbling in animation, educational software and CD-ROMs before establishing a niche as a freelancer doing work for local nonprofit organizations like the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and the Rhode Island Historical Society. After a brief stint at the Mass MoCA art museum in western Massachusetts, Amanda returned to Rhode Island, gave birth to her daughter, Ada, in 2010, and moved from the city to semirural Hope Valley in search of more elbow room than she and her boyfriend could find in a Providence apartment.
As with most modern design work, Amanda’s letterpress products start on the computer, where she combines hand-drawn graphics and interesting fonts on Adobe Illustrator to create whimsical designs strongly influenced by the posters, artwork and commercial illustrations of the 1960s and 1970s.
Traditional woodcut technique shows up in elements like landscapes, trees and ocean waves. The result is typically an appealing jumble of images and text that seems especially hipster-friendly – an assertion that draws a laugh from Amanda, who acknowledges that a disproportionate amount of her business comes from trendy Brooklynites.
Once a design is completed, each image is transferred to a magnesium plate and run through a letterpress one or more times, depending on how many colors the document includes. Invitations, announcements and business cards are usually printed on 110-pound Crane-Lettra paper; the press imparts an embossed feel to the heavy paper that adds to the sense of substantiality that makes Amanda’s work a treasured reminder long after its functional mission is complete. “I love creating tactile products that you can hold in your hand,” she says.
Amanda currently sends her print work to Providence-based Black Cat Graphics, but is busily looking to acquire a press of her own. One of the charms of her new home in Hope Valley is a compact two-story outbuilding that’s destined to become a studio, with space for the new press already set aside. “The most fun of doing letterpress is actually running it through the press,” she says.
Hand holding is a bigger part of the job than Amanda anticipated – she’s dealt with more than one “Bridezilla” since launching her business. A careful interview process at the outset of each project helps ensure that custom designs match the client’s unique vision. The letterpress process is labor intensive, so the work does not come cheap: a single-color custom suite of wedding invitation, RSVP card and reply envelope costs $14 per set, for example. However, for that price customers get a tailored, one-of-a-kind design guaranteed to make an impres- sion on recipients.
Sold mainly through her ColorQuarry page on the Etsy website, Amanda’s work didn’t take off immediately: she didn’t have a single job in her first year. By 2013, however, she was getting as much work as she could handle from parents, brides and business owners looking to make a unique splash with friends, family or clients.
For the artist, one of the biggest rewards has been the lasting relationships that have come out of her work. Each year, for example, she gets a Christmas gift from a gay couple in California who fell in love with her announcement of their adoption of a new dog. “It really is a very personal thing to be let in on these moments that are very important in peoples’ lives,” she says.