John K. Landis, Printer

Prof. John K. Landis.
Prof. John K. Landis.

Professor Emeritus John Landis returned to Kutztown University for the dedication of the Landis Press. It’s a rather small press in a very small room, but the event was large. Prof. Vicki Meloney recalled her days studying typography with Prof. Landis at Kutztown in the 1990’s.

Kutztown U Communication Design Prof. Vicki Meloney
Kutztown U Communication Design Prof. Vicki Meloney

She saw the first Apple computers arrive on campus. The visionaries of the digital revolution persuaded educators all across the nation to trash their letterpresses and make room for computers.


Vicki Meloney recalled learning her love of typography in Landis’s Letterforms class. She told current students how she drew lines of type with ruling pens and rapidographs on illustration board. “It’s how I learned to love type,” she said. “Kerning was something we did by hand and eye. There was no a keyboard command for kerning.”

John Landis with Prof. Ann Lemon displaying the commemorative plaque.
John Landis with Prof. Ann Lemon displaying the commemorative plaque.

When Prof. Meloney was granted a sabbatical she tracked down press equipment John Landis had saved from the dumpster. She brought a rusted Thayer and Chandler platen press (circa 1900) to her home and asked her stepfather to help restore it. It was a family bonding experience. Her stepdad, unbeknownst to her, had worked on a similar press as a teenager. Meloney thanked Ron Lamm, KU’s Studio Art Technician for work on the press, and Prof. Ann Lemon, who poured enormous energy into making the Landis Press room a reality.

Printed work by students of John K. Landis. circa 1985.
Printed work by students of John K. Landis. circa 1985.

John Landis brought dozens of samples of student work he had saved. He said student designs were ganged together and sent to Reading, PA for photoengraving. The plates came back to KU to be inked and printed on the university letterpress under his watchful eyes.

Sophisticated type styling for Bangkok by a student of JKL
Sophisticated type styling for Bangkok by a student of JKL.

These images are about the size of index cards. I asked if they were meant to be luggage decals. He said, no, just graphic designs, mini-posters, really, their small size dictated by the size of the press.

Chigago Landmark.
U.S. Landmarks by students of John Landis

Besides foreign nations, he assigned a variety of projects based on landmarks, great cities, and unusual numbers.

Design like this is coming back, I hope.
KU student design showing “visual verbal synergy.”

John Landis taught many of the KU profs who now teach Communication Design at Kutztown including Professors Cunfer, Kresge, Bosler, Doll-Myers, Meloney, and Chairperson Todd McFeely. I’m told that makes him a “grandprof.” Someone said he is “great-grand prof” since he taught Prof. Cunfer, who taught Prof. Doll Myers.

From the odd numbers file, student of JKL
From the odd numbers file, student of JKL

Looking at the student samples, Prof. Landis remarked that what he hoped for in the typography project was “visual-verbal synergy.” That phrase still echoes in the studios at Kutztown. Speaking to current students Prof. Landis said printing is a proud part of our history. “Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia did many great things in his life -signer of the Declaration of Independence, ambassador to France, experimenting with electricity. But for the inscription on his tombstone he chose simply, ‘Ben Franklin, Printer’.”

Ribbon Cutting for the restored Landis Press. Photo by Chelsea Gassert.
Ribbon Cutting for the restored Landis Press. Photo by Chelsea Gassert.

More info about The Landis Press, including hours of operation can be found here.

Will Ruocco & the Secrets of Gig Posters

There are illustrators and presses everywhere. I was in Worthington, Ohio, just north of Columbus, one recent weekend. There was a big street fair going on.  A sandwich board announced “Open House at Igloo Letterpress.” I have been to Worthington many times and never knew there was a press there.

Tragically Hip posters © 2002 Will Ruocco

Will Ruocco was minding his booth in the courtyard of Igloo Letterpress. He does gig posters, among other things. My illustration students are always interested in this sort of work. I had a too brief conversation with Will, but grabbed his card and sent him some follow-up questions. Here are some of his thoughts, including advice for students.

Will Ruocco and his wares. Photo courtesy of Igloo Letterpress © 2012

Q: Where did you study?

Will Ruocco: I was an Art major at Fredonia State (N.Y.) with a concentration in graphic design. It was a four-year art program.

Whiskey Daredevils in Erie, PA © Will Ruocco

Q: How big was the program there?

The graphic design program wasn’t very big, but was one of the best in New York State. The design professor was tough. Many students were cut from the program after the first year. The professor really pushed us to create strong work and never get sloppy or lazy. I still apply many of his design standards in my work today.

Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Marrakesh Express © Will Ruocco

Q: How did you get into gig posters?

I spent a lot of time in New York City as a teenager. The concert posters along the streets left a big impression on me. There seemed to be an ‘anything goes’ design approach that was really appealing. So in the back of my mind it was always something I wished I could do. Finally, one day at work, a friend asked me to create a poster for her band. It was so much more fun than anything I was doing at my day job that I wanted to do more. I quickly made up a series of mock posters for my favorite band, The Tragically Hip – just as a personal creative outlet. I was so happy with the results that I contacted the band directly and shared my designs, never really thinking they would ever hire me…to my surprise they loved the artwork and asked me to do six posters and a t-shirt for their world tour. After that I was hooked and it led to work with many other rock bands.

