On my recent trip to Nottingham I was lucky enough to get a tour of the wonderful Pop Press studio! I have been a fan of their letterpress printed goodies for a while so it was a joy to see Steve and Ming making and see the process that goes into every piece. They were even kind enough to let me have a go, and it is utterly addictive! I definitely want to go back and do one of their workshops soon! The shop downstairs is stocked with gorgeous products from some amazing designer-makers and looks out onto one of the coolest streets in the city that has a strong community spirit. Do check it out if you are in the area and you can read the full guide on Nottingham in Issue 6!
Here we chat with Steve and Ming as they tell us all about their work, inspirations and passion for making...
Hello! We’re Steve and Ming from Pop Press. We make letterpressed goods, previously in our garden shed where our 1924 Arab treadle press lives, and more recently in our shop and print studio in the centre of Nottingham.
We both did our degree at Newcastle Polytechnic many years ago! Ming studied Illustration and Steve did 3D Design and our approach to design is quite different from each other. We first started making and selling cards in London over 20 years ago after we came back from travelling and working in South East Asia. As a way of making batches of cards we used monoprinting, linoprinting and hand colouring which we sold to independent shops and at markets in London. You can imagine how long it took, especially when we started getting big orders from Paperchase and Scribbler. At the time, we bought our first table top letterpress solely for folding our cards rather than actual printing. When we had our first child, we decided to change direction and retrained - Steve as an art director in recruitment advertising and Ming became a dietitian working for the NHS.
Fast forward 20 years - we’d made the move to Nottingham, decided to restart our card making venture, bought our first treadle letterpress in 2013, and opened our shop and studio just last year. Building on our previous card making experience, we were looking for ways of reproducing our designs that retained the colour and feel of the original drawings whether it was pen and ink or brightly coloured gouache. We found exactly what we were looking for in letterpress printing when we dug out our original table top press. But it was a very steep learning curve. As we wanted to print full colour illustrations we needed to upgrade from a table top press to a half ton, cast iron Arab treadle press who we call Doris because she’s from Halifax. We print all our own cards, prints, notebooks as well as the Landmark Coaster sets. It’s a shame that we couldn’t bring her to the shop because she’s too big and heavy but we have got a lovely, lighter 1903 treadle press made in Boston. It’s called ‘Alan’ after Ming’s brother (as they weigh about the same) and is used for workshops and smaller jobs in the shop.
With our illustrated cards and coasters, we always start with a drawing, collage or sketch which may be worked on digitally. It’s then colour separated, made into negatives, and exposed onto photopolymer plates. These are them mounted onto the press for printing. Each colour is printed separately and registered to form a finished colour design. There is a lot of behind the scenes troubleshooting and ‘making ready’ going on before we achieve a good enough print, which many people don’t see.
Although we’re using letterpress in a non traditional way, we still love to print with the original metal and wood type that we have to make up our notebooks and seasonal cards. This process is different, involving ‘locking’ up your ‘chase’ or arranging your type into a configuration that prints well. According to some of our workshoppers, it’s quite ‘relaxing’!
We have the advantage in that we can make up our own projects and we pretty much try to go against the grain. We’re very much led by our own interests and visual preferences. We’re influenced by our travels, culture (Chinese and German mix!), science, society. We have very different visual tastes which is reflected in our different ranges like ‘Invasion’ and ‘Nature’. Ming is inspired by the work of Japanese woodblock printers Utagawa Hiroshige and Kawanihi Hide whilst Steve loves Edward Bawden and M.C. Escher.
We like making our coaster sets because we can get lost in the detail. Also they are all one colour and print beautifully on recycled card. We love it that people connect to the places pictured in the different places. We also enjoy trying to think of new headlines for our notebook range.
We are lucky enough to have an amazing three floor building in the centre of Nottingham, part of a listed former music hall built in 1877. On the ground floor is the Pop Press shop with it’s large ornate Victorian glass facade - a showcase for illustrated goods by ourselves and other printmakers. Our studio is on the top floor, ideal for our workshops as there’s plenty of natural light. Legend has it that Charlie Chaplin once stayed there! The Malt Cross pub is just below and you can sometimes hear live music and the hustle and bustle of a busy evening while we’re working away upstairs. And we’re excited to announce that we’re now sharing our studio space with the supercool riso and screenprint studio, Dizzy Ink to offer one stop shop for alternative printing techniques.
We offer a 2 hour workshop for people interested in making their own letterpress cards and prints. It’s a lot to fit into a short time but is a great way to get the creative juices flowing just by experimenting with the type. You can have fun ‘locking’ type up into a chase, get messy with ink, print on different types of presses and troubleshoot the process along the way. It’s also satisfying to see the immediate result of the finished print which often have personal meanings behind them.
We’re also planning more specialist days where illustrators and designers can learn the whole process from drawing to press using photopolymer plates. We’d love to see more illustrative letterpress going on! And with the arrival of Dizzy Ink, we’re going to be launching super print workshops where folk can try out all 3 different print processes in one day - letterpress, riso and screenprint.
It's so satisfying to see others get the printing bug! We have the most interesting customers in the shop who want to have a go. People who sit behind a desk all day and need a creative outlet, creatives who’d like to learn different production techniques, students who want to experiment, scientists and engineers who are fascinated by the presses, the list goes on…!
The shop is a fantastic indulgence for us because we can curate everything that we love as well as showcase our own work. It’s a tribute to all things printed and made by talented designers, mostly hand printed, hand sewn or just because the designs are so well considered and timeless. We avoid mass produced, meaningless fads.
Selling at the fairs have been a wonderful way of meeting new makers and seeing their work on display and we’ve met so many of our favourites at the Crafty Fox fairs! We love the work of Scout Editions and were attracted to the simplicity of their riso and screenprints. We also love fellow letterpresser Hooksmith’s work too. We connect with his Kiwi sense of humour and authentic letterpress style. We’re drawn to the bold, graphic work of the lovely Iris De La Torre and Jimbobart’s anthropomorthic animal illustrations. The screenprinted work of Pirrip Press from Bristol and Charlotte Farmer from Bath are fresh and modern. And of course, we have our own local talent - Ding Ding Makes Things, maker of very useful screenprinted products, beautiful risoprints from Hannah Waldron, screenprints from the talented Hannah Waterfield and original linocuts from Ella Osborne.
Plans for the future include more specialist workshops. More landmark coaster sets. More letterpressed goods. And more wonderful printed matter from talented printmakers in the shop!
Make sure you come and visit if you’re in Nottingham!
Pop Press Shop & Studio
14 St. James’s Street, Nottingham NG1 6FG.