wintern podcast: the arm letterpress studio

by Grace Bonney

dan morris opened the arm three years ago in williamsburg, brooklyn. with a slew of vandercook and table top presses, the studio is open to all who are interested in using letterpress for design projects, artists prints or a learning a new technique. the arm does a great job of introducing the brooklyn community to letterpress and it’s a great model for anyone looking to build a community arts studio, so props to dan! you can listen to the full interview with dan in podcast form below (just click “play”) or click “read more” below to read highlights from the interview in text form. –despina

interview with dan morris of the arm letterpress studio

design*sponge: can you introduce yourself and the arm?

dan morris: yes, i am dan morris, and the arm is a letterpress studio in williamsburg, brooklyn. i set this space up as a place where i could print things that i wanted to print in my own little nest, but also, wanted to make it into a place where other people could come in and work.

d*s: what first got you interested in letterpress printing?

dm: my family’s been in letterpress back to my great great grandfather, on my mother’s side and as a kid i was in the print shop a little bit. it was something that i had to do.

d*s: do you have a regular clientele?

dm: yeah! but it sort of… evolves. the people that come through the workshops, some of them are people that are interested in an enjoyable day doing something they’ve never done before, some of them are interested in starting their own business, some of them want to learn how to print their wedding invitations. so, it depends on what they’ve come in for. some fall of the map, immediately. others, have a project in mind so they get their skills to the point where they can come in, finish their project, and then fall off the map. and then other people are working for building their own little stationery business… [those people] learn how to run the presses here, and how to design for photopolymer plates, then what they do is come in and print their samples and do, maybe, the national stationery show in the city, and then they take orders and pass the orders onto higher volume printers. there are a lot of different types of people here, but i find continuing to do the workshops is necessary because people are kind of on their way somewhere.

d*s: do you teach the workshops? and what kind of workshops do you offer?

dm: there’s one workshop that i do here, and i do it over and over again. and then i have a couple of more specialized workshops that are taught by other people. the one that i usually do is the vandercook intro workshop. i know these presses really well, and i kind of figured out a little six hour session that i can do with a small group that can get them to the point where they have enough confidence to come back in and, with just a little bit of coaxing, run a job on the press. that is something that we do at least twice a month, and they tend to be full.. so we should probably do it more often. at the same time, i think it’s important to keep weekend days open for people who have finished the workshop and want to come back in and get press time.

d*s: is there any fine art made on these presses?

dm: i would like to see more of that, i have helped a few artists with things like art editions and poetry chapbooks and broadsides, and i love those types of things. i like printing that is about ideas. i like the fact that it’s a communication, and i like being around artists. i really enjoy helping people with stationery projects too, but i feel like i’m happiest when that type of work is creating time for more indulgent printing…there’s a lot of untapped potential there.

d*s: say i’m walking down the street and i see the arm letterpress, and i’m like, oh that’s cool. do i have to take that intro workshop to get started?

dm: no, as long as someone can convince me in a conversation that they know how to run something on the press, then i’ll let them try. i’m here if the door is open, so if things go wrong i can help them troubleshoot anything. i wouldn’t encourage someone who doesn’t know what their doing to try to run a job on the press with no experience, because i’ll be pretty bummed out if something is damaged but, ya know, even people who have taken a one day class two years ago, can come in here and print something.

d*s: and so, if i wanted to rent space or a press, what does that entail?

dm: at the moment, i have a designer that’s building a calendar for the website where people can sign up and reserve press time, but it’s not ready. so right now, i have my workshops signup fully automated, but, when people need to book press time, it means people need to email me… and hopefully what they are after is available, if not, i present them with a couple alternative days. we get everybody in here eventually- we’re not crazy backlogged or anything.

d*s: if someone has already reserved space, what do i need to bring?

dm: it’s best to bring paper. i encourage people to bring ink, if they have something specific in mind. everything else is here. and if your ink doesn’t arrive in the mail in time or something like that, we can wing it with stuff we have out here. it can be a little rough. i think i just ran out of white. i don’t want people coming in and grumbling because they can’t mix pale yellow.

d*s: do you have any advice for people who are looking to start up a community open studio?

dm: yeah, move to a town with cheap rent. don’t be afraid to buy presses that don’t work, as long as they’re all there. that’s something that i’ve learned, there is a really good support network and you can get things going. you don’t have to buy a press on ebay. it’s too competitive! people just like, mortgage their house or something, i don’t understand where this money is coming from!

d*s: do you have any favorite letterpress artists or designers?

dm: yeah, his name is dylan fareed and he started doing artist prints in letterpress, mostly from photopolymer plates. his company is called i am still alive and he’s been doing some pretty cool things.

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  • I’m really enjoying these podcasts- I loved Mike Perry’s yesterday also. I hope you keep it up! I had been thinking of taking a class at the Arm also, so this was a nice intro.

  • I”ve been dying to take a workshop at The Arm but 1. Money’s tight and so is time and 2. I live in PA. I’ve made it my goal to take one in January so I hope to be there soon!

    We have a great arts center in my town called the Goggleworks and I’ve been trying to get them to start up a printing studio but no luck so far. It looks like I’ll have to be the one to start it!

    Great interview!

  • Wish I had a teacher like Dan when I started printing ten years ago . . . and I still learn something every time I talk to him. Highly recommend the opportunity to learn letterpress from a patient pro.

  • dan is seriously a letterpress genius. you couldn’t ask for a better teacher or a class with more bang for your buck. the classes fill up fast, though, so if you’re going to take one reserve it now!!

  • I just did the workshop with Dan last weekend. He was amazingly helpful and gracious with us all. The workshop itself was great and I highly recommend it. You’ll learn so much and have fun doing it.

    -thanks for the reminder on reserving space!

  • dan rocks! super genius letterpress man. good egg and great teacher. looking forward to my next time in the studio :)

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