Concrete Blonde gig poster ©2004 Will Ruocco

Q: What advice can you give to students interested in pursuing this area?

Start by doing actual local events. They don’t have to be concert posters, but creating something for a real event is a good learning experience. If they really want to design for a particular band they need to have finished work that shows off their skills. You can’t just approach them because you like them. Show what you can bring to them if they hire you. It’s the same for any job really.

Silkscreened animal girl band posters © Will Ruocco

Q: You go to shows in Chicago and the West Coast. Did these trips pay off from the start?  How do you decide what shows to do?

There is a concert poster show called Flatstock (that has been going on for about a decade now) that has linked itself with a few major music festivals. There is sort of a built-in audience because concertgoers are gig poster artists’ biggest customers – so those shows are always good to participate in. Choosing other shows and whether they are successful or not is really just a matter of trial and error. You just have to keep your travel expenses low in order to make any of them worthwhile.

Th’ Legendary Shackshakers © 2007 Will Ruocco

Q: What ever happened to Th’ Legendary Shackshakers?

Th’ Legendary Shackshakers are still around. They’re an intense band that plays a lot of country and rockabilly with a punk rock edge. They don’t have a huge following but the fans are really loyal and the band always gains new fans wherever they play.

Q: What is your relationship with Igloo Letterpress?

Working with Allison Chapman and Igloo Letterpress has been great. I’ve always loved Hatch Show Prints‘ letterpress posters and when Igloo came to town to set up shop I immediately knew we had to work together. I took the initiative and approached them with a few projects that I thought we could collaborate on and Allison was really open to the idea. We’ve had nice success with the Farmer’s Market posters. It’s been a great experience.

Last Question: Any upcoming project that you want to share?

I’ve been creating fewer concert posters and focusing on my signature work. Working on my series of whale designs, as well as my series of prehistoric creatures. I’m continually releasing new graphic tees on and Soon I’ll start work on new project with Igloo Letterpress.

Igloo’s logo and press from

Bottomline: I am glad I ran into Will Ruocco, a talented illustrator/ designer willing to share his secrets. Will maintains Etsy and Big Cartel virtual storefronts for those not lucky enough to run into him in person. The best place to keep up to date with all of his many projects is or:


Hot Type at Lead Graffiti

'TYPEFACE' by Miles DeCoster & Kevin McCloskey, 2012

Most of the Communication Design faculty traveled to Lead Grafitti in Newark, Delaware for a one-day letterpress workshop during winter break. We were joined by printmaker Evan Summer of the Fine Arts Dept. Lead Grafitti is a family-run studio that does fine printing (wedding invitations, for example), but also offers hands-on workshops. Our workshop involved creating a bound hardcover book in a single day and printing it on their antique presses.

Ray Nichols & Vicki Meloney on press, photo © 2012 Miles Decoster

Ray Nichols is a former University of Delaware professor, reincarnated as a letterpress guru. Ray taught visual communications for years before he led a UD summer course to England. A chance visit to Alan Kitching at the Royal College of Art’s letterpress studio changed Ray’s life and he decided to build Lead Grafitti. Ray and his wife Jill shared a number of fascinating projects including their Kickstarter funded series based on the Tour de France.

Inked bike chain becomes map of France, from Tour de Lead Graffiti.

They also showed us a beautiful limited edition book of Bruce Hornsby’s essay on Bruce Sprinsteen’s Thunder Road illustrated by Jill.

Lead borders at Lead Graffiti, photo © Evan Summer

In the history of graphic design we talk about Ottmar Mergenthaler’s earthshaking 1884 invention, the linotype machine. From Gutenberg’s time until the linotype, printers needed thousands of individual pieces of moveable type to print a page. The linotype allowed an operator to type a line, then hot molten lead flowed into a brass matrix to create an entire “line o’ type.” We all got to work on an Intertype linecaster for a few minutes, which is essentially the same as Mergenthaler’s machine.

Tray Nichols explains linotype operation to Kevin McCloskey. photo: Evan Summer

Those of you who studied typography or graphic design will recall a colophon is, “the statement at the end of a book giving details about its authorship and printing.” The colophon below was cast from hot lead and lists participants and instructors at the Lead Grafitti workshop.

Colophon, the printing credits, at the end of our book.

Thanks to Profs. Ann Lemon and Vicki Meloney for arranging this worthwhile experience. I found it more fun than Disney World, and the lines were shorter. Lead Grafitti offers workshops year round and will customize an event based on your group’s experience level and particular interests. Info at:

Ann Lemon and Miles DeCoster checking their type. Photo by Evan Summer

artnoose & her Underground Press

In the “letterpress/zine” circle artnoose is a superstar. Admittedly, this is a smallish orbit, but lately interest in zines and letterpress is exploding. I ran into her the other day when she was printing in the damp basement of the Cyberpunk Apocalypse. Cyberpunk Apocalypse is a two-house writer’s colony in Pittsburgh. It is where my son Dan McCloskey lives and works, too.

artnoose printing on her Chandler & Price press, May, 2011, photo by Kevin McCloskey

I asked artnoose how she describes herself. She said, “Sometimes people ask, ‘–Are you some kinda’ artist?’ I tell them I’m a printer. That’s what I am, a printer.”

She reveals a few more details on her Etsy page bio: artnoose began letterpress printing the zine Ker-bloom! in the summer of 1996 and has been making it every other month since then, never late, never missing one. After 14 years in the Bay Area, artnoose moved to Pittsburgh in the hopes of transforming a derelict old house into a loving and productive home. While the city home buying process takes its own sweet time, artnoose is a writing resident at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse Writers’ Collective.

A decade ago, artnoose started a letterpress studio called Crafty Cards in Alameda, California. The name was inspired by the Beasty Boy’s song, ‘She’s Crafty.’ One day in 2004, Crafty Cards got a small commission to print an engagement announcement. The bride-to-be wrote for a trendsetting blog called The Daily Candy. The day The Daily Candy wrote about artnoose, her phone rang off the hook. She got a year’s worth of work, and quit her day job as a substitute teacher. She has been a printer ever since.

Ker-bloom! #85 & Attack of the Zombie Soy Bot! © artnoose 2010

artnoose tends to be a philosophical and careful writer. Letterpress does that to you, individual pieces of type for each letter or comma must be set by hand, before the hand-cranked press can ink and print it. Here are a few lines from Ker-bloom! #85, about storytelling:

“I never have a day without a story. The void gets filled if not by us… ‘Enough of their lies; its time for OUR lies!’ A friend said this to me a year ago at a crowded dance party when I asked him for words to live by. It stuck with me, not as a modus operandi but as a rather catchy deconstruction of truth. Is all narrative really propaganda? Is there such a thing as non-fiction?”

Last year artnoose launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to create a Letterpress House in Pittsburgh’s Upper Lawrenceville neighborhood near the Cyberpunk Apocalypse. Kickstarter is becoming a popular way for artists, among others, to raise funds to realize their dream projects. Her Kickstarter pitch is worth looking at, she raised $4620. Daniel McCloskey did the illustrations for that Kickstarter video. artnoose says the secret of Kickstarter success is “to tell a compelling story.” Her years of Ker-bloom! have clearly honed that skill. $4620, believe it or not, is enough to buy an abandoned fixer-upper from the city of Pittsburgh. For the price of a Williamsburg loft you could buy a Lawrenceville block. Pittsburgh artists are quick to point out, however, the buzz is not about cheap real estate, it is about the human energy and synergy of the arts community there.

The morning I watched artnoose printing she had just been stood up by a “key guy” who was supposed to give her a walk-through of her future Letterpress House. Yes, maybe you can get a house in Pittsburgh for a song, but there is a lot of bureaucracy, red tape, and waiting. Working the press keeps artnoose sane and fit.

artnoose’s most recent Ker-bloom! (#89) is in the form of a Mad-libs autobiography. You and your friends pick the nouns and verbs to round out the story of her life. It is available for just $3 on Etsy. Wanna buy Dad a unique Father’s Day card? artnoose has this and other hand-set goodies for as little as $1. She also still does custom wedding, shower, engagement, birth announcements, and business cards.

I would love to be in Pittsburgh to witness the massive cast iron Chandler and Price press moving to its new home. The machine weighs nearly 1500 pounds. A friend of artnoose’s who makes bike messenger bags is rigging canvas harnesses. artnoose plans to enlist a crew of ten to dress as draft animals. Clydesdales, reindeer, and oxen will ever so slowly heave the press over rollers made of steel gas pipes. They will proceed down the back alley, Dresden Street, then take a left at 53rd Street. It should be a sight to see and a story to tell. Ker-bloom!

Directions to Prints Gone Wild, Secret Project Robot

Some of us from Kutztown U are heading for Prints Gone Wild 2010 at Secret Project Robot, 210 Kent, Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The directions are hard to find, and according to Secret Project Robot’s website the Google directions are wrong! So I’ve cut and pasted the subway instructions here: Directions: L train to Bedford Avenue; walk towards Metropolitan Ave. On Metropolitan turn and walk towards the water. Located on the corner of River and Metropolitan. River St. is one street below Kent. The entrance to Secret Project Robot is through the arch doors on the Loading Dock.

Limited Edition Letterpress Print © Yee-Haw Industries

Cannonball Press hosts Prints Gone Wild,  a show and sale of new prints priced within reason! 50 bucks or less. Yee-Haw Industries will be there. A sample of their letterpress work appears above.  Sean Starwars, see below, will be in attendance, with James Chase assisting. Tom Huck’s Evil Prints (Huck, Lovell and Julia Curran) and Evil Bootcamp alumni will be there, and, I think, Pittsburgh’s TugBoat Printshop and JustSeeds, too. Too much excitement!

Shut Up America © Sean Starwars

PRINTS GONE WILD: Fri. Nov. 5th, 6pm-12am, Opening reception. Sat., Nov. 6th 12-6pm, Print Fair.